Category Archives: Welfare Reform

Boom Time For Landlords, The UK’s Soaring Housing Benefit Bill

landlord-772876Whilst the Tory Party pat themselves on the back at conference for the misery their welfare reforms have caused, recently updated benefit expenditure figures  make a mockery of any claims that these vicious cuts were carried out to save money.

Housing Benefit (or Local Housing Allowance) makes up one of the largest parts of social security spending and every last penny of it goes to landlords.  Ever since this government weren’t elected they have made brutal cuts to this vital benefit which pays for the UK’s poorest people to have a roof over theirs heads.  Despite this the Housing Benefit bill is soaring and expcted to rise even further.

£24.8 billion was handed out to landlords in the form of Housing Benefit cheques in 2012/13 – the latest year for which exact figures are available.  This is a rise of £2.7 billion, in real terms annual spending on Housing Benefit since the Tories came to power.

Much of this increase is in payments to private sector landlords rather than towards  housing association or council rents.  But it is not soaring private rents that have caused the increase in spending, Housing Benefit rises are now capped at 1% annually whilst total caps on the amount landlords can receive are in place in high rent areas such as the South East of England.  It is claimants who have had to absorb the cost of rent rises, out of already meagre benefits.

Nor is the rise due to people who are unemployed.  Less than £4 bilion of the £24.8 bilion total Housing Benefit spend pays for accommodation for people on unemployment benefits.  Much of the rise is due to new claimants who are in work, which shows the true picture of the UK’s labour market.

Housing Benefit provides a good indicator of how many people in the UK are poor.  It is available to those in or out of work, as well as pensioners.  The only criteria for help with rent payments is an income low enough to qualify and less than £16,000 in assets.  The Tories may claim that the recovery is in full swing, and thousands of pretend jobs have been created, but that doesn’t change the harsh fact that there are now more people poor than at any point since the Housing Benefit system began.

This is reflected in the number of people actually claiming the benefit, which hit a record 5.05 million in 2012/13.  This figure has fallen slightly since last year – by around 25 thousand – but is forecast to rise again and is still almost half a million people higher than in 2009/10.

Surprisingly, another factor that may be driving up the Housing Benefit bill could well be the bungled attempts at cost-cutting reforms – the most notorious being the Bedroom Tax.  There has been no better gift to the landlord class than this nasty policy which is driving people out of secure homes at low, social rents and into the out of control and hugely expensive private sector.  Even the Benefit Cap might be increasing spending on Housing Benefits as families evicted due to no longer being able to afford the rent are rehoused by local authorities in emergency temorary accommodation which can be eye-wateringly expenisve.  Last year the BBC reported on families being placed in £3000 a week hotels after being made homeless due to caps on housing benefits.  The most recent homelessness figures showed the number of families living in B&Bs is at a five year high.

Many tenants are struggling with desperate poverty after cuts to Housing Benefits.  Some Bedroom Tax victims are now paying up to a third of their meagre benefit payments towards the rent.  Yet the cost of Housing Benefit is soaring.  All Iain Duncan Smith has created is more poverty at more cost to the tax payer.  Whatever your political persuasion that is nothing to be fucking cheering about.

You can download the most recent Benefit Expenditure tables at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/benefit-expenditure-and-caseload-tables-2014

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Something Is Stirring In The Capital: The Fight Against Social Cleansing Bursts Into Life

poor-doorsWith the Tory’s threatening a new benefit cap and cuts to Local Housing Allowance if they win the next election, it is unsurprising that London’s fucked housing market is emerging as a key site of struggle in the capital.

Two diffrent events this week will highlight the grotesque inequality in a city where global billionaires buy luxury penthouses to keep empty as investments whilst people sleep in the streets below

Wednesday (1st October – tomorrow!) the biggest demonstration against the Poor Doors so far is set to take place.  This weekly protest, outside 1 Commercial Street E1, began after it emerged that the residents in the meagre supply of social housing in this yuppy block of flats are forced to use a different door to the toffs who occupy the luxury properties.

The protests are now in their 10th week and are growing.  Last week the lobby of the building was briefly cccupied, whilst veteran anarchist and fellow blogger Ian Bone, who has supported the protests, was arrested.  Unbowed Bone says tomorrow is likely to be the crunch as Redrow* and the TSG (riot cops) throw their resources into maintaining apartheid in central London…..we’ve got to win this one.”  Get down to 1 Commercial Street, E1 from 6pm, Wednesday October 1st and show the rich they are the ones who are not welcome in the East End borough of Tower Hamlets. 

*Redrow are the property developers behind the poor doors, you can find them on twitter @RedrowLondon

Then on Thursday 2nd October the Focus E15 mums have called for support outside the courts where Newham Council will attempt to have them evicted from the flats they have occupied on the Carpenter’s Estate in Stratford.

This group of local single parents have been fighting for secure housing for their children ever since they were kicked out of a hostel that Newham Council decided to close to save money.  They have been told they face being socially cleansed from the city and could be rehoused as far away as Manchester.

After repeatedly being snubbed by nasty piece of shit Robin Wales, the Labour Mayor of Newham, last week the group occupied several empty flats on the Carpenter’s Estate which is set to be demolished – no doubt to make way for more yuppy flats.  The council are seeking a possession order at Bow County Court this week and the E15 mothers have called for support – be outside the courts at 96 Romford Rd E15 4EG from 9.30am Thursday October 2nd.

You can also follow the campaign on twitter @FocusE15 and @E15OpenHouse or join them on facebook.

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) have also been fighting against evictions due to welfare reforms and rampant gentrification, follow them @HousingActionSL  Residents of West Hendon Estate in Barnet have faced arrests after fighting the destruction of their homes to make way for million pound flats.  Join their facebook page for more details.

And that’s not all as resistance to austerity, forced work and shit housing bursts back into life.  Next week sees a Week of Action Against Workfare with events already announced in Edinburgh, Bristol, Brighton, Haringey, Central London and even Amsterdam!  Online actions are also set to take place, keep an eye on the Boycott Workfare website for full details.

Meznwhile Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) are calling on people to crash the Tory Party Conference Twittersphere by hijacking their hashtag #CPC14.  Send your own tweets or visit DPAC’s website for some of theirs.

Please tweet, blog, share and spread the word about all events and join in if you can.

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Benefit Sanctions Are Political Admits Welfare To Work Boss As Housing Charities Flee Work Programme

sanction-sabsThe Chief Executive of ERSA, the trade body established to lie on behalf of the welfare to work industry, has said that benefit sanctions are ‘political’ and called for a better evidence base for the current regime.

Kirsty McHugh made the comments in an interview with Inside Housing magazine discussing the number of homelessness charities and Housing Associations that have ended their involvement with Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme.  According to McHugh:

“(Work Programme) Providers want to be able to make a judgement themselves as to whether there is good reason why a client has or hasn’t broken the conditions of their benefit. But right now the system does not allow this.

“For political reasons, this government likes a “stick”, but I think we need a better evidence base.”

This flies in the face of the DWP’s current position, which is that benefit sanctions ‘help’ people gain work, even giving them a ‘welcome jolt’.  In reality, as those involced in the Work Programme know only too well, they often destroy people’s chances of finding a job as those sanctioned sink into poverty, destitution and ill health.

Inside Housing also spoke to the boss of SHP – the homelessness charity who pulled out of the Work Programme saying that sanctions were causing people to beg and steal to survive.  Chef Executive Liz Rutherford gives a vivid description of the type of people who face losing their benefits: “They might be people who were sleeping rough, or with severe mental health difficulties or people with an addiction. They were people who basically needed to deal with these [issues] before looking for work.”

This sentiment is even shared by the odious Bromford Group, the welfare reform loving housing association who recently quit the Work Programme after whining that they weren’t making enough money out of it.  According to John Wade, boss of Bromford Support, they were having people referrd to them that weren’t expected to get a job ‘in a million years’ by the welfare-to-work companies running the scheme.

Both SHP and Bromford have spotted the huge scam that underpins the welfare-to-work industry.  As SHP point out there is an “‘assumption that something like 30% of those referred to the Work Programme will get a job anyway” whilst Bromford say: “[Prime contractors] would have already modelled, for example, that, if they got 28% of every 100 people into work, then they’ve done fine [as a return on their investment].”

In other words, the welfare-to-work companies represented by ERSA can do precisely fuck all and still get paid billions of our money.  Their Chief Executive even admits this is going on, warning that there is a danger people on the sickness and disability benefit ESA are being ‘parked by the system’.

ERSA’s criticisms of the Work Programme show an industry panicking that the game might be up as the dreadful performance of the scheme has shined new light on their grubby little racket. But no matter what they plead, they are fully culpable for the horrific suffering that benefit sanctions have inflicted, often on some of the most marginalised people in society.

The welfare-to-work industry was born with the emergence of Tony Blair’s New Deal, the first attempt at mass workfare and compulsory training for those over 18.  For the first time large companies like Reed and Manpower were given eye-watering sums of money to harass unemployed people by forcing them into endless pointless activity.  The so-called training they offered was so sub-standard that the only way the government could make people attend was by threatening to take their benefits away.  As such the welfare-to-work sector has always been dependent on benefit sanctions for its survival.  Their fake concern now is merely them attempting to be given even more power over claimants lives by pleading that they should make the decision about who gets sanctioned, not the Jobcentre.  They will want more money for this responsibility of course.  The tragedy is that the DWP is currently being run by such a bunch of fucking idiots that they will probably get it.

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Cranky Jobcentre Psych Tests Are Unethical, But Will Anyone Except Claimants Care?

look-into-my-eyesThe news that unmployed people will face psychological testing in order to determine how much Jocentre harassment they should receive has prompted warnings from psychologists concerned about the ethics of the scheme.

Esther McVey recently announced that Jobcentre busy-bodies will soon  be expected to quiz new claimants to assess their “attitudes, behavioural norms and levels of self-belief”.  A small pilot scheme is currently taking place which is soon to be extended to 27,000 unemployed people.  Those who fail this cranky assessment and are judged ‘disengaged’ or ‘despondant’ will no doubt face being ‘helped’ with forced unpaid work and benefit sanctions.

According to the British Psychological Society (BPS): “It is critical …  that all assessments are conducted by experienced users of psychometrics – ideally under the supervision of a chartered psychologist. The success of a psychometric assessment of jobseekers will depend on sensitive, constructive and meaningful feedback about the results.”

Of course these tests will feature nothing of the sort.  A PCS Union briefing for Jobcentre staff says that management have told them these assessments will take just “2 to 5 minutes to complete”.  There is no mention of any specialist training being provided to claimant advisors and certainly no sign of a chartered psychologist running the show.

What this means is that Jobcentre workers, already under pressure due to short-staffing, will now be expected to administer tests which psychologists regard as unethical.

Whether the BPS or PCS plan to actually do anything about this situation remains to be seen.  Don’t hold your breath, but you can ask them @BPSOfficial and @PCS_Union.

H/T @lynnefriedli and @boycottworkfare

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Number of People Claiming Sickness Benefits Hits Two Year High

ESA-claims1The number of people claiming out of work sickness or disability benefits has hit a two year high provisional statistics from the DWP show.

2,510,000 people are estimated to have been claiming either Employment Support Allowance, or the benefit it is replacing Incapacity Benefit, in July 2014.  This is around 70,000 higher than a year earlier and the higest number since Summer 2012.

With Atos assessments finding people with cancer and other serious health conditions ‘fit for work’, there can be no doubt that these claims are genuine.  Yet despite hundreds of thousands of people having benefits slashed due to the bungled health tests, it seems that people are still getting sick.

This is hardly suprising.  Despite the endless propaganda from the DWP, the UK did not have significantly more people on out of work sickness or disability benefits than comparable economies even before the current callous regime was introduced.  In any society there will be some people who are not able to work due to a health condition, accident or serious disability.  No amount of assessments, workfare or benefit sanctions will change that.

It would come as a shock to the out of touch bureacrats at the DWP that there have always been many people on long term unemployment benefits who in reality shold have probably been on the sick.  Some people feel making a claim for sickness benefits is giving up, others, particularly those with mental health conditions, may not be diagnosed or have a full understanding of their condtion.  One reason for a rise in sickness benefit claimants – at a time when unemployment is allegedly falling – may be that workfare and the endless ‘work related activity’ imposed by Jobcentres is making these people too ill to stay on unemployment benefit.

There is some evidence for this.  A DWP evaluation in 2012 found that people referred to Mandaory Work Activity were more likely to make a claim for sickness benefits than those who didn’t face workfare.  Other evidence shows that the assessment process for sickness benefits may be having a devastating impact on people’s mentak health.  Other reports have shown how benefit sanctions have caused people to be unable to meet special dietry needs, or going hungry, or being forced to beg or go through bins to find food.

Whatever the reason, and the huge backlog in sickness benefit assessents will be another factor, the number of people unable to work due to sickness or disability now looks set to have risen steadily over the past seven months.  It increasingly looks the case that all Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms have done for people on sickness benefits is make them sicker.

You can read the latest figures at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/dwp-statistical-summaries-2014

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Don’t Stop The Free Workers Plead The Workfare Exploiters

Poundland have seen dozens of protests outside their stores over their use of unpaid workers.

Poundland have seen dozens of protests outside their stores over their use of unpaid workers.

In a bizarre move, several companies known to use unpaid staff on workfare schemes have teamed up to write a letter to The Guardian singing the praises of the disastrous Work Programe.

The list of employers – which includes Homebase who are known to have used workfare is the past, and Poundland, who were at the heart of the successful legal challenge against workfare – say that the government’s support for schemes like the Work Programme ‘must continue’.  Otherwise they might have to start actually paying their staff instead of exploiting unemployed people coerced into unpaid work by sanction-happy Jobcentre busy-bodies.

It is not known whether all the companies on the list, which include Ocado and Gap, are involved in unpaid work, although it is difficult to see why they have signed otherwise.  In fact it seems a strange thing for these businesses to be bothered to do at all.

The last signatory on the list may reveal one explanation for how this strange initiative came about.  Kirsty McHugh is the Chief Executive of the Employment Related Services Assocation, or ERSA for short.  This is the trade body established to lie on behalf of the welfare-to-work parasites like A4e and G4S who run the Work Programme.  Just last week they published a breath-takingly dishonest report making wild claims that no-one believed about how much money the Work Programme is saving the country.  It seems likely that this latest letter was co-ordinated by ERSA as part of a shabby PR campaign designed to convince the DWP to keep giving welfare-to-work firms billions of pounds of our money.

Labour have hinted that they might bring in local councils to run forced work schemes.  The Lib Dems are caling for a policy change and may yet hold the balance of power again come the next election.  More importantly, no-one knows better than the welfare-to-work sector that the latest ‘Help to Work’ scheme is set to be a disaster and that they will be the ones that get the blame when it all goes wrong.  The future does not look so assured for ERSA and their welfare-to-work cronies who  have made hundreds of millions out of bullying and exploiting unemployed people.  They will fight dirty to keep Brtain’s biggest benefit scam alive.  Expect more bollocks like this.

Join the Week of Action Against Workfare beginning on October 4th.  Please spread the word.

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Take part in the Boycott Workfare week of action! 4-12 October 2014

bhf-workfareFrom Boycott Workfare

Forcing people to work for free through the threat of removing people’s benefits (sanctions) is unfair, unjust and wrong. In the week of action, tell the companies and charities who are profiting from this exploitative regime what you think of their involvement! Email, Tweet, use Facebook, phone them, protest, organise a flashmob: for a week of piling the pressure on workfare exploiters.

We know these tactics work! Just look at how quickly Byteback IT had to pull out when you told them what you thought after George Osborne made the mistake of visiting them. This is just one of the latest in a whole list of businesses and charities that have also pulled out of workfare following our pressure.

The latest workfare scheme, “Community Work Placements” (CWP), forces people to work for nothing for up to six months – twice the length of the maximum community service sentence for committing a crime. But there is growing resistance from the voluntary sector which the scheme needs to work: over 400 charities have signed up to Keep Volunteering Voluntary and 22 councils have pledged to boycott workfare. They know that workfare does not help people find jobs and being
unemployed is not a crime.

Resistance is paying off: the launch of the CWP scheme was massively delayed. Instead of using ‘big name’ national charities, the DWP has had to resort to small local charities and businesses to provide these Workfare placements. So local actions are all the more important! See Boycott Workfare’s list of Workfare users to find one near you.

All this means it is getting harder and harder for the government to find new employers willing to risk taking on Workfare placements. In fact the government is desperately doing all it can to avoid revealing the organisations using Workfare out of fear the schemes will collapse!

People pressure has ended Workfare in the place where it all started – New York – now let’s end it here!

Workfare undermines real paid jobs and wages; results in sanctions for thousands; does nothing to improve the chances of finding a job; and exploits those forced to take up these placements. Our actions can stop companies, charities and councils from exploiting this forced unpaid work. Wherever you are, however you can contribute, take action on 4-12 October.

Whatever you’re planning – let us know and we’ll help spread the word!

Join our Facebook event here which we will update with links to all the local actions.

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