Category Archives: Welfare Reform

Mass Workfare Begins Next Monday … Or Does It?

bhf-workfareWith less than one week to go until the launch date of the DWP’s woefully misnamed ‘Help To Work’ and details of the programme are still shrouded in secrecy.

‘Help To Work’ is the mass workfare scheme announced by George Osborne at last year’s Tory Party conference.  Those leaving the Work Programme without a job – which is almost everyone – will either have to sign on every day or be forced to work for no pay for a ‘community’ organisation for six months.  The whole package is expected to cost almost a third of a billion, with most of that money lining the pockets of private sector profiteers running the scheme.

The problem is no-one knows who those providers are yet, including the DWP themselves.  A response to a Freedom of Information request dated  April 10th said that the tender for ‘Help To Work’ was still ongoing.  The DWP have also said that the guidance for companies running the scheme will not be published until the launch date, 28th April.

What we do know is that Help To Work is already mired in chaos.  Several high profile volunteer’s organisations have condemned the plans whilst three of the largest supporters of other workfare schemes have said they will not accept placements.  Both The Conservation Volunteers and The Salvation Army were expected to bid for Help To Work contracts or sub-contracts, and neither of them have.  YMCA have also said they will not accept placements on the scheme, whilst even workfare quango Groundwork are wobbling.

This is more than just an embarrassment for Help To Work, it is a fucking disaster and one was that was entirely predictable.  For years workfare programmes have come close to collapse due to a lack of available work placements.  Despite what politicians would like to think, the charitable sector has no need for hundreds of thousands of forced workers.  The truth is that there isn’t enough workfare to go round for everyone on benefits, let alone real, paid work.  The Community Action Programme pilot -  a similar workfare scheme to Help To Work -  found that placements could only be found for 63% of participants.  This took place before scores of charities distanced themselves from workfare due to huge pressure from their supporters who turned out to be disgusted that these organisations used unpaid forced labour.

Help To Work is not the only DWP scheme that looks to be in trouble.  Remember Iain Duncan Smith’s plan to warehouse unemployed people for six months at a time on full time job search?  No, well it seems neither does he. There has been no sign at all of this scheme, which was also announced at the Tory Party Conference.

It will the the demise of Help To Work which will be the biggest embarrassment to this Government however.  This is their latest big idea to fix unemployment after the disaster that has been the Work Programme.  It already appears to be yet another shambles.  Whatever is announced next Monday – if anything at all – the Help To Work scheme is unworkable.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

What Labour Said Then, What Labour Say Now And Why They Can’t Be Trusted On The Work Capability Assessment

atos_david_milibandWhat they said then …

Labour will: “increase support for claimants to return to work, replacing the old one-size-fits-all model, which writes people off as completely incapable of work, with a tailored, active system that addresses each individual’s capacity”

A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work (PDF) – The Green Paper which proposed the Work Capability Assessment in 2006

What they say now (2014)

“We want the assessment to be part of the process of ensuring disabled people who can work get the support they need to do so, not to threaten or punish them. The test should be a gateway to identifying and assembling that support.”

How Labour would reform the Work Capability Assessment – Labour Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions Rachel Reeves and Shadow Minister for Disabled People Kate Green

Then (2006)

“We will work with health professionals, personal advisers and disability groups (including the Disability Rights Commission and the Disability Employment Advisory Committee) to ensure that the transformed assessment process is fair and equitable in application and operation.”

Now

“We would continue to produce an independent review of the WCA, and ask the Office for Disability Issues to support an independent scrutiny group of disabled people to work together with the independent reviewer to assess whether the test is being conducted in a fair and transparent way.”

Then

“It will never be reasonable to expect some people to plan for a return to work or to impose the responsibilities and conditionality associated with this on them.  These people – who have the most severe health conditions and disabilities – will receive the new benefit without any conditionality, and at a higher rate”

Now

“We also recognise not everyone can work and we’re committed to ensuring the support’s in place for those who can’t.”

The Work Capability Assessment was designed by Labour to strip sickness and disability benefits from one million claimants. There has been no announcement that this policy aim has changed. More people are placed in the Support Group now (meaning they are not expected to look for work) than they were under Labour. Whilst the Tories and Atos are currently at war, Atos have sponsored events at the Labour Party Conference in the past.

The Labour front bench have been silent about the introduction of Personal Independence Payments – designed to strip disability benefits from a fifth of disabled people. They have not spoken a word about the heartless closure of the Independent Living Fund. They voted for Iain Duncan Smith’s backdated legislation to steal hundreds of thousands of pounds from claimants by denying them compensation for illegally sanctioned benefit claims. They support unpaid work – even when the schemes are almost certainly illegal under minimum wage laws. Labour’s Job Guarantee is just workfare plus a sandwich which in practice could be more exploitative than current workfare programmes.

They have not changed. They will not change. When not pretending to give a shit about disabled people Rachel Reeves has boasted – boasted – that she would be tougher on welfare than Iain Duncan Smith. Most of the Labour front bench are chinless posh twats just like the braying toffs they pretend to oppose. They are on the side of bosses and billionaires, not us.  Do not fucking trust them.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Why Falling Unemployment Can Be Bad News For Everyone

economic-inactivity

Economic inactivity by reason (aged 16 to 64)

More people are in work than ever before claim the DWP triumphantly as the unemployment figures show another huge rise in self-employment.  Whether these people are making any money, or whether they are pensioners with an ebay hobby, does not seem to matter as the Tories attempt to spin that Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are working.

Yet all that has happened is the economy has started to grow a bit and so unemployment has fallen a bit.  This is what always happens when economies start to grow – and due to a rising population there are almost always more people in work than ever before unless there is a severe economic downturn.  It matters barely at all what governments do to unemployed people – in a recession unemployment goes up, and in a recovery it goes down.  This is because unemployed people are not responsible for unemployment, despite the multi-billion pound welfare-to-work scam pretending that they are.

Falling unemployment may be good for the country’s economy, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a good thing for the people who actually live and work here.  The key to this lies in the figures for Economic Inactivity, currently at its lowest level since 1990 according to the ONS.  This is seen by politicians of all parties as a good thing.  A closer look reveals that is far from the case.

The largest group of people who are economically inactive are those looking after a family, many who will share in their partner’s salary.  The second largest group is students, whilst there are also 1.31 million people who have been lucky enough to retire before reaching pensionable age.  The other groups include those who are long term sick, whose numbers remain fairly stable, and a million or so ‘other’ – students on a gap year perhaps, or volunteers who can afford not to claim benefits.

If the number of people who are ‘Economically Inactive’ is falling, and it is, sharply, then that means less young people who can afford to be students.  It means less parents being able to afford to stay at home with young children, and less people able to afford to take early retirement.  This is not good news if you happen to be one of those people, in fact it’s a bit shit.

What it also means is that these often more experienced workers remaining in, or rejoining the workforce, are crowding out those who are unemployed and desperate to find a job.  This is almost certainly one reason why despite dubious claims that over a million new jobs have been created,  unemployment stood at 2.46 million in the first period after this Government weren’t elected and has since fallen to just 2.24 million.  It could also explain why the number of people unemployed over 12 months was 796,000 in August 2010 and after four years of welfare reforms, workfare and sanctions aimed at this group the number has actually risen to 807,000.

A fall in Economic Inactivity really represents a downward shift in the living standards of everyone.  Those who are slightly better off are having to work longer and harder, and those at the bottom are more marginalised than ever.  It’s good news for the bosses though, as more people are chasing every job and driving down wages for us all.  And for Tories -  who can’t bear the thought of a pleb enjoying an early retirement when there’s still a few years of profit to be extracted from their work – it’s the best news of all.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

DWP Block Report To Cover Up Work Programme Shambles

IDS-slugThe DWP are refusing to release an evaluation of the floundering £6 billion pound Work Programme despite the report having recently featured on Channel 4 news.

The evaluation is believed to be critical of the Work Programme and in particular benefit sanctions, warning that they found: “no conclusive evidence that sanctions were changing job search behaviour or increasing job entry rates.”

A Freedom of Information request asking to see the report has today been refused by the DWP on the grounds that they plan to publish it at an unspecified later date (PDF).  The evaluation was scheduled to be released in the Summer of last year.

This is not the first time the DWP have treated Freedom of Information (FOI) rules with contempt in a shoddy effort to conceal what’s really going on, and wrong, with the department.  A ruling by the Information Commissioner;s Office (ICO) ordering the release of the names of charities benefiting from free labour under the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme has been completely ignored.  A second ICO ruling (PDF) ordering the DWP to confirm whether a charity was involved in workfare was issued last month, and has so far been snubbed.  The DWP were found in breach of the FOI again (PDF) at the end of last month when they were slammed in a ruling for not taking the reasonable steps required to clarify another request relating to Mandatory Work Activity.

The DWP have claimed that if the public were allowed to know who is using workfare then the scheme might collapse.  They pretend this would stop people benefiting from the ‘disciplines’ that workfare offers and may even harm the economy.  After all, if people knew that household names such as The Salvation Army, the YMCA, Groundwork and The Conservation Volunteers were all forcing people to work without pay then they might decide these charities were a bunch of wankers and never give them a penny again.

There is no such excuse for refusing to release an evaluation into the Work Programme however – a report produced with our money.  The only person likely to look like a wanker if people see this document is Iain Duncan Smith himself who is still pretending how wonderful the Work Programme is.  The Work Programme statistics already show the scheme is a disaster and steadily getting worse. No doubt the DWP hope they can hide just how much of a wanker Iain Duncan Smith actually is until after the next election.  But it’s too late.  Everybody knows.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Virgin Give The Game Away: Unpaid Worker Schemes Bring Corporate And Commercial Opportunities

traineeshipsVirgin Media are the latest company to sacrifice their public image to benefit from unpaid workers on Government schemes.  According to the company, employing young people on Traineeships and paying them nothing can bring “corporate and commercial opportunities”.

The shocking admission comes in a leaflet advertising the Traineeship programme (pdf), which can involve up to six months work without pay.  They have been designed to ‘prepare’ young people for an ‘apprenticeship’ at below the minimum wage and participants are often not even offered one of these at the end of the scheme.  Instead they are given an ‘exit interview’ to pat them on the heads for all their unpaid work.

As pointed out by @boycottworkfare, unpaid work on Traineeships is not yet mandatory, although no doubt many Jobcentre advisors will try and pretend they are.  They may soon be right.  George Osborne announced in his Autumn Statement that in future people under the age of 21 who refuse some form of workfare in the corporate sector will be sent on an even longer workfare scheme with a charity instead.  With the latest workfare scheme appearing to be in chaos, it remains to be seen if this particular threat will ever be fully carried out.

In the meantime Virgin Media seem quite happy with the new arrangements and say they will be recruiting unpaid workers on an ongoing basis.  This is hardly surprising, according to the leaflet Traineeships were ‘developed  in response to business needs’ and can help ‘build the workforce required for business success’.  Virgin Media Loves not paying wages and that’s the name of their new twitter campaign.  Let them know what you think @VMLoves

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Just For The Record, The WCA Is Not Being Scrapped, Yet

atoskillsgrafThe report in The Daily Record which claims that Atos style assessments for sickness and disability benefits are to be scrapped should sadly be treated with caution.

There is no doubt that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is in chaos, after the announcement from Atos that they are pulling out of the contract to run the tests.  This has led to a predictable tantrum from Iain Duncan Smith, who is now running round telling everyone he was going to dump Atos anyway and is threatening them with huge fines.  This is the same Atos that he is dependent on to sort out the shabby assessments for Personal Independence Payments, which are currently also mired in chaos.  But there has been no announcement as yet that the WCA is to be scrapped, and the report the Daily Record’s story seems to be based on does not call for this.

The story refers to the recently published response by the Government to the review of the Work Capability Assessment carried out by Dr Paul Litchfield.  The Government have accepted all but one of the recommendations in this report, which includes agreeing to carry out an impact assessment into whether in some cases a decision could be made without a face to face assessment.

Litchfield recommends: “The Department carries out a full impact assessment on an alternative process whereby DWP Decision Makers triage cases” and that “where suitable and sufficient evidence is available on paper and a face-to-face assessment would provide no additional value, the Department should make a decision without referral to its HAP;”

The Government have responded: “DWP will carry out the recommended impact assessment to inform decisions about if and how triage of cases by Decision Makers might be implemented.”

So unless the Daily Record know something that no-one else does, and if they do urgent clarification is required, that unfortunately, appears to be it.  An impact assessment into whether in some cases a face to face assessment is not required – as in fact already happens in some cases – will be carried out.  A small step forward perhaps but a long way from the claim that assessments are set to be scrapped.  Atos still kills, for now at least.

Some of Litchfield’s recommendations will be welcomed, such as a six month time limit before someone who has recently won an appeal against a WCA decision can be called for re-assessment.  Others are more dubious, including the idea of involving the Government’s snake oil salesmen, the nudge unit, in the drafting of correspondence sent to claimants about the WCA.

Perhaps the most telling part of the Government’s response to this review is the recommendation that is rejected.  Litchfield makes the fairly reasonable suggestion that so-called Healthcare Professionals carrying out assessments of people with mental health problems should have: “suitable and sufficient previous experience of dealing with people with mental health problems”.

We’re not having that say the DWP, who have deferred agreement on this point complaining that they don’t know what suitable and sufficient means.

All of the recommendations and the Government’s response can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/296328/wca-review-year-4-response.pdf

Litchfield’s initial report is at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/265351/work-capability-assessment-year-4-paul-litchfield.pdf

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Who The Fuck Does Esther McVey Think She Is?

Esther-McVey-2942256Newly unemployed people are to be treated as benefit scroungers from the first day of their claim the Minister for Unemployment Esther Mcvey announced today.

In a breath-takingly patronising statement McVey rants that from the end of the month newly unemployed people will be forced to show “they are taking their search for work seriously” before becoming eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance.  This will mean producing a CV and signing up for the shambolic Universal Jobmatch – the Government job search site that is a laughing stock amongst claimants, employers and recruitment professionals alike.

This will be treating those recently made redundant  as ‘adults’ according to the minister, who clearly thinks that unemployed people are children.  Those facing these new measures will include people who have worked for years, unlike pampered posh girl McVey who bummed around in her Dad’s company for a while before launching a less than memorable television career.  Yet here she is lecturing people who’ve recently had real jobs about how to make themselves ‘prepared and enthusiastic’ to avoid the ‘one way street to benefits’.

The changes are being introduced despite the Government’s own statistics showing that 75% of people on Jobseeker’s Allowance are back in work within six months.  In contrast the number of people who have been unemployed over one year currently stands at 828,000, up from 757,000 in May 2010 when this Government weren’t elected – and this figure was the highest since May 1997.

With long-term unemployment soaring, and the Work Programme seemingly making things worse, the DWP are turning their attention to those who have just lost their jobs in a shoddy attempt to grab the headlines.  Once there was a time when governments pretended to care about people who had been made redundant.  Now they are more interested in smearing them as potential scroungers and forcing them into demeaning interrogations with Jobcentre busy-bodies in case they are secretly feckless.

This is what this Government really thinks of so-called hard working people.  Get laid off, for any reason, and you are instantly transformed into benefit scum in the eyes of Esther McVey.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

The Rich Will Destroy London Like They Destroy Everything Else

1-hyde-park

One Hyde Park, where flats cost £100 million and no-one lives in them.

It is difficult to imagine a more grotesque situation than entire streets full of mansions lying empty in Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Kensington whilst just down the road the number of people sleeping in shop doorways soars. But this is the sad reality of a reckless free-market economy which turns our homes into just one more commodity to be gambled with by the rich.

It is impossible to guess just how big the London housing bubble will get, and how far outside of the capital the impact will stretch.  The news that house prices have risen by 18% in just one year should chill everyone who hopes to continue actually living in the city.

London’s housing market is being turned into a billionaire’s casino, and as more money pours in those returns will keep getting bigger.  Or at least they will until someone blinks.  And then the whole sorry scam will come crashing down, leaving the not quite so obscenely rich – who thought they were the players – discovering that they have been well and truly fucking played.

The end result could be a disaster as London is split between a minority of buy to let landlords, who have several homes, and tenants with none who can no longer afford the rents demanded to compensate for mass negative equity.

The real fucking tragedy though is that the only thing worse than the bubble bursting is prices continuing to soar.  Already most of the capital is unaffordable for those on low incomes.  With housing benefits now capped far below rents in many areas, the vast majority of London’s private tenants are only a P45, an illness, or an accident away from being socially exported from the capital.

As prices soar the creative heart of London will be ripped apart.  The days when young people could come to the capital, live in a squat, or a cheap if grotty shared house in somewhere like Hackney or Brixton are already long gone.  It is no surprise that beyond over-hyped internet start ups and hipster twats, London’s cultural life is decaying from the bottom up – those at the top just can’t see it yet.  Artists, actors and musicians will be forced to join the exodus out of the city along with street cleaners and care workers.

Social housing is now being re-structured as a stepping stone for young middle class professionals, with laughably called affordable rents set at 80% of soaring local rental markets.  Many of those who already have a council flat are being bedroom taxed out of the capital.  When these tenancies end, these homes too will convert to ‘affordable housing’ in many boroughs – which means they will be unaffordable for most people.

The problems do not end there.  Hundreds of thousands of children are currently growing up in social housing in London who will never be able to afford to live here when they have families of their own.  Meanwhile as the so-called ‘generation rent’ approaches old age, few will have pensions which cover London rents.  The housing crisis in London is only just beginning.

Yet to hear the debate about London’s housing problems you would think the problem only affects ‘young professionals’ hoping to get on the housing ladder.  It is as if the rest of us – millions of us – do not exist.  The people who built this city, clean it, drive the buses and look after its children are being quietly abandoned with no thought at all to our lives, housing needs or futures.

Across London, from Deptford to Tottenham, luxury flats are springing up like a virus – the first warning to the poor that this is no longer our town.  There was a time when gentrification took a couple of decades, areas like Notting Hill did not become the playgrounds of the rich overnight.  Now as soon as a Foxtons opens next to the launderette you know you’re fucked.

When this onslaught is finally complete London will die.  No-one wants to live in a city full of braying chinless wankers jabbering into smart phones about house prices all day.  A global city of the super rich may sound like a utopia to the likes of Boris Johnson or the toffs in government.  But they will destroy London like they destroy everything else.  The end result will be a city that may have lots of places to buy fucking artisan cupcakes or quaff Champagne, but it will be a place with no soul.  Their money will not be able to fix that.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Housing Crisis, What Housing Crisis? Says Homelessness Charity Boss Jeremy Swain

killing-with-kindnessAn astonishing post from the boss of one of London’s largest housing charities shows how those paid a small fortune to represent homeless people are completely out of touch with the reality that their so-called ‘service users’ face.

Jeremy Swain is the boss of Thames Reach, one of the largest providers of emergency and temporary accommodation for single homeless people in London and the South East.  Recently he attended a meeting with Unemployment Minister Esther McVey, along with other highly paid charity chief executives and civil servants.

In his write up of this cosy affair you might have thought that the boss of a charity which works with the homeless people would tear into the Minister about the bedroom tax, the benefit cap or the current brutal benefit sanctioning regime. Possibly he might have mentioned that Boris Johnson’s housing strategy for London contains virtually no provision for desperately needed social housing.  He might even have offered a vicious condemnation of the current appalling policies aimed at people sleeping on the streets which amount to little more than police harassment of those without a home.  Surely at least he would mention soaring rents which are currently making much of the South East unaffordable for people on low incomes, or changes to housing benefits which force people under 35 to try and find a room in a shared house rather than self-contained accommodation.

But instead of this Jeremy writes on the Inside Housing website* that he is  concerned that parts of the homelessness industry “doggedly refuses to acknowledge successes” or makes it an “an article of faith that these are the worst of times” which may even “lead us into unquestioningly believing this to be true”.   There is no mention at all of the vicious welfare reforms which have already taken place, or of the carnage that is yet to come.

The latest rough sleeping figures show a shocking 37% leap in the number of people on the streets since this Government weren’t elected.  Statutory homelessness, which in practice largely means homeless families, remains at a relentlessly high level, despite changes to the law which means families can now be fobbed off into the expensive and insecure private sector rather than qualifying for social housing.  Jeremy is right that the number of families in temporary accommodation has fallen slightly since the obscene highs that were seen at times under the Labour Government.  But really, so fucking what.  As the Bedroom Tax begins to bite, and Discretionary Housing Payments run dry then things are set to get much worse, possibly even than we can yet imagine.

For those on low incomes, who are often in insecure housing to begin with, a crisis is taking place, but not one that will ever affect Jeremy’s pay packet.  Benefits are being stopped or sanctioned for the most trivial of reasons.  Atos assessments are driving people into both desperate poverty and ongoing despair.  Plans to strip Disability Living Allowance from a fifth of disabled people will only make things far worse, as will further cuts to housing benefits which will now shrink on an annual basis.  And throughout this onslaught a hate-filled campaign has emanated from the DWP and Esther McVey herself which has led to the most marginalised groups – exactly the type of people Thames Reach work with – being abused in both the national press and the streets.

The sad truth is that at heart Jeremy Swain and Esther McVey are both committed to the idea that poverty is a personal failing rather than a structural consequence of a capitalist economy.  That’s why Swain has remained obsessed with making Special Brew or cider more expensive, rather than tackling the causes of why so many people are drinking themselves to death.  Just like Iain Duncan Smith, Swain believes making poor people even poorer is the only way to bring them into line.

This is why he was also happy to lend Thames Reach’s name to the Killing With Kindness campaign which re-emerged last year and warned “well meaning people” not to give money to beggars because they might spend it on drugs.  In a breath-takingly nasty move, this campaign was launched over the Christmas period.  Give the money to us instead said Thames Reach, so Jeremy Swain can continue stuffing vol-au-vents down his neck and sucking up to murderous monsters like Esther McVey.  There’s a good living to be made from homeless people for charity chief executives after all.  And no need to derail the gravy train, and risk those lucrative Government contracts, by telling DWP ministers what you really think of their vile behaviour.

*you need to register to read it, but it’s free.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Join the physical or online blockade of the Salvation Army!

jesus-workfare-salvationFrom Boycott Workfare

Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty will be holding another of their regular and extremely successful blockades of the Salvation Army on Saturday morning from 11am onwards.

Join in with an online blockade of the Salvation Army’s social media and let them know what you think of their prolific and unashamed use of forced unpaid labour.

Make your feelings known and you may even get to join the prestigious ‘Banned by the Salvation Army over workfare related comments’ facebook group.

Although the Salvation Army are steering clear of the government’s latest workfare programme, the 6 month long Community Work Placements, they are still major users of workfare, taking part in Mandatory Work Activity and the Work Programme. The Salvation Army have expressed their support for workfare for sick and disabled people using the disturbing phrase “emancipation through employment”. Their enthusiastic support of workfare has won them praise from the government last year that they were ‘holding the line’ as other organisations were dropping out of the schemes due to public outrage.

We will keep the pressure on until they fully withdraw from all workfare schemes which threaten people with benefit sanctions of up to 3 years, causing hunger and homelessness.

Contact the Salvation Army UK on Facebook and on Twitter: @salvationarmyuk

They can be telephoned on (020) 7367 4500 or emailed at: info@salvationarmy.org.uk

Please spread the word!

The Salvation Army’s youth section are on facebook here.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid