Category Archives: Housing and Homelessness

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

Support The Focus E15 Mothers Fighting For Their Children’s Future

focus-e15The appalling treatment of a group of homeless single mums at the hands of Newham Council shows beyond doubt that the modern Labour Party are no friends of the poor.

The young mothers are being evicted from the Focus E15 hostel in the Labour controlled borough after the Council announced plans to cut costs by closing the hostel.  This is the same council who recently spent an astonishing £111 million pounds on an office block complete with chandeliers costing almost £2000 each!

Despite this vast display of wealth, Newham Council has chosen to turn their backs on some of the borough’s poorest residents and has not even offered a council property to the mothers.  Instead they have been abandoned to the cut-throat private rental sector with the Council attempting to blackmail the mothers into accepting a private sector tenancy for just one year or facing no help with housing at all.

Eye-watering rents, along with vicious cuts to housing benefits, mean most of London is now unaffordable for low income households with children.  Grasping and out of control landlords demand huge sums of money up front to secure a tenancy, leaving finding a private sector rented property near impossible for Londoners on a low income.

The mothers rightly fear being socially cleansed from the capital as rents climb out of reach even in cheaper boroughs like Newham.  According to the website home.co.uk, the average rent for a two bedroom flat in Newham is £1,120 per calendar month.  The maximum available Local Housing Allowance (Housing Benefit) in Newham for a property that size is just £919.79 per month.

The mothers have launched a fierce fightback against this contemptible move by Newham Council, with a series of demonstrations, weekly info stalls and even an occupation of the council’s housing offices.  The Council’s response has been to ban journalists from public meetings and do everything they can to ignore the women’s demands.

The behaviour of Newham Council should shatter any lingering delusions that things will somehow be better if Labour manage to win the next election.  This is how Labour behave in power, attacking those with least whilst lining their own pockets at our expense.  Every child deserves a secure home to grow up in wherever they happen to be born.  The inspiring campaign by the E15 Focus Mums deserves huge support as they fight not just for homes for themselves but for all those who need them.

Only determined and sustained collective action can bring an end to the ongoing and vicious war on the poor being waged by all main political parties.  These young mothers, in one of the poorest areas of London, are showing the way, and we should all get behind them.

Please like and share the Focus E15 facebook page and visit often for the latest news on the campaign: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus-E15-Mothers/602860129757343

Read, sign and share the petition demanding the mother’s be given permanent social housing in London.

Visit Kate Belgrave’s blog for the latest coverage of the campaign and other stories highlighting the real and tragic impact of austerity on people’s lives.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

A Truly Chlling Move: Part Time Workers To Face Housing Benefit Sanctions DWP Confirms

what-nextIn breath-takingly savage news, it has been reported that the DWP plans to stop Housing Benefit payments to low paid part time workers if they fail to carry out ‘work related activity’.

When Universal Credit is finally introduced, those earning less than the equivalent of the minimum wage for 35 hours a week will be forced to constantly look for more or better paid work to qualify for in-work benefits such as Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.  Part time workers could face being sent on workfare in the hours they are not at work and will have to prove to Jobcentre busybodies that they are constantly looking for another, better paid job.

Currently sanctions are usually only inflicted on unemployed people, lone parents or those on sickness or disability benefits.  Sanctions are often imposed for the most trivial reason such as being a few minutes late for a meeting with the Jobcentre.  At present Housing Benefits, which allow people to at least keep a roof over their heads, cannot be sanctioned.

This will all change for part-time workers who will now face possible eviction if they upset the Jobcentre according to Inside Housing who warn this could affect up to a million workers.  The number of people in work reliant on Housing Benefits has soared in recent years as social housing has been eroded, whilst wages stagnated and private sector rents climbed to eye-watering levels.

It is chilling to imagine how this vicious move may play out in practice, particularly given this week’s news that evictions are at an all time high.  That it is to be inflicted on those in work just shows the depths that Iain Duncan Smith will stoop to in his attempt to bully the poor out of benefits.  More children will become homeless because of this measure, their lives destroyed before they have even really begun.

Astonishingly one of the groups most affected by this policy is likely to be Jobcentre workers themselves who will now be forced to make each other homeless.  If this doesn’t drag the so-called fighting PCS Union off their knees then nothing ever will.  Don’t hold your breath though – motions passed at the PCS Conference instructing the union to take a tougher line on benefit sanctions have been brushed under the carpet by the leadership.

Visit Boycott Workfare’s website to join the fight against workfare and benefit sanctions and sign the petition to scrap all benefit sanctions without exceptions at: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/benefit-sanctions-must-be-stopped-without-exceptions-in-uk

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Homes Not Jails: Sleeping Rough Is Not A Crime – Protest Tomorrow 26th February!

boris-homes-not-jailsWith Iain Duncan Smith’s bungled welfare reforms driving many of the lowest income Londoners from their homes, the clown Mayor of London is ensuring that even the streets are not safe for those being socially cleansed from the capital.

A new policing operation in six London boroughs will treat homeless people like criminals with arrests, harassment and even destruction of personal property to be inflicted on those who cannot afford a home.

A protest against this obscene measure has been called outside the Mayor’s Question Time tomorrow Wednesday 26th February at 10am, details below.

“The Met have announced plans to make ‘rough sleeping’ a crime in 6 London boroughs.  Operation Encompass will be in effect in Camden, Islington, Lambeth, Southwark, Westminster and  Croydon.

We are opposed to this latest attack on Homeless people and will protest at City Hall to tell Boris Johnson and the GLA to call off this hideous campaign criminalising some of the most vulnerable people in our city.

Already there have been arrests of people whose only crime is to be homeless due to the lack of Shelter spaces and suitable accommodation.

We ask people to support our opposition by attending and circulating the information amongst their networks and groups.

The biggest crime of all is the fact that people are homeless today.”

Meet on Wednesday 26 February 2014 10.00 am, London Assembly (Mayor’s Question Time), City Hall, The Queen’s Walk, London, SE1.

Full details on facebook – please share, tweet and help spread the word: https://www.facebook.com/events/714164025295447/

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Tory Council Sends Out ‘disgusting, threatening and insulting’ Christmas Card

LBHF_Christmas-cardA flagship Tory council has caused outrage after sending out a Christmas card which appears to stereotype social housing tenants as feckless drinkers who will not pay their rent.

The card (pictured), sent by Hammersmith and Fulham Council, warns tenants not to over indulge at Christmas ending with a stark warning to ‘Pay Your Rent’.

Speaking to BBC London, local resident Tina Buckley said a card had even been sent out to her 81 year old mother who has been a tenant for 60 years and never been behind with her rent.  Slamming the council’s campaign Ms Buckley said the cards were a: “disgusting, threatening and insulting piece of literature masquerading as a Christmas greeting”.

This is not the first time that Hammersmith and Fulham have shown utter contempt for people living in social housing.  This is the council that wants to force some tenants to work unpaid or face eviction after all. Now even at Christmas there is no let up from the stream of vile propaganda aimed at those on low incomes or living in social housing.

And why the fuck shouldn’t we have a chance to over-indulge at Christmas if we want to.  Hammersmith and Fulham Council want to strip every last sliver of pleasure away from the lives of those with least.  Even a Christmas drink is unacceptable when there’s the Bedroom Tax to pay.

It is hard to imagine more affluent groups in society being treated this way.  The tax office are not hanging round the City of London warning yuppies not to snort so much coke this Christmas that they have to dodge their taxes again. Yet if you are poor then expect council busy-bodies to be watching over you constantly in case, just for a second, you manage to grab a little bit of happiness from life.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Talking of Christmas you can now support this blog by sending money.  Please don’t unless you can afford it.

210,000 Pensioners Face Last Year’s Vicious Autumn Statement Cut

Osborne-mrbeanThe newspapers have been predicting that George Osborne is expected to raise the pension age to 69 in his Autumn statement today.  The cut he made last year to the incomes of some of the poorest pensioners however has gone almost unnoticed by the press.

Last year Osborne pegged benefit rises at 1% for the next two years no matter what happens to inflation.  This measure included Local Housing Allowance, the benefit paid to those on low incomes in to provide help with rent payments.  Pensioners are also eligible for this benefit, and the latest DWP statistics show that over 210,000 private sector tenants over 65 depend on this support.

Almost no-one seems to have noticed that this means that Osborne’s changes will hit pensioners despite government lies they would be protected from the cut.  Over 200,000 of the UK’s poorest pensioners will now see incomes shrink as the money they receive to stay in their homes is reduced and they will be forced to make up the difference out of meagre pensions.

How much their income will shrink is open to question.  A DWP Equalities Analysis predicted they will lose on average about £3 a week (PDF).  For those in high rent areas this is likely to be a woeful understatement.

Around 20,000 people over 65 are currently claiming LHA in London.  Rents are soaring in the capital, with one estimate claiming they have risen by 7.9% in just one year.  If this continues then a pensioner living in a private sector flat and claiming the LHA rate for central London could see their income reduced by up to £30 a week over the next two years.

Just like the victims of the Benefit Cap, these pensioners will be socially cleansed from the capital.  Some of them may have lived here their whole lives.  If they choose to stay they may face homelessness as rents soar.  This  will place even more pressure on Local Authorities to provide one bedroom flats at a time of desperate shortage of smaller properties due to the bedroom tax.  The housing crisis in London is set to get worse, and George Osborne is directly responsible.

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Poorest Pensioners Could Be Made Homeless By Osborne’s Benefit Slashing

gideon-osborneA Government Equality Analysis has revealed that some of the UK’s poorest pensioners could be forced from their homes due to George Osborne’s Benefit Uprating measures which will cap Local Housing Allowance (LHA) increases at 1%.

Disabled people, and those with children, are also likely to be affected and could find themselves forced to move the analysis warns.

Osborne announced in his Autumn statement last year that for the next two years almost all benefit increases will be capped at 1% no matter what happens to inflation.  With food, fuel and travel costs soaring this will place huge pressure on those who are already facing a desperate struggle for survival due to the raft of other vicious cuts to social security.

Up until now pensioners have been largely excluded from the savage cuts and rightly so.  The Equality Analysis reveals however that those over 65 living in private rented accommodation will be affected by the Benefit Uprating Bill.

According to the DWP, 12% of private renters claiming Local Housing Allowance (LHA) are over 65.  The only criteria for claiming LHA is income and assets, meaning that this benefit only goes to the poorest households – and the poorest pensioners.  It appears that the Government are only interested in protecting better off pensioners.  Those who are poor and already struggling between the choice of heating or eating can now add paying the rent to this horrific dilemma.

The Equality Analysis states: “the 65 plus age group renting in the private sector may be disproportionately disadvantaged than others of working age as they are more likely to be disabled or have a health condition and are far less likely to be able to increase their household income, either through working or increasing hours of work. Moving may be more of a challenge for claimants in this group that rely on local community support systems or have specific accommodation needs (eg. If they need to be in a ground floor property).”

The report also warns that lone parents and disabled people will be disproportionally affected by the cut, as these groups may find it more difficult to move if they can no longer afford the rent.  It also reveals that 46% of those impacted will be single women – with or without children – compared to 25% of those hit who will be single men.

In a crude attempt to offset some of the carnage from this change the Government has announced a Targeted Affordability Funding scheme.  This will provide some money for extra LHA increases in areas where rents rises far outstrip the meagre 1% on offer.  Astonishingly this money will not be used to increase housing benefits in the highest rent areas such as London where LHA is already capped far below market rents in many areas.  According to the report:  “those LHA rates which are currently capped in the most expensive areas will only increase by 1% as all LHA rates will still be subject to maximum limits”.

This Government is intent on socially cleansing the poor from London and other better off areas by any means necessary.

The DWP are quite open about the fact that the cap on LHA increases will mean some people will have to move.  In the section of the analysis on how the impact of this policy will be mitigated it suggests that:  “Some claimants may consider looking for cheaper accommodation”.

What this will mean in practice is that some claimants – including pensioners and disabled people – will be made homeless.  Few people on the lowest incomes can afford to just move at the drop of a hat even if there is anywhere for them to move to.  With house prices rising and the rental market sure to follow the trend, the number of properties affordable to those on benefits is set to shrink even further.

All measures of homelessness are rising and the use of foodbanks is at record levels.  Not content with this, George Osborne’s Benefit Uprating Bill will mean that the UK’s poorest people are set to be made even poorer on an annual basis.  No-one is to be excluded, not those in work on low wages or those who have worked their entire lives and are now drawing a pension.  Meanwhile  George Osborne has just spent £10 million of our money on some fancy office furniture.

You can read the Equality Analysis at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/262034/lha-uprating-equality-analysis.pdf

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Boris Plans To Build 27,000 Unaffordable Houses A Year To Ease London’s Housing Crisis

rough-sleepers-esLondoners should brace for themselves for an influx of toffs whilst the poor sleep on the streets if Boris Johnson’s latest Housing Strategy is given the go ahead.

According to the Mayor, 42,000 new houses a year are planned for the capital  over the next ten years.  Many of these houses will be bought by global super-rich vultures who seem intent on buying up London properties as investments, not homes.  Most of the rest will go to highly paid professionals.  5,000 will be built for ‘long term private rent’ at the current soaring market levels.  Of the total number of new homes Boris plans to build a mere 15,000 a year will be ‘affordable’.

Yet even this will mean nothing to the hundreds of thousands of low income Londoners desperate for decent and secure housing.  40% of these ‘affordable’ homes will be ‘low cost home ownership products’. The Mayor’s own report admits that the average annual income of people who access these schemes is £33,000 a year – over two and a half times the salary of someone working full time on minimum wage and £7,000 more than the amount of out of work benefit a family of any size can now receive in London.

For those not on £33,000 a year – which means most of London – that will leave 9000 homes a year.  That is less than the 14,500 households that were accepted as homeless in London in 2012/13 and they represent the tip of the iceberg.  As the Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap bite the number of homeless families is likely to soar.  There will be nowhere for these families to go if Boris gets his way.

And even these 9000 new homes will not be anything like the kind of long term social housing that is so desperately needed.  These new homes will be on fixed term tenancies and the majority will charge an ‘Affordable Rent’ – which can be anything up to 80% of market rents.

Half of these homes, just 4,500, will be set at “discounted”  rents.  But this according to the Mayor means: “set at the lower of up to eighty percent of market rent or the local housing allowance (LHA).”  The lowest Inner London LHA rate for a three bedroom property is £305.77 a week in South East London whilst in Inner North, East, South West and West London LHA rates are set at the maximum payable under housing benefit rules – £347.48 a week.

For a family with three children who are out of work, this would mean an income of just £150 a week once rent is paid.  These families will not be able to afford to stay in the capital  If you are unable to work due to sickness or disability, are unemployed or have caring responsibilities then you can fuck off out of town as far as Boris is concerned.  As the report says: “access to these homes would be targeted to those in work in the first instance”.

A development in Stratford announced last year and aimed at low income workers was charging £323 in ‘affordable rent’ a week just for a two bedroom flat a long way from the centre of the capital.  This is more than could be earned in a week even for someone on the much touted Living Wage.  The so-called Living Wage isn’t even enough to pay for an Affordable Home.  That politicians of all parties trot out these glib phrases with a straight face shows just how out of touch the political class has become.  What is transparent bollocks to the rest of us is a credible housing strategy  to these clowns.

You can read the Mayor’s proposed housing strategy at: http://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/London%20Housing%20Strategy%20consultation%20version_0.pdf

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Record Numbers On Workfare and In-Work Housing Benefit Claims Top One Million – They Call This Recovery

workfare-isnt-workingThe number of unpaid workers rose by over 10,000 people in the three months to September yesterday’s Labour Market Statistics revealed.

The number of people in “government supported training and employment programmes” – climbed by 11,000 to reach 175,000 – the highest figure since workfare began.

This could be due to an increase in unpaid work for young people with the launch of Traineeships in August.  These schemes involve a period of up to five months working without a wage and are designed to ‘prepare’ people for taking up Apprenticeships, often at below the minimum wage.  Predictably several major companies, including Boots and Kwik-fit, have been only to happy to take up this tax payer funded offer of free workers.

Young people cannot currently be forced to start on a Traineeships which are officially voluntary (UPDATE: at least the work experience element is).  Such is the toxic regime at Jobcentres however, where claims can be sanctioned for ever more ludicrous reasons, it is likely many young unemployed people feel they have no choice but to work unpaid.

And even if this were not the case, Traineeships still represent a wealth grab by grasping employers.  Some of the UK’s richest companies are exploiting young people’s very real fear of unemployment to convince them that they should work for nothing in jobs which would once have come with a wage.

Unpaid workers on these schemes are counted as employed, a handy distortion of the figures for a Government that claims they are bringing down unemployment.  With the numbers in part-time work, precarious self-employment or workfare all at record levels, and wages falling far behind inflation, the true picture of the labour market is far from good news. Recent Housing Benefit statistics* show that the number claiming help with housing costs remains at record levels.  Over 5 million people are on this benefit and for the first time, in July 2013, the number of working Housing Benefit claimants topped one million.

Other statistics published this week show that 522,000 people so far face the threat of homelessness due to the Bedroom Tax.  Every measure of homelessness is already rising.  The number of people dependent on foodbanks is soaring.  If this is a recovery then what the fuck does a recession look like?

*The Housing Benefits statistics are now being released via the near incomprehensible DWP Stat-Xplore website.

Join the Week of Action Against Workfare beginning on December 2nd, please spread the word.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid