The Fight To Save Social Security Won’t Be Over Whoever Wins The Election, Come To The Welfare Action Gathering – 30th May

welfare-action-flyerfrom Boycott Workfare

Saturday 30th May, 10.30am-5.30pm, London Welsh Centre (10 minutes’ walk from King’s Cross station)

Faced with policies that are pushing ever more people into precarity and poverty, thousands of us have been coming together to support each other. We are pushing back workfare, standing up to sanctions, challenging the work capability assessment and fighting insecure, unaffordable housing.

If you are concerned about:

  • Job centres being places of intimidation and sanctions,
  • Private providers bullying claimants on ‘welfare-to-work’ schemes,
  • 35 hour jobsearch under Universal Credit,
  • ESA assessments putting sick and disabled people in fear of destitution,
  • Welfare rights for young people being abolished and replaced with unpaid work,
  • Workfare being required to be eligible for social housing,
  • Housing benefit being part of sanctions under Universal Credit,
  • Claimants in work being sanctioned under Universal Credit too…

…then do something about it and come to the Welfare Action Gathering to hear from other people organising across the UK! Learn about our rights and share ideas and tactics!

This isn’t a day for speakers from the front. Party political representatives aren’t invited. It’s a day for people at the grassroots to get together and work out how we can support each other, defend our rights and continue successfully to campaign against workfare and sanctions.

Organised by Boycott Workfare with Haringey Solidarity Group. Workshops and contributions from other groups are very welcome!

Want to come? Please register your interest now: info@boycottworkfare.org

Will you need help with travel costs? If you are in a local group where people support each other and take action on welfare or housing (or plan to start one), we should be able to help with your travel costs. Please help by booking travel early and accessing other sources of funding if you can. Get in touch as soon as you can to sort travel costs out.

Access info: Please get in touch if there are ways we can help make the event accessible to you. The venue is wheelchair accessible however one workshop room unfortunately is not. If you are a wheelchair user, please contact us in advance to let us know which workshops you’d like to attend, and we’ll make sure they are scheduled on the ground floor.

Want to organise something similar near you? We’d love to help if we can. We especially want to support another gathering in the North in Autumn/Winter 2015, but would need a local group to take the lead on organising it. Please get in touch.

For more details and a list of the workshops organised so far visit Boycott Workfare’s website.

Join the Facebook event and invite others to come too!

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They Are Coming For Our Pensions … And This Is How It Begins

work-till-you-dieUnpaid work experience and apprenticeships for pensioners could soon be on the way as a report released earlier this month lays the groundwork for an attack on pensions.

The report, entitled A New Vision For Older Workers, was produced by Dr Ros Altmann, a former banker who is occassionally on television.  To anyone who has followed the ongoing destruction of an adequate benefits system for sick and disabled people it is chillingly familiar.

“Encouraging and enabling those who want to work longer is an idea whose time has come” the report declares before trotting out the exact same assumptions that were used to justify the introduction of vicious assessments – and eventually forced training, job search and workfare – for sick and disabled claimants.  Older people want to work according to the report, and of course, work is good for your health.  It then goes on to make dire predictions about the future of the economy as people live longer than ever before – presumably because retiring is also quite good for your health.

The truth is that the research this report was based on shows that most people are pretty much happy to retire at 65, although some would like to work part time for a period first, and a much smaller number afterwards.  Only 10% of people wanted to work full time over the age of 65, whilst 26% would like some part time work.  The main reason people didn’t want to give up work was because they were worried about money.  Only 9% of people questioned said they wanted to stay in work because they liked their job.  Just 22% of retired people said they missed work, and of those most of them missed the money.  People like money, and they like retiring.  This is not a big fucking surprise.

It is also not what Ros Altmann, or the DWP wants to hear.  The report says we need to ‘rethink what retirement looks like’ and goes on to propose measures such a government funded Apprenticeships for older workers.  It also calls for similar ‘work placements’ to be made available to those inflicted on young people such as the unpaid Work Experience and Sector Based Work Academy schemes.  Despite spending much of the early section of the report arguing that more measures to keep older people in work will not affect youth unemployment she says that employment schemes aimed at the young disadvantage older workers.  She thinks pensioners should have the right to work in Poundland for no pay as well.

The report is discussing all workers over the age of 50, and Altmann doesn’t seem to know that older unemployed people can be sent on workfare right up until they draw a pension.  This doesn’t mean that pensioners are off the hook however, the report is adament that “age should not be a barrier to training opportunities”.

It is important to point out that Altmann talks about encouraging people to work longer or take up an apprenticeship, not forcing them.  They are not yet that confident. But this is exactly the kind of smiley faced rhetoric that was eventually used to justify workfare and benefit cuts for sick and disabled people.  Altmann even proposes an Age Confident campaign, modelled on the DWP’s current Disability Confident initiative, the shoddy PR programme introduced to provide soft cover for cutting disabled people’s benefits.

Workfare for your pension may be some way off but that is no reason to be complacent.  Reports like this are how it begins.  Encouraging people to work longer is presented as helping them, or ending age discrimination.  Liberals will cheer, the Labour Party will applaud.  Charities for older people will start thinking about all those juicy contracts to train pensioners in how to write a CV that might be on the way.  Middle-class professionals, who earn more in an hour than some do in a day, will think it’s just common sense to do a few hours work after you retire – as long as the money’s right of course.  And slowly those who choose to retire at 65 will be start to be criticised for not taking up all the exciting opportunites now available to work for the  minimum wage until the day you die.

Eventually anyone who doesn’t want to be worked to their death will be a scrounger and a drain on society.  They will need to be punished, by stopping their pensions to help ensure they make the right choices and that the system is fair.  Sounds far-fetched doesn’t it?  Yet that’s how people with cancer, MS, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and other serious and sometimes terminal health conditions are treated every day by the DWP.  Who would have predicted that a couple of decades ago?

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Inflation Flat, Rents Soaring And Letting Agents Are Still Whining

chicago-rent-strike1On the same day it was reported that inflation had dropped to 0% a report from the Association of Residential Letting Agents (pdf) gleefully announced that rents are rising due to soaring demand for housing.
31% of letting agents reported rent increases between January and February with rises highest in the South East and “intense competition” for housing in London. Even the language used reveals a private rental sector that is broken beyond repair.

Tenants are customers, they should not be in competition for housing, landlords should be in competition for tenants. Even by the vile standards of a free market run rampant that is how it is supposed to work. No-one is in competition to shop at fucking Tesco. And yet even during this boom time for letting agents and landlords they can still find something to complain about.

The report warns that 70% of letting agents say landlords will pull out of the market if three year tenancies are introduced as Labour have vaguely promised to do if they win the election. They expect us to believe that buy-to-let landlords will all start paying their own mortgages in protest if they are no longer able to evict tenants at the drop of a hat.  They must think we are fucking idiots.

Millions of people are now living in private rented accommodation and can face eviction, for any reason, with just two months notice. As house prices soar and social housing disappears that means millions of people who will live their entire life without ever knowing what it is like to have a secure home. And all to prop up parasites in the private rented sector who are exploiting the fucked housing market to wring out every last possible penny from their tenants. Tenants who in many cases may already be living in desperate poverty.

Rent caps are needed urgently, but even that would only fix rents at their current astronomical levels. A huge expansion of social housing is the only real solution to the UK’s housing crisis. That means in London not one more yuppy flat should be built until there is no-one at all on housing waiting lists.   Alternatively we could all stop paying our rent and really give the bastards something to complain about.

The occupation of the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark is still going strong.   Follow them @Fight4Aylesbury or for the latest news visit their website.

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Iain Duncan Smith’s Plan To Privatise … Everything?

iain-duncan-smith-image-2Plans are underway to place up to one trillion pounds of public spending in the hands of investment companies and bankers.

Iain Duncan Smith gave a speech at the Social Investment Conference last week discussing how Social Impact Bonds are “transforming the whole culture of public spending”.  These bonds are the latest way to funnel tax payer’s money into the private sector by allowing investment companies to hand out contracts to run public services on a payment by results model.

The way it works is simple.  A bunch of city spivs and social enterprise bosses get together and decide they can fix a social problem such as street homelessness.  A list of ‘outcomes’ are drawn up, such as the number of homeless people they think can place in accommodation and the government agrees to give them lots of our money if they are successful.  The spivs then either lend or provide the upfront funding whilst all the social enterprise has to do is cook the books and make sure that these outcomes appear to be achieved.  If they are then the spivs get a juicy return on their initial investment.

According to Iain Duncan Smith a pilot scheme based on this funding model has already helped to cut rough sleeping in London by 30%.  This is a boringly transparent lie, street homelessness in London has almost doubled under this Government.  What he was referring to was a project run by two charities, St Mungos and Thamesreach, which focussed on 831 ‘entrenched’ rough sleepers*.  The most recent evaluation of the scheme says that one of these charities failed to meet their target to reduce rough sleeping and that performance overall was ‘mixed’.

On the Work Programme the payment by results model has led to perverse results, such as those who are most in need of help being ‘parked’, or abandoned, because they are not deemed profitable.  The ruthless benefit sanctions required to underpin the scheme, as no-one would volunteer for such a shoddy service, have led to desperate suffering.  The impact on long term unemployment has been virtually non-existent – the latest figures show that those who have been on the programme for two years are slightly less likely to have had a spell in work than if no scheme had existed.

This is the type of funding model that Iain Duncan Smith wants to introduce across public services, except instead of being in hock to the government then service providers will owe a debt to shadowy investment cartels.  These are not people who care about public services, all they care about is money, in fact that is the point.  The neo-liberal belief that greed is good means that greed should be introduced into every sector of our lives from social care to healthcare to education.  What they don’t seem to understand about greed –  or perhaps they do and don’t care – is that the instinct of the greedy is to do the least possible work for the most possible money.  If it is easier to cook the books than achieve genuine outcomes then that is what they will do.  If people are damaged in the process they don’t care.  If actions taken today lead to a greater cost tomorrow then that is not their problem. To allow this culture to take hold in public services is a toxic recipe for corruption and cost-cutting at the expense of care.

There should be no doubt in the scale of Iain Duncan Smith’s ambition.  At his speech last week he announced that the ‘first trillion’ of potential investment money had been identified, adding ominously “that’s what it cost to deliver our health and education systems for the last 5 years.”  Remember that.  This Government wants to privatise everything.  And so will the next one whoever is elected.  Social Impact Bonds were yet another Labour invention that Iain Duncan Smith has claimed as his own.

*Amusingly this is more rough sleepers than actually exist in London according to the latest figures from the Department of Communities and Local Government which claim only 742  people are currently sleeping on the streets in the capital.  This disparity comes from the annual street count, which is widely believed to be fixed and shows just how easy it is to generate any so-called ‘outcome’ you want even when there is no profit motive involved.

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Behind The Benefit Bashing Headlines Lies A Nasty Ideology That Is Not Confined To The Daily Mail

mustard-tree-protest

A protest was held outside Manchester homelessness charity Mustard Tree yesterday over their involvement with workfare. (h/t @gajagwyn)

There was a time when policies to send sick or disabled claimants on workfare, or sanction the benefits of lone parents, would have been met with horror by the electorate.  There have always been grumblings about the social security system, as with any other institution, but unemployment was once seen as a personal tragedy caused by wider economic failings, not a personal failing caused by laziness or the wrong attitude.

This change in public opinion did not happen by accident.  Just like immigration can be used to whip up and divide sections of the population, so can the social security system.  The implanting of the idea that somebody is getting something you aren’t, even if this isn’t really true, is an age old technique.  The grass on the other side of the valley is probably not greener, we learn that as children, but are still deceived by it.

You can see this at work in the comments made online during the broadcast of programmes like Benefits Street: “look, he’s got a chair, I work 4000 hours a week and can’t afford a chair.  Bastard.”  Of course this can’t be true.  It is virtually impossible to be better off on benefits than in work and most people understand this really.  People may appear jealous of those with a life so broken they find themselves queuing outside the off licence first thing in the morning, but they don’t generally want to trade places with them.

Behind the benefit bashing headlines however much more insidious ideas have been at work that have not come from the front pages of the Daily Mail.  The flawed notion that work is always good for you, in almost any circumstances, has become a medical consensus despite the evidence that shows that it isn’t true.  The belief that young people are idle and unemployable, and that only unpaid or forced work experience will fix them, is just as embedded within the Labour Party as on the Tory front benches.  The debate about poverty is no longer about reshaping society, but about reshaping individuals to teach them not to be poor anymore.  And work, meaning waged work for an employer, because all other forms of work no longer count, is now seen as the end point of any treatment or social care programme.

Without these shifts in attitudes amongst charity bosses, trade union leaders, so-called intellectuals and liberal journalists, then the scrounger rhetoric would have collapsed at the first suicide linked to benefit cuts.  The cartoon headlines have been matched with equal relentlessness by endless reports from anti-poverty charities and pious newspaper columns about how to fix the poor.  Foodbanks that come with conditions to attend bogus self-help schemes are cheered by the liberal press as innovative solutions, when the truth is that they are businesses hoping to profit from poverty.  Bosses of homelessness charities team up with coppers and Tories to warn people not to give money to beggars because it will only encourage them to be poor.  Disability charities and trade unionists alike rub shoulders with filthy profiteers like A4e and G4S at conferences and award ceremonies.

Of course these Ned Flanders wannabes line up to condemn the coarseness of the tabloid attacks on those receiving benefits.  Yet they reproduce the exact same ideology everytime they open their mouths. As such they are equally, if not more dangerous than any acid-tongued viper at the Daily Mail.  They have built the foundation upon which the rest of the poison depends.  A collective delusion has developed amongst the mainstream liberal left that the very worst thing you can do for someone in poverty is to give them money.  No wonder George Osborne has got a smile on his face.

A protest was held outside the Manchester based homelessness charity Mustard Tree yesterday over their involvement in workfare. Please help keep up the pressure online @themustardtree and on facebook.  You can also sign and share the petition.

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What A Fucking Shambles, Work Programme Still Worse Than Doing Nothing At All

esa-wp-graph

The dotted line represents the percentage of sick and disabled claimants who would have been expected to get jobs if the Work Programme didn’t exist.

It is astonishing that the ‘minimum expected level’ of people finding jobs on Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme is the same as would be expected had he done nothing at all.

What this means is that as long as the Work Programme isn’t making long term unemployment worse then both the DWP and the private sector parasites who run the scheme can claim it is a huge success when in fact it’s nothing of the sort.  It is just not doing any damage.  The problem is that in many cases the Work Programme is not meeting the ‘minimum expected levels’.  It is worse than doing nothing and from the latest figures appears to be creating, not curing long term unemployment amongst some groups.

This has left Iain Duncan Smith with nothing to shout about except for the huge numbers of people who have been forced to waste their time on the scheme.  And so that’s what he’s done today as the latest dismal performance figures are released with a jubilant press release declaring that the Work Programme has ‘helped’ more people than any previous employment scheme.  The truth is that the Work Programme has failed more people than any scheme before at a time when we are constantly being told how many jobs are now available.

Of the one million people who have been sent on the Work Programme over 700,000 were back at the Jobcentre after two years of expert help from companies like G4S, Maximus and A4e.  Only a quarter of those on the programme had a spell of 3-6 months in work – slightly below the ‘minimum expected level’.

This is less than the number of people who would have been expected to get jobs if the Work Programme had never existed.  Tax payers have forked out over a billion pounds for this fiasco.  The suffering of claimant’s sanctioned on the scheme is well documented.  The lives lost little more than human sacrifice – scapegoats for a failing economic system.  If there was any more proof needed that benefit sanction harm rather than help then today’s Work Programme statistics provide it.

For sick and disabled claimants the level of failure is shocking.  Just 3.4% of current claimants of sickness benefits (ESA/IB) who started on the scheme in December 2013 had a spell of at least three months in work a year later.  This is barely a third of the number who would have been expected to get a job under their own steam without any compulsory ‘help’.

Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of the Work Programme is what has happened to all those found ‘fit for work’ by Atos and told to frantically look for work or face their benefits being stopped.  Hundreds of millions has been spent harassing this group of claimants, who in many cases are not really well enough to work at all.  Just 1.5% of this group had found a job lasting over 3 months after completing a year on the scheme in December 2015.

Overall the Work Programme is only performing above minimum levels for mainstream Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants who have been on the scheme a year, and then only by a couple of percent.  There is a dirty fucking trick being played here however.  The most successful group of claimants are ‘other JSA’ which represents around a third of unemployed people sent on the scheme.  Over 20% of this group found work after a year.

Other JSA is largely made up of Early Entrants, which means those referred onto the Work Programme before they had been unemployed for over 12 months.  These are often people who have recently left work and are therefore the most employable claimants.  They are not the people the Work Programme was designed for.  They are also by far the most likely to get jobs on the Work Programme.

Documents leaked onto the internet by bungling A4e showed how Work Programme companies can receive huge payments even when someone has found a job themselves and not even started on the scheme.  All they need to do is make sure the paperwork is filled out correctly.  Jobcentre staff are also under huge pressure to produce job outcomes.  By encouraging the most employable claimants to sign up for the Work Programme then Jobcentre staff get a pat on the head when they inevitably find a job and the company running the scheme gets a cheque in the post.  And Iain Duncan Smith can pretend the Work Programme is doing better than it is. Everybody wins.  Except the tax payer and all those sanctioned or forced into workfare and who were back in the Jobcentre after two years wasted on the disastrous Work Programme.

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DWP Attempts To Increase Welfare-to-Work Companies’ Power To Snoop On Claimants

careless-talkPrivate sector Work Programme busy-bodies like A4e and G4S are to be encouraged to snoop on agreements made between unemployed people and the Jobcentre.

From 23rd March 2015  the DWP sent out a memo declaring that: “it would be beneficial for Work Programme Providers to potentially have sight of the Claimant Commitment at the first point of contact.”

The companies running the Work Programme will be expected to encourage participants to share this document, whilst Jobcentre staff will “ensure they highlight to claimants the importance of sharing their Claimant Commitment with their provider at first contact.”

The Claimant Commitment is the agreement that everyone is now forced to sign as a condition of claiming the main out of work benefits.  It details the endless pointless activity that unemployed people are expected to carry out as punishment for being out of work.  Any breach of this commitment can result in benefits being sanctioned.  According to the DWP, allowing companies who run welfare-to-work schemes access to this agreement will provide them with “Information on messaging around a claimant’s non-compliance with work related requirements”.  In other words it will be easier for Work Programme providers to grass you up to the Jobcentre for not carrying out work-related activity.

There is no legal requirement to show your Claimant Commitment to your Work Programme provider however due to data protection laws.  You should not be sanctioned for refusing to let them see it.  The memo warns the providers that “If the claimant refuses to share their Claimant Commitment you should not take any further action to pursue.”

It is up to you.  Make sure everyone knows this.

For more information on what you can and can’t be forced to sign and what information you have to disclose to Work Programme companies visit: http://refuted.org.uk/donotsign/

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