Author Archives: johnny void

Huge Success For Campaigners As Rage Against Maximus Explodes Onto The Streets Across The UK

Disabled protesters block Victoria Street bringing traffic chaos.

Disabled protesters block Victoria Street bringing traffic chaos.

Over 30 towns and cities held protests yesterday against the involvement of sinister US based outsourcing company Maximus in the despised Work Capability Assessments.

Maximus take over from Atos this week carrying out the tests used to strip benefits from sick and disabled people by finding them ‘fit for work’.  Atos were chased out of their lucrative contract with the DWP after a string of protests destroyed their carefully crafted corporate identity and campaigners have vowed to do the same to Maximus.

In London up to a hundred disabled people and supporters descended on their non-descript London offices where a noisy and determined protest took place outside their front door.  Protesters then took to the streets and occupied a roundabout where a Work Capability Assessment circus was held with events including a jumping through hoops display and a box lifting competition – a reference to one of the criteria in the assessments used to find people fit for work.  The circus ended with a rousing chorus of David Cameron Is A Wanker from the Kilburn Unemployed Workker’s Group.

Protesters then marched towards Parliament Square, stopping briefly outside the locked down and fenced off Department of Work and Pensions before blocking the busy Victoria Street.  Whilst a low key police presence looked on protesters held the road for almost an hour, bringing traffic to a standstill.

The protest was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), alongside Black Triangle, Mental Health Resistence Network, UK Uncut, #newapproach and many more.  Protests also took place across England, Scotland and Wales, with even a solidarity protest outside Maximus’ offices in Toronto, Canada.  For a round up of tweets, pics, video and reports so far visit DPAC’s website.

The hashtag for the day #maximarse also briefly trended on twitter as thousands of people vented their outrage about the company online.  This proved so popular that a panicking Maximus quickly bought the domain name marximarse.com as spotted by @refuted.

The day was a huge success for campaigners and showed that simply changing the bastards carrying out these assessments has done nothing to dampen the rage against these nasty and vindictive tests.  Yesterday was just the start.    The best thing Maximus could do now is cut their losses and scuttle off back under a rock because all this contract is going to do is cost them lots and lots of money.

For a video of the Victoria Street blockade and report visit: http://www.katebelgrave.com/2015/03/maximus-protest-videos-pictures-how-people-can-and-will-destroy-big-corporates/

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Sell, Sell, Sell! Maximus Share Prices Could Tumble After Welfare To Work Scandal Rocks Australia

share-collapse1A damning documentary exposing the shoddy behaviour of Maximus and the welfare-to-work sector in Australia could lead to a drop in the company’s share price according to one stockmarlet analyst.

The programme, produced by ABC (and still viewable here), tells a story which will be familiar to all those in the UK forced to attend outsourced schemes such as Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme.  Claimants had their benefits stopped for no reason, signatures on paperwork were faked and the most marginalised claimants were parked – meaning abandoned completely by the companies who saw no profit in helping them.  Maximus dominate the welfare-to-work sector in Australia, and have several contracts running similar schemes in the UK.

According to an analyst on finance website Seeking Alpha, Maximus earn 10% of their revenue in Australia and that could now be under threat due to a ‘short term negative news cycle’.  They haven’t fucking seen anything yet.

Tomorrow (2nd March 2015) over 30 towns and cities in the UK will hold protests against the company due to their upcoming involvement in the despised Work Capability Assessment (WCA).  These are the shoddy tests used to strip benefits from sick and disabled people by declaring them ‘fit for work’.  Previous contractor Atos were chased out of the assessments after their corporate reputation was destroyed by five years of ferocious campaigning by claimants.  Maximus take over this week.

The DWP think the main problem with the WCA is how it is perceived.  Amusingly new contractors Maximus boasted they would not face protests like their predecessors because they were going to carry out the assessments in a ‘timely manner’.  Speaking to the BBC  a representative of the company said: “There is a need to better explain to people that they’re not coming to an exam, they’re coming to an interview.”

They must think we are fucking idiots.  The stated intention of the WCA, when it was first launched by Labour in 2008, was to strip out of work sickness benefits from one million people.  No amount of scatter cushions in assessment centres or nicely worded letters will change that.  Just like Atos, Maximus have been  employed to stop people’s benefits and everybody knows it.  And just like Atos, that process will lead to suicides, deterioration in people’s health and desperate poverty.

The Work Capability Assessment is based on three flawed assumptions.  The first is the ludicrous medical consensus which claims that work is good for you in almost any circumstances despite evidence which shows poor quality jobs can be worse for your health than unemployment.  The second is that there is plenty of work to go round if people just try hard enough, yet there are only 700,000 vacancies currently available and just short of two million unemployed people desperate for a job – a figure which does not include and additional two and a half million sickness benefit claimants.  And the third and perhaps most toxic is that large numbers of people on out of work sickness or disability benefits are scroungers, workshy, fraudulent or faking their health condition.

The UK does not have significantly more people on out of work sickness or disability benefits than countries with comparable economies.  Every single claimant has already been signed off as unable to work by their own GP – a pre-condition of claiming sickness benefits.  Most sickness benefit claims are temporary, when people get better they leave benefits and go back to work.  The amount of fraud in the system is tiny because it’s just not worth the risk of faking an illness and risking increasingly severe criminal penalties for the sake of an extra £30 odd quid a week compared to Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Because the entire process is based on lies, these assessments cannot be reformed, improved, or made fair.  The WCA is driving people to despair and even their deaths in some tragic cases, all to save trivial amounts of money.  It needs to be scrapped, immediately.  Since neither of the main politial parties are prepared to do that it needs to be made unprofitable.  That is all that sinister corporate bastards like Maximus understand.  And it can be made unprofitable, as Atos recently found out to their cost.  So let’s do it again. Relentlessly and starting tomorrow.

h/t @Hephaestus7

Please help spread the word about the Day of Action Against Maximus, full details at: http://dpac.uk.net/2015/02/your-all-in-one-guide-to-the-maximus-national-day-of-action-2nd-march-scrapwca-maximarse/

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The Work Capability Assessment Is About To Get Worse, Less People To Be Placed In Support Group Say DWP

wca-review5

Recommendations made by Paul Litchfield in the latest review into the Work Capability Assessment

More sick and disabled people will face sanctions and workfare when Maximus take over running running the despised assessments for sickness benefits say the DWP who have promised the number of people placed in the Support Group is expected to fall.

The department’s comments come in their response to the latest review into the Work Capability Assessment, the shoddy computer based test used to find sick and disabled people ‘fit for work’ and stop their benefits.  Sinister US based outsourcing firm Maximus will take over the assessments from next week after ferocious campaigning by disabled people and benefit claimants led to the notorious Atos ending their involvement with the tests early.

The most recent review was carried out by Paul Litchfield, presumably in his spare time as he is also Chief Medical Officer at BT.  Cutting sick and disabled people’s benefits and driving them into poverty is more of a hobby for this bastard.  Litchfield is very concerned that the number of people placed in the Support Group after an assessment has been on the rise and says this should be urgently examined.  Claimants in this group are those even the DWP agree are too unwell to work and who do not have to jump through endless hoops to prove they are looking for or preparing for work.  It is the only group of claimants who cannot be sent on mandated workfare or have their benefits sanctioned for missing a meeting at the Jobcentre.  Litchfield thinks there are too many of them, and is particularly worried about the number of young people languishing about in homes and hospitals with serious health conditions when they could be stacking shelves in ASDA for no pay on workfare schemes – or work related activity as he calls it.

As Litchfield will know however, young people, or those of any age in the Support Group, are able to access the Work Programme if they choose.  If many of them do not then that says more about the bungled scheme than it does about sick and disabled claimants.  The Work Programme is shit. That’s why no-one volunteers for it.

Another of Litchfield’s worries is the use of regulation 35 (2) (b).  This rule means that people can be placed in the Support Group automatically if there is “substantial risk” to their mental or physical health if they are found fit for work.  This can be done without a face to face assessment and is frequently used – often on the advice of a GP or medical specialist – when a claimant demonstrates suicidal behavior or is at risk of self-harm.  Litchfield seems appalled that this group are not being harassed stringently enough by the DWP.  Nowhere does he mention the growing number of suicides linked to the Work Capability Assessment .  Perhaps he thinks there aren’t enough.

The DWP agree with Litchfield that the numbers in the Support Group are too high and in a frank admission say this is down to more paper based assessments being carried out due to chronic delays that have built up in the system.  According to the department: “Following transition to the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (Maximus) and restoration of the usual proportion of face-to-face assessments it is expected that the level of Support Group outcomes will decline.”

Litchfield must be so relieved to hear that even more sick and disabled claimants will soon be dependent on food banks after having their benefits sanctioned.  He won’t be the only one happy at the news.  Maximus would like to see as many people on the Work Programme as possible, because they fucking run huge chunks of that as well.  No wonder their greedy boss can afford to pay himself $5 million a year.

The Work Capability Assessment is set to get worse.  It is more vital than ever that it is scrapped completely.  Help make that happen this Monday 2nd March with the first national day of action against new contractors Maximus.  Protests, demonstrations and actions are planned in 30 locations throughout the UK and even one in Toronto!  Full details of the nearest protest to you are available in this handy post from Disabled People Against Cuts.  Please help spread the word and let’s make Maximus feel uncomfortable for a change.

maximus-circus

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The Homelessness Epidemic Gets Worse, Highest Number Of Rough Sleepers Since National Count Began

rough-sleeping-graphThe UK’s homelessness epidemic is growing worse as statistics show there are more people sleeping on the streets in our city centres than at any point since national records began in 1998.

Rough sleeping has leapt by over 50% across England since the current Government weren’t elected going from 1,768 people in 2010 to an unprecedented 2,744 in 2014.  Despite Boris’ claim he would end rough sleeping in the capital by 2012, the number of street homeless people in London has almost doubled from 415 to 742 people between 2010 and 2014.

The first national street count was carried out in 1998 when 1,850 people were estimated to be sleeping rough in the UK according to homelessness charity Crisis.  By 2002 it had fallen to 585.  Since then it has more than quadrupled and the rise shows no sign of slowing – rough sleeping in London jumped by 37% in the last year alone.

The Tories have been quick to blame immigrants for the rise, as if no-one ever came to London from overseas and ended up homeless prior to 2010.  In truth the CHAIN figures (pdf), collected by charities and published alongside the government’s estimate, show that rough sleeping has risen in London amongst both UK nationals and those from Central and Eastern Europe who only make up 34% of the total.

Even these figures, which are based on a physical count of people sleeping rough in just one night, only show the tip of the iceberg – not least because there are persistent rumours of police operations clearing the streets of homeless people before the count takes place.  In addition the count does not include people squatting in abandoned buildings, sleeping in locked public parks, living in vehicles or hidden away outside city centres.  The true extent of rough sleeping in England is far higher than these figures suggest – and this is just the most acute form of homelessness.   There are tens of thousands of single homeless people living in hostels or nightshelters who are not recorded in any figures.  There may be as many as 400,000 hidden homeless, staying temporarily with friends and relatives or living in B&Bs.  The number of homeless families is also steadily rising with 60,000 families currently living in temporary accommodation.

Homelessness charities have blamed both soaring housing costs and welfare reforms for the homelessness epidemic.  Chillingly we are not even close to seeing the real impact of the Bedroom Tax, Benefit Cap and slashing of Housing Benefits for those under 35.  Many people are having shortfalls in their benefits made up by ‘Discretionary Housing Payments’ – which can be removed at any time by local authorities.  Others are surviving for now, or haven’t yet fallen into high enough arrears to face eviction.  The Benefit Uprating Bill, which pegs rises in Housing Benefit at 1% no matter how much rents soar, will place further pressure on those struggling to keep a roof over their heads.  The Tories have pledged to remove Housing Benefit from the young completely if they win the next election.  Labour are threatening yet more benefit sanction based forced work schemes – the cause of the ‘massive’ rise in street homelessness in Manchester according to local charities.  Several London Labour MPs want more laws to criminalise squatting.

Mass homelessness is set to be one of the most visible legacies of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms.  How bad things are going to get is the only real question left and not one politician, of any main party, seems to give a shit.

You can read the latest Rough Sleeping Statistics at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/homelessness-statistics#rough-sleeping

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How The DWP Bribed Employers To Break Age Discrimination Laws With A ‘Golden Ticket’ Worth £2,275

wage-incentive-goldenticketJobcentres bribed employers with ‘golden tickets’ worth up to £2,275 to hire young people over older workers despite warnings from lawyers that this Wage Incentive scheme was probably illegal.

Figures released this week show that over one hundred thousand ‘Wage Incentive’ payments were doled out to employers before the scheme was quietly abandoned last Summer.  These payments could be claimed from the DWP every time an employer recruited someone under 25 who had previously been on benefits.  An early evaluation of the scheme found that it was riddled with abuse, with employers making backdated claims for workers they had already hired, or even using Wage Incentives as a tax-payer funded rolling stock of temporary staff.  This report came alongside warning from the DWP’s own lawyers that companies who took these payments faced the risk of legal challenges under age discrimination laws from older workers denied jobs .

Despite these warnings Wage Incentives continued and by the time a second evaluation was published all mention of employers abusing the scheme had magically disappeared.  What this evaluation found however was the huge amount of pressure Jobcentre staff were being placed under to encourage employers to hire younger workers and claim Wage Incentives.  According to the report some staff felt that older claimants were disadvantaged by ‘persistent pressure’ to concentrate on Wage Incentive jobs and that targets set by the DWP were unfair.

Both evaluations found that ‘self-marketing’ Wage Incentives proved one of the most effective ways to sell the scheme to employers.  This included encouraging young people to add details of the potential bribe to their CVs, mention it at interviews, or present employers with a shoddily designed ‘golden ticket’ like the one pictured above.  According to one Jobcentre worker: “The line from employers is usually – if I see two candidates exactly the same and one is eligible and one is not, I’ll take the wage incentive candidate.” 

In other words employers would hire a younger worker over an older one purely because they were paid by the government to do so.  It is clear that this discriminates against older workers and it seems likely this is one of the reasons why Wage Incentives were quietly scrapped in August last year.

Amusingly the DWP are now pretending that Wage Incentives were only ever intended as a “temporary measure to encourage employers to offer sustained paid employment to young people during the recession”.  This is transparent bollocks.   There was never any intention that this scheme was temporary and it was introduced and stayed in effect long after the official period of recession.

The truth is that Wage Incentives were unfair, ineffective, hugely expensive and probably illegal.  But that’s all just business as usual at the DWP and not usually enough to cause one of Iain Duncan Smith’s crazy schemes to be brought to an end.  Yet significantly, even many grasping employers found Wage Incentives too much to stomach.  According to the recent evaluation one Jobcentre said:  “Some of our large and national employers won’t take wage incentive on because they don’t want bad or adverse publicity, if they think it looks like a bribe.”

Astonishingly the report says that in “one or two extreme cases, larger employers … were so opposed to the wage incentive that they would consider only recruiting candidates aged 25 and over” adding that “Other employers have said ‘it’s unethical, we don’t want to know about it”.

Don’t believe the fucking hype, employers have not suddenly turned into a bunch of hippies, they are just worried about their reputations.  If anything this shows the success that groups such as Boycott Workfare and claimants themselves have had in exposing the exploitation and naked profiteering at the heart of DWP backed schemes.  Everything the DWP try and do is toxic now.  Let’s make sure it stays that way.

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25 Feb Day of Action To Support Activist Arrested At Jobcentre

tony-coxSolidarity with unemployed activist arrested for representing a jobseeker – call out by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty via Boycott Workfare

Take part in a day of action at job centres Britain-wide, 25 February 2015.

Scottish Unemployed Workers Network activist Tony Cox was arrested on 29th January after Arbroath Jobcentre management called police to stop him representing a vulnerable jobseeker. We urge you to join a Day of Action on 25th February at Jobcentres round Britain to show your solidarity.  More info.

Actions planned so far:

Edinburgh and the Lothians:-

Leith jobcentre, Commercial St 9am – 11am
South Saint Andrew St jobcentre 11am – 1pm
High Riggs jobcentre 10am – 12 noon
Musselburgh jobcentre 2pm – 3pm

Dundee, Tayside and area:
Solidarity protest at Arbroath Job Centre: There will be a picket of the Forfar court before the hearing on 25 February contact admin@scottishunemployedworkers.net

London:
* 09.45-10.45am, outside Kilburn Jobcentre with Kilburn Unemployed Workers
* 3pm, DWP, Caxton House, Tothill Street London SW1H 9NA (Nearest tube St James’ Park or Westminster) with Boycott Workfare

Cardiff, Wales:
IWW Cymru in Cardiff is in. 12-2 at Charles Street Job Centre, Cardiff..
https://www.facebook.com/events/607720169358185/?ref=3&ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular

Liverpool
11.30 Jobcentre Plus. Eaton Road, West Daerby
https://www.facebook.com/events/805964602791737/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular

UK Wide:

Send a message of support to admin@scottishunemployedworkers.net

Complain to Noel Shanahan, Director General Operations DWP, Caxton House, Tothill Street London SW1H 9NA

Sign the petition

Please help spread the word about all events.

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Workfare Is A Betrayal Of Our Children And We Will All Pay The Price In Time

wham-rap

Most of the UK’s successful creative people were probably once a NEET – meaning someone under 25 who is not in education, employment or training.  Tom Jones was famously revealed as workshy by his Jobcentre records before going on to become one of the most successful recording artists the UK has ever seen.  Top pop star George Michael even rapped about his experience of unemployment early in his career.  And he turned out all right.  Mostly.

There are just under one million NEETs in the UK, but most of them don’t stay that way for long.  Few make a perfectly seamless transition from education to work, so almost every 16-25 year old will have been a NEET at some point.  Around 15% of NEETs are currently unable to work due to sickness or disability.  Some of them will be in hospital.  Many NEETs are mothers with very young children or babies.  Others will be posh kids, dicking about on gap years or frittering away trust funds.  Prince Harry was a NEET for a while.  The term isn’t very helpful to describe an economic or social group. But it serves its real purpose, to smear the young as lazy or feckless.

Only around half of all NEETs are unemployed, meaning on unemployment benefits, or actively seeking work.  That’s still about half a million and the reason for this is because there are not enough jobs.  In a highly competitive labour market the young will always suffer as they are forced to compete with older, more skilled workers.

Employing anyone comes with a risk attached.  This is one of the costs of doing business.  Employers have sought to push this cost onto the tax payer and unemployed people themselves by operating government backed ‘try before you buy’ style workfare schemes.  It is not uncommon for young people to be expected to stack shelves in supermarkets for two months without pay.  This would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago.  Now both of the main political parties support this kind of grotesque exploitation.

The reason this situation has emerged is the constant bleating from employers that the latest generation are so lazy they are virtually unemployable.  Yet young people are working longer for less money than they have in decades.  It is a transparent lie, as is the ludicrous slur that young people need teaching how to get out of bed in the mornings – kids have to do that almost every day of their life until they leave school.

Another advantage of bosses claiming the young are lazy and unskilled is that it also allows them to dump some of their training costs onto the tax payer via the education system.  McDonalds would have schools teaching kids how to fry their  fucking hamburgers if they thought they could get away with it.  The entire  education system, from primary schools to universities, is becoming based on the needs of business, not learning for its own sake.  And this too has happened because of endless whining from bosses that this generation is the worst yet.  Until the next one who they will tell us are even worse.

The truth, as Tom Jones and George Michael shows, is that NEETs are one of the most valuable assets that a society can possess.  Young people, left to their own devices and even on meagre resources, can do incredible things – and this does not just apply to the young.  From Harry Potter to Glastonbury Festival, great cultural institutions would almost certainly never have emerged without a functioning social security system.  Young unemployed people already carry out huge amounts of unpaid work, as genuine volunteers, looking after children or acting as carers for older relatives.  Many work on their own intiative, organising gigs, making music, fucking about with computer programmes or making youtube videos that hundreds of thousands of people enjoy.  This  form of unpaid work created the UK’s once thriving music industry.  In the age of user generated content, young people with time on their hands are now driving technology and online entertainment.

A society with any common sense would not just recognise this vital, energised and creative resource but cherish it.  It would accept that young people themselves are the best placed to decide their own destinies in the future they will create.  That they need and deserve time, space and opportunities to be able to plan their lives for themselves.

This would require a higher education system that is flexible and accessible, not one that forces young people to take on eye-watering debt.  It would mean providing genuine training, in real skills, not shoddy workfare schemes or so-called apprenticeships that are little more than an excuse for employers to dodge the minimum wage.  It means allowing young people the time to explore their creativity if they wish, and providing funding for them to do so.  A society like this would trust its young people, not fear them.  And it would pay them a fucking wage if they are working for an employer.

Instead the opposite is taking place.  The young are demonised as lazy who need to be punished with forced work and benefit sanctions.  What is fast emerging is a kind of state-planned employment market, where Jobcentres decide what work young people will do and if they refuse they are punished with poverty.  That work is almost always low paid and insecure, and as most normal people if not politicians know, it is easy to get trapped in a job that leaves you so exhausted and demotivated that you end up not looking for anything else.  Bogus Traineeships, Apprenticeships and workfare are de-skilling the young, the opposite of their claimed intention.

Of course not all young people are perfect.  There’s some proper little bastards out there, often as a result of broken or traumatic lives. But they are a tiny minority, and the very worst thing you can do to someone on the edge of a criminal lifestyle is stop their benefits.  These kinds of young people will not be incentivised by benefit sanctions to take up low paid work.  Not when there’s yuppies to be mugged.  Take away the social security system for this group and you create a small but ferocious outlaw class.  There is no shortage of predators who will fill the vacuum created by an absence of any support at all for the troubled, isolated and angry youth.

Both Labour and the Tories are now competing to show who can be tougher at bullying young people off benefits.  Both are proposing workfare schemes that are unworkable in practice, there already isn’t enough unpaid work to go round.  Both are committed to using brutal benefit sanctions to force the errant young into line.  But creating back of the envelope forced work schemes designed to pander to misinformed prejudices about the feckless youth is the politics of the gutter.  We will all pay the price in time of their betrayal of our children in the name of a pat on the head from the fucking Daily Mail.

Take part in a day of action at jobcentres across the UK on 25 February 2015 in support of the unemployed activist arrested for supporting a claimant at Arbroath Jobcentre.  Details on Boycott Workfare’s website, please spread the word.

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