Tag Archives: benefit cuts

Welfare Reform Blamed For Soaring Malnutrition

IDS-malnutritionCuts to social security, stagnating wages and high fuel bills have been blamed for a trebling of hospital admissions due to malnutrition in Leeds.

According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, 93 people needed hospital treatment for malnutrition in 2012, compared to just 30 in 2008. These tragic cases could represent the tip of the iceberg says Councillor Lisa Mulherin, warning that the number of hospital admissions: “tells us something about the changes to the welfare system, wage stagnation and the way fuel prices have gone up out of all proportion with people’s pay.”

A shocking 27,000 people across Leeds were estimated to be suffering from or at risk of clinical nutrition said health professionals in the city last year.

Appalling the situation is likely to become far worse as a wave of cuts to benefits begins to bite.  The Bedroom Tax is just a few months old and 9000 households in Leeds are estimated to be affected.  Changes to Council Tax Benefit mean claimants in the city will now have to pay a weekly sum out of their already meagre incomes.   The re-assessment of people on sickness benefits is still far from complete and many people are still to face having benefits slashed due to being found ‘fit for work’.  When reforms to Disability Living Allowance finally take hold around a fifth of disabled people are expected to lose this vital benefit.

The pain doesn’t even end there.  George Osborne’s benefit uprating bill represents a real term cut in almost all benefits, pegging annual rises far below inflation at just 1%.  The poorest people in the country are set to be made steadily poorer over the next few years.  The rise in benefit claims being sanctioned for not meeting ever more draconian conditions for claiming out of work benefits is leading to horrific suffering, and the number of people affected is rising sharply.

A recent report by Citizens Advice found that 70% of claimants serving sanctions were forced to cut down on food, with some people reporting having to beg or go through bins to find something to eat.  For those with health conditions the situation is even more acute.  One person told Citizens Advice that during a sanction: “We couldn’t afford a meal each day so often didn’t eat for days on end. I suffer with hypoglycaemia and need to eat, so this left me with many black outs, confusion, incredibly weak and sick.”

According to callous Ministers in the DWP, this kind of desperate poverty will ‘incentivise’ people to find work.  Yet even if the Government’s manufactured unemployment figures are taken at face value, the miniscule rise in jobs has not been seen across the whole of the UK and certainly not in many northern cities like Leeds.  The number of unemployed people in Yorkshire rose by 4000 in the last three months.

Forcing unemployed people to the brink of starvation will not create a single job.  Yet still Iain Duncan Smith tries to foist the blame for poverty and unemployment onto the poor and unemployed.  Rarely has any modern Government shown such cruel indifference to the suffering of their poorest people.  That this kind of state-inflicted poverty is happening in one of the richest countries in the world should be a global scandal.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

With Friends Like The Guardian Benefit Claimants Don’t Need Enemies

welfare-spiders-webA crude animation, splashed across the front of The Guardian website today, reveals how many of the latte slurping liberal elite really feel about those with least.

The video begins with the above lurid image of unemployed and disabled people falling into the spider’s web of social security.  It then trumpets how welfare spending has grown since 1948, without any thought to the vast, wide ranging, and frankly fucking obvious reasons why this might have happened.

In the only nod to the aging and growing population, one of the key factors behind the rise in social security spending, the film makers do point out that much of the benefits bill is spent on pensions.  The animation also rightly reveals that the UK spends less on benefits than other comparable European countries.

But then the animation takes a truly nasty turn by asking, “are the cuts really targeting the skivers?”

It appears film maker is only too happy to use the vile language of the Tory right and declare that all those unable to work due to unemployment, sickness, disability or family responsibilities are skivers.

This coming from someone who no doubt gets paid shedloads of cash to sit about making crap youtube videos all day.

But it is the decision of the paper to splash this across the front of their website which is truly revealing.  Whilst pretending to be on the side of low paid workers, The Guardian seems to be only too happy to try and drive a wedge between the working and the out of work poor.

It’s hardly surprising that a Lib Dem loving newspaper should attempt to drag the argument over social security spending back towards the right.  The Guardian had to be dragged kicking and screaming into supporting benefit claimants in the first place.  And it appears that support is paper thin.  Earlier in the month the paper printed a hilarious quiz, complete with crass stereotypes about people watching Jeremy Kyle all day, asking whether it’s readers are skivers or strivers   How the chinless luvvies must have laughed in the Farringdon wine bars about that

On a more serious note, only this week The Guardian’s Housing Editor declared that the bedroom tax is not unfair.  This is the same newspaper where a writer recently complained that the changes to child benefit – the only cut likely to affect Guardian journalists – represent the death of the welfare state.

It is fair to say that some Guardian writers have worked hard towards exposing the truth about the vicious welfare reforms that are tearing so many people’s live apart.  But all of that is undermined when the paper resorts to stigmatising those suffering under this Government in the name of cheap political point scoring.  After watching this video many claimants will feel that with fake friends like The Guardian, who needs enemies?

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Jim’s Christmas: A Seasonal Tale of Tory Britain

xmas-treeJim looks down at the brown envelope lying on his doormat and feels something that is almost nausea as his mind spews out a panic that charges through his veins.

He can hear his thundering heart beat and feels a tight pain in his chest that he is sure is the onset of heart problems even if his doctor insists it’s just anxiety.  With just two days before Christmas, he had been hoping for a card or two, but no such luck.  Still he’ll be seeing his grandchildren tomorrow he thinks as, with some difficulty, he stoops to pick up the letter.

It is from the government alright, he can tell that easily enough.  No-one else sends out letters in those envelopes.  Stuffing it in his pocket he decides to carry on down to the shops.  Nothing is going to stop him getting those kids a Christmas present he thinks, and decides whatever horror the envelope contains can wait until after lunch.

Jim is 56 and lives alone in a small flat in a suburb of Leeds.  He has a grown up daughter, who lives and works in Newcastle, where she is married with two sons who Jim adores.  He doesn’t see them as often as he likes, but he will be travelling up tomorrow, Christmas Eve.  He reminds himself he still needs a coach ticket, but that should be okay.  He knows even just a couple of hours on the coach will mean agony tomorrow, but he just can’t afford the train.  His daughter had offered to pay but he wouldn’t hear of it.

Jim is also a fictional character.  Sadly his plight is all too true for many people this Christmas.

Like most of his friends, Jim left school at 15 with just a couple of CSEs.  He’d be the first to admit he wasn’t academic and school bored him senseless. He would far rather have been outside, or doing something with his hands then sitting in endless lessons.

On leaving school Jim quickly found work on a building site, where he began  as an apprenticeship. He soon  learned that he could make more money as a hod carrier, lugging bricks around the site and other heavy labouring tasks.  Jim was healthy, strong and worked hard.  He was well known and welcome on local sites where he had a reputation as a grafter.  The hours were long but he could often clear a good few hundred quid a week.

Jim married young, to his childhood sweetheart and first and only love.  She was also a hard worker and had always dreamed of owning a home of her own.  With lots of over-time and her doing nights, they were soon able to afford a mortgage on a small terraced house.  Jim was just 24 when his daughter was born, a day he still describes as the happiest of his life.

His daughter enjoyed a happy childhood.  They weren’t rich, but she never seemed to go without.  They even managed a few holidays in Spain, and whilst her Dad was often working, he always made time for her.  She never noticed the increasingly strained conversations between her parents.  It was a shock when, at the age of 15, they told her they would be getting a divorce.

There was no malice in the marriage break up.  No affairs or betrayals, they just simply grew apart.  Little quirks they once loved about each other became intense annoyances.  Both felt desperately guilty at separating whilst their daughter was in the middle of exams, but the strain just became too much.  Arguments once hidden behind closed doors were increasingly taking place in front of the young teenager.  The truth that whilst he knew somewhere in his heart he would always love her, Jim could barely stand to be in the same room as his wife anymore.  He was all too aware that she felt the same way about him.

With the mortgage not far from  paid off, Jim had agreed to move out, happy to leave the house as a base for his daughter.  He rented a small flat and threw himself into his work.  He knew his daughter wanted to go to University and he was determined to make sure she wouldn’t struggle too much for money.

Jim was 45, old in his trade, when his back first went.  A slipped disc or something the doctor had told him.  They didn’t really seem to know.  Jim was laid up for eight weeks, in searing pain and barely able to walk most days.  On returning to work, he quickly found he just couldn’t do his job anymore.  He’d lasted two days before the foreman had told him to go home.  He was in agony the whole time.

His doctor had warned him that his days on building sites were over.  Jim took this hard.  But he was not beaten.  He never even signed on.  The lads from the site had had a whip round, with even the foreman chucking in fifty notes.  With this, a small pay off from the building firm, and a couple of hundred pounds in savings, he was able to buy a second hand car.

Jim enjoyed mini-cabbing.  The money was a bit less than he was used to, but he liked working with people.  The other drivers were good lads as well, they often shared a few pints after a shift.  Sometimes he felt a little lonely, sitting around in an empty flat, but he had his daughter, his mates and there was always work available.  Truth is he was happier sitting round the cab office, even when it was quiet, then he was sitting in front of the television on his own at home.

When Jim was 52 he had a stroke and everything changed.  He hardly remembers what happened.  He’d just dropped off a fare, he knew that much, and then had felt everything just sort of go dead.  His car swerved and crashed into a bollard.  He couldn’t even lift his hand to the steering wheel to stop it.

Weeks of therapy followed.  Jim made a slow and steady recovery.  To his eternal shame, his daughter had helped him apply for sickness and housing benefits.  He never believed he would need it, but without that money he would have been out of a home.

Whilst some of the damage from the stroke slowly repaired itself, his age meant his body seemed to  deteriorate at the same speed.  As he started to get sensation back to his right hand and arm the numb feeling was replaced with arthritic pain.  It had been difficult to talk at first, but now, apart from a slight speech impediment he was desperately self-conscious of, he could at least communicate.

He could walk, although as he joked to his grand children, he could be a bit lop sided.  The vision in his right eye never recovered.  And his back would still give him gip and seemed to get worse every passing year.  On a bad day sometimes it took all his strength to hobble to the local shop for a paper and some milk.

Jim found sitting about the flat all day almost unbearable.  He tried applying for jobs, but he had no experience in retail and his speech made working on a telephone difficult.  All there seemed to be was call centre and supermarket jobs in Leeds these days – he must of applied to over a hundred of them and never even got an interview.  As his doctor told him regularly, the truth is that even that kind of work, on a bad day, would be impossible.  He needed to rest said his GP, who proscribed sleeping pills, and concerned about his increasingly withdrawn state, anti-depressants.

One day Jim got a letter from the government.  They had asked him to to attend a health assessment and warned him his benefits would be stopped if he didn’t turn up.  He wasn’t too worried, something similar had happened a year ago.  He’d had to go and see a doctor employed by the social to check him over.  Armed with reams of evidence from his own GP, they had quickly agreed that he wasn’t able to work.  Jim didn’t mind doing it again.  He was grateful for the support he received, although at just less than £100 a week, it was getting harder all the time to make ends meet.

It had been a difficult year, for everybody Jim supposed. He’d had to blink back tears a couple of times in the supermarket as his carefully budgeted weekly shopping trip had descended into chaos because all the prices had risen.  Jim was not a man who cried easily, not until recently anyway.

In truth he was desperately lonely and frustrated at his situation.  He rarely went out anymore.  When he’d first started to get a bit better he’d had a couple of nights out with the lads from the taxi rank, but the truth was he couldn’t really afford the pub these days.  Even the library had closed and with it the little caf’ where he’d always been able to find someone to have a chat with.

He lived a solitary life now, except for his daughter, who had no idea how much her Dad was struggling.  He lied to her that everything was fine.  She didn’t know that his local, where he’d always been a well known regular, had closed down two years ago.  She had no idea that he lived on economy beans, packet noodles and toast half the time.

Jim was placed in something called the Work Related Activity Group after his assessment, which seemed to be with a private company rather than the government.  He wasn’t sure what this really meant.  They told him he might have to go on some kind of training scheme or meet an advisor to help him get back to work.  Whilst they agreed he was unlikely to find work at the moment due to his health, they said there may be some jobs he could do and that his condition might improve.  Not bloody likely, Jim had thought bitterly.  His money didn’t seem to go down, although if he understood the news recently then it probably would soon, a thought which increasingly terrified him

That had been a couple of months ago.  Around the same time he’d received a letter telling him his housing benefit was being cut.  He wasn’t sure why exactly, he already paid £6 a week towards his rent out of his benefit, now he’d have to try find another fiver.  His landlord had laughed when he’d try to talk about decreasing his rent and warned him it would be going up again soon.  He had looked around for somewhere else, but the same message came back time and time again,no DSS.

Jim swore blind that he’d never received the letter asking him to attend a Work Programme interview, whatever that was.  He checked his post religiously.  The person on the end of the telephone, just a kid by the sound of it, patronisingly informed him that they were just trying to help him, but if he didn’t turn up to his appointments then his benefits might be affected.    They were just doing their job Jim decided, although it seemed strange that a big charity would be ringing him up and not some government department.  Still it re-assured him in a way.  A charity would have his best interests at heart after all.

He was duly given another appointment which he agreed to attend.  When the day came though it was a different matter.  Jim had already been ordered to bed by his doctor after he was struck down with Winter flu.  Then he awoke with scythes of pain rocketing up and down his back.  Coughing and spluttering, he could hardly even make it to the telephone.  He definitely had a fever, he could feel sweat covering his body despite shivering in the flat he could never seem to afford to get properly warm anymore.

They’d seemed nice on the telephone.  They had warned him that they would have to refer him to the Jobcentre and his benefits might be affected but they would recommend that that didn’t happen and they were sure everything would be fine.  Jim was glad to be dealing with a charity, who really did seem to care.

That had been a fortnight or so ago Jim muses as he nurses the hot cup of tea in the cafe in Asda.  He is treating himself to egg and bacon, it’s Christmas after all.  Proudly he looks at the gaudy plastic toys he has bought his two grandsons.  He’s never heard of Ben 10, but he recognises the Cyberman action figure he’s bought the eldest.  Funny he thinks, who’d have guessed back then we’d be buying Dr Who toys for our grand kids.  It had been difficult, but he was chuffed with himself for managing to save enough to make sure he didn’t arrive for Christmas Day empty handed.

Feeling happier than he has in sometime, Jim decides to face the inevitable and takes the crumpled brown envelope from his pocket.  Carefully using a knife to slide it open he begins to read.  Phrases jump out of the cold, and all too familiar language.  Repeated failure to attend, new incentives to find employment, lack of engagement, and finally, sanctions, benefit payments suspended,  period of four weeks, running from 20th December.

Immediately Jim begins to shake.  Dropping the letter his hands fall to the table.  At first he thinks he is having another stroke, as his whole body seems to go numb.  A jolt of pain shoots up his spine as he stand up too fast, as if to prove to himself he still can.  Gathering up his bags, his palms slippy with sweat he looks around desperately.  He can see a cash point through the windows.  A tight knot in his stomach means he doesn’t want his eggs and bacon anymore.  He rushes, as fast as he can, out of the cafe.

Waiting behind someone in the queue at the cashpoint is unbearable.  What on earth is making them take so long.   He keeps telling himself it will be fine, as he starts to try and calculate just how bad things are.  When his turn comes he almost drops the card, his fingers hurting as he keys in the numbers in the December cold.  Hitting the button to check his balance, he prays, to anyone who might listen, that the almost £200 benefit payment he is expecting to be in his account has arrived.

His balance is in single figures.  He has no money.  As he fishes in his pockets for change, pulling out a handful of coppers and just a single pound coin, he realises he has no money at all.

Jim tries to calm himself down as he starts walking faster than his body would usually allow him, fear and adrenalin temporarily blocking out the pain.  He marches in the direction of the Post Office, his first thought is to stand in line to at least take out his last few pounds.  He’d been expecting to jump on a bus into the city and get a coach and he curses himself for not booking in advance. He needs to ring his daughter, to explain why he won’t be coming, but he must not tell her the truth, he knows that.

As he fidgets in the Post Office queue he makes a plan, and after several attempts manages to call his daughter on the mobile phone she had insisted on buying him last Christmas.

“so sorry love.  Old Bob, on his own since his wife died, can’t leave him alone pet, not at Christmas, not my oldest pal, tell grandkids  I’m right sorry and I’ll make it up to ’em in New Year”

In reality old Bob was having a whale of a time at his son’s house in New Zealand, but Jim can’t tell his daughter that.  He’s a proud old sod, and isn’t having anyone feeling sorry for him.

Jim collapses into his armchair when he arrives back at his flat and sobs in a way he never knew he could.  Banging his fist again and again on the cushion he swears, loudly, loudly enough for the neighbours to hear.  But no-one comes.

He is that way for some time.  Just sitting in the empty, cold flat.  All the loneliness, all the pain, all the fretting about money, and scrimping and saving, and it has all come to this.  Nothing left, nothing to offer.  Perhaps the newspapers are right Jim thinks, perhaps he is one of those scroungers.  A freeloader, that’s what they call people like him.  A parasite who can’t even get it together to get to see his bloody kid, and his grand kids, on Christmas day.

They’re better off without me anyway Jim realises suddenly.  His daughter certainly had been,  Soon as she left university she prospered, they’ve got a lovely house up in Newcastle.  Aye she’ll be fine Jim thinks, she’ll get by whatever happens to me.  I only make everyone else as miserable.

He thinks of his ex-wife, and her new husband.  Couldn’t even bloody get that right he says to himself, and I’m still in love with the old bag after all these years despite everything.  And he thinks of his aching body, that gets worse everyday, and his mind, that just seems to forget things recently, and that at only 56 this is it.  All there is left it seems is to wait to die.

At that moment he knows he just can’t cope anymore.  Can’t face another cut to his money, can’t face another appointment, or assessment, or letter in a fucking brown envelope.  Doesn’t want to think about the debt he is already in, or the rent going up.  Doesn’t want to feel the cold anymore.  Doesn’t want to feel guilty and desperate and ashamed of the bare minimum that benefits equip his life with.  He just doesn’t want it anymore.  Any of it.

Jim scrapes together every last penny in the flat to take with him as he ventures out into the cold Christmas Eve.  It’s late.  He’s spent the whole day, and much of the evening, just sitting, and crying, and thinking.  And then a final clarity emerges from the grief.  So here he is heading to the only shop he knows will be open at this time of night.

Back at the flat Jim stares at the television with gaudily dressed youngsters making some kind of shocking noise that he thinks they call music these days.  Won’t miss that, Jim almost laughs to himself as he cracks the seal on the cheap bottle of vodka he just about managed to afford.  He takes a heavy glug, it burns a little, but he forces himself.  Feeling a little sick he pauses a while and then pours a full tumbler and quickly drinks down as much as he can.  He was never really a spirit drinker.

He takes the first tablet off the little pile he has made on the table next to his glass.  Taking a deep breath he puts it down again.  Not like this he thinks.

Walking across the room he takes the grand kid’s Christmas presents out of their bags and leaves them in a prominent place.  Then, with hands trembling despite the drink, he scrawls a note to his daughter, “I’m so sorry my love, I just can’t”.  He’s not sure it makes sense, but it’s all he can think of to say.

Setting himself back down he notices most of the usual nagging pain is gone.  Must be the strong drink he thinks, should have taken it up years ago.  He fills his glass again and takes a large mouthful.  The next drink washes down a handful of pills.  Then another.  Then another.

Jim takes one last drink noticing the bottle is over half empty.  He leans back in his chair and closes his eyes.  As his mind starts to fog, the world slips delicately away.

Don’t cry for Jim.  Avenge him.

(Jim’s fine by the way.  The daft old bugger drank too much and threw the pills up  all over himself a few hours later.  Took him ages to clean up the mess.  After a fitful nights sleep he was awoken by his doorbell buzzing.  His daughter hadn’t believed a word he said and was here, with the grand kids in the back, to drive him up to Newcastle)

What Is Homelessness And Why Does It Happen?

HomelessWhilst people on the streets are one of the most visible signs of homelessness, the problem extends far beyond rough sleeping.  The majority of homeless people live in hostels, night shelters or B&Bs, but the impact of being without a home is still devastating.

Hostels and B&Bs provide relief in a crisis, and can be both the first step towards a solution, but also the first fall towards the streets.  The accommodation is insecure, short term and hugely expensive.  For single people it can mean sharing a room with strangers whilst parents are forced to share with their children.  In particular private sector temporary accommodation is often dangerous, damp, dirty and unmaintained.

Some hostels and night shelters are ‘direct access’ where most residents were formally living on the streets and have been identified by charity outreach workers.  These hostels have strict rules, sometimes not allowing access to the premises in the day time, with bed spaces being lost should a resident sleep elsewhere for the night.  Many long term street homeless people find adapting to such a regulated environment difficult, whilst others find the atmosphere, where drugs and heavy drinking are  commonplace (though usually banned), intimidating and frightening.

After a period which can be several weeks but sometimes months, most people are referred to longer stay hostels whilst waiting to be moved to some form of more sustainable accommodation – usually a council or housing association flat or bedsit.  Residents can be in long stay hostels for anything from six months to a couple of years.   Generally residents have their own rooms, albeit often little larger than a single bed.  Meals are sometimes provided and any facilities are shared.   Overnight guests, or even guests full stop, are often banned.  Homeless people aren’t allowed to have relationships.

Those in temporary accommodation, whether long stay hostels or B&Bs, have ‘licence agreements’ rather than tenancies.  This is more similar to the type of contract entered into when using a hotel and means immediate eviction should someone fall foul of the rules.

Temporary accommodation charges eye watering rents which are covered by housing benefits.  This makes it very difficult for those in long stay hostels to work.  Residents also pay a service charge out of their benefits to cover the costs of heat, light and water as well as food if available.  Service charge arrears result in eviction.

A final large group of homeless people are the so called ‘hidden homeless’.  People sleeping on a friend’s sofa, staying with family or squatting.  Other people live in a vehicles – whether on the side of a road or on a traveller site, some pitch a tent away from view, many sleep in derelict properties or abandoned garages.  This is often the first stage of homelessness as precarious accommodation collapses and people are left with nowhere to go but the streets.

Local authorities only have a duty to help those with children or who are ‘vulnerable’ which in practice usually means someone with a severe disability or those above pension age.   To qualify for help a homeless applicant must also have a connection with the local areas and not be judged ‘intentionally homeless’.  Families who are deemed ‘intentionally homeless’, having given up a property for some reason, or in some cases been evicted for arrears, may be told that the council will take the children into care but the parents can fend for themselves.  With huge strains on the amount of emergency accommodation available, most local authorities will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid helping anyone.

It has long been the fashion, amongst governments and homelessness charities alike, to insist that homelessness is something caused by people, personalities and individual behavior.  They point to some homeless people abusing drugs or alcohol, failing to find work, committing crimes and, worst of all, not doing what charity workers tell them to do.  But many homeless people are just poor and have run into bad luck, although it is hard to stay a perfectly productive member of society when your world has collapsed around you.  Homelessness drives more people to drink than the other way round.

One factor unites all of the experiences of homeless people and that is a lack of money.  Whatever other difficulties someone is facing there will always be a point on the journey to the streets where homelessness is a purely economic matter.

It could be an eviction or repossession, or someone unable to afford a deposit on a property or not able to pay for a cheap B&B for the night.  This is why the tsunami of cuts to welfare, and in particular housing benefits, will send homelessness soaring.  Because when people need that kind of help most, when life has taken a terrible turn, to strip away payments available for housing will mean the fall to rock bottom is assured.  People in desperate circumstances are not incentivised by having less money.  They are demolished.

Everybody knows that when people are under great pressure they do not always act rationally or in their own interests.  It is sheer bad luck that sometimes unfortunate and devastating events can happen in quick succession.  Desperate people do desperate things.  When a relationship breaks down, sometimes people turn to drink.  This can lead to problems at work and even dismissal, followed by depression and heavier drinking.  Benefits are unavailable due to being sacked.  Rent goes unpaid, friendships deteriorate, support networks dismantle.  Homelessness follows and it’s hard to sleep on a pavement sober.

None of this is unusual or outside of the realm of normal human behaviour.  It is called a downward spiral and it can happen in a million different ways to anyone.  There are former successful business people living on the streets of London right now, whilst the vast majority of homeless people had stable, fulfilling lives at some point.

It is only at the very bottom of this decline, that if you are lucky, the state might just step in and offer to try fix the problems they helped create.  And so begins a climb back through the system of night shelters, hostels and temporary accommodation that can take years.  One small slip along the way, breaching hostel or benefit rules, and it’s back to the bottom.

Homelessness has many contributing factors and subsequent effects, but remains at heart an economic problem.  That’s why, even before the cuts, a stagnating economy was causing homelessness to rise. The number of people without a home is set to soar due to a toxic combination of cuts, rent rises, wage or benefit freezes and law changes.  Every single one of those people will have a tragic story, and all too often one that begins with a letter from the DWP telling them that their housing benefit is being cut.

Who’s Fighting Welfare Reform

As promised earlier in the week, here’s a list of some of the groups around the UK currently fighting welfare reform.  This list is not exhaustive, apologies to anyone I’ve missed, please post up links to any other claimant groups, websites and facebook groups in the comments.

All groups are open to everyone to get involved in – contact them to join the fightback.

Please share, blog, tweet and help spread the word about all groups.

National Groups

Boycott Workfare – fighting forced labour and unpaid work:  http://www.boycottworkfare.org/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/boycottworkfare
on twitter @boycottworkfare

Also fighting workfare and keeping claimant’s informed of their rights – http://www.donotsign.com/

Black Triangle Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights involved in organising many protests against Atos and Welfare Reform as well as lobbying and campaigning work: http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/blacktriangle11
on twitter @blacktriangle1

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – National group who’ve organised many actions in London and elsewhere including blockading Oxford Street and Occupying the DWP: http://www.dpac.uk.net/

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/groups/DPAC2011/
on twitter @Dis_PPL_Protest

DPAC also have a network of local groups – for local contact details visit: http://www.dpac.uk.net/contact-details-for-local-dpac-groups/

Solidarity Federation – Not specifically a claimant group by a long way but are running a national campaign against workfare. Were recently successful in forcing Holland & Barrett to stop using unpaid labour and have now turned attention to Poundland – for all details, including local pickets of workfare using shops visit: http://www.solfed.org.uk/

Other national groups which have been involved in action against welfare reform include UK Uncut, Right to Work Campaign, UNISON Community Union, Anarchist Federation and the PCS Union.

Local Groups

Glasgow: Crutch Collective – fighting welfare reform, workfare and Atos, visit http://thecrutchcollective.blogspot.co.uk/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Crutch-Collective/132893236781931?sk=wall

Brighton Benefits Campaign – long running campaign which organises regular actions and protests: http://brightonbenefitscampaign.wordpress.com/

Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty – another long running campaign, lots of info on their website at: http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Edinburgh-Coalition-Against-Poverty/181015481950367

Liverpool Claimants Network – very active group have organised meetings, actions, protests and communications blockades: http://antiworkfare.blogspot.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/liverpoolclaimantnetwork/
on twitter @claimantnetwork

Birmingham Against the Cuts – not just benefits related but have organised lots around welfare: http://birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BirminghamAgainstTheCuts
on twitter @BrumAgainstCuts

Winvisible – Women With Visible and Invisible Disabilities – based in Crossroads Women’s Centre, Kentish Town: http://www.winvisible.org/

Manchester Against Benefit Cuts (part of Manchester Coalition Against Cuts): http://www.coalitionagainstcuts.org.uk/

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group – hold weekly meetings, more info at: http://kilburnunemployed.blogspot.co.uk/

Bradford Claimants Union – not much detail online but have a facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bradford-Claimants-Union/178195065573385?sk=info
email: bradfordclaimants@gmail.com

York Welfare Campaign: http://yorkwelfarecampaign.wordpress.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/york.welfarecampaign

Mental Health Resistance Network – largely South London based group: http://mentalhealthresistance.org/

Nottingham and Tyneside both have claimant union groups – although its not clear from the web how active they currently are:



Plymouth Claimants Union have taken action against welfare reform and Atos, not sure if they are active, email them at: plymouthclaimantsunion@yahoo.co.uk

Online Groups

Benefit Claimants Fightback – facebook group which was involved in last years national days of action against benefit cuts: http://www.facebook.com/groups/116432071735566/

Social Welfare Union – a union of welfare campaigners fighting benefit cuts: http://socialwelfareunion.org/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SocialWelfareUnion
on twitter @WelfareUnion

We Are Spartacus – network of disabled bloggers, campaigners and supporters. Recently released The People’s Review of the WCA Report available at: http://wearespartacus.org.uk/

DWP Examination forum – friendly forum for all those struggling with the WCA and welfare reform: http://www.dwpexamination.org/

Unemployment Movement Forum – forum for all things claimant related: http://unemploymentmovement.com/forum/index

Anti-Atos Alliance – facebook group fighting Atos and the WCA: http://www.facebook.com/groups/AntiAtosAlliance/

After Atos – another facebook group supporting survivors of the brutal Atos regime: http://www.facebook.com/groups/afteratos/

Disability Defence: Facebook group fighting for disabled people’s rights: http://www.facebook.com/groups/disabilitydefence/

Respect for the Unemployed and Benefit Claimants – long running facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/groups/25024876259/




To keep up on welfare issues also follow: @patspetition, @IzzyKoksal, @Fight_Workfare, @postpolionews, @Quinonostante, @doNOTsign, @solfed_iwa, @shivmalik1, @missdennisqueen, @LindaBurnip,@suey2y, @HouSolidarity, @AtosStories, @BendyGirl, @redjolly1, @e_lisney, @AtosVictims1, @Miss_Ben_E_Fit, @CarerWatch, @AtosKills, @BrumProtestor, @DarkestAngeL31, @NCCLols, @BrokenOfBritain, @pcs_union, @a4ehighpark1, @VirtualResistan, @slsolfed, @lisybabe,‏ @wheresbenefit, @FalseEcon, @UKuncut

You can follow me @johnnyvoid

More Spent on Bombs and War than Disability Benefits: The True Legacy of the Paralympic Games

Given that it is simply common fucking sense, it should go without saying that in any society a certain number of people will be disabled and some will be unwell.

Some people will be so unwell they are unable to work at all whilst others will be hugely disadvantaged in the employment market.  The same applies to disabled people.  No matter how much fake healing takes place in Atos assessment offices, no amount of DWP miracles are going to facilitate wheelchair users working as scaffolders or people with visual impairments driving buses.

Wheelchairs cost money, as do carers, specialised transport, and other equipment – all of which is vital for disabled people to be able to function in society, whether in work or not.

This leaves society with a decision to make.  We can either spend that money, or let disabled people, or those who are unwell, die of hunger, neglect or suicide.  Since most of us are likely to experience disability or severe ill health at some point in our all too terminal lives, then it is perhaps in our own self interest that we spend the money.

The only exception to this is the very rich who have the resources to support themselves should they become unable to work due to illness or disability.  This represents a tiny percentage of the population, probably less than 5%.  Unfortunately these bastards are in charge.

Luckily there are lots more of us than them.  Something they are all too aware of no matter how much they pretend otherwise.  The rich have been murdered in their beds more than once in history after all.

This leaves an uneasy stalemate in the class war, which in the UK is known as the Welfare State.

The Welfare State is good value for almost all of us, but it is bad news for the rich.  The rich get most of their money from the work we do.  The less they pay us, the more money for them.  Therefore the rich need to increase the social and economic penalties for people who are unemployed, disabled or unwell.  This will increase competition for jobs, which means they can pay us less.  As well as this, the creation of a huge market in health, disability or income protection insurance is good news for the rich.  The main reason the rich object to the Welfare State is that they see it as an obstacle to making even more money out of us.

It is therefore in the interests of the rich to dismantle and privatise as much of the Welfare State as possible, and that is what is taking place now.  To stop themselves being murdered in their beds however, the rich need to convince us it’s a good idea.  Because the cost of the Welfare State is socialised – meaning we all pay even though it only really exists to stop the rich getting murdered in their beds – the rich can use this against us.  They can tell us that welfare spending is out of control.  That benefit claimants are scroungers or frauds.  That anyone can work if they just pull their finger out, even people without fingers.

This kind of of propaganda has now reached grotesque levels.  Whilst employers (the rich or aspiring rich) regularly report in surveys that they wouldn’t employ someone with, for example, a severe disability or mental health condition, they still demand that those people work.  If you can tweet you can work said one rich MP and former employer, as if there are thousands of tweeting jobs available to disabled people.

Welfare spending is not out of control.  The UK does not spend more on sickness, unemployment or disability benefits than other economically comparable countries.  Unemployment and disability benefit rates are miserly and often barely meet the cost of living.  The UK spends more on defence than it spends in total on out of work benefits whilst coppers cost more than the total spend on Job Seekers Allowance.

It is peculiar that whilst the rich constantly strive to remind us of the importance of competition or the wonders of the free market and privatisation, only the most swivel eyed cranks believe it would be a good idea to privatise the police or the army.  Coincidentally these are the two institutions the rich are likely to depend on for protection should things get fruity.

The rich never say that defence spending is out of control, even though it costs almost twice as much annually as the amount spent on working age disabled claimants.  This spending is not just about the rich hoping to prevent themselves being murdered in their beds one day.  They own or invest in the arms companies after all.

The truth is that whilst the rich don’t like the Welfare State they love unemployment.  Full employment would be  disaster for the rich, meaning wage demands would soar.  If those demands were not met then the workers might start getting ideas about taking over the workplace themselves.  This would never do for the rich.  That might mean they wouldn’t be rich anymore.

Every cut  to disability, sickness or unemployment benefits is another step forward in the drive to dismantle the Welfare State.  Yet the rich know they are playing a dangerous game. They are gambling their very lives on the belief that working class people are so divided, alienated and beaten down by relentless capitalism and media bombardment that we will not rise up against them.  But just in case, they would far rather spend our money on bombs, bullets and prisons than disability, sickness or unemployment benefits.

The Atos Games Begin – “We Are Coming For You Atos” Warn Disabled People

A well attended ceremony took place yesterday evening outside City Hall, London  to make the opening of the Atos Games.

Disabled people and supporters held speeches and a mock medal ceremony to launch the Week of Action Against Atos timed to coincide with the Paralympic Games.

Atos are paid £100 million a year to carry out the brutal and demeaning Work Capability Assessments on behalf of the Government.  This short computer based health assessment has led to tens of thousands of sick and disabled people being stripped of vital benefits.

Atos have recently won the contract to assess all those claiming Disability Living Allowance, a process which has the stated aim of removing financial support from a fifth of disabled people.  Astonishingly Atos are also sponsors of the Olympics Games.

At the mock ceremony last night, Paralympic Gold medal winner, Tara Flood was stripped of her medals as she was declared no longer disabled by Atos assessors.  Speakers from Disabled People Against Cuts and Transport For All, who both helped organise the event, spoke of their experiences at the hands of the company and their fury at Atos attempting to gain positive publicity on the back of the Paralympic Games.

Those assembled were warned that Paralympian Athletes will also soon face assessment by the company who have shown no mercy to even those with life threatening conditions.  A recent investigation found that 32 people a week die after being judged ‘fit for work’ by the company.

Atos were warned that we are coming for them – in the Courts, in Parliament, in the Courts and most importantly on the streets.

Protests will take place around the UK outside Atos offices today as part of the Week of Action.  A Mass Die In will take place in Cardiff on Wednesday whilst a Memorial Service will be held outside their London Headquarters on the same day.

Thursday will see a day of online and telephone action and on Friday DPAC will link up with UK Uncut for a spectacular Closing Atos Ceremony.

For full details of events this week visit: http://www.dpac.uk.net/2012/08/latest-information-on-atos-games-week/

ATOS games week of action – Protests Planned in 10 Locations Around UK So Far

Join The Atos Games!
On your marks, get set…
for a week of Paralympic fun and games against Atos!

From Monday 27th to Friday 31st of August, join Disabled People Against Cuts for The Atos Games – five days of action against a company that’s sponsoring the Paralympics but wrecking disabled people’s lives.

We are calling on disabled people, disabled activists, families, colleagues, friends and supporters to come together and fight back against Atos’s attacks. Atos represents as dangerous an opponent as any government, law or barrier the disability movement has faced in its long history. It’s not just welfare, but our very identity and our place within society that is under attack.

And we are asking the whole of the anti-cuts movement to join us in our opposition to the company most responsible for driving through the government’s brutal cuts agenda. Let’s make it Games over for Atos!

Latest info from around the UK:

Plymouth:   11am – Tuesday 28th August

Argosy House, Marsh Mills (next to McDonald’s)

For lifts from the City Centre and Mutley, please contact PCU at:  plymouthclaimantsunion@yahoo.co.uk

Manchester:   Noon – Tuesday 28th August

ATOS, Manchester, Albert Bridge House

Protest outside the offices of ATOS Healthcare, the company profiting from sick and disabled people’s misery: https://www.facebook.com/events/408151362575794/

Birmingham: 1pm – Tuesday 28th August

Islington Row, Five Ways House, Five Ways:  https://www.facebook.com/events/334907739929304/

Sheffield: 12.30pm – Tuesday 28th August

Hartshead Square, Sheffield – UKUncut Sheffield have joined forces with Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC)to make sure it’s Games over for Atos during the Paralympics: http://www.facebook.com/events/196007200530031/

Bournemouth: 12.05pm – Tuesday 28th August

ATOS Healthcare WCA Assessment Centre, 1st floor Tamarisk House, c/o Job Centre Plus, 1, Cotlands Road, BH1 3BG:  https://www.facebook.com/events/427050914002653/

Northampton: 11.30am – Tuesday 28th August

Disabled People will be demonstrating at the offices of Atos in Gladstone Road Northampton on Tuesday 28 August from 11:30 to 1:30 and are calling on the whole of the anti-cuts movement to join them.

Liverpool:  Noon – Tuesday 28th August

Mann Island Lower Ground Floor, Port of Liverpool Buildings, Liverpool, L3 1LT: https://www.facebook.com/events/211880045607754/

Swansea:  Noon – Tuesday 28th August

A static protest outside of the Swansea ATOS
assessment centre from 12:00 to 1:00 at Grove House, Grove Place,
Swansea. (This is a big building across the road from the police
station):  https://www.facebook.com/events/515813221766234/

Cardiff:  4.00pm – Tuesday 29th August

Atos KIlls- mass die in to commerate lives lost.  29th August at 16:00 at Aneuren Bevan Statue, Queen Street, see DPAC Caerdydd-Cardiff: https://www.facebook.com/#!/bronwen.caerdydd

London:  12.45pm – Friday 31 August

UK Uncut and DPAC will be shutting down Atos’ London HQ for the Closing ATOS Ceremony. Meet in Triton Square at 12:45pm for direct action and creative protest, with plenty of surprises: https://www.facebook.com/events/217652368360892/

Other actions currently being planned:

Join in The Atos Games however you can – online, on the phone, or on the streets!

·         Monday 27th: We’ll hold a spoof Paralympic awards ceremony, hopefully with some very special guests…

·         Tuesday 28th: Pay a visit to your local Atos office – and maybe even take your protest inside!

·         Wednesday 29th: A coffin full of your messages about Atos will be delivered to its doorstep.

·         Thursday 30th: Phone jam! Let’s flood Atos with calls, and generate a Twitter-storm they can’t ignore!

Please tweet, share, blog, spread the word.

Organise locally – contact DPAC to be added to the list of events around the UK: mail@dpac.uk.net

For latest updates visit: http://www.dpac.uk.net/

Brendan O’Neill is a knob

Brendan O’Neill is a knob.  A professional troll, his ‘edgy’ contrarian views are no more than Kevin the Teenager style outbursts at what he has decided in his little mind represents the British left.

Most Jeremy Clarkson wannabes like O’Neill are reduced to scrawling letters to their local council in green ink complaining about the communist conspiracy at their local swimming baths.  Occasionally they get given a column at the Daily Telegraph where their pub bore invective can be laid out in full view by cynical press barons, dragging them out like freak show performers in the hope of cashing in on that ever elusive click through internet ad revenue.

So we shouldn’t take the opinions of Brenden O’Neill too seriously when he attacks disability and welfare campaigners for caring about the growing number of suicides linked to welfare reform. 

In his latest spittle flecked rant for the Telegraph, O’Neill lectures us that campaigners discussing those suicides with a direct link to benefit cuts is ‘depravity’ and ‘low, apolitical, super-cynical emotional blackmail.’

With escalating pomposity O’Neill refers to the sad case of the family man who ended his life, blaming cuts to his Housing Benefit.  O’Neill tells us that this actually had nothing to do with his benefits being cut but was “the act of someone in a fevered, unstable state of mind. “

In fact the Coroner in the above case said quite the opposite, but then what does she know – unlike O’Neill, she’s got a proper job.  But O’Neill is correct that this was clearly a very desperate man.  And here lies a hole in his argument so wide the entire Top Gear team could drive through it.

If an obviously suicidal man was pushed into such drastic action by having a ‘fevered, unstable state of mind.‘ then what was he doing on Job Seekers Allowance in the first place?  Is this what ‘fit for work’ means to these scum?

The same applies to the man who set himself on fire outside a Jobcentre in Birmingham recently.  Right wing zealots like O’Neill can’t have it both ways.  If these tragic cases represent people with ‘serious mental-health issues’, as he alleges, then they should have been on the benefit for those with ‘serious mental health issues’, which is Employment Support Allowance, not the dole.

That they weren’t goes to the very heart at the brutal and inhumane flaws of this Government’s welfare reforms.  Both men appear to have been dumped on Job Seekers Allowance, the benefit for those unemployed, not unwell.  It has been suggested that the man in Birmingham was recently stripped of sickness benefits and found ‘fit for work’, a direct result of the DWP’s current hounding of sickness benefit claimants.

So whether these events were linked to benefit cuts or mental health (or even both), the safety net of the welfare state has failed both men.  And either way O’Neill is wrong.

O’Neill singles out Calum’s List for particular invective, a website which has chronicled the tragic losses of life that have been linked to the welfare cuts. In his deluded little world he has decided that this is all a conspiracy by the Guardian in an attempt to ‘approach working-class and less well-off communities through the politics of pity’.

Calum’s List have responded:“Calum’s List is written by the disabled, and by people who are bereft and Brendan O’Neill is too unprofessional or ignorant to approach the subscribers of this website for a point of view, or balance, and instead opts to stick his bully boy boot into a group of disabled people, widows, widowers, bereaved parents and orphans trying to find a voice for their anguish in the absence of mainstream media and all but a few politicians taking any interest in what is a subject that does concern most decent right minded people.”

It may surprise O’Neill to know that benefit claimants actually care about benefit cuts.  As do many of the working poor and the growing army of temporary and part time workers, most of whom rely on benefits some or all of the time.  In truth the Guardian have been dragged kicking and screaming into highlighting the very real human suffering which is taking place as a result of welfare reforms.  It has been sick, disabled and unemployed people along with parents, the low waged, casual workers and pensioners, who have been raising their collective voices.  And despite the tidal wave of abuse directed at claimants from all sections of the mainstream political establishment, they are starting to be heard.

As millions of people are pushed deeper into poverty by welfare reform – and it’s only barely begun – slowly but surely public opinion is changing as suddenly people realise it’s their mum, their brother, their friend, or even themselves that is being plunged into economic despair.

Brendan O’Neill is a political oddball who knows nothing of the people he claims to represent.   He edits the crank website ‘spiked’ which is little more than a mouthpiece for former members of the misnamed Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). This strange 80s left wing sect managed to find themselves on the right and now preach extreme libertarian capitalism as the solutions to the problems created by inequality and class.  Only more capitalism can save us from capitalism.

Insulated as Brendan O’Neill is in his cosy world of pseudo-intellectual cultists and libertarian fantasisers, he has managed to convince himself that the views of him and his cult are shared by us normals.   It’s true they have loud voices and in some cases deep pockets.  But few are listening anymore to their cheers for the bankers and businessmen.

O’Neill’s faux outrage at the bereaved and disabled who are attempting to tell their own stories of the consequences of this Government’s actions is best ignored.  It is telling however that it is the supporters of these reforms that are really reduced to using emotive slurs to stop people telling the truth about what’s really taking place because of social security cuts.

According to O’Neill, tales of homelessness, poverty, suicide and ill health should be hushed up.  To even mention them means we’ve lost the argument.  And yet it is him evoking the ghosts of desperate events to mount a political attack on the people left coping with these Government created tragedies.  A more super-cynical attempt at emotional blackmail would be hard to find.

UPDATE 6/4/13 part 2: Brendan O’Neill Is Still A Knob

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Street Homelessness Soars … and we haven’t seen anything yet

The number of people sleeping rough in London has soared by 43% in just 12 months latest figures reveal.  Homeless Charity Broadway said 5,678 people slept on the streets between March 2011 and April, up from 3,975 the previous year.

This shocking rise has happened in the year of the sacred Olympics despite Boris Johnson’s pledge to end rough sleeping in the capital by the end of the year.  Boris has also previously claimed that he ‘wouldn’t allow Kosovo style social cleansing on his watch’ and then proceeded to do fuck all as the housing benefit caps were brought in, creating an exodus of the lowest income families from central London.

Some homelessness project workers have reported a huge rise in those under 35 unable to find homes.  Under new Housing Benefit rules, those under 35 are only eligible for a room in a shared house.  No assessment was done to examine whether their were enough properties of this type, at an affordable level, to ensure this brutal change did not force people onto the streets.

The tragic reality is that these figures represent the tip of the iceberg and there is far worse to come.  The figures are based on a ‘street count’ by outreach workers and at best represent a rough guess of the minimum figures.  Those sleeping rough outside of Central London, in parks, derelict buildings or anywhere else hidden from view are not included in the figures.  The tens of thousands of people in hostel, night-shelter or B&B accommodation, in squats or sleeping on friends sofas are also not included and reveal that the homelessness and street homelessness crisis is only just getting started.

The Housing Benefit caps have still not been fully introduced for existing tenants, whilst even those who have faced the cut will not necessarily become homeless overnight.  The number of households applying for Local Authority support due to becoming homeless has risen recently by 16%.

Homeless Link, an umbrella organisation of homelessness charities, also report that 4000 emergency bed spaces for homeless people have been lost due to government cuts.

But still this toff Government aren’t happy.  The overall benefit cap, which will see London as a whole become unaffordable for larger families, will not take effect until next April.  Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit, set to be introduced in 2014 in his dreams, will reduce protection for owner-occupiers who find themselves unable to work, by stripping back support for help with mortgage interest payments.  The new sanctions regime could see hundreds of thousands of people, many with children, plunged into levels of poverty not seen in generations in the UK.  Next year the squatting ban will begin to take effect, whilst Cameron’s intention to cut Housing Benefit for those under 25 will create unprecedented youth homelessness.

Meanwhile rents are rising as no-one can afford to buy a home anymore.  It is possible that the influx of Housing Benefit claimants into less expensive areas is further driving up prices as demand for cheaper properties soars.  The Housing Benefit bill keeps getting bigger despite the savage cuts.  This Government seems intent on driving the low waged, disabled, unwell or unemployed from their homes whatever the cost.

A demonstration has been called by the Right To Work Campaign (I know) against the proposed Housing Benefit cuts for those under 25.

Bring placards and cardboard boxes and meet opposite Downing Street at 11am this Wednesday 4th July.