Tag Archives: PCS Union

There Is No Such Thing As A Fair Benefit Sanction And They Are Not A Tory Invention

sanction-deaths

A pregnant women who was sanctioned in disguise at a recent protest so Jobcentre staff don’t recognise her. From The Poor Side Of Life

Iain Duncan Smith’s mass use of benefit sanctions is driving people to their deaths.  But it began under Labour, and was not opposed by most trade unions or charities established to support people living in poverty.

In 2008 the Labour government published a green paper entitled ‘No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility’ (PDF).  Gordon Brown himself wrote the forward to the document pledging “tough responsibilities that respect tax payers” for all of those on some form of out of work benefit.

Even for a Government which had already introduced workfare and the despised Work Capability Assessment, some of the measures proposed were shocking.  These included mandatory work related activity – a vague term that often means workfare – for both sick and disabled claimants and lone parents with children over 5.  Other proposals included a policy that long term unemployed people should be sent on workfare for “as long as needed”.  Those with a drug problem would be required to undertake mandatory treatment regimes and possibly even drug testing.  Benefit sanctions would be strengthened. A new and privatised ‘Fit For Work’ service would be introduced to encourage people to go back to work quickly if they became ill.  And all those currently claiming sickness or disability benefits would be ‘frequently’ re-assessed at the notorious Work Capability Assessments which were being run by French IT company Atos.

Atos were far from the only private company set to rake in huge sums from Labour’s savage attack on the poor.  The green paper proposed that private providers would be able to bid for any welfare-to-work service.  This was based on a recommendation from David Freud, now better known as Lord Fraud, the current Tory Minister for Welfare Reform.

Except for mandatory treatment for drug users, all of these measure were eventually introduced, some by Labour and some by the Tories.  Many of Iain Duncan Smith’s most vicious policies were actually first proposed by Labour.

The consequences of Labour’s welfare reforms were devastating. 52,399 benefit sanctions were inflicted on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants in March 2010.  This was twice the number from just two years earlier and more than the 51,142 sanctions handed out by the Tories in September 2014, the most recent month for which figures are available. 

In March 2010 the number of people on sickness benefits who had their benefits stopped for failure to carry out ‘work related activity’ hit a high of 3,673.  This is just slightly below the 3,828 sanctions handed out to this group in September 2014.

To hear the current rhetoric from the TUC, you would think that mass benefit sanctions were a Tory invention.  TUC General Secretary Frances O-Grady recently released a statement saying “Under this government the sanctions system has become a cruel maze in which it is all too easy for claimants to lose cash for minor breaches of rules and random decisions.”  This was in response to a report showing the desperate toll that sanctions were taking on lone parents and most importantly their children,  As far back as 2008 the government’s own experts, the Social Security Advisory Committee, recommended that lone parents should not face sanctions.  The Labour government rejected this advice (PDF).

The TUC’s position is that some sanctions are acceptable.  Most charities share the same view.  The Labour Party have merely said there will be no targets for sanctions should they win the election.  Iain Duncan Smith already claims there are no benefit sanction targets.

Yet again this week coroners found that benefit stoppages had been a factor in two tragic suicides.  Leaving someone with no income at all, in one of the richest countries in the world, is inexcusable and inhumane.  To do this to people who can’t find a job, when we know there are not enough jobs to go round, is dystopian.  In the UK today, if you are poor, then you live under a regime of state inflicted terror.

Jobcentres have no idea what is going on in people’s lives when these sanctions are handed out.  They often do not know if someone has a mental health condition, or if they are homeless, a victim of domestic violence, or even just in the midst of a personal crisis.  Perhaps they are already desperately trying to avoid eviction by paying off rent arrears out of meagre benefits.   Perhaps they are about to have their gas or electricity disconnected.  Benefit claimants are already desperately poor.  No matter how ‘fair’ or ‘proportionate’ sanctions are claimed to be, no matter how many so-called safeguards are introduced (and ignored), benefit sanctions will always destroy lives.  For a small few they will be the tipping point that turns this so-called ‘help’ from the Jobcentre into a potential death sentence.

This is what the TUC and some charities support and it is fucking vile.  Benefit sanctions need to be stopped without exceptions.  It is way beyond time that those leading the trade union movement, and those in charities that claim to care about people in poverty, were brave enough to take a meaningful stand against the horrifying regime inflicted on those unable to find work.  Their current whining from the sidelines is both incoherent and ineffective.  Their cowardice makes them complicit in killing people.

On the 19th March the community section of UNITE Union will be holding a day of action against sanctions.  This will include protests outside Jobcentres across the UK.  Many have been organised by unemployed people themselves and they deserve support.  But even UNITE have doggedly refused to answer the question of whether they are opposed to all sanctions.

The PCS Union, who represent Jobcentre workers, have  commited to this position, although they refuse to do anything much about it.  Both UNITE and the PCS should be ferociously lobbying the TUC leadership to take an urgent stand against all benefit sanctions.  It is the very least they can do after all.  Now these sanctions can also be inflicted on low paid part time workers.  A trade union movement that doesn’t just tolerate this cruelty, but endorses it in some circumstances is worse than negligent.  It is a trade union movement that is actively attacking the very poorest working class people.  And for that the TUC leadership should hang their fucking heads in shame.

For a list of the protests called so far as part of UNITE’s day of action against sanctions visit their website.  Please help spread the word.

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2000 Workfare Staff Planned For Tax Office Next Year, And The PCS Union Is Doing … Nothing At All

TUC-A5-ProtestThe TUC’s recent grovelling endorsement of unpaid – and soon to be mandatory – Traineeships has caused dismay amongst many in the trade union movement with protests even planned outside their London offices.

This is not the first time to TUC have enthusiastically backed unpaid work.  Last year they were involved in the ‘week of workfare’, a shabby inititiative organised by the DWP funded Fair Train to rehabilitate workfare by introducing a quality standard for so called work experience schemes.  The whole thing turned out to be an embarrassing flop for everybody involved, but showed just how far the TUC are prepared to go to support the very same kind of unpaid work experience that they rightly oppose when it comes to graduates working as interns for no pay

Anger at the TUC’s latest announcement even emerged at last month’s conference when the PCS Union accused them of breaking their own policies that all work experience schemes should be both paid and voluntary.  No-one knows better than the PCS, who represent thousands of DWP staff, that no current Jobcentre schemes are genuinely voluntary.  Whilst claimants live in fear of being plunged into destitution by benefit sanctions for something as simple as being late to a meeting, it is hardly surprising some may agree to so-called non-mandatory workfare.  If they refuse they could simply be sent on mandatory workfare somewhere else, or face being cooped up in a Jobcentre for 30 hours a week for the next six months.

Sadly however, information has come to light that once again the PCS Union are all mouth and no trouers when it comes to opposing workfare and sanctions.  HMRC are currently planning to recruit over 1000 young unemployed people this year – and double that in 2015 – to work in the tax office for up to six weeks without pay.  This comes despite job losses at HMRC and there is already evidence that these new workfare staff will be replacing the roles of formerly paid employees.  According to rank and file PCS activists, during a pilot of this new scheme: “those brought in on workfare … were given jobs involving ‘filing, linking, correspondence and data entry.’  In other words, the jobs currently done by the AA grade who are being culled wholesale through post room digitalisation and privatisation as well as office closures.”

The DWP have also had their fair share of workfare staff which so far the PCS have failed to do anything about, although they are pretending they have.  In a briefing for members sent out in 2012, the union boasted that they had negotiated that “that DWP hosted work experience placements do not exploit those who take them up.”

It is hard to understand exactly how the PCS think that  young people bullied into working without pay are not being exploited.  That’s young people like Nisha, who was forced to spend the day on Twitter promoting unpaid work on behalf of Iain Duncan Smith.  Despite doing a far better job of dodging objections to workfare than the chinless pricks currently occuying the DWP Press Office, Nisha was not paid a penny for her work.

The PCS claim to oppose benefit sanctions, but have done nothing practical to end this practice that their members administer in Jobcentres.  They also claim to oppose unpaid work, yet the workplaces they are strongest in are riddled with workfare.  And opposing workfare means more than just making speeches or getting leaflets printed.  In the words of some grassroots PCS members this means:

“HMRC offices which utilise workfare placements need to be targeted for staff walkouts and external protests. Directors who sanction workfare should be faced with communication blockades. Those brought in on workfare need to be informed of their rights and supported by the union in every way possible. Strikes and industrial action on the job need to disrupt the day to day running of things in the fight over jobs and staffing.”

Or as some unions point out, the answer to unpaid work is simple:

As part of the Week of Action Against Workfare,  Kilburn Unemployed Workers have called a protest this Monday (tomorrow 6th October) outside the TUC’s main offices in London in response to this craven betrayal of young people’s right to be paid for the work they do.  Meet at 1pm outside Congress House, 23-28 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3LS.

Events are planned to oppose workfare throughout next week and throughout the UK, visit Boycott Workfare’s website for full details and spread the word!

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Cranky Jobcentre Psych Tests Are Unethical, But Will Anyone Except Claimants Care?

look-into-my-eyesThe news that unmployed people will face psychological testing in order to determine how much Jocentre harassment they should receive has prompted warnings from psychologists concerned about the ethics of the scheme.

Esther McVey recently announced that Jobcentre busy-bodies will soon  be expected to quiz new claimants to assess their “attitudes, behavioural norms and levels of self-belief”.  A small pilot scheme is currently taking place which is soon to be extended to 27,000 unemployed people.  Those who fail this cranky assessment and are judged ‘disengaged’ or ‘despondant’ will no doubt face being ‘helped’ with forced unpaid work and benefit sanctions.

According to the British Psychological Society (BPS): “It is critical …  that all assessments are conducted by experienced users of psychometrics – ideally under the supervision of a chartered psychologist. The success of a psychometric assessment of jobseekers will depend on sensitive, constructive and meaningful feedback about the results.”

Of course these tests will feature nothing of the sort.  A PCS Union briefing for Jobcentre staff says that management have told them these assessments will take just “2 to 5 minutes to complete”.  There is no mention of any specialist training being provided to claimant advisors and certainly no sign of a chartered psychologist running the show.

What this means is that Jobcentre workers, already under pressure due to short-staffing, will now be expected to administer tests which psychologists regard as unethical.

Whether the BPS or PCS plan to actually do anything about this situation remains to be seen.  Don’t hold your breath, but you can ask them @BPSOfficial and @PCS_Union.

H/T @lynnefriedli and @boycottworkfare

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

what-nextUPDATE 28/6/15:  Since this post is getting a lot of attention here’s an update on where part time workers stand under Universal Credit:
It Had To Happen. Soon You Could Face An In-Work Benefit Sanction … For Going To Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Over 4000 Unpaid Workers Recruited Right Under The So-Called Fighting Union’s Nose

workfare_0It is hard to imagine a more toxic influence on wages and working conditions than an army of un-unionised and unpaid workers forced to be there under threat of benefit sanctions.

Yet whilst the so-called fighting PCS Union has dithered over benefit sanctions and workfare that is exactly what has happened under their very noses at the DWP.

As spotted by @boycottworkfare, Employment Minister Esther McVey recently boasted that 4,300 unpaid workers on the Government’s Work Experience scheme have been press-ganged into working for the DWP over the last three years.  This could represent up to one million hours of forced labour – potentially replacing nearly a two hundred full time jobs over the same period.

Whilst the Work Experience scheme is officially ‘voluntary’ claimants who refuse to work for free at the DWP can face being sent on a mandatory  workfare scheme instead.  George Osborne even recently announced that this was to become the policy for people between 18 and 21 – who will in future be sentenced to up to 780 hours forced work if they turn down an unpaid Work Experience position.

As well as no wage, young people on the Work Experience scheme have no working rights.  If they are sacked for gross misconduct they face benefits being sanctioned.  Gross misconduct under these terms could potentially include refusing to cross a picket line.

Some unions, such as the BFAWU, have recognised the very real dangers to all workers from workfare of any kind.  Sadly the PCS, the union for DWP workers, has remained silent whilst this grotesque exploitation has taken place.  PCS members have already instructed their union to take tougher action on benefit sanctions and yet nothing appears to have happened.  Perhaps it’s time for PCS members who care about their jobs and working conditions to bypass their tame union leadership and take matters into their own hands.

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Old Left Line Up In Shocking Attack on Grassroots Claimant’s Group

sanction-sabsThe Youth Fight For Jobs campaign have published a piece this week attacking Boycott Workfare supporters who have called on the PCS Union to take meaningful and concrete action against benefit sanctions.

In an astonishing diatribe the group, who are largely a Socialist Party front, accuse campaign group Boycott Workfare of ‘divide and rule’.  Based on a string of entirely spurious accusations, Youth Fight for Jobs spokesperson Ian Pattison claims to be ‘shocked and surprised’ that a campaign opposed to benefit sanctions should call on the PCS to take a stronger position on their members being forced to implement those sanctions.

This is not a controversial position, even within the PCS Union themselves.  At their annual conference earlier in the year a resolution was passed instructing the PCS National Executive to explore means of non-cooperation with sanctions.  Since then there has been silence from the PCS leadership on the issue.

Pattison ignores this fact completely in his rant, instead falsely claiming that Boycott Workfare oppose the upcoming strike by administration workers and PCS members at Atos, the company responsible for the notorious Work Capability Assessment.  Yet nowhere have Boycott Workfare taken any position on this strike at all.  The accusation merely stems from a retweet of a piece published on a different group’s website which is critical of the PCS.

There is a wide debate amongst claimant and disabled people’s groups about how, and if, those fighting welfare reform can work with the low paid DWP staff implementing the reforms.  Understandingly many claimants feel unable to stand in solidarity with the Jobcentre or Atos staff who torment them on a daily basis.  Claimants have a right to have this discussion without dusty old left wing sects stepping in and trying to throw their weight about.  And Boycott Workfare have a right to retweet anything they choose which adds to that debate.

What is perhaps most staggering about Youth Fight for Jobs’ current whinge  is the glaring inconsistency at the heart of their position.  On one hand they proclaim that the PCS is a fighting union, the vanguard against austerity who have ‘won numerous local disputes’ and that ‘just the threat of strike action’ has already halted redundancies at the DWP this year.  Yet they also argue at length that it would be impossible for the PCS Union to take any meaningful action against benefit sanctions because workers might face the sack.  In this case the so-called fighting union’s collective power appears to be trembling  under the jackboot of Iain Duncan Smith.

If this was just an attack by an outdated left wing sect on a dynamic, diverse  and successful claimant’s movement then it would be easy and best all round to ignore it completely.  After all, Youth Fight for Job’s answer to unemployment is minimum wage work for everyone without a job – a disastrous policy that would force down wages and conditions for everyone.  They are hardly likely to be game changers in the battle against neo-liberal policies which are likely to dominate the lives of working class people for the foreseeable future.

But sadly there is more to this and this is where it gets nasty.  Vice President of the PCS Union John McInally hailed this attempted hatchet job as ‘serious analysis’ calling it ‘outstanding’ on twitter yesterday.  McInally, who is also a Socialist Party member, also just happened to publish a piece himself yesterday, this time on the Socialist Party website.  His arguments are little different to those attempted by Youth Fight for Jobs and are also presented as the only possible and conceivable strategy for those opposed to sanctions.

McInally claims it is a scandal that low paid Atos and Jobcentre workers are being ‘singled out for attack by some groups’.  Yet there is no mention of the scandal of people driven to suicide, destitution and homelessness by PCS members just doing their job whilst their union sits idly on the sidelines.

According to McInally, the only way to fight benefit sanctions is a united campaign driven by the TUC.  That’s the same TUC who support benefit sanctions (PDF 3.60 pg 31) and have recently been a named supporter of a week celebrating unpaid work.  Whether it’s the bastard in the Jobcentre stopping your benefits, or a bastard in the TUC arguing for more workfare and sanctions, the PCS Union seem to determined that claimants should line up and show solidarity with those who are currently complicit in destroying their lives.

And the tragic thing is that in many cases claimants have.  There has been recognition of the frankly fucked position Jobcentre workers are in, and an acknowledgement that not everyone at the DWP takes the same delight in sanctioning benefits that some of the most virulent Jobcentre staff seem to relish.  Claimants have stood on picket lines with PCS members and PCS members have taken part in actions and protests to support claimants. There has been real solidarity at a grassroots level.

But yesterday the PCS Union leadership chose to throw that solidarity back in claimant’s faces by using a statement made in a different context by Disabled People Against Cuts and the Black Triangle campaign in a crude attempt to prop up their attack on those who refuse to toe their party line.  This statement – which is almost a year old and was published before the full extent of the PCS Union’s inaction would become apparent – was published alongside McInally’s thinly veiled smear aimed at Boycott Workfare.  A more cynical way to try and divide the claimant movement is hard to imagine.

This presumably was intended as an example of how the PCS leadership demand claimants should behave.  Unconditional solidarity with their members which only runs in one direction.  No further room for debate is acceptable.

Some claimants may choose to support the striking Atos workers, many will choose  to ignore them.  There are arguments for either position.  But the PCS Union don’t get to sit and dictate how claimants should respond to the endless brutal decimation of their lives.  Jobcentre staff currently face being sacked for not meeting sanction targets that their bosses claim don’t even exist.  The PCS leadership have plenty to be getting on with in their own workplaces before they start telling the rest of us how to behave.

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DWP Cancel Poverty Party: Week of Festivities to Celebrate Benefit Sanctions Scrapped

IDS-poverty-partyThe DWP have cancelled a vile week long celebration of benefit sanctions due to be held to coincide with the Tory Party Conference the PCS Union have reported.   In a sign of growing militancy from the PCS leadership to oppose the vicious sanctioning regime (stop laughing) the union had issued a strongly worded letter to DWP bosses complaining about the upcoming shindig.

Iain Duncan Smith and his department had been planning to rejoice at the news that hundreds of thousands of people are being pushed into desperate poverty by the massive increase in draconian sanctions.  According to the PCS, the DWP had said the week of festivities was about “celebrating how far we have come since the introduction of tougher sanction levels last year”.

It now appears that the week of fun has been scrapped with all mention of Conditionality Week disappearing from the DWP’s website except for a memo to Work Programme providers inviting them to join the party (PDF).

Benefits can now be sanctioned for the most trivial reasons, such as missing a meeting or being late for an appointment.  A list of especially stupid sanctions, such as benefits being stopped because someone didn’t look for enough work on Christmas Day, has recently appeared online.

In some cases benefit sanctions can last up to three years.  Homelessness charity umbrella body Homeless Link last week released a report which claimed sanctions were driving some recently housed homeless people back to the streets.  Foodbanks consistently report sanctions as one of the main reasons families find themselves dependent on their scant support.

The DWP are dragging their feet on providing the latest information on the number of benefit claims sanctioned this year, but it is believed to be likely to top one million.  That’s a million cases of children going hungry, people unable to pay their rent or sick and disabled people not having the money to heat their homes.  And that is one million reasons to party as far as Iain Duncan Smith is concerned.

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