Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rachel Reeves’ weak speech has little to offer but social insecurity

Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side - at least she isn't Liam Byrne.
Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side – at least she isn’t Liam Byrne.

Was anyone else underwhelmed by Rachel Reeves’ speech in this years Labour conference?

Not by the promise to take the Bedroom Tax off the statute books, obviously. That has been a settled part of Labour policy since, well, since it landed on the statute books back in 2012. We should not take it for granted, though – and we must always remember that the Bedroom Tax won’t be going anywhere if the Blue Meanies manage to hang on to control after May next year.

But is anybody really convinced by her ‘Jobs Guarantee’? Is it really likely to work, or is it just another ‘make-work’ scheme? What difference will it make if private companies running the current work programme/mandatory work activity/workfare/whatever-they’re-called-today schemes are replaced by local councils and communities? Vox Political is based in Powys and the council here wouldn’t know how to help anybody get back into work off the back of any such scheme. Why should it be different elsewhere?

Do we really need a ‘Basic Skills Test’? Isn’t that an indictment of our education system – and shouldn’t that be where the skills gap ought to be tackled?

Did chills go up anybody else’s spine when Reeves mentioned a “pensions market“? Do we need a pensions market? Do you want to have to shop around for the best pension for you? Don’t you pay your National Insurance for the government to sort out that side of things and not make a mess of it?

And what did she mean by “tailored support” for disabled people who can work? By whose standards?

What did you make of her comments about the work capability assessment? “We need real reform”, she said. No! We don’t need reform! We need to scrap it altogether! It has never been fit for purpose; it never will be. The very word “assessment”, linked to a person’s sickness or disability, is tainted beyond reform. All that is necessary – all that has ever been necessary – is written confirmation of a person’s condition from – guess who? – a doctor. Work capability assessments are a waste of money and a risk to the health of sick and disabled people.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Don’t Stop The Free Workers Plead The Workfare Exploiters

Originally posted on the void:

Poundland have seen dozens of protests outside their stores over their use of unpaid workers.
Poundland have seen dozens of protests outside their stores over their use of unpaid workers.

In a bizarre move, several companies known to use unpaid staff on workfare schemes have teamed up to write a letter to The Guardian singing the praises of the disastrous Work Programe.

The list of employers – which includes Homebase who are known to have used workfare is the past, and Poundland, who were at the heart of the successful legal challenge against workfare – say that the government’s support for schemes like the Work Programme ‘must continue’.  Otherwise they might have to start actually paying their staff instead of exploiting unemployed people coerced into unpaid work by sanction-happy Jobcentre busy-bodies.

It is not known whether all the companies on the list, which include Ocado and Gap, are involved in unpaid work, although it is difficult to see why they have signed otherwise.  In fact…

View original 296 more words

NHS Psychotherapist Discusses The Rise In Depression Among Victims Of Benefit Sanctions

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bedroom Tax closer to the axe after Tories defeated in shock vote

Labour and Lib Dems joined forces to vote in favour a Bill to protect victims of the hated policy in a hammer blow to David Cameron

The Bedroom Tax came a step closer to being axed today after a shock Tory defeat in the House of Commons.

Labour and Lib Dems joined forces to vote in favour a Bill to protect victims of the hated policy. In a hammer blow to David Cameron, they voted 306 to 231 against the tax.

The move left the Coalition in turmoil and prompted calls from the Tories to break up the alliance immediately.

Opponents of the tax warned this was just the first step in what could be a gruelling Commons battle.

But it was still hailed as a impressive and crucial victory for the hundreds of thousands of victims - including many disabled -  who have been left hundreds of pounds worse off since the tax was introduced in April last year.

Lib Dem MP Andrew George’s private member’s Bill - called the Affordable Homes Bill - will exempt anyone from the bedroom tax unless they can be found a smaller home to move to.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Black Triangle Campaign Website Suspended.

Reblogged from Stilloaks

The Black Triangle Website has been suspended.
It initially appears that the following article or variation of it was responsible…

Daily Mail Uses Disabled Woman To Lie About Disability Support

by Richard Hutton

Significantly, in light of the recent cuts to in-work social protection, the Daily Mail published an article on 10th January 2013[1], which it amended two days later, in order to reinforce a distorted image about the reality of being disabled, and in receipt of support.

The poor quality of this article is made plain by the number of inconsistencies the two versions contained:

‘Putting others to shame: The disabled mother, 45, who refuses to claim benefits and works FIVE jobs even though she would be £300 better off on the dole’ by Lucy Crossley/Daily Mail; 10th January 2013.

‘Poorer but happier: The mother who gave up benefits to work despite being £400 worse off a month’ by Andrew Levy/Daily Mail; 12th January 2013.

“Nina Friday juggles work as a cleaner, a care worker, a caretaker, a school midday supervisor and runs a website. She has lived in constant pain since rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. Despite her hard work she is £300 a month worse off than on benefits” (Lucy Crossley version)

“Nina Charbecks juggles work as a cleaner, a care worker, a caretaker, a school midday supervisor and runs a website. She has lived in constant pain since rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. Despite her hard work she is £400 a month worse off than on benefits” (Andrew Levy)

Throughout the two versions of the article, the Mail attributes various quotes to the woman in question. For instance, according to the Mail’s earlier article:
“’In total I work about 35 hours a week,’ Ms Friday told The Daily Star newspaper. ‘But it still isn’t enough to cover what I would have been on from disability and living allowance.’”
In the amended article this becomes:
“The mother of two had been receiving around £1,260 a month from income support, housing benefit, council tax benefit and payments related to her rheumatoid arthritis”.
In reality, while income support is available to people who are unemployed, Working Tax credits are available to people who work. People who work less than 16 hours per week remain eligible for income support. In fact, even if they work longer hours than this, people may still be eligible for income support if they are a carer, or – of all things – a part-time firefighter, or member of the Territorial Army. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is a non-means-tested, non-taxable payment, which disabled people can claim whether they are employed or unemployed. It is designed to help with the extra costs of daily living caused by their condition. Being in work does not mean this support automatically ceases.
In the later version of the article, the Mail quotes:
“There’s plenty of work out there but people are fussy – particularly when they get their rent and council tax paid”
Again, in reality, housing benefit is available to people in work; as is council tax support, at the time of writing.

It is noteworthy that when the Mail amended its article, it chose to omit any mention of how the woman’s disability actually affects her. In the original version, it wrote that:
“As a result of her arthritis, Ms Friday finds that some simple tasks can take her hours to finish because of the terrible pain in her joints”.
This disappeared two days later. The Mail also elected to remove the following:
“‘There are hundreds of people like me who would be happy to work but don’t because they’d be worse off.’”
This is not based in reality, at all. Disability support does not stop because somebody secures employment: only unemployment support does – this payment is minimal, and is dwarfed by the average weekly salary. As noted previously, income support, housing benefit, and council tax support are all currently available to people who work.

This is not news reporting on the real experience of being disabled, and in need of social protection – this is using a dupe to help push forward a fallacy: that people on benefits are scroungers, receiving handouts, and will benefit from having this support removed. Contrary to the impression readers of the Mail’s article will be left with, in Britain, the majority of disabled people already work. Pretending otherwise is unsavoury in its own right – but here the Mail is exploiting a disabled woman to make the case for cutting social protection to all working people with disabilities.

Update: as some readers have pointed out, income support is available to the unemployed – I was thinking of working tax credits. Thanks for pointing this out – I’ve amended this.

[1] ‘Poorer but happier: The mother who gave up benefits to work despite being £400 worse off a month’ by Andrew Levy/Daily Mail; 12th January 2013: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2260118/Disabled-mother-45-refuses-claim-benefits-works-FIVE-jobs–400-better-dole.html
It notes: “PUBLISHED: 12:40, 10 January 2013 | UPDATED: 02:06, 12 January 2013″
The original version has vanished; but I was able to retrieve a copy of it from the Iconocast website:

LATEST UPDATE. It appears that the above links no longer work, I have found the original articles on the Wayback Machine….

Why Wheat is One of the Worst Carbs for Your Health

Serious news for anyone on a budget. Try going into your local pound shop and see how many food products are NOT made from wheat or laced with gluten!

WIKI - Wheat

Technically speaking, wheat is a grain containing carbohydrates. It makes up most of our noodles and breads that are the source of most carbohydrates in our diet. Modern wheat really isn’t wheat at all and far from the health food the wheat industry wants you to believe it is. High-yielding and now genetically modified varieties of wheat are making this one cereal grain you’ll probably want to axe from your food list.

So how–and when–did this ancient grain become such a serious health threat? Author and preventive cardiologist William Davis, MD, says it’s when big agriculture stepped in decades ago to develop a higher-yielding crop. Today’s “wheat,” he says, isn’t even wheat, thanks to some of the most intense crossbreeding efforts ever seen. “The wheat products sold to you today are nothing like the wheat products of our grandmother’s age, very different from the wheat of the early 20th Century, and completely transformed from the wheat of the Bible and earlier,” he says.

Plant breeders changed wheat in dramatic ways. Once more than four feet tall, modern wheat–the type grown in 99 percent of wheat fields around the world–is now a stocky two-foot-tall plant with an unusually large seed head. Dr. Davis says accomplishing this involved crossing wheat with non-wheat grasses to introduce altogether new genes, using techniques like irradiation of wheat seeds and embryos with chemicals, gamma rays, and high-dose X-rays to induce mutations...


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Exposed: Jobcentre Benefit Sanctions Culture Revealed – Whistleblower

I worked for DWP for many years, in various roles including management and adviser positions, and can verify that Jobcentre Plus did and do talk about benefit sanction targets/expectations.

Benchmarks did exist, but there was no pressure to meet them until around October 2010. Prior to 2010, sanctions were rarely discussed and staff from my experience did not feel under pressure to make referrals to the Decision Maker.

A benchmark is “a standard by which something can be measured or judged” so does not precisely imply a target. A benchmark level is not a target directly, but indirectly policy to meet a benchmark level is a target that is set to meet the minimum standard.

“Performance expectations” serve as a foundation for communicating about performance throughout the year. They also serve as the basis for assessing employee performance. When a business and an employee set clear expectations about the results that must be achieved and the methods or approaches needed to achieve them, you establish a path for success.

Report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith (pdf).

CAB staff reported that their caseloads began to increase significantly to year ending 2011; this was during the same period when the 6% benchmark/target was enforced. Ruth Owen said at the time, “targets create perverse behaviour” and hence the reason targets/benchmarks were removed from staff appraisal objectives.
However, targets were still discussed, despite staff being informed there were no Stricter Benefit Regime measures. In my district the target/benchmark at the time was 6% of the live load of unemployed people on the office register. Furthermore, initiatives were introduced that were not always intended to help people, but to achieve the 6% target. I felt this behaviour was unethical and I decided to resign from a job I once enjoyed, because I was extremely unhappy with the new ethos and the welfare agenda. The situation has worsened since my departure.

Following the Guardian’s DWP whistle-blower story sanctions took a dip from July 2011, but they began to rise again during 2012 and have continued to rise significantly ever since. This can only happen if staff are being encouraged and are expected to make more and more referrals to the Decision Maker (870,793 claimants were subject to an adverse decision to lose their benefit during an 8 month period in 2013); the highest level since the Baldwin government’s campaign against the unemployed in the 1920s, which saw disqualifications of over 2 per cent per month for the very similar, not genuinely seeking work from October 1928 to March 1929 and in April-May 1929. This reason for disqualification was ended by a Labour Party backbench revolt resulting in abolition in March 1930.

In all my years as a public servant, I have never witnessed the bureaucratic excessiveness which currently exists within the welfare system today. The impact of the harsher regime, which also includes longer sanctions (which range from 1 month to 3-years), is devastating for claimants who are already under enormous financial pressure and emotional strain; claimants must now contribute to Council Tax, which has resulted in a circa 4% cut in a claimant’s income and in some cases there is the Bedroom Tax to pay too, resulting in a further 19% cut on average. In addition, benefits have not increased in line with the cost of food and utilities. The EU advice to the UK is, benefits are inadequate.

The sick, the unemployed and those on low incomes are now paying for the failures in the banking system.


Labour will hit back at the Bedroom Tax this Friday – will the Lib Dems?

bedroom tax

Labour has been clear and consistent in its opposition to the Bedroom Tax.

We said it was cruel and unfair, taking an average £700 a year from half a million low income households. The government has admitted that two thirds of those hit have disabilities, and another 60,000 are carers. All the evidence from housing and disability experts showed that most would have nowhere else to move to.
We also said it was unworkable and could end up costing more than it saved, with people unable to keep up with their rent, destabilising the finances of housing providers and risking costly eviction proceedings, or ending up with private landlords where rents and housing benefit bills are higher.

Our fears were confirmed by the government’s own independent evaluation of the policy slipped out over the summer. This revealed that just 4.5% of affected claimants had been able to move to smaller accommodation within the social sector, that 60% had fallen behind with their rent after just six months, and that there was “widespread concern that those who were paying were making cuts to other household essentials or incurring other debts”.

These are the reasons why Labour MPs forced a vote in the House of Commons for its abolition in November last year. It is why we supported a Bill to abolish the tax put forward by Ian Lavery MP in February this year. And it is why Ed Miliband has committed the next Labour government to repealing it if we win the general election next year.

To his credit, Andrew George MP has also been consistent in his criticism of the Bedroom Tax. He even voted in support of our motion to abolish it last November. But unfortunately the same cannot be said of his party, the Liberal Democrats.

They joined the Tories in the lobbies to vote through the Bedroom Tax at second and third reading in 2011. They combined with the Tories to defeat Labour’s opposition motion last November. And they were nowhere to be seen when Ian Lavery proposed his Bill to repeal the tax in February.

The plain truth is that there would be no Bedroom Tax if it wasn’t for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.

The Liberal Democrats even refused to support amendments that Labour tabled in the Commons and the Lords to exempt disabled people whose homes had been specially adapted for them, or who could not find alternative accommodation where support services and suitable employment was locally available.

Lately Nick Clegg has attempted a u-turn on the issue, claiming that new evidence showed people were unable to move to avoid the tax. But the evidence for this has always been available.

In fact the government’s own assumption was that no one would move, and that if they tried “there would be a mismatch between available accommodation and the needs of tenants”, and that “in many areas this mismatch could mean that there are insufficient properties to enable tenants to move to accommodation of an appropriate size”.

In fact, the very report that the leader of the Liberal Democrats has cited as “the trigger” for his change of heart points out that the small number of moves is in fact “higher than some had expected as the DWP’s impact assessment was modelled on the assumption that no significant numbers would downsize”. The utter disingenuousness of Nick Clegg’s attempt to excuse his collaboration with this Tories on this issue confirms once again that you simply cannot trust a word the man says.

The Liberal Democrat leadership have not yet announced what position they will take on Andrew George’s Private Members’ Bill to exempt certain categories of household from the Bedroom Tax.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Homelessness in England rises a shocking 26% under Tory Lib Dem coalition

(not satire – it’s the UK today!)

Statutory homelessness in England has gone up by a massive 26% since Cameron and Clegg’s coalition government came to power.

And the number of people sleeping rough in London has risen by an unbelievable 77% since 2010.
These figures come after years of declining trends in homelessness – but that was before Cameron and Clegg got their hands on the economy.

Just one question.

Why is this not front page news?
The full figures from homelessness charity Crisis can be viewed here.

Pride’s Purge