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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Unemployment Business of Greed & Fraud !


It has almost become a self-evident truth that unemployment has been growing progressively over the last two decades, both in scale and in its significance for social and economic policy. How and why are often ignored but a vast industry to ‘manage’ this ‘crisis’ has developed. From flourishing private companies, such as A4e, contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions to deliver what Jobcentre Plus has apparently failed to achieve, through tens of subcontracted employment services providers, to a growing sector of so-called voluntary organisations that depend on this reserve army of unemployed people to source their ‘slave’ workforce. The relatively new ‘unemployment business’; its protagonists, ideological, political and economic premises and how it is being utilised by the New Labour government to dismantle what’s left of the welfare state.

The ‘unemployment crisis’ has certainly been exacerbated by the recent economic downturn, with many employers going bust, but that’s not the whole story. Many big businesses have also exploited the current climate to push for compulsory redundancies. More importantly, the recession and the rising number of jobless people have been skilfully employed by politicians and government officials. By introducing new schemes and increasingly coercive measures to ‘help’ the unemployed get back into the job market, they have put yet another nail in the welfare state’s coffin.

The New Deal programmes, both old and new, which have been at the core of these reforms, providing some new details and figures about the winners and losers, or the private contractors and their victims. The prison slave labour, which bears striking similarities to the increasingly coercive benefits and employment system, both in how it is working out and in the reasoning behind it. My aim of this issue is to highlight how the reformed welfare system is being used by the state and the market for social control. Keeping people busy with work or looking for work also serves another political agenda: preventing time for politics, uninstitutionalised creativity and other ‘dangerous’ activities. With all the talk about ‘flexibility’, people nowadays appear to have less freedom to choose what they really want to do, particularly those with less marketable skills. Forcing people to do whatever is available on the job market to survive means subjecting them to ruthless market mechanisms (everyone seems to accept terms like the ‘labour market’ as normal!).

Jobcentre Plus was created in June 2001, bringing together the Employment Service and parts of the former Benefits Agency. It was the New Labour government’s second ‘radical overhaul’ of the welfare system, with the aim of “helping" the large numbers of people on benefits to find meaningful employment.” Gradually, as Jobecentre Plus was allegedly failing to achieve what it was set up for, most of its services were outsourced to private contractors. The ‘unemployment business’ has now become a vast, lucrative market, yet ‘customers’ receive increasingly poor services.

The old New Deal Since the late 1990s, there has been a steady trend to get people off benefits and into work. This has been manifest in repeated efforts by the Department of Work Pensions (DWP) to devise programmes aimed at enticing and/or forcing people to obtain employment, through restructuring the benefits system to make it more difficult for people to stay on benefits for long and, more recently, through a full-fledged war on lone parents, disabled people and ‘benefit cheats’ (renamed ‘benefit thieves’ in 2009). An instrumental part of this strategy has been the New Deal programme, first introduced by the Labour government in 1998 with the stated purpose of reducing unemployment by providing training, subsidised employment and voluntary work for the unemployed. Funded by a one-off £5bn windfall tax on privatised utility companies, it was initially piloted on unemployed youth. New Deal programmes were subsequently expanded to include various groups, including lone parents, people with disabilities and over-50’s. One of the key architects of the UK’s version of New Deal is said to be LSE professor and founder of the Centre for Economic Performance, Richard Layard. Layard was an early advocate of the welfare-to-work approach to unemployment that would later materialise, in its most recent incarnation, as the Flexible New Deal. Between 1997 and 2001, Layard helped implement these policies as a consultant at the Department for Education and Skills, which was also responsible for employment until 2001 when the Department for Work and Pensions was created. In 2000, he became a Labour life peer in the House of Lords.

It is perhaps telling that a liberal economist, who graduated from Eton and Cambridge, would devise, or advocate, a ‘deal’ that unemployed people have no choice but to accept. In essence, it is the same deal offered by the business class to workers time and again: If you don’t like the little money we give you, you can just leave and starve to death. The black box In April 2007, responsibility for employment programmes delivered by external providers was transferred from Jobcentre Plus to the DWP’s Work, Welfare and Equality Group (WWEG) and Commercial and Estates Directorate (CED). A newly created Delivery Directorate within WWEG took on overall responsibility for the design, commissioning and performance of such programmes. In a letter to providers, David Smith, DWP’s Commercial Director, and Matthew Nicholas, Jobcentre Plus’s Director of External Relations and Communication, explained that “the movement will provide greater clarity of respective roles for Jobcentre Plus and DWP.” In reality, this meant a greater role for the private sector, not only in delivering the programmes but also in designing and implementing policies.

In February 2008, the then Work and Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, set out his “three C’s” in an ‘historical’ speech that paved the way for the welfare reforms that followed. Purnell’s three Cs, echoing Roosevelt’s Three Rs during the Great Depression (Relief, Reform and Recovery), were Capability, or “helping people stay in and return to work”; Control, or “giving people choice and control over services”; and Contribution, or “modernising the benefit system.” Modernisation and innovation, as we have come to know so well, often mean subtle privatisation. Indeed, the DWP commissioning strategy, which was published that same month and set out the department’s “vision for modernising and strengthening the welfare to work market,” recommended “longer, larger contracts” (5–7 years) and “a focus on place not structures, with top-tier providers taking a more strategic role.” While smaller, specialist providers were still to be “encouraged to flourish and develop” through subcontracts, this was something of a departure from the old ‘local partnerships’ approach (Local Strategic Partnerships and Local Area Agreements).

In management jargon, this is sometimes referred to as the ‘black box approach’: “greater responsibility but sharing risk and encouraging innovation,” to quote a DWP presentation on employability provision and sub-contracting. The scientific definition of the black box method, however, might be more accurate in describing the reality of New Deal: a device or system that is viewed from an external perspective, solely in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics, without any knowledge of its internal workings. Contracts and partners Until October 2009, when phase one of Flexible New Deal came into effect, the DWP had 121 contracts with 51 private and ‘third-sector’ agencies and organisations to deliver New Deal programmes in the UK’s 11 regions. Of these, only 16 were described as ‘voluntary organisations’, including such names as BTCV, Careers Development Group, CSV Training, SCVO and YMCA Training. The 35 other contractors were all private companies specialising in ‘employment services’, such as job search and training. Most of the contracts were for two or three years but some were for up to 12 years. By far, the largest number of contracts, 16, was awarded to the Training Network Group, followed by A4e (formerly Action for Employment) with 11 contracts. Other big ‘partners’, as the DWP often describes them, included Support Training (7 contracts); Pertemps, Seetec, Triage Central and Management Introductions (5 each).

New Deal private sector providers and the amounts
received from the DWP in the financial year 2008-9

Provider Spend 08-09
A4e (11 contracts) £84,433,506
Access Training South West Ltd £265,567
Best Ltd (2 Contracts) £14,324,285
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce £2,056,355
Careers Wales Cardiff & Vale £84,685
Crosby Training (2 Contracts) £2,478,492
DASH Training South Wales £1,919,478
DMT Business Services £773,192
Glasgow Mentoring Network £47,546
Inbiz £758,366
Inspire to Independence £3,688,027
Juniper Training £2,408,592
Management Introductions (5 Contracts) £1,785,408
Manpower UK £3,243,918
MBW Training Services(2 Contracts) £1,583,963
Pertemps People Development Group (5 Contracts) £33,903,613
Prospects Services £1,268,852
Quadrant (2 Contracts) £132,894
Reed £47,111,328
Scottish Cultural Enterprise Ltd £63,333
SEETEC (5 Contracts) £16,653,137
Sencia £6,006,267
Shackleton Associates (2 Contracts) £885,604
Skills Training (2 Contracts) £8,085,783
Standguide (3 Contracts) £2,225,362
Steps to Work Walsall £5,843,184
Support into Work £269,600
Support Training Ltd (7 Contracts) £910,361
TBG Learning (3 Contracts) £8,888,502
Training Network Group Ltd (16 Contracts) £240
Triage Central Ltd (5 Contracts) £5,259,740
Work Directions £45,533,303
Work First £4,410,327
Working Links (3 Contracts) £56,581,024
WTCS (now Max Employment UK) £920,019

New Deal spend figures for the financial year 2008-9, show that A4e was paid £84,433,506 in that year for its 11 contracts, 10 of which were for 6 years and 10 months. The second biggest beneficiary was Working Links, which received £56,581,024 for 3 contracts, two of which were for 3 years and 2 months and one for one year and 11 months. Other fat contracts included Work Directions (one contract, £45,533,303 in 2008-9); Reed (one contract, £47,111,328); Pertemps People Development Group (5 Contracts, £33,903,613) and SEETEC (5 Contracts, £16,653,137). Strangely, the largest contractor of all in terms of the number of contracts, the Training Network Group, received only £240.

Needless to say, the details and specifics of these contracts are kept away from the public under the pretext of ‘commercial confidentiality’. However, it is known that the majority of Jobcentre Plus provision is funded through a so-called ‘formula funded’ system, where providers are paid on the basis of a universal ‘unit price’, or a fixed amount of money for the same service provided no matter who the provider and how large the contract is. This ‘unit price’ is typically split between fixed programme delivery costs and ‘outcome payments’, which are mainly focused on what are termed ‘job outcomes’ and are paid after an outcome is deemed to have been achieved (for example, when a participant finds a job and leaves the programme). The programme delivery element is paid at a weekly rate determined by the planned length of the programme. The ratio between the two elements is often 70 to 30 percent. Thus, for each so-called customer on New Deal for Young People, for instance, the total ‘unit price’ ranges between £848 and £1,186 for eight weeks. The weekly programme delivery element for this course is calculated by taking 70% and dividing it by eight, which gives £74.20 – £103.78 per customer per week.

In 2006, A4e Central London won the prime New Deal contract for Camden and Islington. Both London boroughs have an A4e office that work with Jobcentre Plus partners in the area. A4e Central London employs approximately 40 staff and, in 2008, had 438 New Deal participants. Of these, 223 were based at its Holloway centre, 83 at the Kentish Town centre and 132 at subcontractors’ centres. To deliver its full-range provision, the company subcontracted to Kennedy Scott, A2Train and Metropole College.

In 2008, A4e overall had some 13,000 New Deal clients at its 100 or so centres throughout the country. This represented approximately 50% of the company’s activities, but 40% of it was subcontracted to smaller providers. In 2008-9, A4e received £84,433,506 for New Deal provision; that is, more than £6,000 per client. So assuming that the A4e Holloway and Kentish Town centres only provided New Deal programmes -which is not, of course, the case- the centres would have generated at least £2.5m only in one year. There are no accurate figures available but it is difficult to imagine that the running costs of both centres would exceed half of that amount. In fact, participants often complain that computers are old and insufficient in number, that staff are too busy and such like. Jobcentre Plus states in its Provider Guidance that it “does not, in principle, object to providers seeking to generate additional income from the service they are providing through any Jobcentre Plus contract.” This may explain why the same staff and equipment are often used for other services, such as advice and learning, while charging the government as if their sole purpose is to deliver one programme.

As a result of these lucrative government contracts, the Sheffield-based training company has grown steadily since its establishment in 1991 to become a small transnational company with operations in 11 countries across four continents, including ‘new markets’ with ‘growth potential’, such as Poland and Israel. In the UK, it is the largest supplier of employment services as a prime contractor with the DWP. In 2009, the company’s revenue was £146m, 63% of which derived was from employment and welfare services. Its operating profits before tax in the financial year ending 31st Match 2009 were just over £6m. A4e’s other business includes telephone-based legal advice on behalf of the Legal Services Commission and employer programmes to “improve the capability of their workforces.” While A4e remains the biggest and most ‘successful’ shark, the same could more or less be said of all the other big private providers: Pertemps, Working Links, Seetec and so on. One could give example after example had there been enough space here.

Other benefactors of New Deal programmes include employers who are paid ‘subsidies’ for up to 26 weeks for employing participants (as if employers hire employees as a favour to the employee). This is £60 and £75 per week for full-time and £40 and £50 for part-time, under New Deal for Young People and New Deal 25 Plus respectively. Although not all employers take up this offer, the DWP spent nearly £41,000 on New Deal employer subsidies in 1999-2000. In 2004-5, this was over £15 million.

The real benefit cheats

There have recently been a number of scandals and investigations into alleged fraud and misconduct by private companies contracted to deliver employment services. In May 2008, for instance, the DWP had been investigating A4e and at least two other undisclosed training providers for fraud for over a year. A minimum of 20 cases of fraud were discovered at an A4e centre in Hull, where two staff members had apparently falsified employer forms and forged signatures on them in order to receive ‘job outcome’ bonuses from the DWP. A4e was also reportedly involved in a temporary job recruitment agency scam, forcing New Deal participants into temporary work, which resulted in more ‘job outcome’ bonuses. Despite the ongoing investigation, A4e was not blacklisted or restricted from bidding for Flexible New Deal contracts and eventually won the largest number of contracts amongst all the bidders. This is unsurprising, perhaps, when we learn that the company’s advisory group includes such highly esteemed members as David Blunkett, the former Work and Pensions Secretary who was forced to resign, for the second time, following revelations about his external business interests during his brief time outside the cabinet, and the former permanent secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, Sir Robin Young.

Another example is Pertemps People Development Group, which continued to receive payments as usual under its £2,259,282 two-year contract that ended in June 2008, even though a Jobcentre Plus monitoring report dated 7 November, 2006, clearly stated that, “there are still major issues that need to be addressed to meet with contractual compliance.” A letter by the Jobcentre Plus director of programmes, dated 20 November 2006, stated that “Jobcentre Plus was satisfied that the contract is being delivered to the required standards.”

Since Maatwerk had its contract terminated for fraud in 2008, only two other New Deal providers are known to have been forced to repay fraud money, the first being A4e (£15,000) and another provider whose name has not been disclosed (£48,000). It is known, however, that Jobcentre Plus and the DWP have received numerous complaints and requests for investigations concerning various providers. Most fraud cases so far - at least, those we are aware of - have been primarily related to forged signatures and falsified forms. Other alleged fraud practices that the DWP has not yet picked up, but are widely reported by participants and observers on the web, include timesheet abuse, dismissal abuse (dismissing participants for false or trivial reasons to receive the full 13 weeks amount), guaranteed job bonuses abuse (some participants may receive a job offer before the course starts and providers still get job outcome payments, even if they had nothing to do with finding the participant a job) and future job outcome bonuses abuse (forcing participants to enter an agreement whereby the provider has ‘permission’ to contact any future employer after the course has ended to obtain a job outcome bonus even though the participant would have found the job after the course had finished, unaided by the provider).

Targets and results

Whenever the DWP is asked - in parliamentary questions, for example - for an assessment of New Deal, spokespeople reply with statistics concerning how many long-term unemployed people have been ‘successfully helped’ off benefits and into work. What is almost always missing is how and what kind of work has been offered to, or forced onto, people.

When asked in parliament in March 2007 how many people had been on the New Deal programme more than once (those commonly known as ‘retreads’), the DWP’s Jim Murphy chose to precede his figures with the following statement: “Some people will return to New Deal after leaving the programme, but this is inevitable in a dynamic labour market.” (‘Flexible’ wasn’t then a buzz word.) The plain answer, as the statistics showed, would have been ‘increasingly too many.’ And the main reason is that ‘customers’ are being pushed to do any job available as soon as possible.

This is sometimes referred to as the ‘work first’ model: the best way to improve a person’s position in the labour market, it is argued, is for them to move quickly into work, any work. Unemployment programmes, thus, have come to focus primarily on compulsory job searches and short-term interventions to facilitate a quick return to the job market, which is quite different from the ‘human capital development’ approach of the welfare state. Sometimes this is done in subtle ways, such as career ‘planning’, job search ‘advice’, ‘training’ and so on, but often through pressurising people into getting a job to avoid ‘all the hassle.’ As a result, job searches have become synonymous with intimidation and harassment by staff; training with ‘employability’, or increasing a person’s chances to find any job; the gap between professionals and ‘unskilled’ workers has increased; and overall everyone enjoys less security, in what is often termed the casualisation of the labour market.

While standards may vary between one provider and another, it could be argued that this prevailing free market ideology, added to the companies’ profit-driven structure, does not allow for any other mode of work. It is unsurprising, then, that this mode would culminate in the recent welfare ‘reforms’ and the ‘work for your benefits’ pilot schemes, where welfare becomes an earned privilege rather than a right.

As for the participants themselves, the most common experience is sitting on chairs all day doing nothing, except competing for old computers and being interrogated by over-stretched staff. It’s demoralising, I know I've been one of A4e clients, it was degrading and humiliating treatment, A complete waste of time, a de-skilling exercise and so on and so forth. In fact, an increasing number of websites, such as newdealcomplaints.co.uk, are solely dedicated to sharing such experiences; experiences that are, paradoxically, often used to justify the privatisation of public services.

A common experience is the necessity of lying to survive through such an unjust system. Mocking A4e’s slogan “Improving people’s lives”, All they do is improve people’s lies. New Deal is bad for your health. The same could be said of most, if not all, aspects of the new benefits system; it is bad for the well being of individual claimants and the welfare of society as a whole. The only exception seems to be the private contractors, for whom New Deal and other ‘welfare’ programmes have been golden business opportunities.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The unemployed and the General Election - figure hits 2.5m mark


Causes of unemployment:
More than 3 million children – at least one in four – in Britain live in poverty (ie. in families on less than 60 per cent median income after housing costs). This is among the worst records in western Europe. By Chancellor Darling’s own admission, the government is likely to miss its 1999 target to halve child poverty by 2010 to the detriment of 600,000 children.

The chief causes of poverty are unemployment, low wages or inadequate benefits. In recent years, too, huge rises in gas and electricity prices have more than doubled the number of households in ‘fuel poverty’ (ie. spending more than 10 per cent of income on fuel bills) to 4.5 million, as the energy monopolies reap super-profits.

The main impact of poverty is on health, educational achievement and social participation.

Start with simple remedies:
The remedies are straightforward, as the Child Poverty Action Group confirms. Single and women parents need higher benefits, higher wages and better access to employment, training and childcare facilities. Together with pensioners, they would benefit substantially from decent housing, better public services and a move away from means-testing of benefits and pensions.

But with its proposals to increase the retirement age, the New Labour government has swallowed whole the ageist, anti-pensioner agenda – that Britain has too many old people and we cannot afford to pay for their comfort and dignity in retirement. Pensioners are not a drag on the economy. For decades, governments have built up a £51 billion pension surplus in the National Insurance fund by taking workers’ contributions and then paying them low pensions after they retire. That money should be given back to yesterday’s workers, not used to fund armaments and war.

Extending the compulsory working age also denies jobs to young and first-time workers at a time when unemployment has already reached 8 per cent (and 20 per cent among 16-24 year olds).

OUR demands as unemployed must be - we must go further on all the fronts which need to be opened up in a war on poverty, including: ,

* An immediate increase in the national minimum wage to the level of half median male earnings, irrespective of age, rising to two-thirds

* Restoration of the value of unemployment benefits and greater access to benefits for carers, the long-term sick and people with disabilities

* The imposition of pay audits to enforce genuinely equal pay for women

* Abolition of student tuition fees and the phasing in of student grants alongside interest-free loans along the lines being pioneered by the Scottish Parliament and Welsh National Assembly

* Deep cuts in household fuel prices, a reduction in VAT on essential goods and services and the imposition of selective price controls on basic foods

* Provision of a second state pension for all workers, with compulsory employer as well as state contributions

* Public funding for security measures in pensioners’ homes.
Unemployment figures top the 2.5m mark

Trade union leaders have warned that disastrous unemployment figures make it imperative to resist the Tory policy of immediate spending cuts.

Newly published government figures showed that unemployment had topped the 2.5 million mark and that the number of people classed as economically inactive had reached record levels.

Youth unemployment also increased by 4,000 to 929,000, the highest since last autumn and long-term unemployment, counting those out of work for over a year, increased by 89,000 to 726,000.

Britain's employment rate is now 72 per cent, the worst figure since 1996, following the loss of 59,000 full-time and 30,000 part-time jobs over the December-February period.

Unions were quick to point out that responding to record unemployment rises with cuts in public spending would trigger an immediate recession.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber warned that "a double-dip recession remains a real threat, particularly if big early spending cuts hit both public-sector jobs and the companies that sell goods and services to the public sector."

Cautioning against the swingeing cuts in the public sector proposed by the Tories in their election campaign, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis stressed: "Public-sector workers need to be working, providing essential services, spending money in shops and businesses, keeping local economies moving."

The unions are convinced that cutting spending now would have a domino effect across the whole economy, adding to mounting levels of unemployment, increasing dole queues, reducing consumer spending power and hitting businesses which survive by providing services to councils.

Scottish TUC general secretary Grahame Smith argued that the way out of the recession was to continue with current stimulus measures.

He said: "Immediate and deep cuts to public spending will tip the economy back over the edge. The new government must resist this economic masochism."

And GMB leader Paul Kenny urged the electorate to resist the "Tory policy of wanting to jump from the frying pan of recession into the fire of slashed public services."

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The future is dire for those who claim benefits, whichever party wins the election.



The future is dire for those who claim benefits, whichever party wins the election.

"A right wing UK Labour Party simply paves the way for an even more right wing Conservative Government" this was my comment in an article I produced within the pages of the "Morning Star" in the "What Strategy for the Left" debate in 1995. My article was titled "The Benefits of Labour". As we see the possible demise of a Labour Government, I reflect on those 13 years.

With 1.5 million incapacity benefit claimants waiting to be assessed using the work capability assessment in the next few years and tens of thousands of people already on ESA and set to be reviewed annually, these changes will be of great concern to many voters – as we head towards polling day. Changes to the work capability assessment are likely to lead to many thousands more sick and disabled people being forced onto jobseekers allowance.

People will lose out under the Tories' proposed 'three strikes' policy to crack down on those who repeatedly defraud the benefits system. Under the plans, those who commit benefit fraud once will lose their out-of-work benefits for three months, a second offence will attract a benefit sanction of six months, and if someone commits fraud three times they face losing their out-of-work benefits for up to three years.

Its worth pointing out that NO-ONE has ever been prosecuted for commiting fraud three times, so its hard to see how they will save money in the clamp down!!
The Tories yet again claim that more than £14 billion has been wasted on benefit fraud between 1997 and 2009, figures plucked out of thin air.

The policy follows on from last year's Tory announcement of a 'three strikes and you're out' rule to bar jobless people from claiming unemployment benefit if they turn down offers of work. This latest proposed crackdown could catch out innocent claimants. This is because too many inaccurate payments are due to errors by the Department for Work and Pensions or the Benefits Agency and are not due to intentional fraud by the claimant.

The complexity of the system leads to both assessors and claimants getting things wrong. What we really need is more support for people to understand the full welfare system.

The figures the Tories are using were "deceptive" because they include overpayments by benefits agencies, not just people committing fraud. The proposals come on top of plans already announced to clamp down on incapacity benefit claimants and get 200,000 people off benefit and into work. Under the proposals, everyone who receives a reasonable job offer will be expected to accept it. If they do not, they will lose one month's unemployment benefit. If they refuse a second reasonable offer, they will lose three months' benefit. If they refuse a third reasonable offer, they will be excluded from further out-of-work benefits for up to three years.

For example, a couple claiming jobseeker's allowance (JSA) would forgo £92.80 a week - more than half their total income, assuming they also claim housing and council tax benefits. For parents on JSA or incapacity benefit (IB), they could lose between a quarter and a third of their income if they fail to comply with the conditions of the welfare programme.

The shadow secretary for work and pensions, (Conservative Party) Chris Grayling, thinks it's time to take "tough action against those who are claiming benefits."

The Tories' proposals for a compulsory interview for the 2.6 million people claiming IB, would also be prohibitively expensive. Cameron needs to bear in mind the 40% of IB claimants who have mental health problems. Continuing stigma and discrimination also means many employers will not employ people with mental health problems.

Withdrawing benefits will drive people into debt and destitution and homelessness, entrenching poverty rather than tackling its causes. Crackdowns further stigmatise people on benefits, by giving the impression that most claimants are cheating the system. In fact, over 99% of claimants are not committing benefit fraud.

Both Labour and the Conservatives seem intent on driving as many people as possible off incapacity related benefits, whichever party wins the election.

Tens of thousands of claimants have lost their benefit on review, on being transferred from incapacity benefit, as plans to make the employment and support allowance (ESA) medical much harder to pass are approved by the secretary of state for work and pensions, Yvette Cooper. The Idea of simplifying’ the work capability assessment, drawn up by a DWP working group, include docking points from amputees who can lift and carry with their stumps. Claimants with speech problems who can write a sign saying, "Help" will score no points for speech and deaf claimants who can read the sign will lose all their points for hearing. Points scored for problems with bending and kneeling are to be abolished and claimants who have difficulty walking can be assessed using imaginary wheelchairs.

Claimants who have difficulty standing for any length of time will, under the plans, also have to show they have equal difficulty sitting, and vice versa, in order to score any points. And no matter how bad their problems with standing and sitting, they will not score enough points to be awarded ESA. Half of the 41 mental health descriptors for which points can be scored are being removed from the new ‘simpler’ test, greatly reducing the chances of being found incapable of work due to such things as poor memory, confusion, depression and anxiety. The changes are overwhelmingly about pushing tens of thousands more people onto JSA.

Limited capability for work
The biggest changes and cuts are to take place in the limited capability for work assessment which decides whether you are eligible for the work-related activity group of ESA. Claimants need to score fifteen points to be placed in this group unless they are exempt or covered by the exceptional circumstances rules.

Walking
The activity of walking has been replaced by the activity of ‘mobilising’, with the fifteen points for ‘Cannot walk at all’ to be removed. Instead of looking at how far you can walk with a walking stick or other aid if such aid is normally used, the test is now ‘Mobilising with or without a walking stick, manual wheelchair or other aid if such aid can reasonably be used’
Many people who get the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA will not be awarded ESA at all. The fifteen points for being unable to walk up and down two steps is to be cut to nine points.

Standing and Sitting, points for these activities have also been slashed. Currently you can score points if you can’t stand or if you can’t sit for given lengths of time. Under the revised test you will have to show that you can neither stand nor sit for more than 30 minutes at a ‘work station’ before having to ‘move away in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion’. Even then you will only score 9 points, or 6 points if you can last for an hour, not enough to be awarded ESA.

Bending and kneeling
The activity of ‘Bending and kneeling’, for which 30 points are currently available, is to be completely scrapped.

Reaching
The fifteen point descriptor for not being able to put either arm behind your back is to be ditched.

Picking up
They have decided that if you don't have two hands this should not be a reason for scoring points, if your moving a half litre or one litre carton or moving a light but bulky object. They argue that ‘an item may be transferred by wedging it against the body, or another limb’ and that many amputees who chose not to have a prosthetic limb ‘remain able to complete the task’. All references to using hands in this activity are therefore to be removed.

Manual dexterity
The nine scoring descriptors for manual dexterity are to be reduced to just four. Problems with just one hand and problems with pouring will no longer score points and references to a ‘conventional keyboard’ are to be changed to a ‘suitable keyboard’.

Speech, hearing and vision
The three activities speech, hearing and vision are to be replaced with three new activities. Speech now becomes ‘Making self understood through speaking, writing, typing or other means normally used; unaided by another person’. To score fifteen points a claimant will need either to show that they: ‘Cannot convey a simple message, such as the presence of a hazard.’ or that they have ‘significant difficulty conveying a simple message to strangers.’ So, the fact that your speech cannot be understood by other people will no longer score points if, instead, you are able to write, type or communicate by ‘other means’. Hearing is replaced with: ‘Understanding communication by both verbal means (such as hearing or lip reading) and non-verbal means (such as reading 16 point print) using any aid if reasonably used; unaided by another person.’

To score fifteen points a claimant will have to show that they ‘Cannot understand a simple message due to sensory impairment, such as the location of a fire escape’ or that they have ‘significant difficulty understanding a simple message from a stranger’. Being unable to hear someone talking will no longer score points. Problems with vision have been turned into ‘Navigation and maintaining safety, using a guide dog or other aid if normally used.’ To score fifteen points you will need to be able to show that you are: ‘Unable to navigate around familiar surroundings, without being accompanied by another person, due to sensory impairment’ or that you cannot safely cross a road. Being unable to see well enough to read large print or to recognise people will no longer score points.

Consciousness
Points for losing consciousness at least once a month are to be reduced from nine to six and a six point descriptor for losing consciousness twice in six months is to be axed.

Mental, cognitive and intellectual function assessment
The mental health and learning difficulties section of the WCA has been slashed from 41 point scoring descriptors to just 21. For example, one of the fifteen point and one of the nine point descriptors have been removed from the ‘Learning tasks’ activity, and a fifteen point descriptor has been removed from the ‘Getting about’ activity. The three activities relating to ‘Memory and concentration’, ‘Execution of tasks’ and ‘Initiating and sustaining personal action’ are all rolled into a single activity called ‘Initiating and completing personal action’. Currently claimants have 5 opportunities to score fifteen points outright from the three activities and many more opportunities to score fifteen points or more from a combination of points from the three activities. Under the new test, however, there will be just one opportunity to score fifteen points. This is likely to greatly reduce the chances of being found incapable of work due to such things as poor memory, confusion and depression. The three activities ‘Coping with social situations’, ‘Propriety of behaviour with other people’ and ‘Dealing with other people’ are to be reduced to two activities; ‘Coping with social engagement’ and ‘Appropriateness of behaviour with other people’. Again, the opportunities for scoring points have been considerably reduced.

Limited capability for work-related activity
The limited capability for work-related activity assessment decides who is eligible for the support group, based on any one of a range of descriptors applying to the claimant. These descriptors have largely been altered in line with changes to the work-related activity group. Changes to the work capability assessment will lead to tens of thousands of sick and disabled people being dumped onto jobseekers allowance.

The original changes proposed by the working group were even harsher. It was only after their proposals were looked at by the Chief Medical Adviser at the DWP, following complaints by disability group representatives, that some were toned down and additional points attached to some descriptors. It was this final review, contained in the Addendum, that was approved by the secretary of state.

Two of the individual attendees on the working group are employed by Atos Origin Medical Services. Atos is the company that carries out benefits medicals on behalf of the DWP in return for hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers money. Some observers may be troubled that employees of a company which might gain a commercial advantage from the medicals becoming simpler and quicker to carry out should be involved in the process of reviewing how points are scored. Many claimants who have been asked to attend medical reviews have had claims returned to the Benefits Agency after failing to attend a first interview letter.

The second is the wide range of disability organisations whom the DWP has been able to name as having participated in this review. We have no doubt that most of them were against many of the changes proposed and that they even won concessions from the DWP. But the fact remains that, with the exception of MIND, we are not aware of any agencies speaking out against these proposals with the kind of outrage their clients might reasonably have expected.

The government here in Britain and the United States, New Zealand and Australia asserts that the problem is dependency upon the welfare state. Defining the problem in these terms almost demands the solution arrived at is the removal of, or substantial reduction in, welfare assistance. Various US insurance giants have been driving the UK welfare policy, the giant US income Protection Company, Unum Provident, & New Labour are working together, in an attempt to reduce the 2.6 million who were claiming Incapacity Benefit (IB). Unum Provident, has been described in the US as ''an outlaw company that for years has operated in an illegal fashion." and been accused of racketeering and cheating tens of thousands of insured Americans out of their claims.

On Monday (5 April 2010), more than 200,000 unemployed Americans won't see jobless benefits they expected because Congress failed to act. As the two-week recess began, Congress was at an impasse over how to extend the emergency unemployment insurance program and other expiring provisions, including increased COBRA health insurance subsidies for the unemployed, the Medicare doctor payment rate and federal flood insurance.

Under the jobless benefits program that ended Monday, Americans out of work are eligible for up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. The program, aimed at helping jobless Americans stay afloat when new jobs aren't readily available, gives an unemployed worker more than the 26 weeks of unemployment insurance normally available. But with the program ending, those out of work for as few as six months will see an interruption in their benefit cheques.

The American Trade Union - AFL-CIO said it will be "doing events, writing letters, making phone calls" this week to press Republicans to go along with an extension. "One thing is crystal clear, Republican obstruction is going to cost hundreds of thousands of working families their benefits," said Eddie Vale, spokesman for the AFL-CIO. "So we will be loudly and publicly calling them out."

In Australia there has been a steep rise in the number of unemployed who have had their Welfare benefits either completely or partially cut off. More than 350,000 jobless people - more than half the total number receiving benefits were penalised during the 2000-2001 financial year for breaches of the federal government's draconian job search rules. The benefit sanctions caused severe hardship to some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, particularly the homeless, and the mentally-ill, jobseekers with drug and alcohol problems, people with literacy and numeracy difficulties, youth and indigenous people. A total of $258.8 million worth of penalties were inflicted during the year, delivering a windfall to the Australian government at the expense of the unemployed and their dependants. An estimated 35,400 people lost their dole payments altogether for eight weeks a threefold increase on the previous 12 months. Many more recipients received the heaviest penalties, ranging from $837 to $1,431, for breaching the government's "activity test". The Single Parent Pension (won by the women's movement in the early 1970s) was now stigmatised by the mark of "welfare dependency". The social democratic idea of welfare - that governments had an obligation to guarantee either a decent job or a social payment if they failed-was torn up in the 1980s in Australia. Unemployment benefits are re-badge and restructured as "Newstart Allowances". The once voluntary programs to help single parents, those with a disability and others claimants into work, became compulsory "obligations".

In recent weeks (April 2010) unemployed New Zealanders and sickness beneficiaries have missed out on the main "carrot" offered in last month's package to get people off welfare into work - a higher allowable income before benefits are clawed back. The increase in allowable income, from $80 to $100 a week, was promised in the National Party's 2008 election policy for all beneficiaries. But in the small print in last month's Government package, unnoticed at the time, says the increase will apply only to people on the domestic purposes, widows and invalids benefits and veterans pensions.

A a result New Zealanders on unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and independent youth benefit will not have abatement thresholds increased. The aim of the New Zealand Government is to force and harass these people on benefits to return to fulltime work as soon as possible. The decision would mean a "double whammy" for people on the invalids benefit who are being bumped down to the sickness benefit by tighter enforcement of the work capability test.

New Zealand Government Cabinet papers show that Social Development Minister Paula Bennett argued for the restriction to "avoid improving the incentives for people to work part-time for those people for whom fulltime work is the desired outcome".

A right wing UK Labour Party simply paves the way for an even more right wing Conservative Government this was my comment in an article I produced within the pages of the "Morning Star" in the "What Strategy for the Left" debate my article was titled "The Benefits of Labour". The New Zealand Nationals came into office after a Labour Government had started down the path towards industrial deregulation, free trade, welfare cutbacks and globalisation.

The Canadians have shown their "Welfare to Work" programmes just didn't achieve their aims. A government report clearly shows there has been no increase in the numbers of employable welfare clients declaring employment income after leaving welfare.

Marxists have long pointed to widespread unemployment as a weapon capitalists use to tame their captive workforce and hold down wages (Marx 1870 Vol 1

Whoever wins the next general election will be looking at the welfare state and public services as a way of cutting public expenditure. This election must therefore send a clear message to all the political parties that the majority of people do not want to see further cuts and privatisation.

Richard E Jacques

Friday, 9 April 2010

Tory plan to stop benefits - Election Special

Tory plan to stop benefits - Election Special
9th April 2010

Tory Ba****ds plan to stop benefits -

Election Special
Many vulnerable people could lose out under the Tories' proposed 'three strikes' policy to crack down on those who repeatedly defraud the benefits system. Under the plans, those who commit benefit fraud once will lose their out-of-work benefits for three months, a second offence will attract a benefit sanction of six months, and if someone commits fraud three times they face losing their out-of-work benefits for up to three years.

Its worth pointing out that NO-ONE has ever been prosecuted for commiting fraud three times, so its hard to see how they will save money in the clamp down!!

The Tories yet again claim that more than £14 billion has been wasted on benefit fraud between 1997 and 2009, figures plucked out of thin air.

The policy follows on from last year's Tory announcement of a 'three strikes and you're out' rule to bar jobless people from claiming unemployment benefit if they turn down offers of work.
This latest proposed crackdown could catch out innocent claimants. This is because too many inaccurate payments are due to errors by the Department for Work and Pensions or the Benefits Agency and are not due to intentional fraud by the claimant.

Are the Tories going to match this with an equivalent 'three errors and you are fired' policy? The complexity of the system leads to both assessors and claimants getting things wrong. What we really need is more support for people to understand the full welfare system.


The figures the Tories are using were "deceptive" because they include overpayments by benefits agencies, not just people committing fraud.
The proposals come on top of plans already announced to clamp down on incapacity benefit claimants and get 200,000 people off benefit and into work.

Under the proposals, everyone who receives a reasonable job offer will be expected to accept it. If they do not, they will lose one month's unemployment benefit. If they refuse a second reasonable offer, they will lose three months' benefit. If they refuse a third reasonable offer, they will be excluded from further out-of-work benefits for up to three years.


For example, a couple claiming jobseeker's allowance (JSA) would forgo £92.80 a week - more than half their total income, assuming they also claim housing and council tax benefits. For parents on JSA or incapacity benefit (IB), they could lose between a quarter and a third of their income if they fail to comply with the conditions of the welfare programme.


The shadow secretary for work and pensions, (Conservative Party) Chris Grayling, thinks it's time to take "tough action against those who are deliberately staying at home and claiming benefits rather than going back into work. We think that if you get a reasonable job offer, you should take it - and if you don't, then you can't expect to be able to carry on claiming out-of-work benefits."

The Tory proposals are part of a new policy aimed at ending automatic entitlements to benefits and replacing it with the offer of benefits on condition that people make an effort to get work".
Further measures are expected to include restrictions on claimants who walk out on work for no good reason.

The Tories' proposals for a compulsory interview for the 2.6 million people claiming IB came under fire from the government, Liberal Democrats and charities. The work and pensions secretary (Labour Government), Peter Hain, said: "They are unfundable, unworkable and unfair. "They are an attempt to copycat our proposals with one main difference - the Tories have made no provision for the skills training needed for those on incapacity benefit, so they would have difficulty holding down a job".

Their plans to interview 2.6 million people would also be prohibitively expensive.
Cameron needs to bear in mind the 40% of IB claimants who have mental health problems. Continuing stigma and discrimination also means many employers will not employ people with mental health problems.

Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Danny Alexander said: "Once again, the Tories have missed the point about welfare reform. Millions of sick and disabled people want to work, but the government has failed to provide the tailored support they need to find a job."


Withdrawing benefits will drive people into debt and destitution and homelessness, entrenching poverty rather than tackling its causes. Crackdowns further stigmatise people on benefits, by giving the impression that most claimants are cheating the system. In fact, over 99% of claimants are not committing benefit fraud.

Richard Easson Jacques

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Unemployed: Compulsion & the Blame Game - Defend the Welfare State - London Demo !!

Unemployed: Compulsion & the Blame Game - Defend the Welfare State - London Demo !!

Compulsion & the Blame Game - Defend the Welfare State - London Demo !!


Compulsion & the Blame Game - Defend the Welfare State !!

In 2008 the "Employment and Support Allowance" replaced Incapacity Benefit & Income Support in the United Kingdom. The new benefit places greater requirements on claimants to look for and find work, or massive benefit sanctions. The Labour Government's "Welfare Reform Bill" which was debated in Dec 2008, now law is about massively reducing dependency upon the welfare state – to remove benefits from the people!

Job Centre Plus & the Labour Government in the UK tells us that any job so long as it is "not illegal or immoral" is better than no job at all, the unemployed are now to be forced into such jobs or lose their benefits. It is not surprising that government trots out clich├ęs about unemployed people's indifference to finding work and all the associated rhetoric of the last quarter of a century. Governments seem reluctant to acknowledge that many jobs are not liberating, career enhancing, or even sensible options for someone wanting secure employment. Many new jobs are part time, casual, of limited duration, or injurious to health; some are extremely dangerous, and some are so low paid that even full-time workers are living in poverty. Many workers are unemployed because they spent most of their past working lives employed in industries which have been phased out by tariff cuts, or where technological or market shifts have led to huge reductions in the amount of labour required.

The failure of the state in any Country to create enough jobs for all who want them or to find ways to share all the available jobs amongst the entire labour force has come to be defined as the 'unemployment problem'. Various 'solutions' have been proffered by governments, welfare agencies, academics and others. Those who are uninformed about the complexity of this issue, and who rely upon the fact that they are employed and that they have not personally encountered difficulty acquiring paid work, frequently assert that there is not an unemployment problem. They claim there are plenty of jobs but some people just don't want to work. They seem unconcerned when confronted by ratios between people registered as unemployed and notified vacancies. Nothing will convince them otherwise.

Some economic fundamentalists like some within the British CBI (Confederation of British Industry), suggest the cost of solving unemployment is too high; attempts to lower the rate of unemployment would result in a distortion of the market, and amount to an interference with liberty. In any case they suggest unemployment may be beyond control, beyond interest, too complicated to solve or an externality. They suggest it may be necessary to keep joblessness at the present level in the general interest of the economy, or perhaps it is some how the unemployed's fault.

Marxists have long realised the fact that" The slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly." (Engels) and the threat to dismiss evokes uncertainty and frequently a compliant work force. Marxists interpret current insecurities of the work place as deliberate policy intended to coerce the workforce, and the uncertainties of the system of income support as designed to discipline the reserve army of labour.

Underlying the analysis of both 'problems' and 'solutions' is the failure to trust ourselves, which in turn leaves us unable to trust others, which causes us to identify bogus 'problems' and define unworkable 'solutions'. The level of unemployment becomes less important if governments are able to find ways to provide all permanent residents with a Basic Income sufficient to sustain them.

There are those who claim Britain doesn't have an employment problem, that unemployment is sectional - affecting only groups they contend are peripheral to productive processes like: the young, the old, the uneducated, those who are not job ready, people with a disability, migrants. Those who use to be on Incapacity Benefit who numbered nearly 3 million are now being forced into "work for benefits" schemes, even though these claimants are ill. The makers of such statements seem unconcerned that the total number of people who constitute these groups nears 5 million.

Preoccupation with economic measurement, market outcomes, commodity prices and share market prices is the result of the widespread acceptance of neo-classical economics. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Product (GNP) is widely accepted as measures of a country's relative economic performance. Since the rise of economic fundamentalism such measures have increasingly been seen as measures of a country's well being.

If, instead of providing hourly economic statistics on TV channels like "Bloomberg" over which average people have no control, the media provided: a depression index, health and happiness calculations, a daily social wellbeing index, daily employment creation and job loss figures then citizens might come to understand the social and personal dimensions of joblessness and might be determine to do something about it.

High rates of unemployment have been attributed to a multitude of causes including: the recent down turn in the economy, too many migrants, the work shy nature of the unemployed or their lack of skills, technological change, payment of unemployment benefits the nature of society - sometimes expressed as the natural rate of unemployment, the rise of part-time work, women (particularly those who are married) entering the labour market, the high costs of labour (wages cost), or by intentional government and industry policy.

It is important to explain what causes unemployment. When the people come to decide who should bear the cost of high unemployment or the cost of solving it, decisions about who should pay are likely to be determined by how voters account for the creation of the problem. Some have suggested that unemployment is an economic problem, something determined by the market, by balance of trade, by cyclical downturns in business activity, and so forth. But unemployment is not just and maybe is not even an economic problem -rather it is a social, political, moral and ethical question. If it were an economic problem, capable of economic solutions then why have the econocrats not solved it?

The highest levels of unemployment in the 1990's in the UK have coincided with the rise of neo-classical economists to the pinnacle of decision making in this country.

If unemployment is not an economic problem but rather a political, social, moral and ethical question then being a non-economist does not rule ordinary people out of the debate - rather it rules them in. If people are prepared to make the social, political, moral and ethical decisions which can solve unemployment they may find they still need to utilise technical economic tactics to come to solutions but this does not necessitate embracing the ideologies of economic fundamentalists.

The type of economic tactic chosen (as Gordon Brown hopes to use in the next few years) to solve unemployment, for instance creating jobs in health, education and community services, will in large part be determined by the ideological positions adopted.

Once the people determine to raise social priorities above purely economic outcomes, it would not be possible to continue to ignore the costs, personal or social, which unemployment causes. It would no longer be sustainable to define such problems away as externalities. For years the despair which constantly confronts the jobless was ignored by this Labour Government & the previous Conservative Government of the 1980/90's. Waiting for economic recovery to trickle down from the rich to the poor would not be seen as socially acceptable behaviour.

Citizens prepared to seek socially just outcomes could not, in all conscience, continue to allow people without work to bare a grossly disproportionate share of the costs of unemployment. There would be an acknowledgment that those who are without work don't want a job in the long run, they want one now and whilst they are waiting for a job should be provided with a secure income set at a level sufficient to ensure it would not undermine their future economic viability.

This scenario is predicated upon the belief that Brits want to live in a society which is humane, socially inclusive, committed to egalitarianism, solidarity and social justice. I may be wrong and Britain may decide to continue to reward the greedy, the sneaky, and those criminal capitalist businesses who have brought Britain to its knees, if it did reward those it would usher in the sort of divided society we now have but on a much grander scale.

Recently Caroline Flint MP said as Housing Minister, - unemployed council and housing association tenants should seek work or face losing their homes...She said new applicants for social housing would have to sign "commitment contracts" pledging to seek employment. Council flats in Edinburgh like many other areas throughout Britain are being demolished & tenants forced out in a bid to sell land to private developers who are to build private housing – a modern day version of social cleansing of council tenants or a modern day highland clearance of tenants ?

Local Authorities (Councils) are becoming ultra keen in seeking repossessions after tenants fall behind with rent payments – usually because of Job Centre benefit sanctions reducing the ability to pay. Rent arrears are forced through the County Courts as a policy decision, with extra court costs added to the rent arrears – then eviction unless you pay. It worth pointing out that many Council Libraries have now removed concessionary access for the unemployed. Local Councils have also removed the travel concessionary passes which allowed the unemployed to seek work using public transport.

Unemployment, at least in the short term, is recognised by so-called market economists to be a by-product of industry restructuring, micro and macro-economic 'reform', increased efficiency / competitiveness and globalisation. Some market economists choose to treat the resulting unemployment as an externality and therefore of little consequence. They have no understanding that Unemployed Workers are human beings. If they choose to comment upon it all, they assert that in the longer term due to a 'trickle down effect' employment demand will eventually pick up and in the long term everyone will benefit because of the increased prosperity, the economy is simply left to find its own equilibrium. In New Zealand where this approach to unemployment was adopted with enthusiasm it did not solve unemployment nor did it result in increased prosperity.

There is an even more vicious approach to unemployment, this is: "it's their fault" or blame the victim approach which conveniently denies that globalisation is a game which only the super rich can win. This approach has been around in many guises in Britain. The "it's their fault" approach suggests the reason unemployed people are not able to obtain paid employment is the result of a failure on their part. This approach underpinned the worthy / unworthy / 'less eligibility' debates which have raged in welfare circles since the Elizabethan poor law era. It was a central feature of the post World War II 'workers welfare state' with its work testing and targeting.

The elderly were deemed worthy because it was assumed they had made a prior contribution and people with severe disabilities because it was determined that they were incapable rather than unwilling to work, but of late workers are being forced to retire at a later date. Of late those with disabilities are being targeted & forced to work for benefits. The "it's their fault" approach has recently taken on a new virulence. At the very time when Britain as a country has never been richer more and more people are being included in compelled activity requirements.

Persevering with the concept of 'problem individuals' creates difficulties for society. By making 'work' whether in the market economy or 'preparedness to work' in the benefit system the defining characteristic of inclusion, society constructs its own burden. Since the mid-1970s the market has been totally incapable of absorbing all the available labour in Britain and in many other advanced capitalist countries.

The government here in Britain and the United States, New Zealand and Australia asserts that the problem is dependency upon the welfare state. Defining the problem in these terms almost demands the solution arrived at is the removal of, or substantial reduction in, welfare assistance. On 27 October 2008 in the UK the "Employment and Support Allowance" replaces "Incapacity Benefit" and "Income Support". The new benefit places greater requirements on claimants to look for and find work. Given that we have got the highest unemployment for 20 years the reform has come at a difficult time.

Various US insurance giants are now driving the UK welfare policy, the giant US income Protection Company, Unum Provident, & New Labour are working together, in an attempt to reduce the 2.6 million who were claiming Incapacity Benefit (IB). Unum Provident, has been described in the US as ''an outlaw company that for years has operated in an illegal fashion." and been accused of racketeering and cheating tens of thousands of insured Americans out of their claims.

On Monday (5 April 2010), more than 200,000 unemployed Americans won't see jobless benefits they expected because Congress failed to act. As the two-week recess began, Congress was at an impasse over how to extend the emergency unemployment insurance program and other expiring provisions, including increased COBRA health insurance subsidies for the unemployed, the Medicare doctor payment rate and federal flood insurance.

Under the jobless benefits program that ended Monday, Americans out of work are eligible for up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. The program, aimed at helping jobless Americans stay afloat when new jobs aren't readily available, gives an unemployed worker more than the 26 weeks of unemployment insurance normally available. But with the program ending, those out of work for as few as six months will see an interruption in their benefit cheques.

The American Trade Union - AFL-CIO said it will be "doing events, writing letters, making phone calls" this week to press Republicans to go along with an extension. "One thing is crystal clear, Republican obstruction is going to cost hundreds of thousands of working families their benefits," said Eddie Vale, spokesman for the AFL-CIO. "So we will be loudly and publicly calling them out."

In Australia there has been a steep rise in the number of unemployed who have had their Welfare benefits either completely or partially cut off. More than 350,000 jobless people - more than half the total number receiving benefits were penalised during the 2000-2001 financial year for breaches of the federal government's draconian job search rules. The benefit sanctions caused severe hardship to some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, particularly the homeless, and the mentally-ill, jobseekers with drug and alcohol problems, people with literacy and numeracy difficulties, youth and indigenous people. A total of $258.8 million worth of penalties were inflicted during the year, delivering a windfall to the Australian government at the expense of the unemployed and their dependants. An estimated 35,400 people lost their dole payments altogether for eight weeks a threefold increase on the previous 12 months. Many more recipients received the heaviest penalties, ranging from $837 to $1,431, for breaching the government's "activity test". The Single Parent Pension (won by the women's movement in the early 1970s) was now stigmatised by the mark of "welfare dependency". The social democratic idea of welfare - that governments had an obligation to guarantee either a decent job or a social payment if they failed-was torn up in the 1980s in Australia. Unemployment benefits are re-badge and restructured as "Newstart Allowances". The once voluntary programs to help single parents, those with a disability and others claimants into work, became compulsory "obligations".

A few days ago (April 2010) unemployed New Zealanders and sickness beneficiaries have missed out on the main "carrot" offered in last month's package to get people off welfare into work - a higher allowable income before benefits are clawed back. The increase in allowable income, from $80 to $100 a week, was promised in the National Party's 2008 election policy for all beneficiaries. But in the small print in last month's Government package, unnoticed at the time, says the increase will apply only to people on the domestic purposes, widows and invalids benefits and veterans pensions.

A a result New Zealanders on unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and independent youth benefit will not have abatement thresholds increased. The aim of the New Zealand Government is to force and harass these people on benefits to return to fulltime work as soon as possible. The decision would mean a "double whammy" for people on the invalids benefit who are being bumped down to the sickness benefit by tighter enforcement of the work capability test.

New Zealand Government Cabinet papers show that Social Development Minister Paula Bennett argued for the restriction to "avoid improving the incentives for people to work part-time for those people for whom fulltime work is the desired outcome".

We need to learn the lessons of what has already happened in places like the US, New Zealand and in Australia. In the mid 1990's The National Unemployed Centres Combine of which I was on the Executive Committee (National TUC Unemployed Centres) promised to raise a national fund to tackle (through judicial review, court action and appeals to the European Court of Human Rights) aspects of the UK Job Seekers Allowance which, at the time said, impinge on civil liberties or discriminate on the grounds of disability. This judicial review, court action and appeals to the European Court of Human Rights, never happened & yet again the unemployed have been let down by those involved within the TUC Centres & the Trade Union Movement as a whole. Trade Union Members are now going to lose their jobs in this downturn in the economy; we need to organise now before members are faced with unemployment.

A right wing UK Labour Party simply paves the way for an even more right wing Conservative Government. The New Zealand Nationals came into office after a Labour Government had started down the path towards industrial deregulation, free trade, welfare cutbacks and globalisation. This will be the case here in Britain unless we wake up to the threat NOW. New Zealand experienced an economic fundamentalist government which introduced individualised work contract employment and a social welfare system which was incapable of ensuring the poor were provided with an adequate income or decent health services. The Canadians have shown their "Welfare to Work" programmes just didn't achieve their aims. A government report clearly shows there has been no increase in the numbers of employable welfare clients declaring employment income after leaving welfare.

In recent years Australia's "Breaching" is what the Federal (Conservative) Government (with Labour Party support) had introduced to keep the unemployed under control. The slightest mistake, example, not receiving a letter from Centrelink, or worse, missing one of the meaningless interviews, incurs a fine of $840. Such a mistake reduces the meagre payments of unemployed people by 18 per cent over a period of six months. A second mistake reduces payments by 24 per cent and a third mistake within a period of two years results in payments being stopped for eight weeks — a fine of about $1,400.

In Britain in December 2008 a Labour Government with Conservative support brought before the House of Commons (Parliament) a Bill of which it has copied from Australia, New Zealand & the United States. That bill is the "Welfare Reform Bill". Britain "Benefit Penalties" for claimants – read & make the comparison with Australia "Breaching" policy - in Britain a "Warning for First Offence, £12 Deduction for Second Offence, £24 Deduction for Third Offence & Then a Probation Order "Community Service order" will be placed onto Claimants.

These penalties are harsher than those imposed for many crimes and will force people into poverty. It will lead to them losing their homes and building up massive debts for electricity, water and other services. When people are reduced to abject poverty, their self-esteem and self-worth are lowered, they feel that they are not respected in society, disillusionment and depression sets in, making it more likely that they will become ill, not eat properly, and not have decent clothes or decent living conditions. It is less likely that they will become educated or gain meaningful work.

Marxists have long pointed to widespread unemployment as a weapon capitalists use to tame their captive workforce and hold down wages (Marx 1870 Vol 1

"We need to organise the unemployed – united with the workers in work today, for tomorrow it could be YOU! Trade Unions in Britain need to organise a defence of the "Welfare State" - it's never too late - We need to organise around the world !!!

Since 1948, Britain has supported the idea that state pensions, health care, education and other public services are best provided by society as whole. But this idea is now under threat.

* The state pension is totally inadequate, leaving at least 1 in 4 older people to live in poverty
* 7m households have a child living in poverty and existing benefits provide a very limited safety net
* Unemployment now stands at over 2m and workfare offers no solution
* 10m adults are disabled and face huge barriers to escaping financial hardship
* The NHS is slowly being privatised behind a smokescreen of choice and competition, and patients are suffering as a result
* Our public services are now facing massive cuts and further privatisation

The welfare state and public services are an essential part of any civilised society - pooling the risk across the population and providing support and services to us all.

Whoever wins the next general election will be looking at the welfare state and public services as a way of cutting public expenditure. This demonstration must therefore send a clear message to all the political parties that the majority of people do not want to see further cuts and privatisation.

On 10 April 2010 we will have a unique chance – just weeks before a general election – to make our voices heard. Staying at home and thinking it’s someone else’s job to speak out for the welfare state and public services won’t be enough. Make sure you are there!

MARCH & RALLY in London UK
SATURDAY 10TH April
Assemble 12 noon to 1pm Temple Place, Embankment London
Rally 2pm Trafalgar Square

International solidarity is crucial, post your comments on what is going on in your country & lets learn from each other experiences !

Join the campaign Groups !
Scrap The UK Job Seekers Allowance - bring back "Unemployment Benefit"

Defend the Welfare State (Worldwide Campaign)


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The UK General Election & the blame game of deception, deception, deception !

The General Election & the blame game of deception, deception, deception !
6th April 2010

In 1996 under the tories, the jobseeker's allowance came into law & cut benefits to the young and 18 to 24-year-olds automatically got 20 per cent less in benefit, which was designed to replace unemployment benefit and income support.

The current Labour Government promised before gaining power in 1997 & made a pledge to scrap JSA - still to date they have betrayed the unemployed. Before the General Election of 1997 Labour shadow ministers did give clear indications that, if elected, they would tackle some of these issues. They gave assurances that, while it would be difficult to find parliamentary time to significantly change the Jobseekers Act it was most certainly their intention to make “speedy and far reaching reforms to eliminate the worse excesses” arising from it. This Statement was deception, decption, deception - they had no intention of scrapping the JSA act !!

Under old rules in 1995, if their National Insurance contributions where fully paid up, this age group received the same amount of unemployment benefit as other people.
The jobseeker's allowance simply stopped this. These attacks had a widespread impact on young people.

Every day, certain sections of the press and television voice concerns over the apparent lawlessness of young people.
This has led to calls for even more repressive measures against young offenders and for army-type discipline. Yet the link between increased property crime and depressed economic activity is well established. There is also a relationship between unemployment and crime, something that the old Tory / labour government denied. This is, of course, not surprising as the admission of such a link makes both government directly culpable for the subsequent expansion in crime over the decades.

Young people see a government persuing policies which stop them getting jobs and the same government withdrawing their entitlement to unemployment benefit. We should blame the cause, not the effects.

The introduction of the jobseeker's allowance enabled the Tories to become the first government in history to actually abolish the unemployed. There will be no unemployed, only "jobseekers". The old Tory government wanted to get rid of the word "unemployed" and to get rid of all responsibility for reducing unemployment in Britain.
Once again the tories, and this Labour government puts the blame at the door of the individual, saying: "It's your fault you are unemployed. You don't want jobs." But when there are very few real jobs out there, it is meaningless.

The government and the capitalist class which it serves have created unemployment, but blame the unemployed who have no control over their lives when they are thrown out of a job and thrown onto the scrap-heap, lives ruined.

Despite increases in National Insurance contributions over the years, and since the JSA came into law in 1996 - entitlement to contributory benefit for unemployed people has been halved under the JSA from the old 12 months under unemployment benefit to six months. After six months, only the means-tested jobseeker's allowance is payable. Even though you have lost the income from your job, even though you have paid more into the system, some people have been without any benefit at all.

In the first year of jobseeker's allowance in 1996/97, 90,000 claimants lost their entitlement to benefit completely. Because of the harsher rules of jobseeker's allowance and the new attacks facing those on the old incapacity benefit / employment support allowance, tens of thousands of sick and disabled people are being left without any benefit entitlements at all.

Women have be particularly badly hit by the contributory benefit cut-back. A higher proportion of women than men have lost benefit entirely after six months, because they are more likely to have working partners. Not content with cutting benefit, the government also made an unnecessarily strict benefit regime of which the tories brought us, even stricter.

All unemployed people now face a wide range of compulsory measures. Failure to obey these instructions mean benefit being lost for up to four weeks, with the possibility of there being no hardship payment.

An Employment Service officer has the power to give a formal direction at any time that a claimant or as they like to call us "customers", must undertake a specific activity to assist her or him to find employment or to improve their so-called employment prospects. Changes meant that the description of people subjected to the procedure moved from being 'Clients' to become 'Jobseekers.' Prior to JSA the Employment Service described unemployed workers who were signing on as clients, the Act imposes the expression jobseeker. Part of the underlying purpose of both the Act and the change of nomenclature is to suggest that the State/Government has no role in job creation and that it is the individual who is responsible for his or her unemployment.

These "new direction" have enable officials to require claimants to improve their employability by, for example, requiring attendance at a course to "improve job-seeking skills or motivation" or by "taking steps to present themselves acceptably to employers" - for example, mean getting a haircut, new clothes, tattoos removed, etc. Failure to carry out a "reasonable" direction have resulted in the loss of two weeks' benefit. To stop benefit under the Act if a claimant does not accept a job offer, no matter how ludicrous, is a clear denial of free choice of employment and that does not address the issue of any unfavourable conditions of work.

Both this government and the tories says that it wants to get rid of the "something-for-nothing" society. Unemployed people have paid for their benefits through taxes and National Insurance contributions, through which workers insure themselves against the loss of income from employment. The benefit they receive is paid for, and is not a handout.

It cannot be denied that whatever method of counting is used there are more people seeking work than there are job opportunities. The massive discrepancy between those two facts alone means that millions of people are living in poverty which, at best, is accepted by society and is arguably created by the social system itself. Individuals cannot change society, government can!

Agitate, educate, organise is still the slogan which, if put into practice, can create the conditions for preventing the return of a Tory government. The new government should not be government which appeases big business, fails to democratise the state and ends up attacking the low-paid and poorest sections of society, as happened in 1978-79.That would only pave the way for an even more right-wing Tory government.

Confronted by growing unemployment, France, Germany and Italy amongst others have experienced periods of massive social unrest over the last decade and as a result some gains have been made. It is a lesson that cannot be ignored as the innocent find themselves blamed for the predicament in which they find themselves. With many commentators expecting unemployment to rise, now is not the time to start blaming the victim. People who lose their jobs want help in getting new skills and new paying jobs, not make-work schemes that provide no pay, no prospects and not even any time to search for a new job.

We need a government committed to scrapping the jobseeker's allowance and to the kind of policies that will benefit the vast majority of the people of Britain, which means taking on the powerful, vested interests of big business and the ruling elite. It must, therefore, be a Labour government of a new type - kept on course by a militant mass movement around an alternative economic and political strategy.

Can such a government be achieved, especially when the right wing leaderships of the Labour Party and TUC are striving to abandon left-wing policies and socialist principles and are rushing to embrace Europe and social partnership with big business?

In 2008 the Labour Government drove thousands of people off benefits into ultra low paid work & "work for dole" schemes. The former Unemployment/Pensions Secretary James Purnell unveiled his widely trailed package to "make sure a life on benefits is not an option." The Labour Government wanted to make life on the dole hell - well I've got news for New Labour life on the dole is already hell.

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As proclaimed by the United Nations, I draw your attention to section 21 which states:
• Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment
• Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
• Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary by other means of social protection.

In many respects respects the Jobseekers Allowance, and their application by the Employment Service and Benefits Agency are contrary to both the spirit and the words of the declaration so solemnly signed by the British Government in 1948 and never rescinded.

History indicates that the balance of forces within the labour movement can be changed through debate and struggle. The truth is that there is no alternative to fighting the battle of ideas within the organised working class. Ultra-left and anarchist short cuts are, in reality, a dead end.

Richard Easson Jacques