"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik

Welfare Reform Act

Defending The Welfare State And Public Services

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.

Why should you get involved?

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 an expected 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 and Rally. Saturday 10th April 2010. Assemble 12 Noon, Temple Place, Embankment. Rally 2pm Trafalgar Square.



Diss mum’s anguish over lack of support for new help centre

A heartbroken mother spoke of her disappointment after an appeal to establish a new drug and alcohol support centre in Norfolk failed to receive a single donation.

Jackie Talbot launched a campaign last month to give more support to addicts after her youngest son died of a suspected heroin overdose last year.

Talented amateur boxer and father-of-two Michael Talbot, 26, was found dead at his parents’ home in Diss on February 7, a day after being released from a six-week prison sentence.

But a month after the Michael James Talbot Memorial Trust was launched to raise £150,000 for a centre in the town for drug and alcohol addicts, the good cause’s bank account remains at zero.

Mrs Talbot said she was “stunned” that nobody had financially supported the trust. However, she said she would not give up and her first aim was to reach £5,000 to get charity status.

“It is unbelievable. We have received absolutely nothing.”

“It is something that begins at home and we all want to make the world a better place, and when it is something happening on our doorstep it is up to the community to do something about it,” she said.

The 56-year-old said the idea of a drug and alcohol support centre in Diss had been backed by the Trust Alcohol and Drugs Service in Norwich and she had received letters of support from other families affected by drugs in Norfolk and Suffolk.

She added that preparations were under way to organise a kickboxing event in Diss and a bands night in Harleston to raise funds for the trust.

Mrs Talbot, whose son’s inquest is set to take place next month , said she would be grateful for other fundraising ideas to help the appeal get off the ground.

“It is an issue that tends to be swept under the carpet and people do not want to come to terms with. But we are living in the 21st century and it has to be brought into the public eye. Although there are procedures and clinics in place, there is not enough help for addicts out there,” she said.

Contact the Michael James Talbot Memorial Trust on 01379 643157 or write to 3A Uplands Way, Diss, IP22 4DE.


Seriously ill patients ‘told to work’

A BBC investigation has heard claims of seriously ill patients being told they are fit enough to work and denied benefit payments.

Two former doctors for the private healthcare company Atos, which carries out the medical assessments have expressed concerns that the checks are being done too quickly and that the system is biased towards declaring people fit for work.

BBC Scotland’s Social Affairs Reporter, Fiona Walker, has been investigating why some of those who had high hopes for ESA say it has been a failure.

Employment Support Allowance, or ESA, is replacing Incapacity Benefit. It’s supposed to support the very sick, and as people get better, help them get back into the workplace.

The government said it wanted to get a million people back to work by 2015 but more that one year after introducing ESA, it says it can’t measure how many people the scheme has got back into the workplace.
During the investigation, we’ve heard claims that terminally ill patients are being told to attend back-to-work interviews while they apply for the new benefit.

We also heard concerns that the medicals are declaring seriously ill people as fit enough to go to work.
One of the patients we spoke to was Maureen Leitch. She says she was called in for a medical assessment just a few weeks after undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for vulval cancer.
She was declared fit for work and told she wasn’t entitled to ESA.

She said: “I was struggling terribly with the whole cancer. I was in extreme pain… It was a whole load of hassle, and aggravation that I didn’t need at the time I was going through the journey of the cancer… I feel insulted and badly let down, with the system.”

Maureen appealed the decision and it was overturned, meaning she was eventually awarded the benefit.
Currently, there are 44, 000 people waiting for their appeals to be heard. More than a third of people are winning their appeals.

Charities and organisations including Citizens’ Advice Bureau, say they’re worried that thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being wasted because of the number of people going to appeal.
Everyone we’ve interviewed for this investigation agrees that getting people back to work can be good for them.

Frequent appraisals

What they’re concerned about is the way the system is working in practice.
Dr Chris Johnstone is a GP in Paisley. His work to help his patients back to work helped shape the ESA policy.
He said: “I have no problem with a rigorous medical assessment done in a supportive fashion.
“But I think if you have a slipshod one done, as it appears to be anecdotally, that’s unfair for the people going through the system. It feels like some of it is done inappropriately and it’s almost being done to save money rather than to look after people.”

Ultimately the decision on whether you get benefit or not is down to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), but they have contracted a private healthcare company called Atos to carry out the initial medical assessments.

I’ve spoken to two doctors who used to work for Atos. They say they are concerned about the way checks are being done. They both say they are worried that speaking out will affect their medical careers so we’ve agreed not to reveal their names.

This is what one of the doctors told me: “We would frequently have appraisals. They were all about how many clients you had seen and the average length of time it took to complete each assessment and write the reports.

“I wanted to know if they were happy with the quality of the reports I’d done but they hadn’t even looked at my reports, only at the time it had taken. It’s really tough to qualify for ESA.
“When doctors go in for the day’s assessments, they pretty much know the clients are going to be turned down.”

The other doctor I spoke to backed up those claims.

We asked to do an interview with Atos, but they refused.

Gaining skills

Instead they gave us a statement saying: “We are continually monitored and audited by the government to ensure that it completes the highest standard of assessment and that medical advice is correct.

“Atos Healthcare and its employees are not advised of the result of the assessment and the outcome has no bearing on Atos Healthcare targets or remuneration.”

Helping people back to work is one of the key aims of ESA. But the government can’t tell us how many people this new scheme has got back into work.

The minister for Disabled People at Westminster is Jonathan Shaw, MP. I asked him why his department couldn’t tell us how many people ESA had successfully got back to work.

He said: “What’s essential is that we are providing a programme, across the board, not just for ESA claimants but for youngsters, for disabled people for elderly people, to try and gain the skills that they can to stay in the labour market and return to work.

“We’ve got the pathways to work programme, which as I say is helping thousands of people who I’ve met up and down the country… this is early days, for the Employment Support Allowance.”

Mr Shaw also said he would be looking into the way cancer patients are treated.


Welfare Reform

Welfare for all? The Welfare ‘Abolition’ Bill

The government’s Welfare Reform bill has been passed by the House of Commons and is now being debated in the House of Lords. The bill contains a wide range of new regulations, and is being rushed through parliament despite widespread opposition. For such a wide ranging bill to be passing through parliament without extensive draft regulations and at such speed means that it has been impossible for most interested parties to undertake effective scrutiny of the major changes. The bill contains a number of get out clauses for the government, signs that the bill that has not yet been thought through. For example, Clause 7 (which provides of the abolition of income support) empowers the Secretary of State to repeal any act or regulation where he considers it necessary or expedient to do so. The government have also failed so far to clarify their position where the bill appears to contradict their other statements, for example around carers continued entitlement to income support whilst the issues around whole system of benefits for carers is resolved.

The key areas of the bill will:

Privatise more of the work of the Jobcentre Plus to companies who will be paid on a payment by results scheme.

Impose more conditionality on claimants, including docking payment for missed interviews and compelling people to undertake activities to prepare them for work.

Introduce compulsory work for benefits in a US style workfare scheme called work for your benefit.

The ending of income support signals the end of the principle that those in need deserve help. ‘Work for your benefit’ forces people to labour in roles for a quarter of minimum wage, and reduces the opportunities for people to find properly paid employment. Much of the Bill is about increasing conditionality on claimants, lone parents, and sick and disabled people, yet there is nothing about benefit adequacy. Jobseekers Allowance is paid at less than £10 a day, if it had increased in line with earnings over the past 30 years the rate for a single person over the age of 25 would be more than £100 a week.

The bill also proposes the privatisation of large parts of the Jobcentre Plus Service, to companies who will be paid for each person who gets into paid employment. While the Government has sought to justify increased conditionality for many claimants on the grounds of increased provision of high-quality, personally tailored employment and skills related support, there is no provision in the welfare reform bill that people have an entitlement or guarantee to this. Instead the payment by results culture is likely to lead to the provision of generalist support from companies who are focused on meeting their targets rather than on the individual, with the use of sanctions to ensure that people must comply with whatever support they are offered. This culture from the Jobcentre Plus and private companies will disadvantage disabled people and others who have more complex support needs who will take longer to make a transition into work and who may be more expensive to support.

The bill does not consider supporting people to access training and jobs with fair pay and decent conditions, or set out to secure adequate incomes for people loosing their jobs or unable to find work. There are no measures to challenge discriminatory attitudes held by employers in order to support more disabled people and people with mental health issues into work; or proposals to help parents by encouraging flexible working practices and expanding the provision of affordable childcare. The focus on conditionality and sanctions in the Bill at a time of rising unemployment will cause anxiety and fear amongst those affected – lone parents, carers, disabled people and those facing the prospect of unemployment. These people face tougher tests to qualify for benefits, and if they fail they could be cut off with no support.

What is contained in the bill?

Abolition of Income Support

The Bill allows for the abolition of income support, and provides that any groups that remain on Income Support can be required to attend work focused interviews, and undertake work related activity or be subject to a sanction.

Increased conditionality

People claiming benefits will be compelled to follow the directions from an employment advisor or face sanctions on their benefits.

Work for your Benefit

‘Work for your benefit’ is workfare. It is enforced labour at a rate of as little as £1.73 per hour (combining current JSA rates with a 35 hour week). The Bill proposes piloting of workfare and would allow for a national rollout without further primary legislation. But DWP research already suggests that:

there is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work;
it is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high;
it is least effective for individuals with multiple barriers to work;
it can reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.

Work related activity

The bill will allow the Jobcentre Plus, and private contractors, to issue mandatory directions to lone parents and sick and disabled claimants that they must undertake a specific activity, or face a sanction on their benefits.

Increased conditionality for couples

The Bill makes two changes for couples claiming benefit. Firstly, it removes the right of a sick or disabled person to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for the couple where their partner could instead claim JSA. Secondly, the Bill requires partners of claimants of IS, ESA and JSA to undertake work related activity or be subject to a sanction, meaning that partners cannot choose not to work.

Changes in contribution conditions for JSA and ESA

The Bill proposes a significant restriction on eligibility for contributory JSA and ESA. Those in work will find that they have to work for longer to pay the contributions required to qualify for benefit. This will reduce the number of claimants who qualify for contributory ESA and JSA, and will force many more claimants on to means tested benefits, which are complex and suffer from low take-up. Others will have no entitlement at all to means tested benefits.

Carers Allowance and Maternity Allowance

The Bill abolishes the dependent additions paid with carers allowance and maternity allowance. Both benefits are non-means tested and are paid to some of the poorest people in the country. Its removal will lead to an increase in reliance on means tested benefits, or for those who fail the means test, having to live on a lower level of income.

Benefit penalties for ‘offenders’

The Bill proposes that claimants who have been convicted, cautioned or fined of any offence of fraud will have their benefit suspended for four weeks. The proposal will catch people who are overpaid benefit due to a DWP mistake or error or misunderstanding on their part, but who but lack the skills and confidence to seek advice and challenge poor decisions made by the DWP. Benefit fraud is now a smaller problem than error, and is also smaller than that of non-take up, yet the Bill has nothing to say about how those missing out on their entitlements can be helped to claim. In addition, continuing to issue high profile ‘tough’ messages stigmatises the claimant population by instilling a wrongful stereotype that claimant fraud is common.

Training and skills of employment advisors

The Bill gives employment advisors greater responsibility in supporting people to look for work and in imposing sanctions on people who do not follow their directions. Advisors are currently insufficiently trained on working with people who need more support to look for work, including people with mental health issues and people with disabilities, yet the Bill does not propose to increase the training for employment advisors. The payments by results culture in this bill means that it is more likely that the employment support offered to people will be generalist, meaning people who have support needs, who it will be more expensive to support into work, will not receive appropriate help and will risk having their benefits cut under the new sanctions. There is nothing contained in the bill about how claimants will be protected from the unfair application of sanctions.

Mandatory drug testing

The Welfare Reform Bill introduces the power for mandatory drug testing for benefits claimants. The penalty for not complying with the test, or with a resulting rehabilitation plan is loss of benefit for 26 weeks.

Compulsion to access medical treatment

The Bill will allow employment advisors to decide the appropriate activity a claimant should undertake to be ready for work, including activities to manage their health. This power could be used to require a claimant to access healthcare provision, take medication or access psychological therapies. This will blur the boundaries between health provision and social control, and may mean that people are compelled to access physical or mental health treatment in order to obtain their benefits.

Data sharing

The bill proposes that information about benefit claimants will be more widely shared between government agencies, including sharing information from the police, prison service and health services with employment agencies.

Right to control for disabled people

The proposal is for a pilot to see whether people should be given control over their social care support, it does not give a commitment that this will happen for everyone. The government does not yet have a clear idea about what types of funding and support people would be given control over, how they would implement individual budgets or how they would give increased control to people who do not want individual budgets.

Social fund and Community Care Grants

Plans for the future of the social fund are not clear. The proposal is for the Social Fund to be partially administered by private loan providers who would charge interest on the loans, yet there is no rationale about how this will improve the operation of the fund. The bill will also enable successful Community Care Grant applicants to be provided with the item they have applied for rather than money.

Birth Registration

The Welfare Reform Bill introduces compulsory joint birth registration for unmarried parents, and sanctions can be applied if a mother fails to disclose the father of her child.
Child Maintenance

The bill also proposes new collection and compliance arrangements for child maintenance, including the withdrawal of driving licences and passports of non-resident parents who do not pay child maintenance.


Retreat on ‘draconian’ testing for disability benefit

Ministers are to change the way disabled people are assessed for benefits amid uproar over a “draconian” testing regime that aims to cut the welfare bill and get more people into work.

The Department for Work and Pensions is to review the work capability assessment test – a key part of its welfare-to-work programme – after being warned that it was deeply flawed and would lead to many disabled people, and those with genuine health problems, being unfairly penalised.

The government wants to slash the number of people on incapacity benefit – to be replaced by a new benefit, the employment and support allowance (ESA) – by one million from its current total of 2.7 million.

Over the next three years, it intends to test all those on incapacity benefit to find out if they are genuinely unable to work, and then place them on ESA, where payments differ according to levels of disability or illness.

Those who fail the test altogether and are judged fit to seek work will be placed on jobseekers’ allowance, which will mean considerably lower income. Once all 2.7 million have been tested, incapacity benefit will cease to exist.

Over recent months, however, ministers have been bombarded with complaints from disability groups and others about the new tests, which are already being used to assess new claimants for employment and support allowance.

Work capability assessment places claimants into different categories depending on needs and abilities. A higher payment of up to £108.55 a week will be made to severely disabled people who are not expected to work and a lower one of £89.90 goes to those who need tailored support to find work. Other, non-disabled people are expected to find work without support and receive JSA of £65 a week.

Disability groups, which had supported the reforms in the belief that they would tackle “disability poverty”, say the assessment does not reflect how an impairment impacts on someone’s everyday life or ability to work.

Neil Coyle, director of policy at Disability Alliance, said the tests were too rigid. “They do not measure ability to perform work functions (eg, typing, packing or sweeping) but are based on someone describing their average day and simple tasks like picking up a coin from the floor (to test movement, for instance),” said Coyle.

Evidence from the first tests for ESA showed that many people who needed help were being wrongly judged as fit to seek work. As a result, they were being placed on jobseekers’ allowance and denied access to programmes to help them find suitable employment, such as Pathways to Work, specifically set up to help those on incapacity benefit.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “The government’s draconian approach of forcing people off incapacity benefit when they clearly can’t work is having tragic consequences and robbing people of help when they are in most need. The government needs to urgently review the employment and support allowance capability test.”

Figures for new claimants for ESA showed that, of the 193,800 people who made a claim between October 2008 and February 2009, 36% were found to be fit for work and therefore not eligible for the higher benefit.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The work capability assessment looks at what people can do, rather than what they can’t, to give them the support they need to get back to work and avoid ending up on long-term sickness benefits. For those who cannot work, they will receive additional support and help.

“This is a relatively new process, but we were very grateful to have organisations such as Disability Alliance involved in the consultation process and the development of the programme from the very start.

“We will be reviewing it to see where improvements and changes need to be made to ensure that it is working as it should be.”

In October, Jonathan Shaw, minister for the disabled, said about 15% of those tested would be “disallowed employment and support allowance”.


Welfare not Workfare!

Plotting and scheming for Welfare not Workfare

On 12 November, it became legal to force unemployed people to work for their benefits – to do 40-hour-weeks for under a third of the minimum wage. The Government’s Welfare Reform Act introduced ‘Work for your Benefit’ pilot schemes, which once completed can be rolled out without any further debate. It also attacked single parents – who face sanctions if they fail to prepare for work outside the home as soon as their child turns three – and people with impairments, disabilities or severe and enduring illnesses.

Two days later, members of twenty-three different groups from around the UK met to share information and plan resistance to these pernicious attacks, which will take their toll on working-class and low-income communities.

Groups present included Unemployed Workers Unions from six cities across the UK, the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network, Southwark Mind, WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities), Single Mothers’ Self-Defence (part of Global Women’s Strike) and members of the union in the Department of Work and Pensions – PCS. They were joined by feminist and other groups (all listed below).

The strength to be gained from meeting in solidarity with each other was immense and created a real sense that a movement is building: a movement which will not only fight the immediate attacks of the Welfare Abolition Act, but draw out the connections between our struggles and together challenge the ideology driving them.

The Act seeks to make our worth dependent on work; work defined in the really narrow terms of waged work for someone else’s profit. By making us compete with those in waged work for non-existent jobs, it helps drive down wages and conditions. We all take the brunt as the rich make even more money out of us.

• We want solidarity with and from people in low-income, temporary and insecure work. These are the jobs that ‘work-for-your-benefit’ would replace.

• We want caring to be recognised as important work in society. Single parents are already working and benefits are their entitlement to a social wage.

• We want justice for people with severe or enduring illnesses. The drive to get people off incapacity benefits and Employment and Support Allowance and into work is making people more ill with stress. Only we know what we are capable of and it is wrong for conditions and sanctions to be imposed on us to force us into unsuitable work, unwanted “work-related activity” or “motivation sessions” which press us into their programmes of treatment for addictions and other conditions.

• We want the right not to work. People not in waged work contribute loads to their communities. We do not want to be forced into mind-numbing, insecure work that leaves us no better off, or worse off than on benefits and definitely not at £1.27 an hour!

• We want free, high-quality, public services to support older people and people with impairments/disabilities. People should not have to become employers managing ‘individual budgets’ in order to access the care they need.

• We want to stand in solidarity with migrant workers. Just as unemployed people are pitted against people in work, so migrant workers are pitted against us. We believe that we must stand together and demand all of our rights together.

• We want to fight privatisation of the Department for Work and Pensions. Attacks on DWP and Jobcentre Plus workers are attacks on our rights to access welfare. We will support the PCS’ fight against cuts.

• We want an end to the apartheid system of benefits, healthcare and housing for asylum seekers. UK Border Agency support should be scrapped — where people are forced to survive on incomes far below benefit levels – which are already set at subsistence level. No slum housing and dangerous and dirty hostels, dispersal, or vouchers.

After a day of info-sharing, outrage and scheming, we formed a few working groups. If you’re able to help out with any of the projects, please email hackneyunemployedworkers@gmail.com

1. Media working group – monitor and respond to hostile articles in the media.

2. Our propaganda – creating posters, newsletters etc to get our messages out

3. Website – put together a website as a space to share resources, feedback and comment, get the word out about our campaign and publicise local and national action.

4. Our welfare rights – compiling information to help us access our rights now and creating ‘Know your rights’ leaflets.

5. Defeating the Work for your Benefits pilots – research to support the network to take action against the pilots.

Norfolk Community Action Group fully support the above actions and are planning a public meeting on the subject in the new year.