Friday, 21 October 2016

Ministry of Justice consultation deadline cock-up

It appears that the original dates given out at
have now been superseded because of an administrative cock-up that was not my responsibility.

Hopefully, the info given out at
will be more helpful.

Camden Cllr Siân Berry seeks equality best practices

Another Cllr Siân Berry guest blog post

LGBTIQ manifesto launchCouncil news: I'm asking for best practice in equality

Following positive answers from the Mayor of London (and improvements on the way in the GLA group of organisations), I've asked Camden Council to change how it deals with gender and diversity in its data and recruitment procedures.
I have written to Camden's Cabinet Member for Equality & Employment, Larraine Revah, to urge Camden to change official forms and recruitment processes. I've asked for better practices including:
  • Giving people the option not to reveal their gender when filling in forms to access services, include a choice of gender-neutral titles
  • Name-blind shortlisting processes when recruiting staff
Some of the other councillors have backed me on twitter already, so I'm hoping for a positive answer soon, to match the good news from City Hall!

Save Tavistock Place bike lanes! Consultation deadline ends Friday 21 October 2016

Guest blog post by Cllr Siân Berry of Camden Council's Green Party councillor for Highgate Ward

Save Tavistock Place bike lanes

Tavistock Place - Photo by Josh BlackerThe Council began a 12 month trial of better bike lanes in December last year and it has been hugely successful.
Doubling the space for people on bikes in Tavistock Place and Torrington Place has led to a 30% average increase in cycling at peak times, and air pollution has reduced in the area, dropping by up to 21%.
The Council is now consulting on whether to make the change permanent, while also makeing the street better for walking too, with wider pavements.

It takes just two minutes to do - simply choose YES for Q6 “Would you like the current street layout… to become permanent?” and NO for Q7 “Would you like the street to return to its pre-trial layout…?”.
You don't have to live in Camden to fill this in - so please send this on to anyone you know who uses this street.

Cut Council Tax for low income residents — deadline 21 Oct 2016!

Guest blog post from Camden's Highgate Ward Green Party Cllr Siân Berry

Cut Council Tax for low income residents

Camden Council also considering cutting council tax back to zero for the borough's poorest people.
Since 2013, the council has removed the previous 100% exemption for people receiving benefits - including disabled people and families with low incomes. It now charges everyone at least 8.5% of the full rate, something it's very hard to pay when you have no way of making the extra money required.

I've argued for several years that this isn't fair, and the council has agreed to consult on the option of going back to 100% relief. This consultation is even more simple to complete. Just choose 'option 2' in the online survey here:

Thursday, 20 October 2016

KUWG Diary 21 Oct to 13 Nov 2016

DEADLINE: Fri 21 Oct Proposed Changes To Council Tax Reduction Scheme by Camden Council. Ensure your views are included in the consultation which may result in scrapping Council Tax for JSA (& other?) claimants. 
Sat 22 Oct, 11.30am Axe The Housing Act – National Summit by Defend Council Housing. At Hamilton House, Mabledon Place London WC1H 9BD (tube: King’s Cross St Pancras)
Tue 25 & Wed 26 Oct, 7.30-9pm Land of the Three Towers by You Should See The Other Guy – female politically engaged theatre group. The play depicts the struggles of Focus E15 where women occupied 4 perfectly liveable council homes which been empty for 8 years. Free or donation. At Silchester Estate in Kensington, Maxilla Centre, 4 Maxilla Walk, W10 6NQ (tube: Ladbroke Grove)

Wed 26 Oct, 2.30-4.30pm Art As Action Workshop by You Should See The Other Guy – female politically engaged theatre group. A workshop on storytelling & creating protest songs as done in Land of the Three Towers. Come celebrate your home, tell your struggle, and together we'll make a protest song about it. At Silchester Estate in Kensington, Maxilla Centre, 4 Maxilla Walk, W10 6NQ (tube: Ladbroke Grove)
Wed 26 Oct, 5-6.30pm How We Resist Workshop by Radical Housing Network, Eviction Resistance Network. Estate under threat demolition?  Got an eviction notice? You are not alone & you CAN fight it. Learn tools you can use to build campaigns to stop buy offs, demolitions & stop evictions. At Silchester Estate in Kensington, Maxilla Centre, 4 Maxilla Walk, W10 6NQ (tube: Ladbroke Grove)
DEADLINE: Thu 27 Oct Consultation: Transforming Our Justice System by Ministry of (in)Justice, who plan to digitalise benefit appeals so claimants won’t be seen in person by the judge or expert panel members (i.e. doctors present at tribunals). This will lessen our chances to win appeals. Nip it in the bud! Consultation itself:
Thu 27 Oct, 11.30am-12.30pm KUWG Leafleting at Kilburn Jobcentre, 3 Cambridge Ave, NW6 5AH map link:
Transport for London Journeyplanner interactive link:
Thu 27 & Fri 28 Oct, 7.30-9pm Land of the Three Towers by You Should See The Other Guy – female politically engaged theatre group. The play depicts the struggles of Focus E15 where women occupied 4 perfectly liveable council homes which been empty for 8 years. Free or donation. At Rotunda, Cressingham Gardens, Tulse Hill, SW2 2QN
Fri 28 Oct, 2-7.45pm No One Turned Away: Housing Is A Human Right Crisis are calling on MPs to change the law so that no one is turned away when they approach their local authority for help & homelessness is a priority for single people. will be taking their kitchen to Parliament that day & campaign for #NoMoreDeathsOnOurStreets At Parliament Square, Westminster SW1A (tube: Westminster) 
Sat 29 Oct, 10am-7pm London Anarchist Bookfair at Park View School, West Green Road N15 3QR (tube: Turnpike Lane or Seven Sisters)
Sat 29 Oct, 12-4pm UFFC Annual Remembrance Procession 2016 by United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC). Since 1999, the UFFC holds its annual remembrance procession from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street to remember loved ones who died in custody. A disproportionate number of them were Black & Minority Ethnic people dying in police custody.
Fri 11 Nov, 10am-5.30pm Housing Advice Conference 2016 by z2k – Zacchaeus 2000 Trust. Update on law & practice for housing advisers in statutory & voluntary sectors. The key annual event for Housing Options & Housing Advice staff in local authorities, Citizens Advice Bureaux, Law Centres or independent advice centres. Fee: £40 cons. Book first, only 80 places.
Sat 12 & Sun 13 Nov, all day? Socialism 2016 by Socialist Party. Weekend ticket: £16 unwaged. At The Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0A (tube: Russell Square)

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Ministry of Justice 'consultation' agenda and questions further denial of justice

Original draft uploades Thursday 13 October; finalised Saturday 15 October.

Beyond the current Ministry of Justice/Reform UK 'think tank' consultation on their 'future is digital' vision for the bald mechanics of justice admin

"May I suggest a social theology .... rooted in the experience of the poorest UK citizens."
— Revd Paul Nicolson, founder of Taxpayers Against Poverty (1)
".... the periscope allows the commander of the submarine only limited vision. The periscope will show you only what you look at; if you don't look at something, you won't see it. And the same is true of questions: one only gets what one asks for. If you don't ask for something, you won't get it."
"Questions put [the questioner] in command"

I am deeply concerned at the setting of the agenda and slanting of questions in the Ministry of Justice consultation Transforming Our Justice System that was launched on 15 September and is deadlined for Thursday 27 October.(4) I believe that the inception of the consultation owes more to the impact of bad laws on enforcement logistics while the crimes of government against poor people are treated as 'business as usual' or rather, completely overlooked.

Justice areas looked at in the consultation are: Criminal; Civil; Family and Tribunals. While I shall not address the matter of the proposals for Criminal, Civil, and Family divisions of the courts and tribunals system specifically, what I call the crimes of government against poor people appear to impact upon those sections, in my view.

Bad laws lead to the non-cooperation of fair minded adjudicators and create greater backlogs

In September 2016, the Independent newspaper reported:
More than 50 magistrates are understood to have resigned from the bench in recent weeks amid an extraordinary judicial revolt against new court charges which critics claim encourage innocent people to plead guilty.
Such resignations might reduce the number of appelants, but what does it do for the fitness of our courts to handle caseloads? “All criminal cases will start in the magistrates' court.”(6)

Benefit reductions, stresses of poverty and badly financed public services including IAG [information, advice and guidance] meltdown drive more people into civil debt

After UK central government reduced the amount available to local councils for the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, most councils responded as Brent Council did by charging people too poor to pay any tax with an element of council tax, leading to huge arrears, as reported in the Brent & Kilburn Times in 2014:
Brent Council have come under-fire for issuing court summons over council tax arrears which has left 2,000 vulnerable residents footing a hefty bill of more than £250,000... (7)
More recently, finding it uneconomical to enforce the unenforceable, Camden Council has belatedly launched a consultation offering 100% Council Tax Reduction for those too poor to pay Council Tax as its preferred option.(8) (9)

Alongside 'making poor people pay' being the reality of Conservative Government 'making work pay' welfare reform or anihilation policy, there has been the closure of Citizens Advice Bureau outlets from the time of the 2010 Con-Dem coalition government.(10) As Kate Belgrave has reported, "It can be really hard to get welfare advice."(11) None the less, regarding what people seek advice about, Citizens Advice reported in July 2016 that the number of people seeking advice about Council Tax arrears had risen by over a third in three years and 
"In 2015 our network of local offices advised 212,000 people on their council tax arrears. Amounts owed can range from as low as £30 to several thousands of pounds."Citizens Advice report Catching Up: Improving council tax arrears collection(12)

Benefit cuts and 'transforming benefit tribunals'

Finally, I come the matter of proposed 'transformation of benefit tribunals' as outlined in Panel composition in tribunals. This has been correctly flagged up by Benefits and Work Publishing (BWP) as addressing the wrong issues and making it far more likely that injustices will be done to poor people. "Shaming appeal success rates" are an embarrassment to government, BWP argued in a news item Virtual abolition of PIP, DLA and ESA tribunals as we know them.(14) Of course, those 'shaming appeal success rates' indicate that injustices have been committed that tribunals need to redress. As a 'Benefits appeal panel member' put it: 

"Disabled people are being wrongly denied benefit. I help them get them back."(15)

Frances Ryan in a Guardian article, Will disability benefits appeals become less fair? on the MoJ's proposals regarding tribunal panels reports on the proposal that decisions should be made more 'on the papers' to reduce the number of appeals panels:(16)
Although the MoJ states it does not collect data on the outcomes of different types of hearing, research by the University College London Judicial Institute and the Nuffield Foundation in 2013 found claimants almost three times as likely to win an appeal for disability living allowance (DLA) after an oral hearing than paper alone (46%, compared to 17%).(17)....

Steve Donnison, co-founder of Benefits and Work,(18) a not-for-profit benefits advice resource, explains: “Appeal panels have to make a decision about the honesty and credibility of an appellant. It’s far easier for them to make this judgment if the claimant is in front of them answering their questions.”

This disadvantage is exacerbated by the fact, which advocates stress, that many claimants appealing a decision aren’t actually aware of the criteria for being eligible for benefits. “And when the appeal is by paper, the tribunal has no way of filling in the gaps in the evidence,” Donnison adds. “So they can’t make an award.”

Government crimes against poor disabled benefit claimants as "business as usual"

I commend my reader to further study of the Frances Ryan article should they wish.(Reference#: 12 It's already been published there.) Here, though, I shall refer to other stresses and strains upon poor benefit claimants that further a plot designed to privatise the welfare state. (That plot and its key instigators have been well documented by former health care worker Mo Stewart in her book Cash — Not Care, as it addresses the "corporate demolition of the welfare state."(19))

A major stressor on disability benefit claimants has become the frequency of testing claimants. As a survivor of that system myself, I can honestly say that being called to re-assessment six months after completion of the previous testing regime made me ill in addition to my having a disability from birth. And I have been by no means the only person to experience such trauma. That retesting amounts to a form of psychological and financial torture. On the one hand there is the sense of being accused of making a fraudulent claim, and on the other there is the risk of having one's benefits reduced considerably while being subjected to worse 'conditionality' as a result.

Yet a further mechanism by which the DWP can be aiming to make tribunal success less likely is to discourage appealing. It is much harder to get into the ESA (Support Group) than the ESA (Work Related Activity Group). Thus if a person has been awarded 0 eligibility points at their 'Work Capability Assessment' inferring that they are 'fit for work', they might be inclined to appeal, however stressful appealing might be. But if appealing is very stressful and the prospective appelant cannot bear the prospect of going through the appeals process after the trauma of delays caused by Mandatory Reconsideration, they might think, "What's the use? The best I could get would be Work Related Activity Group status, which now comes with a £30 per week reduction from the old rate for new claimants."(20)

The DWP says that the £30 a week reduction in ESA (WRAG) rate for new claimants is to 'incentivise' the claimant to find work. That is rubbish. Disabled people are disadvantaged by physical, economic and social barriers and that cut can make a stressful situation even more stressful. The Jobseekers Allowance rate that that £30 a week cut amounts to is also bad for provision of health, bringing worries of how the person will make it to the end of the week or month while also being obligated to pay an element of Council Tax.

A few years ago though, I was privy to a father's evidence to an ESA review. The father's son had a severe learning disability and was awarded 0 eligibility points out of the threshold of 15. The tribunal panel raised that number of points to 48 and placed the appelant in the ESA (Support Group)!

There is also the threat of benefit sanctions that comes with ESA (WRAG) status. One of the fundamental issues regarding the issuing of benefit sanctions is that the decision maker never sees the target of the sanction as a person; the decision is made 'on paper' rather than habeus corpus. Glasgow University Law Professor rightyly regards this as Britain's secret penal system.

My closing questions

  1. If torture is contrary to international law, what about the psychologic tortures inflicted by the DWP in the name of 'welfare reform' and the tortures imposed by local councils in the way they force people to pay unpayable Council Tax?
  2. Should not the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) repeal the unjust laws that have led magistrates to resign in their droves?
  3. Should not the MoJ compel the DWP to adopt rule 43 from benefit suicides courts that Iain Duncan Smith treated with contempt?(21)
  4. Is not the agenda for the MoJ consultation too much driven by digital companies and privatisation?  Compare the content of these reviews with the keyword search 'magistrates' on the website of 'think tank' ReformUK.
  5. Is not it high time that disabled people ourselves were consulted in the drafting of government consultations?

By Dude Swheatie of Kwug

Related link addresses



Monday, 10 October 2016

Impact of benefit sanctions on their targets

".... people whose incomes are stopped by a benefit sanction are sometimes overcome by feelings of humiliation or shame, fear or distrust, insecurity or loneliness; or by a sense of being trapped and powerless under the abuses of power by the State. ...."