Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Concentration camps and benefit caps

By Dude Swheatie of Kwug

Seventy years ago today, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated. And today the Daily Mail — aka 'Daily Heil' — celebrates rather than condemns David Cameron's promise to clamp down even further on the the 'benefit cap' — the total amount of benefits a benefit claimant is allowed on Universal Credit.

What links these stories?

One connection is that benefit caps and other forms of right wing 'welfare reform' coupled with savage 'austerity' attacks on public services such as housing result in forced dispersal of economically vulnerable people. Wikipedia reports on the history of concentration camps:
Early civilizations such as Assyria used forced resettlement of populations as a means of controlling territory,[6] but it was not until much later in the late 19th and 20th centuries that records exist of groups of civilian non-combatants being concentrated into large prison camps.

Now, in the 21st Century, evictions and displacements related to right wing 'welfare reforms' see families being displaced away from their support networks and this has even resulted in Newham council dumping children of evicted families on a police station floor. Surely, children are non-combatants, aren't they?

Another connection is that the way that the perpetrators of these savage cuts malign the benefit claimants in much the same way that Nazis described those they abused as 'useless eaters'. Where does or might this all lead? Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group Honorary Member Kate Belgrave has reported on a raft of 'welfare reforms' and has written, "Pretty sure the Government wants death, depression and crime for people who are out of work."

Meanwhile, the corporate culture of JobCentre Plus
sends the very clear message that benefit claimants are subhuman.

What do local Parliamentary candidates have to say about all that? I'm sure they will say that genuinely vulnerable benefit claimants have nothing to fear and will be protected. But how will they do that, given the impact of the degrading 'war of words' on public opinion regarding benefit claimants?

Official spin and fraud investigations attack the vulnerable

By Dude Swheatie of Kwug


Given the orientation of much UK reporting output toward demonising poorer people while venerating wealth and property market 'entrepreneurship' since the 2010 General Election, the emphasis of your print edition cover story "Probe into 'Council Flat Hotel'" — CNJ, January 22, 2015 does not surprise me. But with about 100 days before General Election 2015, is this story representative of the state of social housing in the UK?

The predominant narrative of state broadcasting programmes that masquerade as 'public service broadcasting' compared to the casework of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group (KUWG) gives out the message that:
  1. There is a huge problem of benefit claimants making fraudulent claims as evidenced by the 50:50 bias of BBC's 'Saints & Scroungers', compared to the KUWG experience that vulnerable people experiencing extreme hardship as a consequence of 'welfare reform' policies and cuts in council funding increase social inequality is much more the norm;
  2. It is socially laudable for people to buy up properties for the 'buy to rent' market (eg, BBC's 'Homes Under the Hammer'), while central and local government policies such as 'Right to Buy' and evictions resulting from the privatisation of social housing and 'welfare reform' related rent arrears deny poor people the right to rent; and
  3. Global 'investors' have the best of motives, while it's okay for political parties to promise ever deeper cuts in welfare spending regardless of how those might be implemented in terms of ridiculous benefit sanctions, a daily signing on regime for Jobseekers Allowance claimants, and the kind of fiasco of abusing vulnerable people that Atos has become infamous for.
Moving into a new job and/or moving home have long been identified as stressful for anybody. When social housing tenants are obliged to relocate because of a new job that might or might not work out, what can they do to protect their social tenany, especially when the narrative of people subletting induced by the orientation of fraud investigator conspires against the financially vulnerable tenant and jobseeker getting any real help?And what of the social housing tenant's capacity to enlist in something like Voluntary Service Overseas or a Community Service Volunteers placement or degree course as a mature student away from home? Is that only the prerogative of the home owner?

When will fraud investigators tackle politicians' broken promises to protect the vulnerable?





Monday, 26 January 2015

Health and 'cost/benefits' analysis of the DWP in 'guidance for decision makers'

From Revd Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty, who says:

Looking at the guidance I doubt whether any Jobcentre decision maker is capable of making such decisions about health and should never have been asked. The guidance has more to do with Ministers answering legal challenges and complying with human rights legislation. 

THE DWP SEEMS TO THINK THAT MAKING PEOPLE ILL "IS A PRICE WORTH PAYING" TO "ENCOURAGE" THE UNEMPLOYED INTO WORK. 

The DWP never thinks about the additional costs in the NHS when the DWP makes people mentally and physically ill by shredding or even stopping their incomes; and then enforcing inevitable rent and council tax arrears, overpayments etc..........

This is a clip from a government document for Decision Makers (re Sanctions) in the DWP. You can find the full article on the Ekklesia website,  It was sent in by a TAP supporter.

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21360

Guidance for hardship payments


“Comparing the decline in health with a healthy adult


35098 The DM must consider if the health of the person with the medical condition would decline more than a normal healthy adult. The DM should make this comparison based on a normal healthy adult who is in similar circumstances to the person with the medical condition.

35099 It would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health if they were without

1. essential items, such as food, clothing, heating and accommodation or

2. sufficient money to buy essential items for a period of two weeks. 

See Appendix 6 to this Chapter for further guidance.

The DM must determine if a person with a medical condition would suffer a greater decline in health than a normal healthy adult and would suffer hardship (DMG 35142 et seq)”.

Here is the link to the whole of Chapter 35 of the DWP guidance to sanctions decision makers about Hardship Payments. It is 156 pages long. "two weeks" appears 17 times. Appendix 6 gets us nearest to what the DWP is getting at.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/391572/dmgch35.pdf
"Full health depends upon a regular and varied intake of food containing sufficient calories and essential nutrients. A normal healthy body contains enough reserves to cope with dietary changes over a short period but there are medical conditions that could deteriorate due to an inadequate diet over a two week period following a DM's decision". 

The other references to "two weeks" seem to be saying that its OK for the health of a healthy person with a sanction to deteriorate over two weeks but don't risk it with a mentally or physically ill person, who should be given a hardship payment.

Looking at the guidance I doubt whether any Jobcentre decision maker is capable of making such decisions about health and should never have been asked. The guidance has more to do with Ministers answering legal challenges and complying with human rights legislation. 

There are very few normal healthy bodies being sanctioned; they are mostly unable to buy a healthy diet and all other necessities for themselves or their children

The DWP description of "full health" has been ignored when deciding the level of benefits and deciding on the caps, cuts and council tax benefits for decades.

I have been writing since 1999 that the adult unemployment is not enough to live on (now at £72.40 a week). Since April 2013 many tenants have been paying rent due to the bedroom tax and council tax out of it; families have been suffering in the same way due to the overall benefit cap of £500. Making the purchase of a healthy diet even more impossible for nearly three years - not just two weeks. Before then we had 100% council tax and housing benefit.


Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

Witch trials satyrising themselves — or the general paralysis and hypocrisy of the empty promise merchants?

By Dude Swheatie of Kwug

The first I heard of disability benefit tests conducted for the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) as being modelled upon ancient 'sink and you're innocent, float and you are guilty of witchcraft' trials was actually in connetion with the 'Personal Capacity Assessment' in 2008.
(The Personal Capacity Assessmentwas the fore-runner of the Work Capacity Assessment for the newer 'Work Capability Assessment' that is central to the newer Employment & Support Allowance.)

In the wake of the launch of Labour's 2008 Welfare Reform Green Paper, a Community Care magazine blog piece, The Misery of Welfare Reform, highlighted the case of 'J' who had a history of depression and anti-depressants on the dole that the antics of the DWP had done nothing to help. And that J had subsequently been denied Incapacity Benefit when she applied for it, and her doctor — who had prescribed the anti-depressants — would not put a finger out to write even a sick note in support of J's case. J's doctor argued that whatever he wrote, the DWP would ignore it.

That The Misery of Welfare Reform blog piece as a whole is extremely well worth reading over six years later for the resonances with the Work Capability Assessment fiasco that has emerged since then and the subsequent phenomenon of doctors charging as much as £100 for a letter in support of a claimant's tribunal case. But for now, as a lead-in to the latest pattern that the KUWG's case workers have uncovered, I shall just quote the Community Care blog piece reference to witch trials:
"So the DWP has come up with a modern equivalent of the medieval witch trial (float and you're a witch, drown and your're not) — starve to death and you are mentally ill; buty food and you're fit for work."
 The latest development uncovered by Kwug's caseworkers has come to light through attempting to get Atos to issue appointments for Kilburn folk at assessment centres closer to their abodes than Richmond, Deptford or Dagenham. (Instead of,
  • "The computer says, 'No',"
  • "The computer says, 'Go miles out of your way'.")

There had been a mystery of why, after requesting assessment centre appointments closer to home than those far out places, the rearranged appointment came back with the same out of the way assessment centre addresses and even for 08:30 appointment times! And the Atos reply via the switchboard has come that if people in Kilburn want a Work Capability Assessment within the next few months — i.e, befor Maximus take over from Atos — the appointment has to be in one of those far-flung places.

So, it would seem that if the claimant manages somehow to get to an appointment in such a far flung place at a time as early as 08:30, they could be deemed ‘fit for work’; and if they make the attempt out of desperation to get there for that time and fail, they would be deemed to have failed to attend and thus would be denied ESA.

Whatever happened to Government assurances that the most vulnerable people would be protected in the face of welfare reforms intended to weed out ‘shirkers’?



Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Debunking unemployment stats crap

By Dude Swheatie of Kwug

Thanks to retired London south Bank Uni social policy researcher Anne Gray for pointer to Wednesday's Guardian print edition story Jobcentre 'hit squads' set up claimants to fail, says former official: Bosses accused of setting targets for sanctions, while unscrupulous staff targeted weak and vulnerable customers. That story went out online on Tuesday 20 January.

It seems that 'only following orders' civil dis-servants kowtowing to unscrupulous elected and unelected liars who always say that they are protecting the vulnerable and deny the existence of taregets for benefit sanctions set in motion the benefit sanctions that have previously been reported on on this blog and on Kate Belgrave's blog. Well, would you believe it?
;-)

And lo and behold, it seems that Thursday's print edition of the Guardian will have a story (uploaded online today) about a slump in companies hiring for new jobs in the UK — UK unemployment falls but hiring spree stalls to 15-month low: Number of unemployed fell by 58,600 to 5.8% but rate of decline is slowest since July.

So if any parliamentary candidates try to convince you that 'austerity' is really instituting national economic recovery, perhaps you might like to leave them wishing they had been better informed?

And you might ask them to consider that those who are most insistent upon representing benefit claimants as having a lifestyle of 'swinging the lead' and 'a drain on the public purse' might in fact be ruthlessly 'swinging the lead' themselves while financially abusing economically vulnerable folk without compunction?

Related items


March for Homes, 31/01/2015

From Sarah Hatch of South London People's Assembly

You may by now have heard through the Radical Housing Network that Defend Council Housing and South London People's Assembly have called a London-wide housing demonstration: the March For Homes. We believe this is desperately needed to highlight the case for really affordable homes in London at a time when Council homes are being demolished and replaced by luxury flats, private rents are sky high and no-one on an average wage could possibly afford to buy a family home.

Our aim is to bring as many campaigns as possible together on one demonstration, putting the housing crisis at the centre of the political debate and giving confidence to all those fighting for housing justice. We want to unite public sector tenants with private sector tenants, trade unionists, housing workers and claimants all together on the March For Homes. We hope that by coming together it will help us to raise the confidence of all and at the same time demonstrate that government policy, not benefit claimants or migrant workers are to blame for the housing crisis. This will be a welcome intervention during the run up to the general election.

Our demands will include:
  • Stop demolition of quality council homes
  • Control Rents
  • Cut rents not benefits
  • End Bedroom Tax and welfare caps
  • Secure tenancies for all
  • Build new council houses

The details of the march are:
Assemble 12 midday Saturday 31st January
St Mary’s Churchyard, Newington Butts,
SE1 6SQ (Elephant and Castle tube/rail)
March to City Hall

We are asking everyone who can to support the march on the day, and also in the run-up by helping us spread the word about it. Any supporting campaigns can be included on our website and the flyers, which will be updated with each print run, so please let us know if you would like to be included.

In addition, if you know of any campaigns or activists who we might not have reached, please share this information with them.

If you have any suggestions or questions or would like to get involved in organising the march please get in touch with myself, or Tanya at Southwark DCH (southwarkdch@gmail.com).

Best wishes,
Sarah Hatch
Secretary, South London People's Assembly
 
Swheatie notes: both sides of the Thames are on the agenda of global investors. North & South London unite?

From Women with Visible and Invisible Disabilities

Campaigners in Hammersmith & Fulham win
 free homecare!
wv1.jpg
Legal challenge at the High Court in 2008
 
Congratulations to Hammersmith & Fulham Coalition Against Cuts (HAFCAC) – disabled and older people win free homecare!

HAFCAC won the commitment from the recently-elected Labour council to abolish homecare charges – a “tax on disability” -- from April 2015, paid for by cutting the council’s PR budget.  People are hopeful that also, for homecare workers, the London living wage will be guaranteed, going against zero-hour contracts and also improving quality of care.  We can all use this to press our local councils – yes, they can make it free without cutting people in need!

Kevin Caulfield, Chair of HAFCAC, said: 
We have campaigned hard for eight years against this unfair tax on disabled people just for having our needs met. Every other non-disabled Hammersmith & Fulham resident would view it as an absolute violation of their human rights if they had to pay an invoice from the council before they could use the toilet, get washed and engage in day to day activities. We are over the moon to have a Council that now understands that”.
See council press release and Video of the announcement at a packed meeting
WinVisible supported the legal challenge in 2008-9 brought by Debbie Domb, Dulce Sobral and Moses Bushiwa (see photo).  This focussed on how homecare charges discriminate against women (the majority of homecare users, especially older women), disabled people and people of colour. 

Debbie says:
“I was one of the people who took the Conservative council to court in 2008, over their reintroduction of homecare charging after an explicit manifesto pledge not to. The case went all the way to appeal, but ultimately was lost. We were disproportionately affected by cuts disguised as 'efficiencies' in Cameron's favourite borough, as policies were road-tested prior to being rolled out nationwide. Because HAFCAC was a self-funding grassroots campaign group we weren't beholden to anyone, so were able to develop good working relationships with various organisations including the Labour group in opposition on the council. The announcement on 3 December that homecare charging would be abolished, marks another development in that relationship. H&F is no longer a borough that puts disabled residents last.”
WinVisible adds: Only two councils in England do not charge, the other is Tower Hamlets.  In Camden, the Labour council are implementing more cuts, and bill us for homecare before people have had a chance to send in their disability expenses – this contravenes Dept of Health rules which say that each person’s individual expenses should be taken into account before charging.  We’ll use the victory in H&F to challenge Camden‘s charges.

HAFCAC and WinVisible together have opposed acceptance of charging by disability and older people’s organisations, opposing their support for the Care Act’s lifetime £72,000 “cap on charges”.  The Care Act widens the policy that everyone should pay for their own care; increases privatisation & brings other changes which undermine the Welfare State.  The cap on charges does nothing to end homecare charges from our disability benefits.
 

WinVisible Self-Help Benefit Rights Sheet now available

From Women with Visible and Invisible Disabilities

Our updated & expanded
Self-help benefit rights sheet is ready!
wv2.jpg
Rights info and helpful suggestions about how to defend your  benefits, housing and other entitlements:
Council Tax    Bedroom tax
● People in private rented accommodation
● Universal Credit – is it coming in?
● Challenging benefit sanctions
● Sickness and disability benefits
● Debt advice
The best-known advice agencies mainly tell people how to comply with the new rules. Most don’t give us the information we need to fight our cases. The information here comes from sharing our practical experience with other grassroots groups, claimants, anti-poverty, single mums, tenants’ rights and disability campaigners, and a few lawyers bringing legal challenges.
This Benefit self-help rights sheet (and printable 18-page pdf attached to this email) is expanded from our 2013 self-help info. It was put together mostly through a huge voluntary effort. WinVisible put in many days on behalf of the community campaign for everyone’s entitlement and against “welfare reform”. Thanks to all the claimants, campaigners, advisers, lawyers who contributed their experiences, expertise and leaflets! 
Women who used the rights info say:
“I got a letter from Atos telling me not to come to the exam, I think this may be down to the MP's letter, ain’t that great, thanks it’s all down to your advice.”
“I actually did not get a form for ESA reassessment this summer, even though I had no confirmation of receipt of the letter we wrote.  It just didn't turn up and consequently I have been able to have a summer without hospitalisation for the first time in three years. So that is fantastic news and I am immensely grateful.”



What's in a name? How about 'Global Guardians'

While some people like to think of social justice and protecting the planet, that does not seem to this blogger what Global Guardians is about.

The first linked photo in a slideshow on their website, 'The vacant property experts', produces this linked page — Property Owners. What do you think about that? Who do they really want to be of service to? Will it serve the local economy or absentee landlords who could be as remote and uninterested in UK social justice as the Far Eastern 'global investors' that xenophobic political parties seem to never mutter a word about?

LGA info toward questions for 2015 General Election candidates

Local Government Association info toward questions for 2015 General Election candidates

By Dude Swheatie of Kwug

While it might be difficult to facilitate real safe contact between some parliamentary candidates and benefit claimants through getting candidates to stand with us in our solidarity visits to jobcentres and such places where poor people are not properly served, Revd Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty has written Lord Heseltine regarding what is really going on. A brief extract from that letter in response to Heseltine's argument that Church of England Archbishops have spoken out unwisely against UK poverty may help to inform and provide food for parliamentary candidates' thought.

The Local Government Association recommended in January 2015 that the next government;

  1. Fully fund council tax support, acknowledging that the scheme to date has taken millions of pounds out of funding for council services, and has increased the cost of living for some of the poorest.
  2. Analyse the combined impact of all welfare reforms, including council tax support, at a local level, publish the results of this work, and take this impact into account in any future welfare reforms, and future local government funding settlements.
Trying to extract any tax from £72.40 adult unemployment benefit was doomed to failure from the start so; it results in a cut in local authority funding because it cannot be collected. All unemployed adults receive £72.40 or less while Children’s and disability benefits are added; when a disabled person fails the Work Capability Assessment their income is reduced to £72.40; there are 4.1 million benefit claimants affected (3). Since April 2013 many benefit claimants have had to pay rent and council tax out of that £72.40; (3)


Ask General Election questions of candidates now!

Since the 2010 General Election, how many times
have you wished you'd been better informed?

Seize the Moment: Pose and post General Election 2015 questions for candidates now!

Introduction

Where do our various local parliamentary candidates stand on issues affecting the unemployed, 'underemployed' and urban poor in Kilburn?
  • Do these candidates understand the extent and causes of poverty and deprivation and the local housing crisis?
  • Do they realise that a lot of people's votes hang on their attitudes to issues around benefits, poverty and housing? 
 They will only do so if people let them know. The more people that write to their local candidates, the higher these issues could appear on their election agendas.

It's generally more effective to write a letter than to send an email. Where a postal address is not given for a candidate, you could either send a letter as an attachment or email asking for a postal address.

Here are the details of known candidates for Brent Central and Hampstead & Kilburn. If you live outside these constituencies or aren't sure which you are in, just go to https://yournextmp.com/ and enter your postcode. This will tell you your constituency name and give a list of known candidates, with email addresses and websites. The websites tell us what these individual candidates think is important. Responding to something they have said is a good basis for a letter.

Hampstead and Kilburn

Labour Party:  Tulip Siddiq

Postal address: Tulip Siddiq,Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party,288 Kilburn High Road,
NW6 2DB
Electronic contact button at http://www.tulipsiddiq.com/
Email: C/o Oliver Denton AT gmail.com>
Office phone number is: 020 3441 7676
Read what she has to say in her blog.

Green Party of England & Wales: Rebecca Johnson

Email: rej AT acronym.org.uk.
Read what she has to say here: http://camden.greenparty.org.uk/candidates/rebecca-johnson-for-hampstead-and-kilburn.html

Liberal Democrats: Maajid Nawaz

Postal address: Maajid Naza, c/o 242 Webheath Community Workshop, Netherwood Street, London, NW6 2JX.
Email: MaajidNawazHK AT gmail.com

Conservative Party; Simon Marcus

Postal address: Simon Marcus, Hampstead Conservatives, 1a Heath Hurst Road, London NW3 2RU
Read what he has to say here: http://www.hampsteadandkilburn.org/simon-marcus

Brent central

Labour:  Dawn Butler: 

Postal address: Dawn Butler, Labour Party Office, Union Road, Wembley HA0 4AU
Email: dawn4brentcentral AT gmail.com
See what she is campaigning for at: http://www.dawnbutler.org.uk/

Green Party of England & Wales: Shahrar Ali of Brent Green Party

Postal address: Shahrar Ali, PO Box 54785, London NW9 1FL.
Email: shahrar.ali AT greenparty.org.uk.
Read what he has to say here: http://greenparty.org.uk/people/shahrar-ali.html and at http://shahrarali.net/

Liberal Democrats: Ibrahim Taguri:

Postal address: Ibrahim Taguri, Brent Liberal Democrats, 70 Walm Lane, Willesden Green, London NW2 4RA.
Email: ibrahim AT ibrahimtaguri.com
Read his website at http://www.ibrahimtaguri.com/

Conservatives: Alan Mendoza

Postal address: Alan Mendoza, 60 Neasden Lane, London NW10 2UW.
Read his background here : http://conservativehome.blogs.com/centreright/alan-mendoza.html

Saturday, 17 January 2015

JobCentre performance targets and benefit sanctions

With the aid of jobcentre whistleblowers, BBC Radio 4 programme 'File on 4' will be addressing the matter of benefit sanctions and how Government is 'swinging the lead' in cutting the numbers of people unemployed and claiming benefits.
Benefit sanctions are supposed to be part of a system helping people back to work. But critics say they penalise the vulnerable and are among the reasons for the growing use of food banks. So how fair is the Government's system of withholding state payments for those who don't comply with welfare rules? Allan Urry hears from whistleblowers who allege some JobCentrePlus staff are setting claimants up to fail in order to meet internal performance targets. Why did a recovering amputee lose his benefits because he didn't answer the phone?
Reporter: Allan Urry Producer: Nicola Dowling.
The programme will be available shortly after broadcast.

A hint for emailing named BBC staff: The email addresses follow the pattern of
Fistname.Lastname AT bbc.co.uk



Thursday, 15 January 2015

Brent's housing policy under fire

By Dude Swheatie of the KUWG

Who and what does Brent's council leader really represent? Here are some placard designs on that theme, focused on housing issues.
Mo Butt Style Social Cleansing is not uplifting for poor folk

Mo Butt Style social cleansing gives power to property investors' cranes


Mo Butt Style Social Cleansing curbs social housing


Some seasonal housing-related placards

By Dude Swheatie of the KUWG

The placard designs here were all approved at KUWG's 18 December 2014 meeting.

Freeze rents and insulate homes
Will energy company shareholders be rubbing their hands to keep them warm in this winter freeze with under-investment in insulation, or will they be rubbing their hands with glee?

Councils' bad advice roots out poor folk
In times of cuts to legal aid, councils are colluding with central governments war on social housing through stating council policy as tenants' options, Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group and associated campaigners are discovering.
Social Housing enriches social mix
One of the most obnoxious reasons stated for gentrification of areas such as South Kilburn and Tottenham is that by evicting poorer people, prospects for riots are diminshed by increasing the average earnings of the area, Swheatie has heard. Meanwhile, Brent Housing Partnership [sic] seems hell bent on the destruction of the South Kilburn Estate.
More low-build, more solar panels
A focus on high-rise is bad for the climate. We need more low-build instead. How about a greater sharing of the earth's resources?