Posts Tagged ‘Jobcentre Plus’

Vote for Corbyn to Stop the Work Capability Tests

June 8, 2017

This is the text of another of my table-top pamphlets, this time against the notorious Work Capability Tests. These were also introduced by New Labour at the behest of Unum and other private healthcare providers.

These are not objective tests to assess who is well enough to support themselves. They are simply a callous, bureaucratic mechanism for throwing people with disability off the benefits they need to support themselves. These have included severely disabled people, including terminal cancer patients in comas!

This iniquitous system has been retained and expanded by the Tories – David Cameron and his Lib Dem lackey, Nick Clegg, and now Theresa May.

It is killing people. As I’ve mentioned far too many times before, about 600 + people have died in misery and despair after having their benefit withdrawn due to these tests. Stilloaks, Johnny Void, Mike at Vox Political and DPAC have put together lists and videos putting names to faces, to show the human reality of these statistics – whose mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters were killed thanks to the Thatcherite insistence of cutting down on welfare.

The number of people, who have died after having been assessed as ‘fit for work’ is well above ten thousand, though the true figure may never be known. Mike and the other disability activists, who tried to get the figures were blocked by IDS and the DWP at every turn when they tried to get them.

Jeremy Corbyn has also promised to end workfare.

So vote for him. Don’t let the Tories kill more disabled people under the pretence of saving money.

Stop the Work Capability Test –
Before More People Die

by David Sivier

One of the very worst policies introduced by various governments as part of their campaigns to dismantle the welfare state over the past decade has been the Work Capability Test. This was introduced by New Labour in October 2008 along with a new benefit for the disabled and long-term sick, the Employment Support Allowance, which replaced Incapacity Benefit. The Work Capability Test is intended to show if the person claiming benefit really cannot work. It consists of questionnaire, in which boxes are to be ticked in answer to particular questions about the claimant’s health and disability. 2Ten of these tests were on the claimant’s physical health, and another ten are on their ‘mental, cognitive and intellectual’ fitness. There may also be a brief physical examination. The tests are performed by medical doctors working on behalf of a government outsourcing company. This was given to the French company, Atos, but the company was forced to terminate its contract a year early in 2014 following public anger at the system’s incompetence and maladministration. The contract was then given to an American company, Maximus. The tests may be repeated as often as the JobCentre Plus decides. If the disabled person scores low in the tests, they are judged fit for work. They lose their ESA and are told to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The tests are based on a monograph, The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Beneft, by Gordon Waddell and Mansel Aylward, of 2005 and a succeeding work, Is Work Good for Your Health and Wellbeing? By Gordon Waddell and Kim Burton. They were also strongly influenced by a 2001 New Labour conference, in which Aylward was a contributor, Malingering and Illness Deception. These led in turn to the publication of a Green Paper in 2006, A New Deal for Welfare: empowering people to work – an independent assessment of the arguments for the proposed Incapacity Benefit reform. Both Waddell and Aylward were professors at the Unum Provident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University, which was funded by the American insurance giant from 2004-9. The Work Capability Test uses a form of Bio-Psychosocial model of assessment, developed in America by Unum Provident. This model of assessment is considered to have been devised by George Engel in 1977. In 2006 a paper produced by Professor Christopher Butler and his colleagues attacked the model as ‘wanting’ and inadequate. Waddell and Aylward’s 2006 paper has also been attacked and discredited by Emeritus Professor Alison Ravetz.

Unum, and pseudo-medical testing actually became part of the disability benefits system twelve years or so prior to the Waddell and Aylward’s paper, in 1993, when the-then Conservative Health Secretary, Peter Lilley, introduced tougher testing designed to evaluate whether claimants were totally incapable of work. They had previously been awarded benefit if they were unable to do their job. Lilley considered that this approach was to open to sentimental interference by doctors, and so set up an ‘Incapacity benefit medical valuation group’, whose members included Dr John Le Cascio, the second vice-president of Unum Corporation. Lo Cascio had recently been seconded to its British branch, Unum Ltd, based in Dorking in Surrey. In 1994 Lo Cascio was appointed to train the British doctors charged with carrying out the tests by the Benefits Agency Medical Services. New Labour claimed that the purpose of the Work Capability Tests has been ‘to get people back into work’. This was always a misleading claim. New Labour had a ten-year plan to remove one million people from the 2.8 million receiving disability benefits. Their Secretary of State for Health declared ‘We know that being in work can be good for your wellbeing’, echoing the title of the paper by Waddell and Burton. 13 Years before that, Lilley introduced the tests with the aim of cutting £2 billion from the benefits bill.

And Unum itself regarded the benefit cuts as a great commercial opportunity. In their report in 1994, Chairman Ward E. Graffam was enthusiastic about ‘exciting developments in Britain’, saying ‘the impending changes to the State ill-health benefits system heralded in the November 1993 Budget will create unique sales opportunities across the entire disability market and we will be launching a concerted effort to harness the potential in these.’

Atos immediately decided that three-quarters of those in receipt of benefit were fit for work.16 Between the introduction of the tests in October 2008 and February 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions made over 1.36 million decisions on whether to award ESA following the administration of the tests on claimants. It declared 794,000 sick and disabled people ‘fit for work’. From the very beginning, the tests were criticised as being vastly inaccurate, and the treatment of claimants under it as cruel and degrading. ‘We Are
Spartacus’, a network of disability researchers and campaigners, denounced the way claimants were ‘wrongly assessed, humiliated and badly treated’. In response to repeated requests by disability campaigners, the DWP finally released the figures for the number of people dying over 11 months in 2011 while in receipt of ESA. 10,600 people in total had died. Of these, 1,300 had died after being taken off benefit following the decision that they were ‘fit to work’. Some of the people, who have died, committed suicide in despair at having their income terminated. One of these was a 47 year old man, who took a drug overdose. Others experienced a deterioration in their mental health due to the stress of assessment. Between 2008 and 2014, there were 600,000 appeals. This constitutes a third of all assessments, and in 2012-13 there were 465,000 appeals, with a success rate of 39 per cent. In some areas, lawyers had a success rate of over 80 per cent overturning decision by Atos against the claimant receiving benefits. 60 per cent of those, who had successfully appealed had scored zero. That is, Atos had declared them entirely fit for work. In 2013, however, the Conservative government took the decision to end legal aid for claims for welfare payment, which meant that fewer people would be able to afford to take the government to court.

In America, Unum Provident was fined $31.7 million in a class action lawsuit in California in 2003 for running ‘disability denial factories’. Two years later in 2005, John Garamendi, the California Department Insurance Commissioner, fined the company $15 million, declaring ‘Unum Provident is an outlaw company. It is a company that has operated in an illegal fashion for years’. The insurance commissioners of 48 American states had made a settlement with the company by 2006 that required it to review 200,000 claims and pay a $15 million fine. In 2008 the American Association of Justice declared that the company was the second most discredited insurance provider in America.

Despite public anger at Atos’ conduct of the Work Capability Test for ESA, the government in 2012 awarded the company another contract, worth over £400 million, for assessing whether disabled people were suitable for the Personal Independence Payment that was scheduled to replace the Disability Living Allowance in 2013. The Disability Living Allowance provided the handicapped with up to £130 per week to help them look after themselves. This was mostly awarded to help people cook, wash, and assist those with mobility problems. In the three years from April 2013 to 2016, this is to be phased out and replaced with the PIP, which is designed to get people back into work. The government was determined to cut spending on the PIP by twenty per cent during these three years, after the number claiming DLA rose by 30 per cent to 3.2 million people between 2002 and 2011. This was expected to throw 500,000 people off disability benefit.

As with their administration of the ESA fitness to work tests, Atos has proved to be less than efficient in its administration of the PIP. Those applying for the benefit may have to wait months before being notified that they are entitled. The cancer charity, MacMillan Cancer Support, stated that there were serious delays in the approval of payments. As well as leaving the terminally ill without this benefit, it also meant that they were unable to claim other vital benefits with which PIP was linked. As a result, some were forced in their desperation to take out loans from payday loan companies, which have a truly exorbitant interest rate. The number of problems with ESA dealt with by Citizens Advice rose by 54 per cent from 2011 to 2012, when the bureaux dealt with 450,000 of them.

Paul Farmer, the head of the mental health charity, Mind, criticised the tests for failing to consider the effects of mental health on people’s ability to work. In an interview with the Guardian in 2012, he said

The system is based on assumptions that claimants need to be forced back to work, rather than supported on their own terms, and that those not well enough to go back to work are somehow perceived as scroungers. These attitudes only serve to further damage individuals’ mental health and increase the time until they may be ready to return to work.

Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of Scope, another disability charity, stated that the tests ‘should be more than an exercise in getting people of benefits. It should make sure disabled people get the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need to find and keep a job.’ The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee condemned the tests, stating that the system was so flawed it needed to be completely overhauled.

Guy Standing in his A Precariat Charter states that governments have been able to cut benefits for the disabled far more than for other groups, because they are a minority and so there is likely to be fewer objections to their treatment and lost votes. He also recommends that any firm hired by the government to provide services for the disabled should be bound by three commitments. The first should be to the disabled themselves; the second should be to the government; and the third should be to the whole of society, as the rest of us could be next. The employment contract awarded to such outsourcing firms should include penalty clauses requiring them to compensate the disabled claimant directly when they do not award them the correct benefits. This compensation should be much more than the benefits the disabled person did not receive. They should also be penalised for their mistakes. This would be a start, but it is not enough. The problem lies not with the companies administering the tests, but with the whole system of tests itself. The cause of the problem is attitude of successive governments, from John Major’s Conservatives, through Blair and Brown’s New Labour and then the Conservative-led governments of David Cameron, that the disabled should automatically have their benefits reduced, regardless of the poverty and hardship involved. The goal should be to provide benefits to support the poor and disabled, rather than cuts intended to reduce the tax burden for the rich. The Work Capability Test and the poverty and stress it inflicts should be stopped. Now.

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Vox Political: Racist DWP Official Calls Single Mum ‘Scrounging B*****d’

August 5, 2016

This is really appalling. Mike has put up a piece about an article in the Canary about the way a woman was left an abusive message on her answerphone by a member of the DWP, after she contacted them to see what benefits were available. The woman, Cecilia Garcia, has dual Mexican-British citizenship, and had worked in finance. All three of her children were born in Britain. However, her marriage had broken up and she was having trouble paying the rent, so she contacted her local Jobcentre Plus office in Bromley.

Her call was answered by Ann Goode, who left her abusive message on the answerphone because she had not realised that she hadn’t rung off after leaving her intended reply to Garcia. She was then heard discussing the case with a colleague, in which she said that she believed Garcia was probably claiming benefits up to £1,000 a month, commented that neither of Mrs Garcia’s names were English, and stated that she resented having on her caseload a ‘scrounging b*****d who’s popping out kids like pigs’.

Mike comments that at a time when our politicians are under heavy scrutiny and strongly criticised for prejudice against individuals because of race, sex, disability, sexual orientation or their religion, this shows that DWP officials are getting away with it. He also makes the point that this is not the first time it’s happened, and warns people to watch how May’s government will sweep this under the carpet.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/05/dwp-worker-calls-a-mum-of-three-a-scrounging-bd-on-answerphone/

I’m really not surprised by this incident. Unfortunately, hostility and prejudice towards claimants is now built into the system. Blair’s New Labour was convinced that a vast proportion of disabled people claiming benefits or the long term sick were malingerers, and showed the same attitude as the Tories to cutting benefits in order to force people back into work. Thatcher was very keen on the old Victorian idea of ‘less eligibility’ – making benefits so hard and unpleasant that it would deter people from seeking help, and more or less said so in so many words. As a result, there is a harsh indifference and indeed even hostility to claimants within the DWP. And the bile and recriminations aren’t just confined to them. Whistleblowers have also said that because of poor pay and conditions, and the threat of unemployment as DWP bosses like Iain Duncan Smith consider further ways of reducing staff, there is an atmosphere of backbiting and treachery amongst the department’s civil servants.

The Department desperately needs reforming, as at the moment it is very definitely not ‘fit for purpose’. But don’t expect this from Theresa May’s new, so-called ‘caring’ Tory administration. She is just going to carry on Cameron’s – and Thatcher’s policies, which massively reward the rich and impoverish the rest of us.

Owen Smith’s Rhetoric of Domestic Abuse

July 25, 2016

Mike also put up another piece on Owen Smith rhetoric and demeanour as he launched a campaign against misogyny, following the comments of one of his readers, who had been a victim for ten years of domestic abuse. Owen Smith pledged Labour to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on misogyny. To show the current double standards in the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn was vilified when he promised that Labour would end workplace discrimination.

In fact, as Mike shows, Smiff himself has previous on what some would regard at sexism. He told one of the female regulars on Question Time that she was only there because of her gender. But Mike’s female commenter picked up on the language he uses to denigrate and demean Corbyn. She states that after undergoing a 12 week course to deal with the effects of the decade-long abuse she suffered from her partner, she found that Smiff fits the profile of one type of domestic abuser: the headworker. This is the person, who constantly wears down his victim’s sense of self-worth, by telling them that they’re worthless, and using that insult to justify his assaults on them.

To test this analysis, Mike supplies a sample of Smiff’s comments about Corbyn, to see if they fit this profile. They do. They are all just remarks about how useless he is, and how unfit he is to lead the party, without any substance behind them. Mike also checks to see what personal smears Corbyn has cast over his opponents: precisely none.

This bears out Mike’s commenter’s observations.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/23/headworker-owen-smith-resembles-domestic-violence-perpetrator/

I wonder how far this culture of New Labour bullying is the creation of Blair, Brown, Campbell and Mandelson. Blair’s coterie was notorious for their determination to micromanage everything they could to make the Dear Leader appear popular and acclaimed, and ensure that MPs and officials were properly compliant and ‘on message’. When they went ‘off message’, as Claire Short did on numerous occasions, then they went on the personal attack, briefing against them.

I also wonder how far this is due to a general culture of bullying within a middle class marked with a very strong sense of entitlement. David Cameron, for example, claimed that he wasn’t a toff, but a member of the ‘sharp-elbowed middle class’, who were determined to get all they could. It was a risible claim, as Cameron is demonstrably a toff. He can’t remotely be described as ‘middle class’, except in so far as that term also describes the haute bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, this is a class that feels that it has an absolute right to rule, and to bully those it considers a threat. You consider the sheer venom Peter Lilley, the former Tory Secretary of State for Welfare, and the right-wing press has for ‘benefit scroungers’. The signing-on at the Jobcentre Plus for Jobseekers’ Allowance, the Work Capability Assessment and Workfare are all forms of bullying, set up to degrade and intimidate the unemployed claimant so that they only sign on if desperate. It’s explicitly based on the Victorian doctrine of least eligibility espoused by Thatcher as one of her ‘Victorian values’. Thatcher’s regime also saw the rise of ‘macho management’, in which company officials bullied their staff in order to get their absolute obedience and raise standards. Allegedly. Thus, a couple of managers appeared in Private Eye for threatening to hang a member of staff at a branch of Asda. And I was told by a former journalist on one of the Bristol papers that the editor there would call people into his office every morning to criticise them. This was all done for no reason, except that it was supposed to make them ‘better journalists’.

That type of management went out with John Major. But I do wonder if it hasn’t left its mark in the bullying psychology of New Labour, and their absolute determination to hang on to power. New Labour won its electoral victories by appealing to middle class swing voters. Blairite MPs still talk about ‘aspirational voters’, even though for the bulk of Labour supporters this is not an issue. They just want to survive unemployment, zero hours contracts and workfare. The Tories have survived and gained their votes partly by playing on status insecurity in parts of the working and lower middle classes. They exploit the fears and snobbery of the wealthier sections of these social classes against those below them. And so you have the Tory rhetoric about ‘hardworking people’ who want to make life more miserable for the unemployed, as they don’t want to see their closed curtains when they go to work. This was reflected in the pledge of one London Blairite MP that Labour would be even harder on the unemployed than the Tories if they got into power.

That kind of rhetoric alienated Labour’s core voters, who have now returned with Jeremy Corbyn. And the entitled Blairites can’t stand it. So to hang on to power they have gone back to a Thatcherite culture of middle class bullying and abuse to keep these awkward proles in line, and stop them losing the favour of the ‘sharp-elbowed middle classes’ with whom they wish to ingratiate themselves.

Equal Lives Protest Against Sanctions Tomorrow in Norwich

April 19, 2015

DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) have announced on their website that Equal Lives are holding a demonstrations against sanctions tomorrow from 12.30-1.30 pm. at the Kiln House Jobcentre Plus in Pottergate. The notice also includes a contact email for all media inquiries.

This is right over the other side of the country to me. I wish them all the best for their demonstration, and hope they get the point across that sanctions are destroying lives. We have regularly seen the news of yet another poor soul, who has starved to death, or committed suicide due to the deprivation and misery built into Iain Duncan Smith’s wretched welfare reforms. Stilloaks, Tom Pride, Johnny Void, Mike over at Vox Political, myself and many others have posted the lists and biographies of some of those, who have died. The last time I counted it was over 40. It’s gone way beyond that by now. Mike over at Vox Political has estimated that at least 52,000 people are dying per year due to IDS, Cameron, Clegg and their vile chequebook genocide of the poor, the sick and the disabled.

And the Conservatives and their Lib Dem collaborators have even demonstrated their complete lack of shame or self-awareness by using the infamous words above Auschwitz, ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, ‘Work Makes You Free’, in their self-serving articles justifying workfare and sanctions.

The time is long past that they were gone. Vote them out and make sure they stay out on May 7.

Links to the Invitations to Tender for Workfare

April 30, 2014

Jess has kindly provided the links to Jobcentre Plus for the invitations to tender for the new Workfare contracts around Britain and in East London:

‘The tender invitations for workfare in E London!

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/local-partnership-opportunities-with-jobcentre-plus

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/244966/jcp-opp-hackney-borough.pdf’

The first actually gives you the contact and tender invitation documents for a number of regions up and down the country, including the North and Wales. I’m putting them up in case anyone wants to examine these documents to tackle how the government is presenting this new assault on the liberty and dignity of the poor and unemployed. They also give the contact details of the individuals operating the tender process, if anyone wants to contact them to protest about the policy. If you, please be polite and don’t make any threats. It’s the system we want to bring down, rather than simply intimidating people. Besides, it’s counterproductive. Any threats made will be used by the government to prevent further information about workfare and the companies using it from reaching the public, as well as justify further infringements of civil liberties.

Mrs Smith – Another Victim of the Government’s Welfare ‘Reforms’

March 1, 2014

MrsSmith, a commenter on Mike’s blog, Vox Political, posted her description of the way she had disappeared from the sickness/ disability statics, in a comment to my piece on the Conservatives, Immigration and the Nazis, which Mike had reblogged. She said

I have ME/severe depression and been on Incapacity benefit for several years, then ESA. The ESA ran out after 12 months (February 2013)but before then, I had a head injury and developed eyesight problems. Completed another ESA50 form in December 2012, finally lost at appeal in December 2013. Not had any money since February 2013 and not entitled to anything else. Had to sign on for JSA in January 2014 but JCplus refused to take my claim because I was too ill to work! Currently not sick enough for ESA (according to DWP) but too sick for JSA (according to DWP). I’ve been ‘disappeared’ from the figures.

This poor lady is caught in a Catch 22 condition: she too ill to work, but officially not ill enough to receive benefits. It’s a brilliant example of this government’s ‘joined-up thinking’, and the way their programme of cutting welfare spending is cruelly punishing the poor and the sick. As one of the ministers stated on the parliamentary debate over the WoW petition Mike covered earlier in the week, the 2 per cent of the population, who are disabled are subjected to 15 per cent of the cuts.

Wandererwrites on Poor Computers and the Stress of Sanctions at the Jobcentre

February 25, 2014

Wanderwrites has kindly reblogged my piece ‘Claimants Tricked Out of Benefits, Says Jobcentre Whistleblower’, and added these comments on their experience of the poor computer systems and the effect of the threat of sanctions on claimants at the Jobcentre.

‘This is another video from the Guardian’s Youtube channel. It’s an expose of how the DWP has set targets to get people thrown …’

Reblogged this on The Meandering Social Worker and commented:
There was a time when the JobCentre was there to help people find jobs. When I went into my local JobCentre in the summer of 2012 to inquire about work opportunities I was pointed towards a computer terminal and told to get on with it. It was made clear this was normal practice, no additional help normally available.

The blog from Beastrabban\’s Weblog below shows comments on a Guardian report from 2011 about the practices of JobCentres. My experience from 2012 and since suggests not a lot has changed.

In my recent voluntary work in the autumn of 2013 I worked with people who are terrified of being sanctioned because they have not met JobCentre demands to apply online for a specified number of jobs every day or ever week. Some of these applications often have to be made online via a specific website the JobCentre can access to track claimants’ activity. The website is cumbersome to use and prone to faults. It doesn’t matter if the claimant has never used a computer before, or even if they know how to turn a computer one let alone access the internet, let alone cope with clunky inadequate jobsearch websites. It doesn’t matter that many online applications can take an hour to complete for even the most competent computer user. They still have to achieve the target of job applications using a system with which they are either unfamiliar or not confident. There is no support or sympathy from the JobCentre. Instead the claimants are expected to enlist the help of friends or family who are more familiar with computers and the internet if that’s possible, or find their way to public internet cafes (where these still exist and can become quite expensive); the alternative option of using UK Online Centres are usually most easily found in libraries where they are over-subscribed and time limited to an hour (not enough to fill in a job application with ASDA which takes an hour and a half for someone experienced at using the internet – I tried it) and with only the minimum of help and advice available. In larger towns the voluntary sector is filling in the gap with UK Online provisions but funding is poor and dependent on volunteers.

Meanwhile a whole industry has been created out of this situation. Private agencies who are publicly funded provide work related training, the better ones having offices where clients can access the internet for job searches.

But the greatest damage is in the stress caused by fear of sanctions. In some people their stress levels have become so high it has blocked their capacity to learn even the simplest of things.

Stress can do that. It can block the ability to learn. I’ve been there myself, in a particularly stressful work situation where I was conscious of the fact that while I could continue to function on a day to day basis I was completely incapable of learning from new experiences or even make the best use of ‘reflective’ learning.

I’ve also seen the effect in others when I worked with refugees from war torn countries: intelligent men (and some women) whose terrible memories and experiences were so overpowering they struggled to learn new skills that would help them settle in their new environment (this effect was well known at the time but I will have to find the links to any further evidence and add it here later – in the meantime there is reference to the effect of stress on learning at http://www.trainingplace.com/source/stress.html).

Targets and sanctions are the tools of the neoliberal, capitalist, managerialist, society and work environment that has been created over the last couple of decades. But it’s not effective. The weakest and more vulnerable, the already disempowered, are the victims of this society we have created. And it’s time we spoke up about the effect this is having.

There is absolutely nothing I can add to that.

Their website is The Meandering Social Worker, at http://themeanderingsocialworker.wordpress.com/.

Claimants Tricked Out of Benefits, Says Jobcentre Whistleblower

February 23, 2014

This is another video from the Guardian’s Youtube channel. It’s an expose of how the DWP has set targets to get people thrown off Jobseekers’ Allowance. These revelations are made by a whistleblower, whose face is naturally shadowed and voice disguised. He states that there is competition between departments and offices to have the most people thrown off benefits. According to the Jobcentre employee, the staff have two option available for getting someone off benefits: either find them a job, ‘which is really difficult’, or have them thrown off benefits ‘which is really easy’. He states that the DWP deliberately targets the young, because of their lack of maturity and experience, the under-educated, and those with problems reading and writing, such as sufferers from dyslexia. They will not try to remove the tough and experienced from the benefits system.

Mike over at Vox Political has described Atos and the Coalition as bullies. This is exactly what they are, and a large portion of the staff of the DWP and Jobcentres. They are cowards who deliberately pick on the poor and weak, and fear the tough and potentially violent.

The Guardian journos also talk to the Jobcentre’s victims, young men and women, who have been sanctioned for a variety of trivial, and even irrelevant reason. One young woman was sanctioned simply for not applying for the required number of jobs that week. Another young man was sanctioned because his interview at the Jobcentre was interrupted by a fire alarm. The Jobcentre said they’d send him the forms. They did, but they arrived after the deadline set for sending them in, so he was sanctioned.

These people also talk about the real, human cost of being sanctioned. The Whistleblower himself describes a person, who was beaten up because he couldn’t pay back someone from whom he’d borrowed money. Other unemployed speakers describe how they could not complete courses because they could not afford the CRB check, or have been made homeless and are forced to sleep on the floors of friends.

Also interviewed are the staff of a Citizens’ Advice Bureau. They state, amongst other things, that the number of people coming to them for help has vastly increased. Whereas they used to get 80 to 100 letters a week, now they’re getting about 160, if I’ve heard that correctly. They state quite clearly that the amount of work has increased by 200-300 per cent. The video was made in 2011. It can only have increased even further now.

If this iniquitous and exploitative system were not enough, the government and local authorities are now trying to close down the CABs, which are frequently people’s first line of defence in these issues.

The video can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XLgg75stn4

Here’s the video:

Jeremy Hardy at the Anti-Atos Demonstrations at the London Paralympics

February 23, 2014

I’ve reblogged Mike’s article from Vox Political stating very clearly that Atos’ complaints about the death threats endured by its staff are an insult compared to the thousands that have been killed by having their benefit removed by the company. Mike compares the company to a bully, which, having had his victims turn round and stand up to him, runs snivelling to an even bigger bully – the government. This is precisely the correct description of the tactics and mentality of the Coalition, the DWP and Atos towards the unemployed and disabled. Staff at the Jobcentres have similarly suffered death threats and physical attacks. I am not remotely surprised. There are some good, sympathetic people working at the Jobcentre. They are in the minority. As a rule, the staff bully and intimidate claimants with the explicit purpose of removing them from the dole as quickly as possible. It is no wonder then that the poor and desperate should resort in turn to abuse and violence. Despite Atos’ complaints, however, there have been no reported incidence of violence against their employees, despite the fact that their decisions may have resulted in as many as 38,000 deaths per year.

Looking through the Youtube videos of anti-Atos demonstrations, I found this one from 2012 with Jeremy Hardy. Hardy’s a left-wing comedian and a long-running panellist on Radio 4’s The News Quiz. He was interviewed by the Guardian as he had joined the protests’ against Atos’ sponsorship of the Paralympics. He states that he is well aware that sportsmen and women need sponsorship, but objects to the company sponsoring the Games. He explains he dislikes them because their strategy is aimed at getting people to have very little hate those who have even less. I’d say that was a common policy of the Conservatives, particularly in the ‘mid-market’ tabloids such as the Daily Fail and the Express. These are based on getting the working and lower middle class to fear and despise the less fortunate members of those classes as a danger to them. They see them as idle scroungers, who prey on and hold back hard-working people like themselves. While there is a violent and criminal underclass in some areas, the real forces holding back the working and lower middle classes have been the Coalition’s reforms and the economic structure and constraints of post Thatcherite capitalism. Hardy also points out that many of the paralympians are so furious at Atos’ sponsorship of the Games, that they are deliberately hiding their lanyards.

Here is the video itself

The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee

February 22, 2014

1848 Revolution Germany

F.G. Nordmann: The Barricades on the Kronen- and Freidrichstrasse on the 18th March 1848 by an Eyewitness

I found this manifesto of the demands by the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee during the continental revolutions of 1848 in the ‘Vormarz’ volume of the anthologies of German literature published by Reclam. Although it was written over a century and a half ago in Germany, their demands are still acutely relevant to early 21st century Britain. Over half of the demands made by the Berlin workers have or are being attacked by the Cameron and Clegg. I thought that these demands were worth putting up here, both as an historical document showing the aspirations of 19th century German workers, and as a comment on the way the Coalition’s reactionary regime is trying to destroy everything that has been achieved to improve working peoples’ lives since then.

I last did German at school over twenty years ago, and so I apologise for my highly rocky German. If anyone with a better grasp of German than me wishes to revise some of this, let me know, and I’ll post up the original for them to see and comment on.

The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee, 18th June 1847

1. Determination of a minimum wage and working hours through a commission of workers and masters or employers.

2. Workers to unite for the maintenance of the living wage.

3. Lifting of indirect taxes, introduction of progressive incomes tax with the exemption of those, who only have life’s necessities.

4. The state to undertake free instruction, and, where it is necessary, the free education of youth with supervision for their abilities.

5. Free public libraries.

6. Regulation of the number of people learning a trade, which a master is allowed to have, through a commission of workers and employers.

7. Lifting of all exceptional laws on workers’ travel, namely those expressed in the itinerary books.
[This refers to the laws in Wilhelmine Germany limiting a worker’s ability to travel in search of work. Every worker was supposed to have a book listing his employment history. The laws were eventually abolished. The Labour Books, however, returned with the conscription of labour under the Nazis in the Third Reich.]

8. Lowering the voting age to 24.

9. Employment of the unemployed in state institutions, to which the state should provide a measure existence for their human needs.

10. Establishment of model workshops and the expansion of the already constituted public artisans’ workshops for the education of able workers.

11.The state to provide for the helpless and all invalided through work.

12. Comprehensive right to native country and freedom of movement.
[This is another attack on the laws limiting the right of workers to move around Germany. In this case, the laws that prevented them from going back to their homes.]

13. Limiting official tyranny over working people.

The above are only to be dismissed from their places through the decisive judgement of a Committee.

In its demands for commissions of workers and employers, the manifesto shows the influence of the continental system of ‘concertation’, in which both workers’ and employers’ groups are consulted and represented in governmental decision-making. It’s the type of corporativism that Edward Heath attempted to introduce into Britain in the 1970s, and which was abolished by Thatcher. What Thatcher resented was not corporativism per se, no matter what she might have said about promoting free trade, but the inclusion of workers’ groups and organisation in the process. Her government still continued to include private industry in the process of government, so that the Thatcher administration has been fairly described as ‘corporativism without the workers’.

The demands for the unemployed to be given work in state workshops, and for the establishment of model workshops, is less a demand for workhouses after the British model, than for a system of National Workshops as was proposed by the French Socialist, Louis Blanc. These were to be set up by the government, but managed co-operatively by the workers themselves. They were set up by the French government in that year, but deliberately poor funding and management by the authorities, which made the work pointless and degrading, undermined them and led to their collapse.

Now let’s see how these demands are faring under Cameron and Clegg.

1. The minimum wage and working hours. Almost from the start, the Coalition has introduced a series of measure designed to get round them. This has been done through workfare, which allows the participating firms to benefit from the unpaid labour of the unemployed; internships, where aspiring young trainees are also taken on without being paid; the new apprenticeship system, which also seems less concerned with training young workers as with allowing employers to pay them less than the minimum wage.

The zero hours system has also allowed employers to cut wages, by tying workers to their employers, who only employ them when they’re needed, and so don’t pay for them when they are not. The rest of the working population, on the other hand, has suffered from a massive expansion of the working week.

2. Union of workers for the fixed wage. Since Thatcher, successive governments have shown themselves hostile to labour unions, and have done their level best to undermine them and reduce the legislation protecting workers. New Labour in its last year or so of government repealed a vast tranche of labour legislation. The Coalition is, if anything, even more opposed to union and labour legislation, with Vince Cable sputtering all kinds of threats when the public sector unions threatened to strike a year or so ago.

3. Lifting of indirect taxes and introduction of progressive income tax. The Conservatives have hated and demanded the removal of incomes tax since the 1980s. I can remember the Sunday Times demanding the removal of incomes tax and its replacement by indirect taxes following the recommendations of the decade’s monetarist economists. Now George Osborne has raised VAT to 20 per cent, and cut incomes tax for the very right. The result has been a massive transfer of wealth from the working to the upper classes.

4. Free instruction and free education by the state. State education is something else that has been under attack by the Right since Thatcher. Milton Friedman urged the introduction of education vouchers, so that parents could have a choice between educating their children in the state or private sector. Guy Debord’s Cat has shown how Friedman’s reforms has led to massive inequalities in the Chilean educational system. Nevertheless, education vouchers were taken up by Ann Soper of the Social Democrats, amongst others.

The Coalition is intent on effectively privatising the school system, with schools taken out of the state system even when the governors themselves are opposed to the scheme. One of the left-wing blogs – I believe it may have been Another Angry Voice – also covered a school, which had effectively introduced school fees. The school was being run by an American company, which used its own, copyrighted curriculum. The company therefore charged the parents of the children at the school over £100 per year for their children’s use of the company’s curriculum materials.

5. Free public libraries. These have suffered massively under the Coalition’s ‘localism’ and ‘Big Society’ agendas. Central government funding has been cut, and libraries have been forced to close. The intention was that they should be taken over and run for free by local community groups. In fact, few groups have members with the necessary skills or experience to take over their management. Many of those that have survived have been forced to cut staff and opening hours.

8. Lowering of the voting age. This is again another hot issue, as the Scots Nationalist wish to reduce the voting age north of the border to 16. Young people tend to be more idealistic than their elders, who have had all their dreams of creating a just world hammered out of them by life. In Scotland they also tend to be more nationalistic than their elders. The Tories thus wish to keep the voting age at 18 as at present.

The Coalition have also altered the procedure for registration for voting, with what looks suspiciously like the intention to make it so complicated that many people will be unaware of the new regulations and so lose the franchise through default.

9. Employment of the unemployed in state institutions and support of their human needs. Osborne is a rabid Libertarian, and so despises any attempt by the state to directly interfere to promote growth through a programme of public works. It is nevertheless true that when the country has experienced a spurt of growth under Gideon, it’s been when he has adopted a Keynsian programme. So the modern equivalent of national workshops to provide work for the workers has been attacked and discarded by the Coalition.

There was a system of workshops like those advocated by the Berlin workers for the disabled. The Remploy workshops, however, have now been closed down by the Coalition, adding further hardship and unemployment for those with disabilities.

As for unemployment benefit, this has and continues to be savagely cut in order to create a pool of the unemployed and desperate in order to bring down wages. The result of this is that thousands have been thrown out of work and have no support due to benefit cuts and sanctions. As a result, people are being forced to use private charity and food banks. The country has therefore seen rising starvation and the return of diseases believed to have been banished since the 19th century.

10. Establishment of model workshops and the training of the able workers. The Coalition, as good Libertarians, are hostile to direct government intervention, and so have embarked on a comprehensive system of privatisation and the further undermining of workers’ employment rights. They are keen to support various training programmes for young workers, but these seem less about providing new skills, than inculcating the attitude in the unemployed that their inability to find a job is their own fault, rather than the government’s or the economy’s. As for the acquisition of new skills, this largely seems to be focused on computer literacy. This is indeed a vital skill, but it does not suit everyone and there seems to be little provision for the less academic. As for the new apprenticeship programme, this also seems simply a way to exploit trainee workers by not paying them the minimum wage. It also seems to be just another way to falsify the unemployment figures by claiming that the unemployed are in fact in work, while they are only on work placements and other temporary schemes.

11. The state to provide for the disabled. As with unemployment benefit, this is something else that has been savagely cut and undermined by the Coalition. Like the Jobcentres, Atos have been set quotas for people to be thrown off benefits by being falsely declared fit for work. The result has been a truly colossal death rate. As many as 38,000 per year may have died in poverty and hardship due to the governments cuts.

12. The right to one’s native country and freedom of movement. Britain in the 19th century did not have laws restricting workers’ freedom of movement as in Germany. However, rising housing costs and the Coalition’s cap of Housing Benefit is resulting in ‘social cleansing’, in which the poor are being forced out of more expensive, upmarket areas. This is especially true in London. Poor Black communities have been particularly hit, and there is resentment there about the way gentrification has forced them out of their neighbourhoods as these have been bought up by affluent, often extremely affluent, Whites.

13. Limitation of the tyranny of officials. Actually, the tyranny of officialdom over the unemployed has expanded massively under the Coalition. While there are genuinely understanding, caring staff at the Jobcentres, and even, surprisingly, within Atos, these are very much in the minority. Government policy is designed to make the process of signing on as humiliating and degrading as possible. Hence, you are harangued and pressured when you sign on. Many of the staff have real hate towards the unemployed. One female member of staff at one of the Jobcentres was caught on Facebook describing how she hated claimants and her joy at sanctioning them. Such abuse has been privatised under the Tories. An unemployed friend of mine has been repeatedly rung up at home by an employee of the company, that has the contract for getting him into work from the government. As a result, he is continually harangued by this clerk, who has claimed that they are somehow motivating him to find work.

As for workers only being sacked after a decisive judgement by an employment commission, Blair and New Labour did their level best to repeal these laws, and the Tories are pursuing the same policy with a vengeance. All in the interests of promoting a more fluid labour market, of course.

Many of the demands made by the Berlin workers in the 19th century, or their equivalents, are therefore under attack in Britain in the 21st century by a highly reactionary regime. Thatcher and the Libertarians looked back to the 19th century and Victorian values. As a result, post-Thatcher administrations have done much to remove the successes and advances of the 19th and early 20th centuries in improving the lives of the working and lower middle class. This is being done across the world in the name of globalisation and free trade, for the benefit of the multinationals paying the Tories and governments like them. It needs to be stopped. As Marx and Engels ended the Communist Manifesto, working people of all countries, unite!