Posts Tagged ‘Social Fund’

Is Boris Planning to Force Poor to Take Out Loans instead of Unemployment Benefit?

January 25, 2020

I realise that this may strike some people as a somewhat petty and ill-tempered overreaction to a passing comment someone made, but it’s been annoying me ever since I heard it. And I’m afraid, if it’s true, it could mean further devastating cuts to our already underfunded and dysfunctional welfare state. And it is also a revealing insight into the mean-spirited, jealous mindset of the working class Tory voter.

I was on the bus coming home yesterday when I happened to overhear the conversation from the couple on the seats immediately behind me. From the tone of their voices and their conversation, it seems they were an older couple. The man talked about how families no longer properly looked after their elderly relatives, except in places like Scotland. He said, quite rightly, that retired people also stimulated the economy by going out and having meals or a cup of coffee. That didn’t annoy me at all. What did – and it made so furious I was tempted to turn around and put the old fellow right – was his comment immediately before those. He announced that he agreed with Boris Johnson that workers like brickies – at least, that’s what I think he said – shouldn’t be given benefit when they were unemployed. They should have to take out a loan. He then went on to explain that he’d worked for a certain time without claiming his holidays. Then he was laid off. When he tried to sign on, however, he was told that by the clerk that they had received information about him which meant that he wouldn’t get any money for three weeks. Since then, he said, he always took his holidays.

I don’t know if this remark of Johnson’s is true, or where it was reported. It might be garbled rubbish, or it might be solid fact as reported by the Scum or some other Tory rag. But if it’s true, then it’s dangerous.

It should immediately be apparent how weak the man’s own argument is. Builders, like other workers, contribute to their unemployment benefit through National Insurance and their taxes. They therefore have every right to claim such benefit when they’re unemployed. The fact that the man complaining about it wasn’t is unfortunately, but irrelevant. From the sound of it, when he was laid off he was paid in lieu of the annual leave he didn’t take, and this amounted to three weeks’ worth of money. Or at least, that’s what the Jobcentre was informed or chose to assume.

This country is also suffering under a mountain of debt. The book The Violence of Austerity has an entire chapter devoted to the ‘violence of debtfare’. This debt, from student loans for education, payday loans, mortgages and so on, is not only keeping people poor, in some cases the repayments are actually making them unable to pay for necessities like food and heating. The very last thing this country needs is for more of it. But this is what this gentleman thought Johnson was advocating, and with which he agreed.

I remember the Social Fund and the way it operated in the Benefits Agency in the 1990s. Thatcher’s and Major’s governments decided to replace the system of grants that had been in place to allow claimants to buy certain necessities with a system of loans. It’s not a scheme that worked well. Some long term claimants, I’m sure, would have been better served with grants, not least because the loan system meant that money was deducted from benefit that was already supposed to be the minimum an individual could live on. The current system of loans in the welfare system has exacerbated this, so that with the repayments some people have notoriously been left with only a few pounds to last them the week. But Johnson and this idiot believe that this is acceptable.

I am also disgusted by the attitude behind these comments, though not surprised. When I was at school I remember reading letters in the local paper, The Evening Post as it then was, by people of a certain age supporting Thatcher’s cuts to unemployment and other benefits. The attitude there was that they had never had the benefit of state aid in their youth, and so the younger generation shouldn’t either. And the same attitude and argument crops up again and again whenever the Tories announce yet another round of cuts. I also think that part of the problem is that some of those with this attitude still believe that suitable work is available for everyone, somehow. They’ve benefited from the period between the Second World War and the Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister, when the government was committed to a policy of full employment. And even after that policy was abandoned, there was still the illusion of plenty of employment opportunities. I can remember trying to tell one of my co-workers how difficult I had found it to get a job after graduating university. There didn’t seem to be anything to fit my qualifications. This was also at a time when jobs were so scarce, that there were so many applicants for particular jobs that frequently prospective employers didn’t even inform you if you had been unsuccessful. But nevertheless, my coworkers were sceptical, saying ‘There are plenty of jobs in the paper’. This man clearly assumed that anyone who was laid off would find themselves new work in a relatively short space of time. But that’s no longer guaranteed.

But it’s through such selfishness and the resentment of a certain section of the working class to anyone they feel is getting more state benefits than they are, which the Tories are using to generate support for their welfare cuts.

There is no other justification. The benefit cuts and consequent tax cuts to the rich haven’t boosted the economy. Even right-wing economists now deny that trickledown – the process by which the wealth accrued to the high earners would pass down through society to those at the bottom – works or that it was even a major part of neoliberal economics in the first place. And so they try to justify their cuts with spurious morality.

And to do this, they play on the worst parts of human nature. They encourage a resentment of those they brand less deserving – Blacks and Asians, the disabled, the unemployed, and the poor in a vicious strategy of ‘divide and rule’. And the logic is used to cut benefits to their supporters. I’m sure this man would have been outraged if someone told him that his pension would now be stopped for short periods, during which he would have to take out loans. Much of the Tories’ voting constituency is over 50, and so they have been reluctant to cut their benefits and pensions. This has happened nonetheless. Austerity has already claimed the lives of thousands of senior citizens.

But this will get worse, so long as the Tories are able to utilise that selfishness, fear and resentment to turn the working class and other marginalised groups against themselves. In the end, under the Tories, they will all lose.

It’s just idiots won’t see it, so long as the Tories are able to distract them by a false claim that the benefits system is treating someone else better.

 

End Workfare Now! Part 1

June 20, 2017

This is the text of another pamphlet I wrote a year or so ago against the highly exploitative workfare industry. As the pamphlet explains, workfare, or ‘welfare to work’, is the system that provides industry with cheap, unemployed temporary labour under the guise of getting the jobless back into work by giving them work experience. If the unemployed person refuses, he or she is thrown off benefit.

These temporary jobs go nowhere, and it’s been proven that the unemployed are actually far better off looking for jobs on their own than using workfare. And it’s very similar to other systems of supposed voluntary work and forced labour, such as the labour colonies set up in Britain in 1905, the Reichsarbeitsdienst in Nazi Germany, and the use of forced labour against the ‘arbeitscheu’ – the ‘workshy’, as well as the compulsory manual labour required of all citizens in Mao’s china during the Cultural Revolution, and the Gulags in Stalin’s Russia.

Mike over at Vox Political has blogged against it, so has Johnny Void and the Angry Yorkshireman of Another Angry Voice, and many other left-wing bloggers. It’s another squalid policy which New Labour and the Tories took over from Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to get rid of the work capability tests. I hope also that under him, the Labour party will also get rid of this vile policy, so that big corporations like Poundland and supermarkets like Tesco’s will have to take on workers and pay them a decent wage, rather than exploiting desperate and jobless workers supplied by the Thatcherite corporate state.

End Workfare Now!

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. In 1979 the Tory party ranted about the need to ‘restore the will to work’. Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that ‘The Government and the vast majority of the British people want hard work and initiative to be properly rewarded and are vexed by disincentives to work’. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Vox Political, Johnny Void, Another Angry Voice, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

Those forced into workfare are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections.’ Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed. In June that year David Cameron also declared that there was a need to end ‘the nonsense of paying people more to stay at home than to get a job – and finally making sure that work really pays. Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Forced Labour for the Unemployed in History

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state
support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Weimar Germany in the 1920s and ’30s also developed a system of voluntary work to deal with the problems of mass unemployment. This was taken over by the Nazis and became compulsory for all Germans from 19-25 as the Reicharbeitsdienst, or Imperial Labour Service It was mainly used to supply labour for German agriculature. Because of its universal nature, the Reicharbeitsdienst had no stigma attached to it, and indeed was seen as part of the new, classless Germany that was being created by Hitler. In a speech to the Service’s workers, Hitler declared that there would be no leader, who had not worked his way up through their ranks. Much harsher was the Nazi’s treatment of the serially unemployed. They were declared arbeitscheu – the German word, which forms the basis of the English ‘workshy’. These individuals were sent to the concentration camps, where they were identified with a special badge on their pyjamas, just like those marking out Jews, gay men, Socialists and trade unionists, and so on.

Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The Workfare Scheme

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick. Mental health professionals – psychiatrists and psychologists, have also released reports attacking the detrimental effect the stress of these tests are having on the mentally ill. So far they have estimated that upwards of a quarter of a million people with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety have had their condition made worse – sometimes very much worse – through the stress of taking these tests.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

From 2013: Private Eye on Acquisition of Social Fund by Computer Company Owned US Private Equity Firm

April 16, 2014

This is from the Eye’s edition for 22nd March – 4th April 2013:

When welfare reform minister Lord Freud handed the Social Fund – which gives emergency cash to benefit claimants – over to local councils, he brushed aside criticism and said councils could create “the kind of localist welfare provision they deem to be appropriate and necessary for their areas”.

But many are now contracting out their emergency cash help for the desperately poor to a computer firm owned by US billionaires.

The £178m Social Fund, previously run from job centres, gives small grants and loans to cover benefit claimants’ emergency expenses – to replace furniture after a house fire, say. Despite Freud’s claim that his plan would break bureaucratic centralism, Nottingham recently gave its £10.4m “welfare assistance scheme” contract to computer firm Northgate Information Solutions.

Northgate, which is set to win more such work for other councils (the Welsh Assembly has also hired it to manage its regional version of the scheme), has many contracts running IT, payroll and community charge work for local authorities. But it has little experience of face-to-face work with the poor and desperate. The company does provide profits, however, for the fabulously rich: it is owned by US private equity giant KKR, which run by Henry Kravis and George Roberts, the 84th and 100th richest American billionaires, according to Forbes magazine.

The Eye asked Northgate about its qualifications for welfare work. It stressed that it was “working in partnership with Family Fund, the UK’s largest grant-giving charity”, and pointed to its welfare work on the “Blue Badge Improvement Service” to improve disabled parking badges. So that’s all right then.

This is part of the general Tory policy of cutting welfare and state services, and transferring them to private, largely foreign-owned contractors, like Atos. When questioned recently on the BBC’s documentary programme, Panorama, about the rise of food banks due to the Coalition’s austerity programme, one Tory MP declared that this hadn’t occurred, because the Social Fund was still available, despite the fact that the Tories had just closed it down on a national level. And this article shows that some of the local councils are transferring it to private companies. Again, this follows Tory policies of welfare cuts to the poor, and state support for business and the rich. And the reorganisation and cuts to welfare benefits are increasing poverty, to the point that hunger and starvation is returning to Britain. But as long as the fat cats in the boardroom are happy and profiting, the Tories will continue with their attack on the working and lower middle classes.