Panorama documentary shows horror of Universal Credit

Panorama documentary shows horror of Universal Credit

The BBC’s Panorama documentary tonight gave a brief glimpse of the appalling experiences of claimants on Universal Credit.

Filmed in Flintshire, the programme focussed on the problems caused by not having housing costs paid directly to landlords.

One claimant ended up with around £4000 worth of rent arrears for his council property, and was one of two people spoken to who ended up facing eviction in the winter months.

Another spoke of having found a possible place to move to nearby – underneath a bridge in the area.

Landlords spoken to were also clear about the failure to have the rent money paid on time, by vulnerable people unable to budget the single monthly payment to cover all their costs.

Council tenants on Universal Credit have more than double the rent arrears than those on other benefits.

Tory minister Alok Sharma insisted that “Universal Credit is working well”, but that is an entirely false claim.

In areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out, there has been a 52% increase in those needing to use foodbanks.

Panorama also spoke to a single father, who had been forced to live on foodbanks for six months because of an error in his online account reporting.

Universal Credit has “put us in poverty, put us in debt”, and was “very, very stressful” said one female claimant.

Clearly Universal Credit is more than a complete failure; it is an appalling system that means utter misery for those forced to claim it.

The Panorama programme ended on a gloomy note about the many thousands more people across Britain who will eventually have to claim the benefit.

In its current form, Universal Credit is unfit for purpose. It must be scrapped; and this demand must go hand-in-hand with other demands.

• A £10 minimum wage now!

• No to precarious work! Full trade union rights for all workers!

• Proper support for those unable to work! An end to the need to use foodbanks!

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Support for the Wetherspoon workers on strike, from a former kitchen assistant

Support for the Wetherspoon workers on strike, from a former kitchen assistant

We received the following article from a trade unionist and former Wetherspoon employee in Coventry.

As a former employee of Wetherspoon who worked in the kitchens, I completely support the strike by the staff at The Bright Helm and The Post & Telegraph in Brighton. The staff deserve a decent living wage, and union recognition to fight the exploitation they routinely face at work.

Let’s talk about the wages first of all.

Tim Martin, chairman and founder of Wetherspoon, was a vocal opponent of the Tories’ paltry “National Living Wage” and any minimum wage increases beyond that. He claimed such increases in wages for his staff would force pubs to close.

His estimated worth is £448 million, and in 2017 Wetherspoon pulled in a net worth of over £56 million. Meanwhile his staff are frequently in debt, sometimes with half their income going on rent alone.

Students working at the pubs grab all the hours they can get in between lectures, losing vital study time so they can balance their income alongside the failed student loan system.

Non-students tend to work over 40 hours a week so they can make a reasonable living off of their wages. I witnessed one kitchen assistant break down into tears after finding out her boyfriend had lost his job. She would have to work all the hours she could to make up the difference, and she was already doing over 40 hours a week. To add to the hurt, for the next hour after hearing this news she was the only person working in the kitchen – so all work was on her.

A real living wage of £10 an hour would end the suffering of poverty and debt of a large number of Wetherspoon’s 37,000 employees. With the huge wealth of Wetherspoon and its top bosses, it can easily afford a pay increase.

Now there’s the huge range of issues of working conditions.

I’ve never known a Wetherspoon kitchen that was ever well-staffed.

The workers are almost constantly under stress, and the emotional toll becomes clear after a couple of months working there.

Staff are angry at each other, every lunch and dinner shift involves shouting and swearing and frustration.

At the busiest times and on closing shifts, staff can be discouraged from taking the breaks they have a legal right to, because there are not enough staff to manage the kitchen.

Everyone gets burns. Its a fact of working in the Wetherspoon kitchen. At lunch and dinner you’re too busy to pick up protective equipment – if the kitchen has any – to move hot food out of the microwaves, to take care when handling the deep fryers or managing the large grills.

Officially there is a myriad of rules in place to prevent workplace injuries, and to deal with and report any injuries that may occur. The reality is with short-staffing the kitchen cannot manage its demand of completing all meals within 10 minutes if 1 or as few as 3 staff at lunchtime has to take a short break to deal with a burn for 5 minutes, and certainly not when only one person is left in the kitchen. It just doesn’t happen.

In short, reaching targets while under-staffed and boosting the huge profits of the business becomes far more important that the well-being of the staff.

Trade unions are necessary in a workplace like Wetherspoon to properly represent workers and provide a strong collective voice for their demands. Wetherspoon workers do not want to be short-staffed continuously, they do not want to suffer burns and other injuries, they want their right to take breaks respected, and they want a workplace free of stress in which they can work professionally and be proud of what they do.

The upcoming strikes are a small but fantastic sign of the growing organisation of young workers in precarious employment where it has been so difficult to effectively organise before, and where such grotesque exploitation as described above has been rampant. Just after the strike ballots at Wetherspoon were announced, 18-20 year old pay rates were abolished and an annual pay award was brought forward from April 2019 to November 2018. That is the result of only two pubs out of nearly 1,000 pubs and hotels under the Wetherspoon chain taking action. This clearly demonstrates the power that workers have when they come together and organise to make demands. If you fight, you can win!

Coventry rallies against Trump’s visit

Coventry rallies against Trump’s visit

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The demo begins in Friargate

Donald Trump finally visited the UK on Friday 13th July after months of delays over fears of mass protests. While Theresa May and other Tory ministers welcomed him, the British public turned out in hundreds of thousands in London and other cities across the country to oppose his visit and his politics of hate and division.

In many cities across the country, the Socialist Party and Socialist Students joined protests over Trump’s policies, as well as to stand in solidarity with those whom his administration poses the greatest threat: LGBT+ people, women and ethnic minorities as well as the organised working class more widely.

Here in Coventry we played a significant role in building support for the Friday demo, campaigning for hours at midday in the city centre and explaining to members of the public why this demonstration was important to them. Part of this involved trying to counter the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, right-wing populist agenda he represents and is trying to sell to working class people, though it is clearly against their interests.

The afternoon demo began at Friargate, with chants such as “2,4,6,8, no to Trump and no to hate!” to build up enthusiasm in the crowd and attract interest from passers-by at the train station. We marched through the city centre to Broadgate, where we heard from local activists about the need to fight back against Trump, his politics and his agenda.

Socialist Party members and trade union activists spoke about the Trump administration’s attacks on rights in the US, and the threat they posed to migrants, to women, to LGBT+ people, and to all workers. But speakers also referred to the incredible resistance against Trump in the US, and the great victories by trade unions and socialist campaigners, despite the hostile establishment.

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Socialist Party member and Coventry UNISON Young Members officer (personal capacity) Dan Crowter speaking at the demo

Coventry Socialist Party members were there with leaflets explaining why we had called for national demonstrations against Trump; these were vital to engage with members of the public walking by who took an interest in the protest.

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Socialist Party member and NEU National Executive member (personal capacity) Jane Nellist speaking at the demo

As the march stopped at Broadgate for the main rally, our material helped us reach shoppers, school students, and commuters returning home from work who would otherwise not have taken part. This included a 12-year-old asked by his friends to speak for all of them on why Trump had to be opposed – one of the main highlights of the whole rally!

Theresa May might not be brave enough to call Trump a racist and a sexist, but a 12-year-old attending his first protest certainly was!

They were brave enough to stand and tell the truth about Trump and his policies – it’s a shame that May and her cabinet couldn’t do the same!

There was a clear fighting message from this rally; one very timely given the clear weakness of May’s government following recent events.

Trump’s visit highlighted further divisions in a Tory party already in chaos; trying to both gain a Brexit deal which will serve business interests when it comes to trade, as well as looking to placate the pro-EU wing of the party who oppose Brexit.

With this party in crisis, and with May hand-in-hand with a US president facing huge opposition represented by the protests, the possibility to topple this government and replace them with a Corbyn-led, anti-austerity Labour government clearly exists.

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Strong support for lecturers strike at Warwick Uni

Strong support for lecturers strike at Warwick Uni

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Warwick Socialist Students members join students and lecturers on the picket line

Students joined striking lecturers at Warwick University this week on the picket lines of their strike against pension cuts. Members of Warwick Socialist Students and the Socialist Party attended to show support and solidarity with the workers.

Students have also been attacked by this Tory government and need to stand with workers to defeat them on this and other issues. An all-out strike of students and workers could bring this government to its knees.

The University and College union (UCU) has planned another 12 days of strike action, continuing on Monday 26th – Wednesday 28th February. Wednesday 28th at Warwick is the university’s open day, and a large picket and protest is planned.

For more reports of the strike from around the country click here.

1 in 4 West Midlands rental properties “unfit for habitation”

1 in 4 West Midlands rental properties “unfit for habitation”

An article from the 10th of February in the Coventry Observer reported that over a quarter of private rented homes in the West Midlands are unfit for human habitation. The figure for social housing from each local authority in the West Midlands came to 12 percent. These findings are based on the government’s English Housing Survey’s report for 2016/17.

These figures add weight to calls for tenants to have further powers to defend themselves from rogue landlords. The government has announced its support for the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill 2017-19, but this bill is still a long way from becoming law. Also, considering the wealth gained from being a private landlord, whose interests are represented by the Tories, this bill may never actually see the light of day.

The Socialist Party believes that everyone has the right to high quality, safe housing. Though we support the efforts behind the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill, tenants need safe and suitable housing now! This is why we support tenants to collectively organise and campaign for their demands against dodgy landlords including, when necessary, rent strikes and/or non-payment of service charges.

If you live in either privately rented accommodation or social housing and are interested in setting up a tenants association to campaign for better housing or would like more information please fill in the form below.

Corbyn’s Labour needs 100% anti-cuts strategy and fight for democracy

Corbyn’s Labour needs 100% anti-cuts strategy and fight for democracy

We are pleased to republish this week’s editorial from The Socialist newspaper.

How can we save our local leisure centre? What can be done to halt gentrification and meet housing need? How can the deepening crisis in social care be addressed? What must be done to protect local jobs and halt attacks on pay and conditions?

These are just a few of the questions which working class people are asking, especially as we approach council budget setting and May’s local elections.

They are questions which demand concrete answers in the here and now. Rhetoric, handwringing, and semi-pious exhortations to ‘hold on for a general election’ are all utterly insufficient.

Yet at present, it is this that is on offer, not just from Labour’s Blairite right (many who are actually brazen with their anti-working class policies and sentiments) but even from the leadership of Momentum.

Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for Derby North and former shadow fire minister, appears to have been pushed to resign from the front bench after making comments about an alternative to local government cuts.

Acknowledging that the austerity which has been dutifully doled out by councils over the last seven years is in fact intolerable, he argued that Labour-run local authorities could consider increasing council tax for those living in properties which fall within the highest tax bands.

This, he said, could be used to help raise the funds needed to stop cuts and protect services.

Fighting austerity

Socialists must always oppose any increases in taxation which have the potential to fall on people with low or middle incomes.

Council tax, which is calculated based on the estimated value of properties in which people live (whether as tenants or owners) and which does not properly take account of people’s ability to pay, could certainly not be described as progressive.

Chris Williamson’s proposals did acknowledge this, and included ideas for ways for those on lower incomes to ‘claw back’ increases in the tax on higher bands – to protect cash-poor pensioners, for example.

This complex schema, to be approved in each council area in a local referendum, would be open to ferocious attacks and distortions by the Tory media.

Nonetheless, he was grappling with vital questions: how can Labour councils act to protect working class people from the ravages of austerity? How can they play their part in fighting to ensure that the burden of paying for capitalist crisis does not fall on workers, pensioners and youth?

For Labour’s right, this is a crime which cannot be tolerated. Since the beginning of Corbyn’s leadership the Blairites have sought to use their base in local government – where they have the vast majority of Labour councillors – in order to undermine him.

In particular, they have ferociously opposed any suggestion that Labour councils might have options other than those of cuts, privatisation and redundancies.

In one indicator revealing the extent to which many Labour councillors have accepted the ‘logic’ of neoliberalism, it has been revealed that Leeds City council was on the verge of offering a £100 million contract to the parasitic company Carillion just before its collapse.

But councillors do have a choice. Around Britain, Labour councils currently hold over £9.2 billion in general fund reserves.

They administer combined budgets of almost £75 billion. They have substantial borrowing powers, as well as the ability to work together to ‘pool’ funds and collaborate with other local authorities.

In other words, far from being powerless ‘technocrats’, bound by the logic of austerity or the chaos of the market, Labour councils are in fact a potential alternative power in Britain.

Indeed, even if just one Labour council was to take a stand, using reserves and borrowing powers and refusing to lay more hardship on working class people, it could mobilise behind it a mass campaign and have a profound effect on the political situation.

It could hasten the demise of May’s weak, divided government and bring about an early general election.

Any hint that councillors could take such a road is anathema to the Blairites. That is why it was disappointing that Corbyn and McDonnell appear to have bowed to their pressure by encouraging Williamson’s resignation.

Unfortunately, this has not been their first retreat on the issue. As part of their mistaken strategy of attempting to ‘keep on board’ the Blairite rump that remains dominant in Labour’s parliamentary party, local government and machinery, they have made a number of concessions to the demands of the right on this issue.

NEC elections

But far from placating the right and buying their loyalty, concessions like these have only encouraged the Blairites to press Corbyn to back down on other issues.

In particular, these have included questions of party democracy and the selection and reselection of candidates.

Labour’s recent national executive committee (NEC) elections saw Momentum-backed candidates win all three of the available seats.

This means that for the first time since Corbyn’s election as leader, his supporters (all-be-it of varying shades of politics and loyalty) will have a narrow but clear majority. Momentum’s self-appointed leader Jon Lansman was among those elected.

This is potentially a step forward. The question is: how will this position be used? To fight for mandatory reselection that will allow Labour members and trade unions the chance to democratically decide candidates and kick out the Blairites? To help take on cuts-making Labour councillors and support any and all who are prepared to resist austerity and refuse to implement cuts?

In recent weeks, Momentum’s leadership has begun to push an alternative strategy for ‘fighting’ local government cuts, which is based on a model put forward by Bristol’s Labour mayor, Marvin Rees.

The essence of it is to support and call for protests against cuts, and to use these as a platform to ask the government to provide more funding – hoping that the pressure of large demonstrations will bear down on May’s government.

Borrowing from the strategy put forward by the Socialist Party, they even suggest drawing up ‘needs-based’ budgets.

But unlike us, they see this as merely an exercise in propaganda, not as something to be acted upon and implemented. It is here that the strategy ends.

Should the Tories refuse to provide funding, councils should, according to Momentum’s leaders, make the cuts as required.

Those who have joined protests to demand an alternative should be asked to simply accept that the council ‘has no other option’.

They should be asked to continue to cast their votes for Labour councillors, even while they make themselves busy destroying local jobs and services.

Demonstrations are not a bad place to start. But they must be linked to a strategy which includes councils refusing to implement cuts.

So far, the ‘Rees model’ has singularly failed to extract further funds from the Tories. Indeed, when the Bristol mayor came to London to meet the communities’ secretary he was snubbed – not even offered a meeting!

Socialist and left-wing politics means little if it is unable to provide a way forward in the real struggles faced by working class people in the here and now.

In the June election, Corbyn’s anti-austerity manifesto generated a surge of enthusiasm because it began to offer answers to the needs and aspirations of ordinary people.

But this manifesto provides a sharp contrast with the programme on which the majority of Labour’s right-wing councillors will be standing at this year’s local elections.

As Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett put it at this year’s TUC congress “if Labour councillors act like Tories we should treat them like Tories”.

In the view of the Socialist Party, this should include being prepared to provide an electoral challenge to cuts-making councillors – whatever colour rosette they wear.

Two surveys; one root cause

Two surveys; one root cause

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Thousands march against austerity

By a socialist trade unionist in Coventry

Two recently released surveys have once again illustrated the situation facing working class people in the UK. They are a stark reminder, if anyone needed it, that life is getting worse not better under the Tories. A survey for the Trades Union Congress (TUC) showed that 1 in 8 workers are skipping meals because of pressure on their incomes, whilst nearly half are concerned about meeting the cost of basic household expenses such as food, gas and electricity. The report from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) shows similar trends. It states

“Since the 1970s the share of national income which has gone to wages has gradually declined, from 80% to 73%, while the share going to profits has increased. The wage share is now the lowest it has been since the second world war.”

Amongst many other interesting facts and figures, it shows that the UK is experiencing the worst wage stagnation for 150 years and that the country is the most unequal in Europe, with one third of children living in poverty. Shockingly, more of the poor are from households that are in work, rather than out of work.

The report calls for a change in direction in the UK economy including higher taxation, regulation and stronger trade unions. Socialists would support any measures that help narrow the gap between rich and poor and improve the standard of living for ordinary people. However it is also necessary to state clearly that what is needed in the current situation is more than calls for the economy to be nicer and fairer. The cause of the current dire situation for working class people is the capitalist system itself.

Bold socialist policies, including bringing the banks, financial institutions and 150 major corporations in to democratic public ownership are the order of the day. With democratic planning of the vast resources that exist not just in the UK but on a global level, it would be possible for people to be put before profit.

Surveys and reports such as those produced by the TUC and IPPR illustrate the problems we face and are very useful for all those wanting change to provide us with the statistics that help us make our points.

However in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution and the 150th anniversary of Das Kapital, we need to study and learn the lessons of history both in terms of how capitalism works and how the workers took power for the first time, in order to ensure socialism is victorious against this crisis ridden system.

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