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!

DWP u-turn over outsourcing core work to Capita

DWP u-turn over outsourcing core work to Capita

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The below article was written by Socialist Party members in the PCS union.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has ended up doing an about-turn and scrapped plans to outsource some of its core work to Capita.

The original plans would have seen the handling of new claims to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) being instead done by Capita staff, on a much lower salary.

This would have been disastrous for some of the most vulnerable in society – those unable to work due to sickness or disability – for whom ESA is intended. A high proportion of claimants will have mental health issues.

Capita’s previous failure to process Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claims on time led to a backlog being built up – which DWP staff then had to go and help clear!

It is near impossible to avoid hearing the flood of horror stories about the private sectors’ handling of medical assessments for benefit claimants. ATOS – now along with both Maximus and Capita – became notorious for the callous way in which its medical assessors would lie about claimants’ conditions in reports, as well as resorting to ‘tricking’ claimants into failing their assessments.

Among the 4,000 submissions of evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee on the assessments, such examples were highlighted as suicidal claimants being asked why they had not already tried to kill themselves, and blind or visually impaired claimants reported as being able to walk dogs they didn’t actually have. It even came to light that some assessors would ask claimants “when they caught” Down’s Syndrome!

Nothing else could highlight so starkly the complete failure of the private sector to properly carry out work that should remain in-house.

This u-turn is of course a victory – but given the context against which it is set, it should only be seen as one step in a series of future victories against this weak, crisis-ridden Tory government.

Their list of climbdowns is almost embarrassing – far from any ‘strong and stable’ rule, replicating the ‘Iron Lady’, we have seen multiple u-turns and defeats, mostly brought from the pressure of trade unions and the seething anger amongst many in society.

From having to scrap employment tribunal fees, making benefit phonelines free, and even being forced to slash the amount of university tuition fees, there are more victories to be won if the pressure remains and increases!

The demand that all essential public service work be brought back in-house where it belongs is vital.

Fill in the form below if you are in PCS and want to link up with Socialist Party members.

DWP to outsource more core work to Capita

DWP to outsource more core work to Capita

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We have received the following article from a Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) member in Coventry.

“The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced on Wednesday 16th November that telephony work for new claims to Income Support and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) along with general enquiries for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), would be outsourced to Capita.

This is not the first instance of outsourcing vital DWP work to a private company. JSA claims were handed to Capita in 2012, a move that resulted in a failure to meet targets on processing claims. DWP staff even had to go to Capita to clear the backlog!

The decision to outsource ESA new claims to Capita will be disastrous. A huge proportion of ESA claimants suffer with mental health issues and are therefore more vulnerable. If Capita performs as well as it did with JSA claims, then this is likely to have a severe impact on the wellbeing of those who most need support.

This is already beginning to affect the morale of DWP staff too – with many workers fearing either the prospect of losing their jobs, or the stress of a complete change in the roles in which they have been trained in. There is also the issue of staff feeling like they are ‘worthless’, ‘undervalued’ and not doing an important enough job.

For staff in Poole Contact Centre, this truly is a ‘slap in the face’ – along with the planned closure of the office in February 2018, the DWP will also contract out the Income Support work they do!

The PCS union which represents DWP staff has consistently opposed the privatisation of their work, and campaigns for it to be brought back in-house – the way our public services are meant to be operated!”

The Socialist Party echoes this, and we also call for:

• An end to all privatisation of public services – run them for people, not profit!

• No more benefit cuts or sanctions! For the right to a decent living, and support for those who need it!

• An end to austerity! For a £10 an hour minimum wage now and the scrapping of zero-hours contracts!

Public sector wages – Pay up! Strike to smash the cap

Public sector wages – Pay up! Strike to smash the cap

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Jane Nellist

We are pleased to carry this article from Socialist Party member Jane Nellist regarding the public sector pay cap. The article was originally published in a recent issue of The Socialist newspaper. Jane is joint secretary of Coventry National Union of Teachers and a member of the NEC of her union, as well as being President of Coventry TUC (she writes here in a personal capacity)


Public sector wages – Pay up! Strike to smash the cap!

A stark new report by the government’s own advisors on public sector pay has shown that there was a 6% drop in average wages from 2005 to 2015.

That’s reflected in a £3 an hour loss for teachers, £2 an hour for police officers and £8 an hour for doctors.

More experienced teachers have lost as much as £5,000 a year because of pay restraint, and that doesn’t include the loss from increases in pension and National Insurance contributions.

There is a growing anger among public sector workers about low pay and funding cuts to the services they deliver. The Tories are wobbling on the public sector pay cap, with many cabinet members – fearing mass revolt – coming out for change.

But we cannot rely on their ‘good nature’! They’ll just cut somewhere else to pay for it. We must come out fighting.

At the 1 July ‘Not One Day More’ demo Mark Serwotka, leader of the PCS civil servants’ union, absolutely nailed it when he posed the question: “Why don’t we have a public sector pay strike to break the pay cap?”

As each day goes by, the Tories are getting weaker. Even though mathematically they have a small majority, propped up by the billion-pound bribe for votes from the DUP, they have no authority.

And it’s not only pay they’re showing weakness on, some have hinted at tuition fees being on the table too. As their poll ratings plummet, they are more divided. We need to push harder to put them out of their misery.

The recent demo was vibrant and young. Labour’s manifesto started to lift aspirations on so many fronts. The mantra of austerity, ‘we are all in it together,’ is dead.

The mood is changing and there is a tangible feeling of victory in the air. That can become a reality, but only if the leadership of our trade unions starts to lead.

Now is the time to organise the millions of public sector workers in a serious coordinated campaign, including strike action, to win back dignity for public sector workers and the services we deliver.

Government to press ahead with Jobcentre closures

Government to press ahead with Jobcentre closures

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DWP workers take strike action in Coventry

By a Jobcentre worker and PCS union member

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has disgracefully announced that almost 1 in 10 Jobcentres nationally will be closed. Along with this, two other Jobcentres that were originally meant to stay open are also now due to close.

Of the original 78 Jobcentres earmarked for closure, only 6 will stay open, and 11 of the 80 planned to ‘co-locate’ have been spared – although this is only due to the lack of space in council buildings!

One of the Jobcentres which will close by the end of March next year is Coventry’s Tile Hill Jobcentre – with a government proposal/consultation response stating that it is reasonable for claimants to travel further on public to ‘sign on’, despite the threat of a sanction for missing or being late to an appointment!

The u-turn on the closure of some of the Jobcentres, such as Glasgow Castlemilk, is an example of the potential for victory that can come from a co-ordinated campaign involving trade unions, claimants, and other groups such as DPAC. This mass action is needed across the board to prevent the closure of any more Jobcentres – which will see hundreds of job losses and have a damaging impact on the most vulnerable in society.

Workers at Sheffield Eastern Avenue Jobcentre had a week-long walkout in June, and will be going out on strike between 17-21 July.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said:
“It is utterly disgraceful that DWP is pressing ahead with these closures.

“This Tory government is abandoning unemployed, sick and disabled people, making it harder for them to access the services they need, and putting jobcentre jobs at risk. We will continue to oppose these plans in every way we can.”

The Socialist Party says:

• Oppose all closures! For a mass campaign involving unions, claimants and other groups to end this attack on workers and claimants alike!

May Day in Coventry

May Day in Coventry

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PCS Vice-President John McInally speaking at Coventry May Day rally

As part of protests, rallies and demonstrations around the world to mark International Workers’ Day an event was held in Coventry city centre, organised by Coventry TUC and Coventry against Racism.

As well as local speakers from a wide variety of unions and campaigns, the main speaker this year was John McInally, national Vice-President of the PCS civil service union.

John outlined the current situation facing working class people, and the need to get rid of capitalism and fight for socialism. He pointed out that 100 years ago in Russia, many people would have said it was impossible to get rid of the Tsar. Yet working class people not only overthrew the Tsar, but also capitalism.

Other speakers included Dave Nellist on the history and origins of May Day, a speaker from UCU, an NUT rep, a member of the Indian Workers’ Association, a Socialist Party member calling for solidarity with LGBT people in Chechnya and an activist from Stand up to Racism.

Coventry TUC have ensured that the tradition of May Day is kept alive and hundreds of shoppers will have heard pro trade union, anti racist and socialist arguments. In the coming years this event will grow as the working class begins to find its voice, and rediscovers it’s revolutionary history and the relevance for today’s struggles.

On Monday we will be publishing an article by Dave Nellist in the current issue of The Socialist newspaper on the real origins of May Day.

Scrap the Tory ‘rape clause’ and all benefit attacks

Scrap the Tory ‘rape clause’ and all benefit attacks

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The form

 

The following article about the disgraceful latest attacks on benefit claimants was written by a DWP worker and member of the PCS trade union. A version was published in The Socialist newspaper. The full article is reproduced below.


Changes to Child Tax Credits and the ‘Universal Credit’ benefit system mean that people making a new claim from 6 April will have the number of children they can claim for capped at two. One exception to this is if the third child was born as a result of what the government calls “non-consensual conception.”

However, in order to prove this was the case, there is an eight-page mandatory form that the victim will need to fill out.

Dubbed the “rape clause,” it will require the claimant not only to name the child the exception will apply to, but also have a “third-party professional” fill out part of the form.

This represents a new low for the government.

Disgracefully, the exemption will not apply to claimants who still live with their rapist – despite a British Crime Survey finding that 45% of rapes happen within current relationships. Attacks can be extremely difficult for victims to disclose, let alone prove.

In evidence presented to the House of Lords, the manager of the Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre said: “We have more than 30 years’ worth of empirical evidence that tells us that the most dangerous time for a woman and her children is at the point of leaving an abuser. In the UK a woman is murdered every three days by a partner or ex-partner.”

This latest attack on women compounds the threat to women posed by the Housing Benefit cap, which could close two-thirds of the already insufficient number of women’s refuges.

Women and children need material support to escape abusive relationships and live stable, independent lives. The Tories’ rape clause punishes victims and will endanger lives for the sake of reducing the bosses’ tax burden. 

This vile Tory government has shown time and time again that there is no limit to how low it will stoop to in its attacks on the working class and the most vulnerable in society.

Our previous article reported on the callous measures to remove eligibility to Personal Independence Payment – a benefit designed to help with the extra costs of living with care or a disability – from 160,000 people, saving £3.5 billion.

Cuts to the weekly rate of Employment and Support Allowance for those in the ‘Work-Related Activity Group’ will see claimants losing almost £30 from their payments – measures the government claim are beneficial as they will incentivise people to find work!

The heavy-handed nature of the sanctions and conditionality regimes in the benefit system have really been brought to the forefront with the release of Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake, which showcases the miserable living conditions faced by so many in Britain today.

A recent report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on living with a disability in Britain today says:

“It is a badge of shame on our society that millions of disabled people in Britain are still  not being treated as equal citizens and continue to be denied the everyday rights non-disabled people take for granted, such as being able to access transport, appropriate health services and housing, or benefit from education and employment.  The disability pay gap is persistent and widening, access to justice has deteriorated, and welfare reforms have significantly affected the already low living standards of disabled people.”

It is clear that capitalism isn’t working – we need to fight for the transformation of society along socialist lines, to ensure it is run in the interests of the majority, not the minority.

Under a socialist programme, everyone would be guaranteed a decent job, housing, and education, with the full support there for those who need it most.

Under capitalism, not even these basic demands are possible for so many people. If the system cannot afford these, then we cannot afford the system.

The Socialist Party says: scrap the rape clause. Reverse all benefit cuts and fund secure, genuinely affordable housing for all. You can’t fight domestic violence without also fighting the cuts.