Tagged: Guardian

Tenant evictions reach six-year high amid rising rents and benefit cuts

The number of tenants evicted from their homes is at a six-year high, according to new figures, as rising rents and cuts to benefits make tenancies increasingly unaffordable.

County court bailiffs in England and Wales evicted more than 11,000 families in the first three months of 2015, an increase of 8% on the same period last year and 51% higher than five years ago.

The increase in the number of tenants losing their homes means 2015 is on course to break last year’s record levels. Nearly 42,000 families were evicted from rental accommodation in 2014, the highest number since records began in 2000.

Rental prices have soared in many UK cities but wages failing to keep pace with rising costs and caps to benefits have left many poorer tenants unable to make payments.

Separate figures also published on Thursday showed almost 59,000 households have had their benefits capped in the past two years. Nearly half of those families were in London, where the the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom home is £2,216.

Housing charities said the figures were a glaring reminder that many tenants were struggling to maintain a roof over their heads, and they called on the new government to do more to tackle a housing crisis in the UK.

The latest repossession statistics, published by the Ministry of Justice, reveal the highest number of evictions in a single quarter since 2009, when comparable records began, with nearly 126 families forced out every day.

Between January and March, 11,307 tenants and their families were evicted by bailiffs, compared with a figure of 10,380 between October and December last year, and 10,482 in the first quarter of 2014.

The record figure comes as the number of landlord repossession claims – the first step of the legal process leading to an eviction – also rose. Claims were up 10% on the last quarter, but at 42,226 they remained below a six-year high of 47,208 in the first quarter of 2014.

Claims by both private and social landlords were up, the figures showed, although most of the rise was explained by claims by the latter. Social landlords were behind nearly five times as many attempts to recover properties than private landlords, the figures showed. These landlords are typically housing associations providing homes at lower rents than the market rate, often to tenants who receive housing benefit.

In the first three months of the year, 64% of possession claims were made by social landlords. These 27,204 court actions came alongside 5,551 made by private landlords and 9,741 accelerated claims, which could have been by either social or private landlords.

In May 2014, when the threat of evictions reached its highest level for a decade, the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations across England, told the Guardian the bedroom tax was causing problems for social landlords. The policy cuts the amount of housing benefit paid to social housing tenants whose homes are deemed too large for their requirements. Benefit sanctions were also thought to be causing problems.

But many housing associations, particularly in London and the south-east, have turned out tenants as they have sought to redevelop generations-old estates to take advantage of the big rise in property values. This has in turn led to an increase in the number of grassroots campaigns to oppose evictions, such as the Focus E15 mothers.

In one case of eviction resistance last week, activists from Housing Action Southwarkand Lambeth in London answered a call from a 14-year-old girl to successfully resist her family’s eviction from a flat in an estate that Southwark council had marked for demolition. Elsewhere in the capital, shorthold tenants in Brixton’s Loughborough Park estate, owned by the Guinness Partnership housing association, have defied eviction orders by occupying their flats.

The MoJ figures came on the same day as the Department for Work and Pensions revealed that 58,690 households across the UK had their benefits capped to a maximum of £26,000 a year since April 2013. Londoners were the worst affected, with 26,636 families facing a cut in benefits over the period to February 2015, followed by 5,953 in the rest of the south-east.

DWP proposals to meet the Conservatives’ pledge to cut £12bn from the welfare budget, in documents leaked to the Guardian last week, included barring under-25s from claiming housing benefit, increasing the bedroom tax on certain categories of tenants, limiting welfare payments by family size and freezing welfare benefits at current levels.

Responding to the eviction statistics, Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said:

“Today’s figures are a glaring reminder that sky-high housing costs and welfare cuts are leaving thousands of people battling to keep a roof over their heads.

“Every day at Shelter we see the devastating impact of a housing market at boiling point, with the cost of renting so high that many families are living in fear that just one thing like losing their job or becoming ill could leave them with the bailiffs knocking at the door.

“The new government must make sure people aren’t left to fall through the cracks and hurtling towards homelessness by preserving, if not strengthening, the frayed housing safety net to protect ordinary families desperately struggling to make ends meet.”

Betsy Dillner, director of the campaign group Generation Rent, said:

“These record eviction figures and signs that they are accelerating are a stark reminder of the housing crisis that the government must urgently start taking seriously now they’re back in power.

“Whether it’s an inability to pay expensive rents or a landlord’s desire to take back their property, the fact that more than 40,000 families were forced out of their homes last year is a symptom of the government’s failure to create a sustainable housing market.”

The housing minister, Brandon Lewis, defended the government’s performance, pointing out that mortgage repossessions had fallen drastically, keeping owner-occupiers in their “hard-earned homes”.

He said:

“Mortgage repossessions continue to fall at 56% lower than this time last year, and the lowest annual figure since the series began in 1987. Meanwhile, numbers of county court mortgage possession claims continue to fall to the lowest quarterly number since records began. This is thanks to our work to tackle the deficit and keep interest rates low, helping more families to stay in their hard earned homes.

“There are strong protections in place to guard families against the threat of homelessness. We increased spending to prevent homelessness, with over £500m made available to help the most vulnerable in society and ensure we don’t return to the bad old days when homelessness in England was nearly double what it is today.”

Source – The Guardian,  14 May 2015

Benefits cuts plans leaked to Guardian

Plans to make the medical test for employment and support allowance (ESA) harder to pass and increase the amount of bedroom tax some claimants have to pay have been leaked to the Guardian.

The cuts documents drawn up by civil servants and seen by the Guardian, relate to ways that the benefits bill could be reduced if the government goes over the national spending cap for welfare benefits.

However, sources in the DWP told the Guardian that these are the same options that will be presented to Conservative ministers wanting to cut £12 billion from the benefit bill if they win the election.

The cuts include:

  • Stricter fit for work tests or ‘tighter limits on eligibility’
  • Increasing the bedroom tax on certain categories of renters
  • Stopping under-25s from claiming ESA or housing benefit
  • Freezing all benefits payments

The DWP documents also reveal that IDS has failed to meet his targets for cutting the cost of IB/ESA, DLA/PIP and housing benefit and that ‘welfare reform’ is not saving money. The only way to cut costs now, according to the papers is to make cuts, some of which have been rejected in the past by ministers, which are “very/highly/extremely controversial”.

Little wonder then, that the Conservatives don’t want to reveal them before an election.

You can read more in the Guardian

Source – Benefits & Work, 05 May 2015

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/3087-benefits-cuts-plans-leaked-to-guardian

McCluskey tops Miners Gala bill – but ‘Red Ed’ not invited

Union chiefs Len McCluskey and Matt Wrack and left-wing author Owen Jones will top the bill at this year’s Durham Miners’ Gala.

The general secretaries of Unite and the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) will be joined by the firebrand Guardian columnist on the Durham Racecourse speakers’ stage at Europe’s biggest trade union event on Sunday, July 11.

Durham Miners’ Association secretary Dave Hopper will also introduce Steve Murphy from UCATT, John McDonald from ASLEF and Chris Keates from the NASUWT.

However, Ed Miliband will be absent – organisers having decided not to invite the Labour leader.

Mr Miliband, who claimed the Labour leadership ahead of his brother David with strong union backing, became the first party boss to address the Gala since Neil Kinnock when he travelled to Durham in 2012, but has not returned since.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to turn out for the 131st Gala, as dozens of brass and bagpipe bands march union and colliery banners through Durham City’s historic streets past dignitaries watching from the first floor balcony of the Royal County Hotel and to the Racecourse where, in addition to the political speeches which start at about 1pm, there will be family entertainment, campaign stalls and more.

 The traditional blessing of the banners service will take place in Durham Cathedral.

Mr Hopper said he was very pleased with the speakers line-up.

The outcome of this week’s General Election is bound to be the central theme of the speeches; and Mr Hopper said he could not see Labour winning.

The Scottish girl (Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon) has run rings around them.

“Miliband hasn’t come across very well. She’s putting him on the spot every time,” he said.

Last year’s Gala had a mournful feel, as guests paid tribute to the late Labour grandee Tony Benn and union leader Bob Crow.

On Gala day, the centre of Durham will be closed to traffic from 7am. Visitors are encouraged to use park and ride buses.

There is an ongoing appeal to support the continuation of the Gala. Supporters are invited to become a Friend of the event, for a minimum fee of £2 a month. For more information, visit friendsofdurhamminersgala.org

> Interesting developments ?  Are the decision not to invite Miliband, and Dave Hopper’s comments about Labour’s chances the beginnings of a move away from the Labour Party ? 

Source –  Durham Times, 04 May 2015

IDS hides poverty statistics until after the election

Crucial statistics on the effects of the governments welfare reforms will be deliberately delayed until after the election, to prevent academics and campaigners discovering the effects of policies such as the bedroom tax, changes to disability living allowance and employment and support allowance and increased sanctions.

The Households Below Average Income figures will be two and a half years out of date by the time of the election.

Complaints about the delay in publication were made to Iain Duncan Smith as long ago as last September, but with no effect. IDS has also continued to refuse to meet with the Trussell Trust to discuss food poverty.

Dawn Foster, writing in the Guardian argues that:

“Academic annoyances aside, the impact of this delay on the political debate around welfare in the election is huge. Cuts to welfare provision have been a flagship policy of the coalition government, and the belief that the answer to unemployment and poverty is to cut off financial support looks to be a mainstay of the Conservatives’ campaign until 7 May. But the official statistics all parties rely on to make their arguments will be two-and-a-half-years out of date, and completely useless as a measure of how the coalition’s welfare changes have affected poverty rates. The raft of changes that heralded the start of the 2013 financial year are hidden from official statistics until votes have been cast.”

You can read the full article in the Guardian.

Source –  Benefits & Work, 18 Feb 2015

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/3023-ids-hides-poverty-statistics-until-after-the-election

How the ancient North East counties were lost – and with it our identities

It was refreshing to hear someone born outside of the region have a good word to say about Ashington.

And Matthew Engel had more than a good word in fact. He admires the people who live there and what they represent.

Why? Identity.

Engel, a writer for the Guardian newspaper for 25 years, some time editor of the ‘cricket bibleWisden and now a columnist for the Financial Times, visited the Northumberland town while researching his latest book.

Called Engel’s England, he spent three years re-visiting the old counties which disappeared off the map of Britain as a result of the Local Government Act.

Drawn up by Ted Heath’s Tory Government in 1972, it was implemented by Harold Wilson’s Labour on, appropriately I would guess in Engel’s mind, April 1 – April Fool’s Day – 1974.

It was a shambles,” he said. “Politicians are interested in political boundaries, people are not. We don’t care about local government and local government gets worse and worse.

“It caused a huge loss of local identity but there are still things left, things to celebrate that really have an identity, places like Ashington.

“What a tremendous place. Of course it has its problems but it has a tremendous richness of associative life.”

Associative life means a clearly identified way of life, from recognisable pass-times like growing leeks and racing whippets, something that hasn’t been lost despite the decimation of the coal mines in the area, he said.

> Is that associative life or is it a cliche ?  Most people, even in Ashington, probably never grew leeks or raced whippets.

And in any case, Ashington is still in Northumberland, same as it ever was. It never disappeared or changed name.

It is a place with its own accent, it’s own traditions, which are very, very strong,” said Engel.

In the book he explained how counties were formed historically and how they developed along locally defined lines which threw up their own idiosyncrasies.

There were the counties palatine, including Durham, which were directly under the control of a local princeling.

Then there were counties corporate and boroughs that were regarded as self governing and fell under the control of the local Lord Lieutenant for military purposes. Yorkshire, readers may well remember, was divided into three ridings.

As a result counties developed their own laws, dialects, customs, farming methods and building styles.

They formed the tapestry of the nation,” Engel says. “The very distinctions show just how important the county was in the lives of the people.

“Real places with real differences inspiring real loyalties.”

The Local Government Act of 1888 brought democracy to the shires by establishing county councils but, according to Engel, the integrity of the counties were respected.

Not so The Local Government Act of 1972 which binned centuries of local identity to see, for example, Teesside renamed as Cleveland and Tyneside becoming Tyne and Wear.

> Ahem – Tyneside and Wearside ! And in any case, I don’t think it was such a bad idea.

Cumberland – which had been around since the 12th century – became part of Cumbria, a name that Engel shudders with distaste at. “Always say Cumberland,” said Engel.

Yarm had formed part of the Stokesley Rural District in what was then the ‘North Riding’ of Yorkshire and remained so until 1974 – when it became part of the district of Stockton-on-Tees in the new non-metropolitan county of Cleveland.

Cleveland – like Tyne and Wear – was abolished in 1996 under the Banham Review, with Stockton-on-Tees becoming a unitary authority.

In May a poll inspired by the Yarm for Yorkshire group saw locals vote emphatically “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council in North Yorkshire.

Last month Stockton Borough Council rejected calls to refer the matter to the boundary commission into it, but the debate rumbles on.

To add to the horror of Teessiders who pine for a return to Yorkshire was this bit of research from Engel after a talk with a dialect expert from Leeds University.

> Presumably that’s Teessiders on the south bank of the river. Those on the north bank were in County Durham.

He told me Middlesbrough accents have actually changed in the years since 1974. In those 40 years the Middlesbrough accent has become more North East and less Yorkshire.

Engel describes his work as a “travel book” – “I think I’m the first travel writer who went straight from Choral Evensong at Durham Cathedral to the dog track.”

He added: “The historic counties need to return to the map, the media and our envelopes, so future generations can understand where they live.

“Only then will the English regain their spirit the way the Scots have done. This is not about local government – it is about our heritage and our future.

* Engel’s England, is published by Profile Books at £20 on October 23, 2014.

> Sounds like another “intellectual”  telling people what they should be doing.

People know where they live, future generations will too. Names and boundaries have always changed and will continue to do so.

Matthew Engel, incidentally, was born in Northampton and lives in Herefordshire.  If he actually had some connection with the North East I might take him a bit more seriously. 

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 19 Oct 2014

UK falls to Number 33 in global press freedom rankings – Amy O’Donoghue

Inforrm's Blog

Web Following government harassment of journalists and editors, the UK has fallen from number 29 to 33 on Reporters Without Borders’ annual  World Press Freedom Index .

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Shocking Extent Of Sick And Disabled Benefit Sanctions Revealed

The shocking extent of the number of sick and disabled benefit claimants having their benefits cut, through the use of sanctioning, has been revealed in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

According to the response from the DWP, 172,750 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants were referred for potential sanctioning between October 2008 and June 2013. Of those referrals, 76,300 received an adverse decision, meaning their sickness benefits were cut or stopped completely. 11,600 of those benefit sanctions were in Greater London alone.

On 3 December 2012 the DWP introduced a new system for sanctioning claimants which is described by the DWP in the FOI as a ‘sanctions regime’. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith  has repeatedly denied accusations that Jobcentre staff are being pressurised to sanction benefit claimants through the use of ‘targets’, and yet the FOI shows that the changes to the ‘sanctions regime’ has led to a startling 45,480 ESA claimants being threatened with the removal of their sickness benefit between December 2012 and June 2013. 11,400 of those people received an ‘adverse decision’, the DWP admitted.

Perhaps the most startling statistic revealed in the FOI is the revelation that 85% of ESA claimants who had their benefits axed or slashed under the new ‘sanctions regime’ have NEVER been sanctioned before. The figure rises to 89% for Greater London. This calls into question the DWP claim that sanctions are only ever used as a ‘last resort’ and only when benefit claimants repeatedly fail to ‘participate in work related activity’, which includes ‘failure to participate in the Work Programme’.

The coalition government’s Work Programme has been accused of failing sick and disabled people with only 6.8% of ESA claimants referred to the programme finding long-term employment, according to a report by the Guardian. The Work Programme has been estimated to cost the public between 3-5bn over five years.

Figures show that the use of benefit sanctions has soared under the coalition government, with the Guardian newspaper reporting last year that the new ‘sanctions regime’ had led to 600,000 jobseeker’s having their benefits slashed in just five months.

The news that sick and disabled people are also now being targeted for draconian benefit sanctions will be seen by some as not only cruel and callous but also totally unjustified. Particularly when we take into account the undeniable truth that ESA claimants have some of the biggest barriers to employment – including but not limited to mental health issues, disabilities, poor physical health and other issues – drastically reducing their employability and work capability at a time when there are still an average of five unemployed people chasing every single job vacancy in the UK. The majority of which may be fit and healthy and arguably more ‘appealing’ to employers.

Gail Ward from the Facebook campaign group Grassroots Welfare responded angrily to the revelation by saying:

“The brutality of the sanctions affecting those claimants on ESA are at unacceptable high . We have been informed by JCP staff that they are subject to targets by their managers. What is not clear is who is setting the targets, the DWP state there are no targets, the JCP say they are set targets or face disciplinary action for failing to achieve them, both sides blame the other.

“Daily in our work we are being told by claimants they were sanctioned because they did not attend an interview when the claimants claim they never received any letters advising them to attend JCP. Some are sanctioned because they arrived late due to travel problems, regardless of mode of transport used.

“These people live in the most fragile circumstances, leaving them with arrears on rent and bills and relying on Doorstep Loans/Credit Cards to survive until the decision to reinstate benefit is resolved. Where benefit is denied they are thrown into [the] abyss of debt for a number of years resulting in some losing their homes. Some are left unable to pay for care packages they need to function on a daily basis.

“The workfare programme is a cruel regime for those who are already at a disadvantage in seeking employment and the barriers that they face from employers, even in cases where it is clear that they have ‘fit/sick notes’ to state they are unable to participate reliably in the workplace due to sickness and disability, they are forced onto the programme because decision makers have decided otherwise. This clearly cannot continue.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of the grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), added:

“DPAC are getting more and more emails from disabled people who have been sanctioned for ridiculous offences, such as being 5 minutes late for an appointment when travelling by public transport or for going to a job interview even though they had informed DWP beforehand.”

Source –  Welfare News Service  10 Feb 2014

Ex-Jobcentre Worker Spills The Beans…

> Another whistleblower spills the beans – as usual, nothing that those of us at the sharp end haven’t had experience of, but nice to see it confirmed from the other side of the desk.

An ex-Jobcentre worker has admitted that advisers are being pushed into deterring people from claiming any form of benefit, in order to “protect the public purse” and trick them into making mistakes so that their benefits can be removed.

Commenting on an article in the Guardian newspaper, the  ex-Jobcentre worker, whose identity we have protected, said:

“As a Jobcentre worker who took early retirement last year to get away from the pressures and stress, I can confirm what many contributors are saying.

“Since the change of government in 2010 there was a total shift in emphasis in what we are there for. It is now to “police” the benefit system, ‘protect the public purse’ and deter people from claiming anything. We are NOT there to help or advise people any more.

“We had a mystery shopper process where we would be rung up and visited several times a year and mystery shoppers would ask questions about claiming, ask for leaflets etc. This was fed back to offices & used to improve the service. The new government scrapped it.

“Staff now know that they can say any old rubbish to customers, forget to mention things that can be claimed for and no one is going to challenge them. We were even told by management that “x” was available but that we were not to tell claimants and only discuss if asked by them.

> I’ve certainly been finding this whilst slugging it out over a revised Jobseeker’s Agreement.

“The job is now to discourage as many people as possible and harass them into signing off, not try to get them a job or what they are entitled to.

> And always  remember – it is what you’re entitled to by law.

“Claimants are referred to pointless courses in the hope that they won’t go….so then we can stop their money. It does not matter if anything we do is of use to claimants. If staff don’t do this they are threatened with disciplinary action and possible dismissal.

“Staff are left with a ‘them or us’ attitude. Many of my ex colleagues have mortgages and kids and are trapped. As jobcentre workers, they know how hard it is to get a job and no one wants ex Jobcentre staff!”

> Right, and no-one on the dole  has a mortgage and kids  or feels trapped by circumstances (without the option of early retirement) ?

If Jobcentre workers feel stressed and pressurised, it’s largely of their own making.

If they don’t like they way things are going, why don’t they make a stand against it ?  They have a trade union, they could refuse to sanction anyone, they could tell people what they should be telling them anyway.

Work with people, not against them.

They could make a stand. The majority, though,  choose to keep on making life  just a bit harder for those they’re supposed to be helping.

Source – Welfare News Service, 26 Jan 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/ex-jobcentre-worker-admits-staff-encouraged-protect-public-purse/

Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games (Part 2)

So there I am with an invitation to attend an interview with a Jobcentre personal adviser as part  Post Work Programme Support (PWPS).

“Now you have completed your time on the Work Programme”  I am informed, “your personal adviser will assess the support you will need, based on your needs and skills, to help you find work and stay in suitable work.”

Readers may wonder what the hell the point of the previous two years of Work Programme (WP) had been, if not  to “assess the support you will need, based on your needs and skills, to help you find work and stay in suitable work.”  Apart, obviously,  from making money for a bunch of private companies (Ingeus in my case) who couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery.

Anyhow, off I trot to the Jobcentre. I always think it’s a good idea to play it cool on these initial interviews,  let them take the lead. There are good reasons for keeping your powder dry during these early encounters. For one thing, you might be lucky enough to have drawn a decent human being as your adviser – it can happen.

My previous Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg) had been drawn up prior to my starting WP by one such decent adviser, who listened to my points, agreed they were fair enough and we quickly put together a JSAg we could both live with. Everyone was happy, no conflict or stress.

Thinking about it, I realised that I hadn’t seen him around the jobcentre for some considerable time, so perhaps he was sacked for not sanctioning enough people, or perhaps quit in disgust at the way things were going. He was a gentleman, and there are all too few of them in the DWP.

So, as I say – hold back at first, see which way the cookie crumbles. If your adviser is a wrong ‘un, they’ll think you’re another subservient sanction-fodder and will start to take liberties. Give them enough rope now and later you’ll be able to, if not exactly lynch them, at least give them some severe rope-burns to remember you by.

So I sat and watched him instantly tear into my existing JSAg, took notes and laid my plans accordingly.

He didn’t like anything about it, starting with the three “types of job I am looking for”. Now this bit always annoys me – we’re constantly being told that we must be flexible, willing to consider all types of jobs, etc… then they demand that you limit yourself to three ! Where’s the logic ?  I always point this out to the adviser, then put three jobs I have done and feel confident that,  if I should get an interview for one tomorrow,  I could go along, walk the walk, talk the talk and generally appear to actually know something about the job.

Not good enough for this guy, though. He immediately erased one of my choices and replaced it with ‘Assembly’.  I pointed out (meekly, still playing that role) that I had no prior experience of assembly work and indeed wasn’t even quite sure what it entails. Not important, apparently. He wanted Assembly on there, and that was that.

At this point it might be useful to refer back to an article in the Guardian a couple of years ago in which a DWP whistleblower lifted the lid on some of the tricks advisers use to sanction people. In particular –

He said staff had different ways to ensure they could stop benefits for a set amount of people. “So, for example, if you want someone to diversify – they’re an electrician or a plumber, they may not want to go into call centres or something. What you do is keep promoting such and such a job, and you pressure them into taking it off you, the piece of paper. Then in two weeks you look at the system, you ask them if they applied for it … they say no – you stop their money for six months.

I think that was what this adviser was up to.   (Read whole Guardian article here – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/apr/01/jobcentres-tricking-people-benefit-sanctions  )

Of course, the joke is that my CV is probably one of the most diverse you’ll find anywhere. Starting with A for Archaeology and working through the alphabet to W for Warehouse (my dream job would be in a zoo, so I could really claim an A-Z of job titles) – although it should be pointed out that at no time did this adviser enquire about previous experience or ask to see my CV. I might well be able to work in assembly (whatever it is) for all I know, and I’m not ruling it out you understand – but replacing a job I have a track record record in with one I know nothing about, well it just doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it ?

Except, of course, as an instrument of sanction.

And so it continued – he went his merry way, changing just about everything, ticking boxes, all with no discussion with me. I sat back and watched him have his fun.

Then it was my turn. He printed off two copies of the revised JSAg signed them, then  gave them to me to sign. I took a minute or two to read through it, then said:

“No, sorry, I can’t sign these.”

Wonderful ! You’d have thought I’d just punched him in the face (something I had admittedly been thinking about while watching him deconstruct my JSAg). I think these bullying individuals have become so used to pushing through these dodgy JSAgs that it comes as something as a shock when somebody tells them “no”. Playing the meek role encourages them to over-reach themselves, as they feel there’s nothing to stop them.

The interview time was just about up by now and his next victim was waiting, and so, after a bit of huffing and  puffing he said we’d have to continue this at our next meeting.

 “Fine,” I said, “Look forward to it”.   He looked less than enthralled at the prospect.

As I was walking away I remembered something, so turned back.

“I assume that my original JSAg is still in force ?”

He didn’t seem sure, but then decided “No, as you haven’t signed the new one, you have no JSAg at the moment.”

Hah ! Caught you in a lie !

In fact, until such a time as a new JSAg is signed by both parties, the old one remains in operation. It’s worth remembering that, and asking them the same question. If they tell you no, then that’s something to note down for use in a future appeal.

To be continued…

Local government UK councils benefit from half a million hours of unpaid labour

Scores of UK councils have benefited from more than half a million hours of unpaid labour through government back-to-work schemes, a series of freedom of information requests has found.

The FOI requests filed by the group Boycott Workfare, which campaigns against workfare schemes, found 62% of the 271 councils that responded had used unpaid workers on government schemes during the past two years.

Boycott Workfare, which says unpaid schemes such as work experience and mandatory work activity (MWA) exploit tens of thousands of unemployed people, found Newport council had used 112 people, mainly in its street cleaning and rubbish collection department for about four weeks at a time.

Scarborough council has used 120 people through the MWA scheme since 2011. Seventy one people completed the placements, all in the parks department.

Bexley borough council in London has taken more than 100 unpaid placements, including 71 through the mayor of London’s unpaid work scheme, which is funded by the European social fund. One person was offered full-time employment (!)  and 15 an apprenticeship.

The council said most of these placements were in library services, where 35 paid jobs were lost after services were merged with neighbouring Bromley in 2012.

Of the reported 1,929 placements, only one in 14 led to jobs according to Boycott Workfare, though this figure did not include apprenticeship placements.

Northumberland county council said it had put 44 people into unpaid work in its council services during the past two years.

“These work placements are intended to be positive experiences, not punitive and must be of community value and not replace anyone’s job,” the council said.

Boycott Workfare said half of council placements were part of the voluntary work experience scheme. But nearly 300 placements were on MWA, where the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can compel people to work without pay for a month or have their benefit cut for up to three years.

A further 300 people were sent to work for councils through the Work Programme, with placements lasting up to 26 weeks.

Since February 2012 the DWP has resisted a series of rulings from the information commissioner that it should make public the locations of people sent on government employment schemes, saying the data was commercially sensitive and a public outcry could damage the schemes’ operation. A high court hearing on the matter is expected to take place in the spring.

“data was commercially sensitive and a public outcry could damage the schemes’ operation.” But aren’t we always being told that if we’ve done nothing wrong we have nothing to fear ?  What are they scared of ?

Boycott Workfare said it was “disturbing to find so many councils putting local people at risk of destitution by using schemes that threaten people with up to three years’ benefit stoppages.

“Workfare doesn’t help people find work and councils aren’t offering people jobs at the end of their placement. Instead local authorities are clearly using workfare in an attempt to plug the gaps left by government cuts to public services.”

The group said a six-month employment scheme due to start this year would extend this trend of unpaid work in councils and charities.

“Unless it is stopped, it will mean both more devastating welfare sanctions and fewer paid jobs for everyone,” it said.

The DWP said: “Most of these placements are undertaken voluntarily and work experience is successful in helping people off benefits and into work.

“Mandatory placements give jobseekers in need of more help the vital workplace skills and experience – especially if they’ve never worked before – to find work.”

“Claimants are expected to complete placements which are of benefit to the community, including helping charities. It is only right that people claiming jobseeker’s allowance take part in programmes to improve their skills.”

> Fine – then if it’s work at least pay them the minimum wage. Even New Labour’s New Deal fiasco used to pay you 15 quid a week extra.

Forcing people to work for nothing under threat of sanctions for not complying = slavery.

And talking of Labour, New or present, I dont hear any protests coming from that direction. Of course, it seems most likely that they, should they win the next election, will just continue along the same course as the present government – in the same way that the Tories are using measures brought in by New Labour, like sanctions, to such devastating effect.

Different arseholes, same old shit.

Source – Guardian, 03 Jan 2014