Tag: In-work poverty

Meet Liam and Michelle. It’s time to listen to the voices of homeless people about the fatal flaws of Universal Credit

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On Wednesday, I travelled down to Westminster to meet with John McDonnell, Margaret Greenwood, Mike Amesbury and Marsha de Cordova and a group of disability rights campaigners, journalists, researchers and organisations. One of the issues we discussed during the meeting was the harm and distress that the roll out of Universal Credit is creating for some of our citizens.

I got back from my trip to the Commons, arriving by train back in Newcastle around eleven, I missed the last bus back to Durham. Outside of the train station, I met Liam, a young homeless man, and his partner, Michelle.

Liam told me that the couple became homeless because of the inbuilt failure of Universal Credit to support people both in and out of work. Liam took some temporary work over last Christmas, and was promised that there would be full-time posts in the new year. However there was no full-time work available, and Liam explained that although they had claimed Universal Credit over this period, the couple didn’t receive any support at all. As the work was part-time and the pay was low, Liam and his partner ran up rent and council tax arrears very quickly, as they could not afford to meet their basic living costs. 

When Liam’s part-time work ended, he was told at the job centre that he had to start a new Universal Credit claim. Yet government ministers have assured us that this doesn’t happen. It was during this time that the couple ended up with arrears which led to their eviction. The housing association that the couple rented their flat from significantly pressured Liam into signing an eviction order that was effective immediately. The couple lost most of their belongings as well as their home. 

Liam told me “Once this happens, it is so hard getting out of the situation”. He explained to me that when they became homeless, the couple were told at the job centre that they could no longer claim any welfare support, because they have no fixed abode. (*See below.)

The situation has quickly spiralled downwards. Liam also said that many people are just one pay cheque away from homelessness, but they don’t realise that until it happens to them.

As Liam and Michelle are originally from another regional city, they cannot access  Newcastle Crisis for help. Michelle has PTSD, she cannot access any support for her mental health conditions, and Liam is understandably worried about her safety and mental wellbeing on the streets. It struck me how very much they both cared deeply for each other

I made sure they have some accommodation for tonight, at least. I’m not well off but gave them what I had. Liam told me he hasn’t slept for several nights, because he has to keep Michelle safe. They have to pay £15.50 for a temporary room for the night. That is the only available help they can access. As the couple cannot claim any welfare support, the fact that temporary accommodation costs them money, and of course they need to eat, leaves them with no choice whatsoever but to beg. They do access ‘People’s Kitchen’ in the city, too. But although it helps in providing food sometimes, it isn’t adequate provision for people who are homeless 24/7.

What struck me most about this couple is how friendly and humble they were, and that they are both such lovely people. One word that kept cropping up over and over in my dialogue with them was ‘invisible’. Our whole society looks the other way. Liam told me it is always assumed that homeless people are substance abusers, yet neither Liam nor Michelle drink alcohol or use drugs. It’s distressing enough to end up homeless without the additional prejudices and stigma attached to it. 

I also witnessed first hand how the local police are trying to clear the streets and prevent begging. They are prosecuting homeless people. I was asked by a policeman how long I was planning on interviewing Liam and Michelle, but what he really meant was ‘How long are you going to provide an excuse for them to be here?’ 

Often, anti-social behaviour powers are used to ban activities often associated with rough sleeping, and concerns have grown that an increase in the use of these powers is criminalising homelessness and is not addressing the root cause of the problem. 

Begging is also an offence under section 3 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 (as amended). It is a recordable offence. The maximum sentence is a fine at level 3 on the standard scale (currently £1000). I’m wondering how people that cannot afford a roof over their head and need to beg for food would manage to somehow produce money to pay a fine.

Other provisions also criminalise ‘begging behaviour’: wilfully blocking free passage along a highway is an offence contrary to section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 (as amended), punishable by a level 3 fine. Using threatening or abusive words or behaviour is an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which also carries a level 3 fine. 

Voluntary sector organisations have voiced concerns that the use of anti-social behaviour powers to tackle rough sleeping is criminalising homelessness and leaving vulnerable people in an even more marginalised position. According to Liberty, a Human Rights organisation, “PSPOs don’t alleviate hardship on any level. They are blunt instruments which fast-track so-called “offenders” into the criminal justice system”. Liberty has urged the Government to rethink these powers: “handing hefty fines to homeless people … is obviously absurd, counterproductive and downright cruel”.

There is also a concern that enforcement activity in one area simply displaces street activity to another geographical area, and can sometimes lead to the displacement of activity (e.g. from begging into acquisitive crime). Moreover, it does not address the underlying causes of rough sleeping.

There was a notice up on the train station door that said begging is illegal. Liam has been prosecuted twice under section 35, and a dispersal order was served on him, preventing him from returning to the area for 48 hours. The policeman was stiffly polite, but he hovered around waiting for me to leave, which was a little intimidating. I told him I would hold conversation with whoever I chose to. I felt that Liam and Michelle were being harassed.

It was a stark contrast to the experience of homeless people outside of King’s Cross station that I witnessed. While I was chatting to them, a charity group arrived with a table and some food, which was set up right outside. The policeman there was friendly with the homeless group and chatted to them, while they ate their meal. 

Prior to becoming homeless, Liam had no criminal convictions. Now he has been criminalised for begging because he is homeless. He also told me he stole food on one occasion from the shop Greggs because the couple were starving. They seldom have enough food to get by, and the impact of hunger on their health is a major concern. 

Health care for homeless people is a major public health challenge. Homeless people are more likely to suffer injuries and medical problems from their lifestyle on the street, which includes poor nutrition, exposure to the severe elements of weather, and a higher exposure to violence (robberies, hate crime, beatings, and so on). Yet at the same time, they have little access to public medical services or clinics, in part because they often lack identification or registration for public health care services. There are significant challenges in treating homeless people who have psychiatric disorders because clinical appointments may not be kept, their continuing whereabouts are unknown, their medicines may not be taken as prescribed and monitored, medical and psychiatric histories are not accurate, and for other reasons. 

Yet despite the fact that the couple have had no support at all, Liam has gone into the job centre and local library pretty much every day to look for work. He has finally found a painting and decorating job, which he starts on Monday.  Imagine just how difficult it is to do this without access to a regular bed, clean clothes and washing facilities.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 10 December 1948 by the UN General Assembly, contains this text regarding housing and quality of living:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

As a society, we seemed to have forgotten this fundamental human right in the punitive political era of citizen ‘responsibilities not rights’. But I have yet to see a homeless person successfully punished out of being homeless.

Prior to 1983, the term homeless implied that economic conditions caused homelessness. However, after 1983, under the neoliberal regime of Margaret Thatcher, conditions such as alcoholism and mental illness also became associated with the term in the media. This narrative was often backed up with testimony made by high-ranking Conservative officials. Yet one of the major causes of home;essness is a lack of sustainable employment and adequate wage levels.

This stigmatising approach rested on the notion that the people who are sleeping on the streets are those who are homeless by choice. I have no idea how this narrative of blaming the victims of neoliberalism gained traction, but somehow it has. It is being used to drown out the voices of those that have been failed by dismal neoliberal policies.

This claim – that homelessness is about ‘personal choice’ and an individual’s cognitive and  psychological condition, untethered it from the broader structural context, and in particular, from the New Right’s neoliberal reforms sweeping through the socioeconomic system. In the broader sense, it tended to portray homelessness as something that would exist even under the best economic conditions, and therefore independent of economic policies and economic conditions.

Homeless people may find it difficult to vote as they have no fixed address, they may not have identification documents, or a mailbox. However, equal access to the right to vote is crucial in maintaining a democracy. 

One effect of the political and media stigmatising and dehumanising project has been a total social exclusion. Homeless people experience a profound isolation. This gives the homeless community no say in how things are. Neither government nor wider society listen to them or consider their accounts of their experiences. 

Yet we can’t claim to live in a democracy when increasing numbers of citizens facing destitution and living in absolute poverty are excluded politically, economically, culturally and socially.

The only way that things will ever change for the better is if we do listen. And hear about the lived experiences of Liam, Michelle and the growing numbers of others who have been made destitute by a broken system.

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*It’s important that people know they are still eligible for Universal Credit if they become homeless.

If you are told you are not at the job centre, you should challenge this.

“There is some confusion around whether or not homeless people can claim Universal Credit. 

“I would like to reassure people that support is available, and it’s incredibly important that people who are homeless – whether they’re rough sleeping, sofa surfing or living in temporary accommodation – should, and are able to, receive this support.

1. People can receive Universal Credit without an address

Usually when a person makes a claim for Universal Credit, they are asked to provide an address to register their claim to. 

If a person doesn’t have a fixed address they can register their hostel or temporary accommodation as their address, and if they’re rough sleeping they can use the job centre address.

2. People don’t need ID to receive Universal Credit

Undoubtedly, having ID makes the process of applying for Universal Credit simpler and quicker but in cases where a person doesn’t have ID, work coaches can use other methods to identify a person and help them make a claim.

This isn’t just for people who are homeless, but could be used in other situations as well, such as for people who have lost belongings in a fire or flood, or if they’re fleeing domestic violence.

3. You don’t need a bank account to receive Universal Credit

Having a bank account is important, and it makes it easier for people to make payments, manage money and get into work.

But we understand that a homeless person may not necessarily have a bank account. There are measures in place to make payments through other methods, including post office accounts or the Payment Exception Service, and a work coach can help people through the process of setting up a bank account when appropriate.

4. Finding a home is prioritised over finding work

You can ask Job centre staff to apply an ‘easement’ of up to one month, which means a person is not asked to look for work during this period and can focus on finding suitable accommodation. 

Work coaches have the discretion to extend the easement period further, depending on a person’s circumstances.”

If you are told that you can’t claim Universal Credit because you are homeless or have “no fixed abode”, tell the job centre advisor that:

Justin Tomlinson,has said you CAN. 

Liam and Michelle, if you are reading this, wishing you the very best, and good luck with your new job, Liam. Hoping that it will help you secure somewhere to live quickly. x

Related

Two very vulnerable homeless men left to die in sub-zero temperatures

Please don’t just walk on by, we are better than this

Government backs new law to prevent people made homeless through government laws from becoming homeless

From the abstract to the concrete: urban design as a mechanism of behaviour change and social exclusion

Conservative MPs accuse citizens of ‘scaremongering stories’ about experiences of Universal Credit.

 


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“Gig economy” companies exploit workers and are free-riding on the welfare state

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Deliveroo couriers plan legal action against the food delivery firm to claim better employment rights including the minimum wage, sick pay and holiday.

The 20 delivery riders say they are employees and not, as the company argues, self-employed contractors. In the latest challenge to employment conditions in the gig economy, they are seeking compensation for not receiving holiday pay and for being paid wages below the legal minimum for employees.

The Deliveroo worker’s move follows successful employment tribunal cases brought by cycle couriers at CitySprint, Excel and drivers for taxi app Uber. All three cases found the riders were workers, meaning they are entitled to basic employment rights including holiday pay and the minimum wage, rather than self-employed contractors with no employment rights. 

Uber claimed that its 40,000 drivers in the UK are self-employed, and therefore not entitled to pensions, holiday pay, or other basic employment rights. An employment tribunal in London disagreed, calling Uber’s argument that it was simply a technology company “ridiculous”, and they were relying on “fictions and twisted arguments.”

HMRC is investigating delivery giant Hermes for paying workers less than the minimum wage. Staff receive no holiday or sick pay, and risk losing work if they can’t make their rounds due to illness or lack of childcare.

Some 78 couriers working for Hermes, a company that describes itself as “the UK’s largest nationwide network of self employed couriers”, have subsequently made complaints to Frank Field, the chairman of the House of Commons work and pensions select committee.

It is estimated that falsely classifying workers as self-employed is costing the UK up to £314m per year in lost tax and national insurance contributions. 

A recent study has found that the average self-employed contractor is now paid less than in 1995

The Resolution Foundation – a think tank that aims to improve pay for families – partly has blamed the changing nature of the self-employed workforce. Their report says: “With the introduction and growth of the [so-called] New Living Wage, by 2020 more than 1 in 7 are expected to be paid at or only just above the legal minimum. This increases the need for employers and government to provide personal progression opportunities to get people beyond the wage floor.”

Currently, the government expects individuals to make in-work progression without support, or face financial penalties (sanctions) to their top up Universal Credit. This draconian approach forces unreasonable responsibility onto individuals and their familes, because the problem of low pay is one of exploitative employers and government policy rather than of individual behaviour.

Employers are responsible for setting pay levels and terms. The problem is more broadly one of the key features of neoliberalism, which has led to increasing employment precarity, characterised by insecure, exploitative forms of work. Meanwhile, the organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are being portrayed as “market distortions” by a government (and a party) that has legislated mercilessly to undermine the basic rights and fair levels of pay for employees.

The Labour party have pledged to reverse the Conservative’s anti-union laws if they are elected June.

The political logrolling of the profit incentive presents us with the most unedifying and hard face of neoliberalism, in which human need is profoundly devalued; the employee is merely availed of as an object of value extraction. The Conservatives certainly don’t value the idea of “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”, despite all their rhetoric about “making work pay”. Over the past six years, we learned that this slogan was only a semantic decoy: a cover for the dismantling of our welfare state by a creeping, unremitting stealth.

The report went on to say that many more people had taken up lower-paid jobs in the so-called “gig economy, essentially self-employed workers taking on a variety of different roles, while the proportion of self-employed business owners with their own staff had fallen. The number of hours worked by the self-employed had also declined.

The foundation said this had limited wage growth before the financial crash, but that pay had been “squeezed” in real terms more recently, falling £100 a week by 2013-14.

Last year, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Britain’s new generation of self-employed workers are not all the budding entrepreneurs ministers like to talk about.

“While some choose self-employment, many are forced into it because there is no alternative work. Self-employment today too often means low pay and fewer rights at work.”

The Resolution Foundation’s most recent briefing looks at the final quarter of labour market data for 2016. It says: “Most importantly, inflation has risen rapidly in recent months, weighing heavily on real pay growth – though published pay statistics will take some time to fully reflect this. Well over a third of the workforce are experiencing shrinking pay packets according to the latest figures, in sectors ranging from accommodation to finance and the public sector. Many more will join them in the coming months as inflation continues to rise, with pay across the economy as a whole set to have fallen in the first three months of 2017.

Indeed, our ‘Spotlight’ article notes that real pay in the public sector has likely now begun a fall that could well last for several years. Conversely, private sector pay growth will continue to outpace the headline average earnings figures.”

A Department for Business spokesperson said the government was “committed to building an economy that works for everyone”.

Last year, Damian Green said, in a speech at the Resolution Foundation, that the private sector and voluntary sector “should be more involved in the provision of welfare services”. Green’s endorsement of the “exciting” gig economy and the “huge potential” that it offered came just the month after an employment tribunal found that drivers for the Uber car service should in fact get the minimum wage and paid holiday. 

Green also said: “The Government is a necessary, but not sufficient provider of welfare.” 

Shadow Digital Economy minister Louise Haigh tabled an amendment to the Government’s Digital Economy Bill, New Clause 24, following the tribunal ruling against Uber. 

She said there was still a danger that despite the ruling, Silicon Valley multinationals and other employers could use “loopholes” to break the rules and get around workers’ protections. 

Haigh said: “This is a landmark ruling for workers in the digital economy, and a great victory for the GMB and its members.

“The digital economy was supposed to promise choice and flexibility, but the reality for too many in the sector is that they are overworked, underpaid and exploited by bosses they never meet and who do not even fulfil their basic duties as an employer.

The Work and Pensions Committee report

In a new report the Work and Pensions Committee also concluded that the government must close the loopholes that are currently allowing “bogus” self-employment practices, which are potentially creating an extra burden on the welfare state while simultaneously reducing the tax contributions that sustain it. Increasingly, some companies are using self-employed workforces as cheap labour, excusing themselves from both responsibilities towards their workers and from substantial National Insurance liabilities, pension auto-enrolment responsibilities and the Apprenticeship Levy. 

In an inquiry that has had to be curtailed because of the election, the Committee heard from “gig economy” companies like Uber, Amazon, Hermes and Deliveroo, and from drivers who work with them. The evidence taken painted starkly contrasting pictures of the effect and impact of “self-employment” by these companies.

Companies utlilising self-employed workforces frequently promote the idea that flexible employment is contingent on self-employed status, but the Committee says this is a fiction.

The report

The Committee says:

  • The apparent freedom companies enjoy to deny workers the rights that come with “employee” or “worker” status fails to protect workers from exploitation and poor working conditions. It also leads to substantial tax losses to the public purse, and potentially places increased strain on the welfare state.
  • Designating workers as self-employed because their contract offers none of the benefits of employment puts the cart before horse. It is clear, though, that this logic has taken hold, enabling companies to propagate a myth of self-employment. This myth frequently fails to stand up in court, but individuals face huge risks in challenging their employment status that way.
  • Where there are tax advantages to both workers and businesses in opting for a self-employed contractor arrangement, there is little to stand in the way.
  • An assumption of the employment status of “worker” by default, rather than “self-employed” by default, would protect both those workers and the public purse. It would put the onus on companies to provide basic safety net standards of rights and benefits to their workers, and make the requisite contributions to the social safety net. Companies wishing to deviate from this model would need to present the case for doing so, shifting the burden of proof of employment status onto the better resourced company. 
  • Self-employed people and employees receive almost equal access to all of the services funded by National Insurance, especially with the introduction of the new state Pension, yet the self-employed contribute far less. The incoming government should set out a roadmap for equalising employee and self-employed National Insurance Contributions.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) needs to ensure that its programmes and resources reflect the positive contribution that self-employment can make to society and the economy. This may require an expansion of specialist support in JobCentre Plus.
  • The DWP is seeking to support entrepreneurship without subsidising unprofitable self-employment. The existing Minimum Income Floor (MIF) in Universal Credit (UC) does not get this balance right and risks stifling viable new businesses. The incoming Government should urgently review the MIF with a view to improving its sensitivity to the realities of self-employment. Until this is complete, the MIF should not apply to self-employed UC claimants.

Chair’s comments

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said;

“Companies in the gig economy are free-riding on the welfare state, avoiding all their responsibilities to profit from this bogus “self-employed” designation while ordinary tax-payers pick up the tab. This inquiry has convinced me of the need to offer “worker” status to the drivers who work with those companies as the default option. This status would be a much fairer reflection of the work they undertake which seems to fall between what most of us would think of as “self-employed” or “employed”. 

It would also protect them from some of the appalling practices that have been reported to the Committee in this inquiry. Uber’s recent announcement that it will soon charge its drivers for sickness cover is just another way of pushing costs onto the workforce, to reinforce the impression that those workers are self-employed.

Self-employment can be genuinely flexible and rewarding for many, but “workers” and “employees” can and do work flexibly. Flexibility is not the preserve of poorly paid, unstable contractors, nor does the brand of “flexibility” on offer from these gig economy companies seem reciprocal. It is clearly profit and profit only that is the motive for designating workers as self-employed. The companies get all the benefits, while workers take on all the risks and the state will be expected to pick up the tab, with little contribution from the companies involved.

It is up to Government to close the loopholes that are currently being exploited by these companies, as part of a necessary and wide ranging reform to the regulation of corporate behaviour.”

Uber


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A bad job is worse for your mental health than unemployment, say UK’s top psychologists

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Last month, the following letter was sent to the Independent, titled The DWP must see that a bad job is worse for your mental health than unemployment:

“We, the UK’s leading bodies representing psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and counsellors, call on the Government to immediately suspend the benefits sanctions system. It fails to get people back to work and damages their mental health.

Findings from the National Audit Office (NAO) show limited evidence that the sanctions system actually works, or is cost effective.

But, even more worrying, we see evidence from NHS Health Scotland, the Centre for Welfare Conditionality hosted by the University of York, and others, which links sanctions to destitution, disempowerment, and increased rates of mental health problems. This is also emphasised in the recent Public Accounts Committee report, which states that the unexplained variations in the use of benefits sanctions are unacceptable and must be addressed.

Vulnerable people with multiple and complex needs, in particular, are disproportionately affected by the increased use of sanctions.

Therefore, we call on the Government to suspend the benefits sanctions regime and undertake an independent review of its impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

But suspending the sanctions system alone is not enough. We believe the Government also has to change its focus from making unemployment less attractive, to making employment more attractive – which means a wholesale review of the back to work system.

We want to see a range of policy changes to promote mental health and wellbeing. These include increased mental health awareness training for Jobcentre staff – and reform of the work capability assessment (WCA), which may be psychologically damaging, and lacks clear evidence of reliability or effectiveness.

We urge the Government to rethink the Jobcentre’s role from not only increasing employment, but also ensuring the quality of that employment, given that bad jobs can be more damaging to mental health than unemployment.

This should be backed up with the development of statutory support for creating psychologically healthy workplaces.

These policies would begin to take us towards a welfare and employment system that promotes mental health and wellbeing, rather than one that undermines and damages it.

Professor Peter Kinderman, President, British Psychological Society (BPS)

Martin Pollecoff, Chair, UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)

Dr Andrew Reeves, Chair, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)

Helen Morgan, Chair, British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC)

Steve Flatt, Trustee, British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)”

“Making work pay” for whom?

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It’s a draconian, crude behaviourist and armchair technocratic government that would claim to “make work pay” by decreasing social security support for the poorest members of society, rather than raising wages to meet the rising costs of living. This approach was justified by claims that poor people became “dependent” on benefits because the welfare state provides “perverse incentives” for people seeking employment. However, there is no empirical evidence of these claims. Keith Joseph, a leading New Right advocate of the welfare dependency theories, set out to try and establish evidence dependency during the Thatcher era, and failed. Both Thatcher and Joseph wanted to extend Victorian bourgeois values of thrift, self-reliance and charity among all classes.

Such an approach has benefitted no-one but wealthy employers motivated by a profit incentive, as people who are out of work or claiming disability related benefits have become increasingly desperate. These imposed conditions have created a reserve army of labour, which has subsequently served to devalue labour, and drive wages down. We now witness high levels of in-work poverty, too. The Victorian Poor Law principle of less eligibility had the same consequences, and also “made work pay.” It’s shameful that in 2017, the government still believe that it is somehow effective and appropriate to punish people into not being poor. Especially when the government’s own policies are constructing inequality and poverty.

Last week I wrote about the Samaritans report: Dying from inequality: socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour, which strongly links socioeconomic disadvantage and inequality with psychological distress and suicidal behaviours. The report reiterates that countries with higher levels of per capita spending on active labour market programmes, and which have more generous unemployment benefits, experience lower recession-related rises in suicides.

Research has consistently found that in countries with a generous social safety net, poor employment (low pay, poor conditions, job insecurity short-term contracts), rather than unemployment, has the biggest detrimental impact on mental health. This is particularly true of neoliberal states with minimal and means tested welfare regimes. It seems health and wellbeing are contingent on the degree to which individuals, or families, can uphold a socially acceptable standard of living independently of market participation, and on the kind of social stratification  (socioeconomic hierarchies indicating levels of inequality) is fostered by social policies.

Furthermore, despite the government’s rhetoric on welfare “dependency”, and the alleged need for removing the “perverse incentives” from the social security system by imposing a harsh conditionality framework and a compliance regime – using punitive sanctions – and work capability assessments designed to preclude eligibility to disability benefits, research shows that generous social security regimes make people more likely to want to work, not less.

The government’s welfare “reforms” have already invited scathing international criticism because they have disproportionately targeted cuts at those with the least income. Furthermore, the government have systematically violated the human rights of those with mental and physical disabilities. In a highly critical UN report last year, following a lengthy inquiry, it says: “States parties should find an adequate balance between providing an adequate level of income security for persons with disabilities through social security schemes and supporting their labour inclusion. The two sets of measures should be seen as complementary rather than contradictory.”

However, the UK government have continued to conflate social justice and inclusion with punitive policies and cuts, aimed at coercing disabled people towards narrow employment outcomes that preferably bypass any form of genuine support and the social security system completely. 

See – UN’s highly critical report confirms UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people.

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Kitty.

 


 

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Largest study of UK poverty shows full-time work is no safeguard against deprivation

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By Andrew Naughtie, Deputy editor, Politics + Society, The Conversation

The largest study of poverty ever conducted in the UK has laid out the dire state of British deprivation – and seriously undercut the government’s claim to be lifting people out of poverty through work.

The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK (PSE) project details how, over the last 30 years, the percentage of households living below society’s minimum standard of living has increased from 14% to 33% – despite the fact that the economy has doubled in size over the same period.

The 3rd Peter Townsend Memorial Conference, which begins in London today, will hear from an array of academic analysts discussing the findings and how the problems they reveal can best be tackled.

The extent of poverty

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and led by the University of Bristol, the PSE report is based on surveys of more than 12,000 people made in June 2012. The surveys found that that millions of Britons in paid employment live with high levels of deprivation.

Among other things, the report found that around 5.5m adults go without essential clothing, around 2.5m children live in homes that are damp, and around 1.5m children live in households that cannot afford to heat their homes.

Meanwhile, one in four adults lives on an income below what they themselves consider necessary to avoid poverty, while one in every six in paid work is technically poor. More than one in five had been forced to borrow money to pay for basic day-to-day needs in the year prior to being surveyed.

But most topically of all, the PSE finds that full-time work is not always sufficient to keep families out of poverty. This calls into question the government’s flagship strategy of getting low-income families into employment and shifting them off state assistance.

Since 2010, Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, has put reducing unemployment and dependence on benefits at the core of his welfare policy. But the PSE finds that children who suffer multiple deprivations are not typically living in homes marked by family breakdown and unemployment.

Instead, the majority live with both parents, at least one of whom is employed; they live in small families, with one or two siblings, are white, and live in England.

The cost of austerity

Commenting on the study’s findings, Professor Jonathan Bradshaw of the University of York said they showed many parents who work full time still have to make huge sacrifices to try and protect their children from deprivation.

“We already know from DWP data that the majority of children with incomes below the the relative income poverty threshold have a working parent. The PSE survey shows that the majority of deprived children, those lacking two or more socially perceived necessities, and very deprived children (lacking five or more socially perceived necessities) have a working parent.

“We found that 65% of the deprived and 58% of the very deprived children had a working parent, and 50% of the deprived and 35% of the very deprived had at least one parent working full-time. Child poverty is not being driven by skivers, but is the consequence of strivers working for low earnings while in-work benefits are being dissipated by government austerity measures”.

The study finds that low wages are a central cause of the widespread deprivation it describes. For many people, full-time work is not enough to lift them out of poverty; almost half of the working poor work 40 hours a week or more. And one in six adults in paid work (17%) is poor, suffering low income and unable to afford basic necessities.

Reacting to the findings, Clare Bambra, professor of geography at Durham University, said that the research was a shameful picture of “the devastating and far-reaching human costs of inequality and poverty in the UK today”.

She said: “It’s shameful for a rich country like ours to be tolerating such levels of poverty especially amongst our children and young people. The mantra that work sets people free from poverty has been shown to be a grand old lie.

“We will be living with the long term consequences of this social neglect for decades to come – there are clear links between poverty and reduced life expectancy and higher rates of ill health, especially concentrated in deprived areas and the north.

“These findings show us the true cost of austerity.”

The Conversation

Andrew Naughtie, Deputy editor, Politics + Society, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Read the original article.

The Coalition are creating poverty via their policies

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“David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money.

But they also seem to believe that the only way to make ordinary people work harder is to take money away.”

Ed Miliband.

Source: Hansard, December 12, 2012.

The largest study into poverty in the UK has prompted fresh urges for the government to take measures to tackle growing levels of poverty. The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom (PSE) project is a collaboration between the University of Bristol, University of Glasgow, Heriot Watt University, Open University, Queen’s University (Belfast), University of York, the National Centre for Social Research and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

The project commenced in April 2010 and will run for three-and-a-half years. The research has revealed that inequality in the UK is growing.

The research paper presents an analysis of child poverty and social exclusion in the UK, drawing on data from the 2012 Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey and is the final report on this element of the PSE project. It advances the measurement of child poverty by using three different measures: a child deprivation measure, based on socially perceived necessities, the conventional income poverty measure (but with a more realistic equivalence scale) and a PSE measure which combines deprivation and low income.

The research finds the rates of child poverty for each measures are similar at 30%, 33% and 27% respectively. It also finds, from a new analysis of intra-household distribution, that child deprivation would be much higher if parents were not sacrificing their own living standards for the sake of their children. Analysing the characteristics of poverty, it confirms that a majority of poor children are now living in households with someone in employment.

Perhaps this is the most interesting revelation unearthed by the report: the fact that most of the people living in poverty are employed, dispelling the myth perpetuate by Tory ministers that poverty is a consequence of “worklessness”.

The research found that the majority of children living below the breadline live in small families with at least one employed parent.

Almost 18 million people are unable to afford adequate housing, while one in three do not have the money to heat their homes in winter.

Professor David Gordon said: “The Coalition government aimed to eradicate poverty by tackling the causes of poverty. Their strategy has clearly failed. The available high quality scientific evidence shows that poverty and deprivation have increased since 2010, the poor are suffering from deeper poverty and the gap between the rich and poor is widening.”

We know that benefit delays and the grossly punitive sanction regime are causing dire hardship for people who claim out-of-work benefits, including disabled people  who are deemed unfit for work by their doctor.

We are not simply talking about relative deprivation, here, which is more of a statement about degrees of social exclusion. We are talking about absolute poverty, which is a measure of how many can’t afford basic necessities to support life – food, fuel and shelter.

There are many current studies about poverty, all of which conclude pretty much the same: that poverty and inequality are rising, that people are struggling to meet their most basic needs, and that those who were already the poorest citizens have been hit the hardest by Coalition cuts

The problem isn’t that the government “aren’t doing enough” to tackle poverty: the real problem is that Tory policies are creating poverty.

Three things are immediately clear. Firstly, without the ramping up of VAT in 2010, to 20%, Osborne would be in even more dire financial straits right now. Secondly, income tax has, despite apparently rising employment, failed to increase. Thirdly, corporation tax, targeted for cuts, year after year, has slumped.

The tax system is increasingly veering toward very regressive – biased in favour of the wealthy – consumption taxes, and failing to deliver fairer taxes on income. This is a result of government policy, increasing VAT but cutting corporation tax, and the engineered kind of “recovery” we have ended up with.

We know that austerity is not an economic necessity, as claimed by the Coalition: it’s a Tory ideological preference, aimed at fulfilling a Tory obsession: “shrinking the State“.

We also know that Cameron, who rested all of his political credibility on “paying down the debt” hasn’t done so. In fact, he’s increased it, and the Coalition have borrowed more in just the first three years in Office than the Labour Party – faced with a global banking crisis – did in their entire thirteen years in Office.

If we scrutinise the Coalitions’s policies, which very clearly reflect their ideology, it becomes difficult to see how they could do anything but create inequality and poverty:

These cuts, aimed at the poorest, came into force in April 2013:

  • 1 April – Housing benefit cut, including the introduction of the bedroom tax
  • 1 April – Council tax benefit cut
  • 1 April – Legal Aid savagely cut
  • 6 April – Tax credit and child benefit cut
  • 7 April – Maternity and paternity pay cut
  • 8 April – 1% cap on the rise of in working-age benefits (for the next three years)
  • 8 April – Disability living allowance replaced by personal independence payment (PIP)
  • 15 April – Cap imposed on the total amount of benefit working-age people can receive.

At the same time, note the Tory “incentives” for the wealthy:

  • Rising wealth – 50 richest people from this region increased their wealth by £3.46 billion last year to a record £28.5 billion.
  • Falling taxes – top rate of tax cut from 50% to 45% for those earning over £150,000 a year. This is 1% of the population who earn 13% of the income.
  • No mansion tax and caps on council tax mean that the highest value properties are taxed proportionately less than average houses.
  • Benefited most from Quantitative Easing (QE) – the Bank of England say that as 50% of households have little or no financial assets, almost all the financial benefit of QE was for the wealthiest 50% of households, with the wealthiest 10% taking the lions share
  • Tax free living – extremely wealthy individuals can access tax avoidance schemes which contribute to the £25bn of tax which is avoided every year,as profits are shifted offshore to join the estimated £13 trillion of assets siphoned off from our economy.
  • Millionaires were awarded a “tax break” of £107,000 each per year.

This year, research from the Office of National Statistics showed that the quantity of food bought in food stores also decreased by 1.5 per cent year-on-year in July.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that repressed, stagnant wages and RISING living costs are going to result in reduced sale volumes. Survation’s research in March this year indicates that only four out of every ten of UK workers believe that the country’s economy is recovering. But we know that the bulk of the Tory austerity cuts were aimed at those least able to afford any cut to their income.

Once again, what we need to ask is why none of the mainstream media articles, or the Office of National Statistics account, duly reporting the drop in food sales, have bothered to link this with the substantial increase in reported cases of malnutrition and related illnesses across the UK.

It’s not as if this correlation is a particularly large inferential leap, after all.

No-one should be hungry, without food in this country. That there are people living in a politically imposed state of absolute poverty is unacceptable in the UK, the world’s sixth largest economy (and the third largest in Europe). This was once a civilised first-world country that cared for and supported vulnerable citizens. After all, we have paid for our own welfare provision, and we did so in the recognition that absolutely anyone can lose their job, become ill or have an accident that results in disability. This is a Government that very clearly does not reflect the needs of the majority of citizens.

It is also unacceptable in a so-called liberal democracy that we have a Government that has persistently denied the terrible consequences of their own policies, despite  overwhelming evidence that the welfare “reforms” are causing people, harm, distress and sometimes, death. Furthermore, this is a Government that has systematically employed methods to effectively hide the evidence of the harm caused to others as a consequence of their devastating, draconian “reforms” from the public. This clearly demonstrates an intention to deceive, and an intention to continue causing people harm.

Cameron told us in 2012, in a rare moment of truth (albeit an unintentional one),  that he is raising more money for the rich. That money has been raised because as their policies indicate clearly, the Tories have taken it from the poorest.

How many policy-related deaths does it take to change a government?

What will it take for the wider public to recognise a despotic regime for what it is: a government that does not democratically reflect the needs of most citizens in the UK, one that is inflicting unforgivable punishment on those that our society once protected?

What kind of government causes harm to citizens?

With the hierarchical ranking in terms of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, the artificial and imposed framework of Social Darwinism: a Tory rhetoric of division, where some people’s worth matters more than others, how do we, as conscientious campaigners, help the wider public see that there are no divisions based on some moral measurement, or character- type: there are simply people struggling and suffering in poverty, who are being dehumanised by a callous, vindictive Tory government that believes, and always has, that the only token of our human worth is wealth.

Tory policies ensure that the wealthy are rewarded with more wealth and they punish the poorest with grinding, unforgiving, unforgivable absolute poverty.