Tag: Unite

Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow comes to Newcastle

Jeremy Corbyn, Paul Rutherford and Debbie Abrahams, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, at the launch of Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow. She is talking to people across the country about what disabled people want to see in Labour’s next manifesto. If you’re a Labour Party member keep an eye on updates from the National Policy Forum for more opportunity to get involved.

The Labour Party’s Disability Equality Roadshow was launched in Manchester in November and is set to go nationwide over the coming months. This democratic engagement process is the vitally important first step in developing policies which will address the structural (social, cultural, political and economic) issues affecting disabled people and their carers across the UK, as well as the challenges we all face in building a fairer, more equal society.

At the launch, Paul Rutherford said: “This initiative will enable Labour to develop real policies which will properly support disabled people, not punish and harm them, making their often difficult lives harder, which is what this government’s policies are doing.”

Debbie Abrahams added: “The roadshow will draw on the experiences and expertise of disabled people themselves who have been particularly affected by this Tory Government’s changes to social security.”

After six years of Conservative policies that have not involved any genuine consultation and engagement with disabled people in political decision-making processes, we have witnessed a raft of increasingly punitive measures and cuts that have been imposed on us, supposedly to “incentivise” the poorest citizens – presumably to be less poor – by imposing financial punishments and heaping stigma on them. Invisible bootstraps were included in the government’s basic incentives package.

The phrase “behavioural change” has become a euphemism for traditional Conservative prejudice, blaming individuals for structural barriers and politically constructed problems. “Incentivising” is another euphemism for discrimination and punitive state behaviour modification policies, such as benefit sanctions, for the poorest people. It’s also a fundamental part of a justification narrative to advance the dismantling of the welfare state in stages, a cut at a time.

The wealthiest people, however, have been presented with the deluxe package of Conservative “incentives”, which entail generous handouts in the form of tax cuts and endorsed exemptions. Such policies, which take lifeline income from the poorest citizens, including those in low paid or part-time work and award it to the very wealthiest, cannot fail to extend and accentuate growing inequalities and increase social and economic exclusion.

This topical comment was very welcomed on Saturday: 

“Tax justice means that supporting disabled people IS sustainable. This is our flag in the sand”. Grahame Morris, Labour MP, on Labour Party priorities at the Disability Equality Roadshow, Newcastle.

Debbie said: Firstly, an inclusive labour market is one that finds the right job for those who can work. The Tory government has focused solely on getting people ‘off-flow’, forcing them into any job to bring down claimant numbers, or none, for example, as a result of sanctions.

I believe there is a fairer way; a more holistic, person-centred approach that looks at people’s strengths and barriers to work whether this relates to skills or housing issues. We need to provide them with the best possible employment support but also opportunities to work.”

And on support for disabled people in work: “Ensuring that proper workplace adjustments are made to retain disabled people who are in work is a vital part of an inclusive labour market. These adjustments could be in the form of more flexible leave arrangements as well as extending Access to Work which currently only supports a tiny minority of disabled people, approximately 36,500 out of 3.7 million in work.”

The Roadshow is part of Labour’s commitment to transform our social security system, ensuring that, like our NHS, it is fit for purpose; there for us all in our time of need.

The Disability Equality Roadshow is using the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons as a framework to help develop a wide array of policies, not just those concerning social security, but also embedding the convention articles in education, health and social care, justice policies and many others.

The Labour Party has already pledged to scrap the discriminatory and unfair Bedroom Tax. Debbie Abrahams announced at Labour Party Conference that a Labour government will also scrap the discredited Work Capability Assessment. Debbie said she wants to replace it with “a system based on personalised, holistic support; one that provides each individual with a tailored plan, building on their strengths and addressing barriers, whether skills, health, care, transport, or housing-related.”

Debbie has asked for our help in exploring how this might be achieved.

Many of us welcomed the announcement from Debbie that a Labour government will get rid of this Government’s punitive sanctions too. As Debbie pointed out: “This will mean Job Centre Plus and employment support providers’ performance will not just be assessed on how many people they get off their books.”

She also discussed the need for a culture change regarding the prejudiced attitudes of many regarding people with disabilities and those out of work.

The event on Saturday was hosted at Unite the Union.

Saturday 3 December was also the International Day for Disabled People.

dis-eq-roadshow Democracy and inclusion in action: discussing social security

Some of the issues that we discussed:

  • We raised individual cases that demonstrated the terrible distress caused by the work capability assessment (WCA) and the serious impact that being told wrongly they are fit for work has on people who are very ill. Labour will scrap the WCA. We said that the evidence that should be considered in claims for disability related benefit should always be medical – presented by qualified doctors and specialists, not from “functional assessment” carried out by non-specialised occupational therapists and nurses employed by private companies hired to cut benefits and make a massive profit at our expense.
  • We must also move away from any process of assessment that is intimidating and distressing. People generally felt that the DLA system was much fairer, with provision for life long awards for chronic and progressive conditions.
  • Increasingly, private companies are taking up money from the social security budget, whilst those that the budget is meant to assist are seeing their support cut and their standard of living plummet. Many are now unable to meet their most basic needs – such as having sufficient income to meet the costs for food and fuel.  It was suggested that benefit levels are set by a specialised  committee, ensuring that the costs of basic needs can be met.
  • As benefits were originally calculated to meet only basic needs, the additional costs of housing and council tax were not included in the benefit level when it was originally calculated. It was assumed that people would remain exempt from paying any additional rent and council tax. That needs to be addressed, since benefits do not cover these or the bedroom tax (though Labour intend to scrap the bedroom tax).
  • The new in-work conditionality is likely to impact on disabled people, many of who may need to work part-time. Shorter and flexible working hours are a reasonable adjustment. Some of us have to also manage hospital appointments with more than one specialist and hospital based treatment regimes. The threat and use of sanctions aimed at part-time and low paid workers is incompatible with the aim of “halving the disability employment gap.”
  • We suggested that employers should fined for not employing a quota of disabled people, rather than being rewarded, as suggested in the government Green Paper, for employing disabled people, given that disabled people have a right to socioeconomic inclusion, including the right to work, without discrimination.
  • The Equality Act was not implemented in full by the Coalition. This limits redress for disabled people regarding:  
    • Dual discrimination: the government decided not to bring this into force as a way of reducing the cost of regulation to business. 
    • Socioeconomic inequalities under the Public Sector Equality Duty 
    • Provisions relating to auxiliary aids in schools
    • Diversity reporting by political parties
    • Provisions about taxi accessibility among other things. These omissions need to be remedied. 
  • Accessibility issues were also raised, ranging from the lack of provision and accessibility for disabled users of public transport and taxis to the lack of large print ESA forms available for people with visual impairments and barriers regarding the availability of home visits for assessments.
  • Run-on benefits for people starting work need to be reinstated, since people usually work a month at least before being paid a wage. Previously, housing benefit, council tax and other benefits were payable for the first month of employment.
  • We discussed the need for culture change to address prejudice, and the now commonly held negative perceptions and attitudes towards disabled people and those out of work.

There were three other task groups, some worked on addressing barriers to access to justice, others worked on disability and barriers at work, among other topics, all of who raised many other issues, which were also fed back. 

It was a very productive and positive event: an excellent opportunity for democratic inclusion in the decision-making process and to contribute positively towards progressive Labour policies.

Of course that process doesn’t stop with the Roadshow events, but in the coming months, if you can get to the Roadshow when it comes to your area, it’s recommended you do. If you’re a Labour Party member you can follow updates from the National Policy Forum, which also provides further opportunity to get involved.

“Nothing about us without us,” as Gail Ward reminded us on the day. This approach provides a solid foundation for democratic norms. Sometimes expressed in Latin, (Nihil de nobis, sine nobis) it is a slogan commonly used to communicate the idea that no policy should be decided by any representative without the full and direct democratic participation of members of the group(s) affected by that policy. The saying has its origins in Central European political traditions.

Debbie has asked if I would contribute in a collaborative response to the government’s recent consultation and green paper on work, health and disability, which I’ve agreed to do. 

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizen’s accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter. It’s very reassuring to know that the Labour party recognise this, especially in a context of an increasingly authoritarian government that isn’t interested in first-hand witness accounts concerning the terrible consequences of their draconian policies. 

Any consideration of future policy and its impacts must surely engage citizens in dialogue, on a democratic, equal basis and ensure participation in decision-making, to ensure an appropriate balance of power between citizens and government.

The Labour Party recognise that democracy is not something we have: it’s something we  must DO, and that process includes all of us. 

One final point that needs raising is that the progressive left – particularly Labour – do not find any favour with the mainstream corporate media, generally speaking. It is therefore down to all of us to bypass the constraints of media neoliberal framing, to ensure that news of Labour policies and events like this are shared widely. Otherwise genuine alternative narratives to the current socioeconomic paradigm and order will continue to be systematically stifled, at a time when there has never been a greater need for alternatives.

Upwards and onwards. 

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With Alex Cunningham, Debbie Abrahams and Gail Ward on Saturday at the Disability Equality Roadshow 

I’d like to thank Debbie Abrahams, Grahame Morris, Alex Cunningham, Ian Lavery, Ian Mearns, Emma Lewell-Buck, Richard Williams, Dave Allen, Labour North, Unite the Union, and every one who came on Saturday for an excellent and very productive, hope-inspiring event.

 


 

Follow the Money: Tory ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor

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Here is yet another great Tory lie exposed – “Making work pay”. This Government have raided our tax-funded welfare provision and used it to provide handouts to the very wealthy – £107, 000 EACH PER YEAR in the form of a tax cut for millionaires. The Conservatives claim that it is “unfair” that people on benefits are “better off” than those in work. But the benefit cuts are having a dire impact on workers as well.

People in work, especially those who are paid low wages, often claim benefits. Housing benefit, tax credit and council tax benefit are examples of benefits that are paid to people with jobs. Indeed the number of working people claiming housing benefit has risen by 86 percent in three years, which debunks another Tory myth that benefits are payable only to the “feckless” unemployed.

By portraying housing benefit as a payment for “the shirkers”, not “the strivers”, Cameron and Osborne aim to convince the public that their draconian, unprecedented welfare “reforms” are justified. 60 percent of people visiting food banks last year were in work. But unemployment benefits are just 13 percent of the national average earnings. What Cameron’s Government have done is created extreme hardship for many of those in work, and further severe hardship for those who are unemployed.

“Making work pay” is a big lie that has benefited no-one but the very wealthy, and the reduction in both the value and the amount of welfare support for unemployed individuals has come at a time when we are witnessing steady reductions in worker’s rightsand worryingly, the Tory-led Government is stepping up its attack on employment health and safety regulations. And the unions.

Last week, on the 25th April 2013, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill was granted royal assent, bringing into law the Government’s widely unpopular proposals to scrap employers’ 114-year-old liability for their staff’s health and safety in the workplace. This steady erosion of our fundamental and hard-earned rights in the workplace is linked to the steady erosion of the basic human rights of the poorest citizens. The Government have liberated wealthy private companies of any moral or legal responsibilities, so that they can simply generate vast profits by exploiting workers who have increasingly fewer means of redress.

There is also a growing reserve army of labour that may be exploited via the workfare schemes. This will mean that unscrupulous, greedy, profit-driven employers will increasingly replace paid workers with unpaid ones that are forced to work for their benefits or face losing them. This is a politically enforced programme of reducing the population’s expectations regarding choice, opportunities, rights, and quality of life.

A recent proposal from our “caring Conservatives” is that new in-work claimants should be required to attend an initial interview at a Job Centre “where a conditionality regime should be set up to ensure the individual is doing all they can to increase their hours and earnings”.

Claimants “should then be forced to attend a quarterly meeting to be reminded of their “responsibility” to try to increase their earnings”, with sanctions applied for failing to attend. This may well be the next stage of the welfare “reforms”, incorporating a punitive approach to those in work on low hours or low pay, as well as those unfortunate enough to be out of work.

There is absolutely no evidence, sense or logic behind the Tory claim that cutting welfare will “make work pay”. Well, unless we are referring to the greedy employers that will benefit and profit from the welfare “reforms” and reduction in worker’s pay level and rights. This is about gross exploitation and profiteering at any cost to human lives.

“Making work pay” is an entirely ideologically-driven, dogmatic, absurd and reductionist Conservative superficial soundbite. There is certainly an essence of all that is Tory in the word “peremptory”. There is also many a Tory donor in private business that wants to see more profit and a more abject workforce.

The real “culture of entitlement” is not to be found among poor citizens, those who are unemployed, sick and disabled citzens, as this Government would have you believe. As a matter of fact, most amongst this politically demarcated social group have paid tax and paid for the provision that they ought to be able to rely on when they/we have need of it, it’s ours, after all. The real culture of entitlement emanates from the very wealthy, and is well-fed and sustained by an aristocratic and authoritarian Government.

Every time we have periods of high unemployment, growing inequalities, substantial increases in poverty, and loss of protective rights, there is a Conservative administration behind this wilful destruction of people’s lives, and the unravelling of many years of essential social progress and civilised development that spans more than one century in ontogeny and maturation.

The Conservatives lied about our “generous welfare”. It wasn’t and it certainly isn’t now. Coming at the same time that severe cuts to tax credits and benefits are set to make an estimated 11.5 million households poorer, the Chancellor was accused by Britain’s largest union, Unite, of conducting class war on the poor while giving handouts to the rich.

The following cuts 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 on the total amount of benefit working-age people can receive

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In addition, wages have not risen in real terms since 2003 and there are further fears that the Government is trying to pressurise the Low Pay Commission into cutting the national minimum wage from its present £6.19 per hour. At a time when the cost of living has risen so steeply, the Government has also increased VAT.

Commenting, general secretary Len McCluskey of Unite said: “Millionaires will be raising a glass of champagne to George Osborne this weekend as he slashes the incomes of people struggling to get by to give handouts to the rich.”

“But ordinary people – taxpayers – will be furious that George Osborne has chosen to give away £1 billion to the super-rich while their fuel and food costs rise and wages are falling”.

“His party knows no shame. They are trying to claim that their tax cuts benefit ordinary people but this is another lie – the truth is that while those earning over £1 million per year will be an average £100,000 better off, low income families will be around £900 worse off.”

“This is not the way to recover our failing economy.  Creating real jobs and paying decent wages, including a one pound increase on the minimum wage, will bring down the benefits bill and get people spending again.”

“Instead of getting on with the job he ought to be doing, like sorting out the problems he has caused to our economy, Osborne prefers to encourage hatred and demonise the poor, both in and out of work, in an ideological attack on our welfare state.”

Ed Miliband said: “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 you (ordinary people) work harder is to take money away.”

Bravo Ed, a very well spotted contradiction regarding Cameron’s claims about how “incentives” work. Apparently, the rich are a different kind of human from the majority of human beings.

Here are some of 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.

It’s plain to see that Cameron rewards his wealthy friends, and has a clear elitist agenda, while he funds his friends and sponsors by stealing money from the taxpayer, by stripping welfare provision and public services down to bare bones.

A simple truth is that poverty happens because some people are very, very rich. That happens ultimately because of Government policies that create, sustain and extend inequalities. The very wealthy are becoming wealthier, the poorest are becoming poorer. This is a consequence of  “vulture capitalism”, designed by the opportunism and greed of a few, it is instituted, facilitated and directed by the Tory-led  Coalition.  

Welfare provision was paid for by the public, via tax and NI contributions. It is not a “handout.” It is not the Governments money to cut. That is our provision, paid for by us to support us if and when we need it. It’s the same with the National Health Service. Public services and provisions do not and never did belong to the Government to sell off, to make a profit from, and to strip bare as they have done

Low wages and low benefit levels, rising unemployment and a high cost of living are major causes of poverty. (“worklessness” is a made-up word to imply that the consequences of Government policies are somehow the fault of the victims of this traditional Tory harshness. It’s a psychological and linguistic attack on the poorest, disabled people and the most vulnerable citizens – blaming the unemployed for unemployment, and the poor for poverty.)

Those are a direct consequence of Coalition policies. The Coalition take money from those who need it most to give away to those who need it least. That causes poverty, and cannot fail to create growing inequality. The Coalition are creating more poverty via the class-contingent consequences of policies.

It’s time to debunk the great myth of meritocracy. Wealth has got nothing whatsoever to do with “striving” and hard work. If it were so simple, then most of the poor would be billionaires by now. 

This week it was reported that one school liaison officer told how a parent came to her pleading for help because her children were suffering from SCURVY – a potentially fatal condition caused by a severe Vitamin C deficiency. It’s an illness linked with malnutrition and poverty, and has seldom been seen in this Country for most of this century, due to improvements in medical knowledge, and the development of adequate welfare provision – that had eliminated absolute poverty in Britain. Until now. It’s increasing again.

We now have pre-Victorian Health and Safety laws in the workplace. We have Victorian malnutrition and illnesses such as scurvy and rickets. Malnutrition has resurfaced because of the re-appearance of absolute poverty – something that was eradicated because of our effective, essential welfare program, until now. We have a punitive Poor Law approach to “supporting” the poorest instead of welfare provision. These ideas and subsequent harsh and punitive policies were a dark part of our history, and now they have been resurrected by the Tories to be a part of our future. It’s social regression.

We have recession and austerity, entirely manufactured, based on ideology and not because of any economic necessity. Austerity does not include and affect the very privileged. Indeed they have benefited immensely from the politically engineered economic situation.  We have a society that has been lulled into forgetting equality, decency and fairness. We have a lying authoritarian Government that created a crisis for many to make profiteering opportunities for a few.

The New Poor Law of 1834 was based on the “principle of less eligibility,” which stipulated that the condition of the “able-bodied pauper” on relief be less “eligible” – that is, less desirable, less favourable – than the condition of the independent labourer. “Less-eligibility” meant not only that the pauper receive less by way of relief than the labourer did from his wages but also that he receive it in such a way (in the workhouse, for example) as to make pauperism less respectable than work – to stigmatise it. Thus the labourer would be discouraged from lapsing into a state of “dependency” and the pauper would be encouraged to work.

The Poor Law “made work pay”, in other words.

The clocks stopped the moment that the Tories took Office. Now their policies mean that we are losing a decade a day.

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 Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Further reading:

Conservatism in a nutshell

Families £900 Per Year Worse Off After Benefit And Tax Changes, Says Labour’s Ed Balls

Labour exposes Osborne’s tax cut for bankers

A catalogue of failure and broken promises-Catherine Mckinnell MP’s verdict on George Osborne’s autumn statement

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame 

“We are raising more money for the rich” – an analysis