This will be held at the Unite the Union Building, Transport House, 211 Broad Street, B15 2AY. The building is wheelchair accessible, and children are welcome though a creche facility is not available.
The timetable for the day is this:
9:30am: Conference opens / registration
10:00 – 10:30am: Update from Public Interest Lawyers about the judicial review & legal challenge to workfare schemes.
10:30am – 11:30: Organising amongst benefit claimants. A discussion session about how claimants can organise themselves, with people from London Campaign Against Poverty (LCAP), Boycott Workfare, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Unite the Union and more sharing experiences and best practice.
11:30 – 12noon Break
12 – 1: Universal Credit, Linda Burnip (DPAC). An introduction to and discussion about the changes in the benefit system to Universal Credit
1pm-2pm: Lunch – we hope to be able to provide a vegan lunch for free and will confirm this as soon as possible.
2:00pm – 3:30pm: Practical workshop to secure Workfare, Work Programmes & Welfare Rights run by http://www.Consent.me.uk. Learn about your rights on workfare & welfare programmes and how to exercise them to avoid forced work and other issues.
4pm – 5:30pm: How do we break the Work Programme? Discussion session led by Boycott Workfare examining the largest workfare scheme, which pays £5bn to private workfare profiteers.
In the light of the events last week, when a man set himself on fire outside Selly Oak jobcentre, after problems with benefit payments, the second session – on organising claimant networks – and the session at 2pm – about welfare rights, and how to exercise them – seem particularly important for claimants and campaigners alike.
If any claimant is having problems with benefits, they should come to this, to meet other claimants and people who have been in similar situations. Cuts to the CAB and other advice services mean we need to ensure that informal, grassroots advice and support networks are being created.
With continuing attacks on our welfare from Ian Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling, we are likely to see more of these kinds if things happening with people pushed into desperate acts, seeing no other way to make something happen to get them the money they need to keep living. Many others will find themselves committing crime, and possibly getting criminal records, in order to make it through these times.
For campaigners against austerity and cuts, the fight for our welfare system is one that must be supported. The unemployed are being sent on workfare schemes that are failing to get people into work – A4e found jobs for just 3.5% of claimants sent on them – and which will have stopped benefits for more people than they have found work for (500,000 sanctions placed in 2011 – these will have ranged from 2 weeks to 6 months in length and left people without money for food or bills – and in some cases housing if it affected their housing benefit claim). Disabled people are being kicked off disability benefits by ATOS, employed to reduce disability benefits, using a process voted unanimously as being unfit for purpose by the British Medical Association, from which there are so many appeals that it costs the taxpayer an additional £50m every year (on a £100m contract). The low paid and part-time workers claiming benefits with start to have to prove that they are looking for better paid jobs under Universal Credit. Pensioners lose some of their winter fuel allowance as gas prices continue to climb.
And with all these problems, this government seeks to blame benefit claimants – lazy, feckless, scroungers, fakers. Hate crimes against disabled people rise. Lies get told and retold and then believed as truth. Evidence is ignored, and failing schemes are expanded to punish the poor.
At no time is recognition made that fraud in the benefit system is very low – just 0.8% or £1.1bn. Less, for instance, than the 10% rate of attempted fraud by workfare profiteers A4e and Working Links revealed in Private Eye. Lower in fact than the amount overpaid in mistakes made by the Department for Work and Pensions. If anyone has some figures telling us what % of MPs had to repay (or were convicted of fraud), it’d be interesting to know. And of course there are the tax cheats, very wealthy individuals and big businesses avoiding £25bn every year through accountancy tricks and loopholes.
Never will you hear Chris Grayling, minister for employment, admit that with 2.65 million unemployed, and 1.4 million in part time work but looking for full time work, and only 400,000 vacancies at the job centres, is it difficult for an individual to find work. There is no space for recognition that unemployment might be the fault of the economy. Nor will you hear Grant Shapps, minister for housing, suggesting that investing in new council housing would reduce housing benefit, make a profit for the taxpayer, provide a stimulus to the economy and help us meet carbon reduction targets. Instead, you have Cameron putting forward the mad idea that housing benefit should be cut for under-25s to reduce the amount currently being forked out to private landlords.
This conference is a good opportunity for us to come together with claimants and campaigners from other groups around the UK and build claimant networks to support and campaign on these issues.