Monthly Archives: September 2012

Join Us Next Week To Welcome The Tories To Birmingham

On Sunday 7th October we’ll be welcoming the tories to Birmingham for their annual conference, with a TUC organised demonstration marching through the town centre to a rally at St Marks Place:

Please note the assembly point and time has changed:
Assemble: 10:30am, Victoria Square, B1 1BB.
March from 11:00am going to Broad Street and finishing back at Victoria Square for a rally

The tories are leading the neo-liberal charge to destroy the gains won through class struggle over the past century, with benefit cuts looking to take us back to the victorian age of workhouses and poverty, the NHS being run down in preperation for being flogged off or outsourced to tory donating private health companies, free schools and academies combine with budget cuts to undermine our education system and legal aid cuts remove access to justice for civil cases from any ordinary person.
Austerity is sold as being a solution to the deficit problem, but the deficit is rising as double dip recession it created causes tax income to fall and welfare payments to rise. Alongside the destruction to our economy it destroys our communities and our lives.
The neo-liberal’s answer to this is more cuts of course, and to get rid of employment rights and health and safety legislation, next up will be the minimum wage (already undermined by £2.60/hr apprenticeships and workfare) and more restrictions on trade unions.

From pensions to youth centres, sure start to libraries, forests to street cleaning, the cuts to services affect us all, so if you’re out this weekend and friends are moaning about the government, about the economy or the services they’ve lost, make sure they are coming out on Sunday 7th to march with the rest of us plebs calling for the alternatives to austerity.

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Victory at West Heath Primary School

Excellent news as West Heath Primary School will not become an academy

communitiesagainstthecuts

Last night, a representative of the Local Authority told the parents that as the schools results had gone up, the academy bid would be halted. All the details are not yet clear; it may be that this is a temporary victory and the DfE mounts a counter-attack. But we can still savour the moment. The academy bulldozer has been stopped. The school, pupils and staff will stay with the Local Authority and not be handed over to a private sponsor. We can expect to see the back of the most recent one, Oasis, a group Evangelists.
 There are several points to bear in mind here.
 It was the Governing Body, including the Head Teacher, that signed up to an intent to convert to an academy late last year. They should issue an apology for their bowing to DfE pressure and keeping the parents in the dark for so long. There should…

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public meeting will take place on Thursday 27th September at 7pm at Birmingham Council House in Committee Rooms 3 and 4. The speakers include Jill Harrison on behalf of UNISON West Midlands Police Staff Branch, a speaker from UNITE, Dave Stamp from Asirt and Gargi Bhattacharyya for West Midlands against Policing for Profit.

West Midlands Against Policing for Profit

Take the pledge!

Anti-privatisation campaigners have called on the candidates standing for election for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner to pledge not to privatise any policing service if elected. West Midlands against Policing for Profit will launch the pledge at a public meeting to be held on Thursday at Birmingham Council House.

All the current candidates including Bob Jones for Labour and Matt Bennett for the Conservatives have declared themselves opposed to the current Business Partnering for Profit programme.  The Business Partnering for Profit contract offered a lucrative potential contract of £1.5bn to private companies to provide policing services including Custody and Forensic services.

The Campaign wants a clear commitment from the PCC candidates that they will oppose all future privatisation of policing services and will be asking them to sign a pledge. The two part pledge reads:

‘1. If elected all Policing services will remain publically provided…

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Birmingham Charities Warn Of Rise In Homelessness Following Welfare Cuts

Eviction Notice – a sight set to become more common

In a report on welfare reforms from 17 charities and non-profit organisations, the effect of cuts to housing benefit on low paid, unemployed, disabled, carers and older people and their communities has been raised by almost every organisation submitting evidence to the council.

Midland Heart, one of the regions largest social landlords, say their customers

Generally feel dismayed and negative. They are unhappy and unenthusiastic about the changes to the benefits system and afraid that they will be unable to live on reduced benefits

From April 2011 the rate for Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which replaces Housing Benefit, restricts claimants to the cheapest 30% of the private rented market. This does not take into account the substantial number of landlords who will not take welfare claimants, with “No DSS” a common feature in house letting adverts. Giving Hope, Changing Lives – a social inclusion process led by the Bishop of Birmingham – say that only 10% of landlords in the private rented sector would take people on benefits.

LHA cuts affect 17,500 residents in Birmingham. The amount cut ranges from an average £5 per week for under-35s claiming the single room rate to £46.15 per week for families in 4 or more bedroom houses. Many large families have found they have to move to smaller, overcrowded accommodation due to the cuts.

Young people are also heavily affected. Freshwinds show how a 26 year old has lost £181/month in the housing benefit reforms, as the single room rate has been extended to include 25-35 year olds, meaning he is no longer eligible for a 1 bed flat, but only for the cost of renting a room in a shared house. Freshwinds raise concerns that the single room rate won’t even be enough to cover the cost of living in anything except the worst accommodation, and say that the cuts leave the “Potential for crisis if any unexpected expenditure occurs”
Changes to “non-dependent” allowances mean that people under 25 who are unemployed are also set to be hit with a £65 per month charge if they live with family, a move which Midland Heart say “could put them at a risk of becoming homeless and thereby potentially place pressure on local authority waiting lists.”

The number of people who are finding their benefit does not cover their rent has risen from 50% to 66%, with the average shortfall increasing from £15 per week to £16, leaving two-thirds of claimants to find a significant amount of extra money from their wages or benefits to keep a roof over their heads.

The introduction of Universal Credit next year will compound the problems created by the LHA, as an overall benefit cap is introduced – £500 per week for couples and single parents and £350 per week for single adults.
Midland Heart say that for “those households who are capped, the impact will be considerable.” and Freshwinds warn

Individuals may be forced into renting poor standard accommodation which is more affordable but impacts on health and well-being (physical and psycho-social)

St Basils say that the introduction of Universal Credit will increase homelessness, with short term private rentals – most likely expensive B&Bs – becoming increasingly used.

They inform us that in 2011/12

4,574 young people between the ages of 16-25 sought assistance as homeless; 83.5% of those were aged 16-21 – a 32.6% increase on previous year

In the report nine different groups say they expect to see an increase in homelessness as benefits get cut. Birmingham Voluntary Services Council say “that 75 per cent of the 110,000 individuals at risk of homelessness are children”

Sifa Fireside say that long delays in processing housing benefit and in particular providing evidence for exemption from caps, combined with increasing numbers of people losing housing benefit following a Jobseeker’s Allowance sanction, is meaning

More service users at SIFA Fireside are facing rent arrears, debt and eviction because of the [welfare reforms] and slow processes.

It is imperative that Birmingham City Council act to ensure that homelessness does not increase in Birmingham, by supporting existing tenants, meeting their plan to build 70,000 new homes by 2026 and bringing the 600 empty council owned residential properties identified by Birmingham Tenants and Homeless Action Group back into use.
Nationally, rising homelessness adds to the long list of reasons for a huge investment project into new zero-carbon council houses, which would produce a profit for the taxpayer, reduce housing benefit costs and help prevent homelessness.

The caps are not the only cut to be implemented in Universal Credit reform. The under occupancy charge – applied where there are empty bedrooms – is expected to affect 40,000-60,000 tenants around the West Midlands and will see people forced to move from homes they have lived in for years, or find money from wages or benefits to make up the difference.
Concerns have been raised specifically about foster carers who will not be eligible for full benefit as “a household that has an extra room for a current or potential foster child will be treated as under-occupying” (PDF section 3.7, p11/12) potentially making it even harder for Birmingham City Council to increase the number of foster carers following the closure of children’s homes. There are similar concerns for parents with visiting children who will have to find extra money to keep a bedroom available for when their child stays.

Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid warn the effect of 95% cuts to payments for service charges, the reduction in LHA rates and benefit cap, and the uncertainty and potential loss of income from the removal of direct payments to landlords “will impact disproportionately on those facing domestic violence and on refuges, limiting women’s ability to escape violence”. In fact the cuts are so bad that every refuge in the country might close.

Midland Heart say that the inability to levy service charges would impact on the upkeep of properties and “possibly create ghettoised estates that would attract crime and anti-social behaviour”. Castle Vale Community Regeneration Services, St. Basils and Birmingham Voluntary Service Council all raised concerns about the effect that the cuts would have on communities, which will see increased transience as people are forced to move.

UPDATE: The DWP have now said that exempted supported housing will be taken out of Universal Credit, which is great news and a relief no doubt for many organisations around the UK and the people they support. Read more

Another change with Universal Credit will be the removal of direct payments to Landlords, a change that Midland Heart’s customers say

Direct payments to vulnerable customers could lead to them misusing the money and building up debts with their landlords. One customer said they were “rubbish managing their money” and that this will cause increasing pressure as they might ‘blow it’.”

On the other hand, some customers were happy with direct payments as they would feel trusted and in control. Others expressed a worry that they would be tempted to spend the money and that some might misuse it. Some spoke of the risk of being financially abused as they currently have trouble handling money.

Again, the majority of submitters to this report raised concerns about the loss of direct payments could have on vulnerable people and on the cash flow for social landlords. Castle Vale Tenants and Residence Alliance say that

In theory this responsibility is potentially a good thing for the less vulnerable … however in reality, [it] is untenable and irresponsible

With advice services expected to be overwhelmed by increases in people seeking help coupled with cuts in funding and legal aid, these reforms spell disaster for residents of Birmingham. The biggest reform – Universal Credit – has come under criticism from 70 charities and with spending on the IT side of the project having reached £638m, this project should be abandonded before it reaches a spending level on the epic proportions of the failed NHS IT project, and most importantly before it harms everyone in Birmingham.

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Next BATC Meeting – Monday 8th October – Youth Unemployment in Birmingham

Our next organising meeting will be on Monday 8th October and Richard Hatcher will introduce a discussion about youth unemployment, with a talk of around 10 minutes followed by around half an hours discussion. After this will be organising items which will mostly be focused on the 20th October TUC national demonstration in London.

Youth Unemployment
6:30pm, Monday 8th October

Unison Offices, 19th Floor McClaren Tower, Priory Queensway, B4 7LR
Offices have level access and accessible toilets. Children are welcome to our meetings but we cannot provide a creche service, though there is enough space to set up a seperate table from the meeting you will need to bring something for them to do.
If you have any accessibilty needs or questions please contact us by email at BirminghamAgainstTheCuts@gmail.com

UK Youth unemployment graph

Source: Touchstone Economic Dashboard
http://touchstoneblog.org.uk/

Nationally, youth unemployment has risen sharply over the past three years, with over a million people aged 16-24 out of work.
Long term youth unemployment – where people are out of work for more than a year – has risen by 264% in the past year alone, with 60,955 young people long term unemployed in August 2012.

Whilst they are out of work, under-25s get a worse deal than older jobseekers – a lower rate of Jobseeker’s allowance (£56.25/week rather than £71/week), housing benefit limited to a shared house rate and more chance of being forced to work unpaid for private companies with extra schemes operating and a pilot scheme in London which can see young people sent out from the day they sign on.

With workfare the only game in town as far as the DWP are concerned, EMA scrapped, tuition fees raised hugely, colleges losing funding and Connexions only saved from closure through concerted strike action, young people are not getting the support they deserve. It is in this context that Birmingham City Council have launched a youth unemployment commission, which we hope will bring forward policies that will actually create useful jobs, and not just supply free labour to companies under an empty idea that experience is all that is necessary to get work in an economy where 800 people apply for 10 jobs at Costa Coffee in Nottingham.

So what is the picture locally? What do we need to do tackle this problem? Come along to our meeting to discuss this issue.

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Birmingham’s Advice Services Will Be “Overwhelmed” By Disability Benefit Cases Following Reforms

“Tax Avoidance = £25bn, Welfare Cuts = £4.5bn” Banner at DPAC demonstration at the DWP HQ

In a report to Birmingham City Council, 17 charities and non-profit organisations working in Birmingham have slammed the government’s welfare reforms, with predictions of “social meltdown” following the reforms and cuts.

Birmingham Settlement have said that “All advice services will be overwhelmed” by just one of the reforms – the change of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) as they expect there will be thousands upon thousands of reviews and challenges to decisions. Birmingham Settlement are primarily a debt advice service, but say they have gone from almost exclusively dealing with debt to now spending 23% of their time dealing with Welfare Benefits, Appeals and Tribunals.
Birmingham CAB say the same, having experienced a 141% increase in people seeking advice just for ESA claims between 2009 and 2011. They warn of an increasing case load as other reforms come into effect, but the cuts in their funding and loss of legal aid income mean 3 of their offices in Birmingham are likely to close, leaving just their city centre bureau running.

The Birmingham Tribunal Unit foresee the same problem, saying that

The changes to the benefit system will, in the short term particularly, put pressure on already stretched advice agencies. Coupled with cuts in the legal aid provision, there will be fewer places for people to seek quality advice and help.

Given the large numbers of people appealing ATOS decisions regarding Employment Support Allowance (ESA), and the large number of successful appeals, this is very concerning, as it will mean many people getting kicked off the benefits they should be on, with reduced payments impacting upon their health and standard of living, and those who could be working will not receive the support they need in order to do so.

This change from DLA to PIP has been explicitly linked to reducing the amount paid out on a benefit which is often life changing. The reform to the benefit, which is available for people in employment as well as those out of work, has been criticised by paralympians.
The DWP say they want to see a 20% reduction in overall payments, and 9,000 people in Birmingham are expected to be affected by the cuts, with the lower rate of payments being removed entirely, leaving many disabled people at least £20 a week worse off.

Freshwinds say these cuts will lead to

  • Less mobility and higher levels of isolation among physically disabled groups (especially those who are currently in receipt of the Low Rate Care Component of DLA).
  • Increase in fuel poverty – particularly among groups whose illness or disability may necessitate a higher fuel consumption
  • Decreased ability to pay for care in the home
  • Increase in mental health issues including anxiety and depression – overall negative impact on well-being

    This reform is only one of a number of changes and cuts to disability benefits, which Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid say will affect their clients:

    Severe cuts affecting disabled adults and children, with the abolition of DLA for adults and replacement (for some) by Personal Independence Payment (with a 20 per cent budget cut), and the abolition of the Severe Disability Premium, cuts to the disability element of Child Tax Credit and to the disability element of Working Tax Credit. Alongside this will be other cuts in contributory ESA

    Age Concern say that although older people are mostly excluded from these welfare reforms, they are still concerned about the effect reforms will have on the wider family unit and especially on those with progressive conditions. They say that

    The suspicion has not been allayed that the primary intention of the reform is to make significant budget cuts at the expense of some of the most vulnerable in our community – the sick, the disabled, their carers and their dependents.

    One reform that is already happening is the move from Incapacity Benefit (IB) to ESA, and the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process run by ATOS, which has been condemned by the British Medical Association as unfit for purpose.

    Nearly half of decisions made by ATOS are appealed with a success rate of 40% (a rate that rises to 70% when advocates or solicitors are involved). This means around one fifth of all decisions are overturned – 150,500 people wrongly assessed from 2008-2011 – costing taxpayers £50million each year on top of the £100million a year contract with ATOS. The human cost of these decisions can be seen in the 32 deaths every week of people who have been judged fit for work by ATOS, including a Birmingham man who died from his heart condition just 3 weeks after being told he was fit for work.

    Additionally, those kicked off ESA can have problems with housing benefit in the move to JSA, as claims get suspended – a problem that Sifa Fireside say in the report that they are seeing regularly with their clients.

    And to come next year is the introduction of Universal Credit, – which combines a range of benefits, and introduces a cap on total payments of £500/week for couples and families and £350/week for single people.

    This will affect many disabled people, as Birmingham Voluntary Services Council (BVSC) explain:

    Although disabled people receiving DLA will be excluded (a number which will fall through transition to PIP), other disabled people will lose out: 22 per cent of households affected will be in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance. It is estimated that the average affected family will lose £93 a week; 35 per cent will lose more than £100 per week

    Universal Credit also cuts the child disability addition by 50% (£26 from £53), unfairly penalising disabled children. BVSC say this makes child poverty targets “unachievable”. Family Aid say some families will lose £1366 per year due to this cut.

    One of Family Aid’s clients is Susan, who has a 6 month old son and is suffering from severe depression and delusion disorder.
    She lives in a privately rented property and receives ESA, child benefit and child tax credit, local housing allowance and council tax benefit. Susan finds making ends meet difficult due to rising food and fuel prices. Family Aid say

    without the Sure Start Maternity Grant she received she would not have been able to buy the things she needed for her new baby. She is concerned about the impact of changes to the amount of housing and council tax benefit support she receives. She says she often goes without to make sure her baby has the things he needs cutting spending on public transport, clothes, fruit and meat to balance her budget. She would like to go back to work when her baby is older and her health improves but barriers such as the reduction in childcare support make this prospect difficult.

    Family Aid raise the issue of monthly payments under Universal Credit making it more difficult for people with mental health difficulties to manage their budgets, with similar concerns being raised by Sifa Fireside for those with dependency issues. Midland Heart also say their residents have expressed concern about monthly budgeting, saying they often have trouble budgeting over a fortnight.

    All these cuts (and especially those to DLA) are predicated on the notion that the disability benefit system is full of fakers, fraudulently claiming for a condition that doesn’t exist. In fact benefit fraud for DLA is 0.5%, with IB/ESA at just 0.3%. These figures come from DWP and the level of fraud is decided by a process which takes a sample of claims and investigates them thoroughly to see where fraud occurs. This is not the amount of succesfully prosecuted fraud cases, but is a good estimate of total fraud based on a statistically significant sample of claims.

    With the coalition floating the idea that benefit payments should be frozen, and the link to raising benefits with inflation broken, now is the time to let them know that we won’t stand by as our welfare system is destroyed. Join us at the Tory Party Conference in Birmingham on Sunday 7th October and the TUC National Demonstration in London on Saturday 20th October.

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    Alternatives: Quantitative Easing For The People

    This is a post in our series on our suggestions for alternatives to cuts and austerity.
    In this post we explain Professor Steve Keen‘s idea – Quantitative Easing for the People.

    We all know that over the past 3 years, the Bank of England has printed lots of money to give to the banks, in exchange for their bad debts – £375bn in fact. This money was supposed to stimulate the economy – to shore up the bank’s reserves so that they would lend to business and help to drive the economy forward. In fact very little of that money has found its way into the economy as there is already too much private debt and little willingness to either lend or borrow more money. Quantitative easing (QE) has in fact only helped the richest 10% of people, who have gained an average of £322,000 in value of their assets as a result of QE.
    With the economy continuing to stutter, and inflation slowing down (although still rising faster than wages), there is talk of more QE, perhaps another £50bn like in July.

    Instead of quantitative easing for the banks, Prof. Keen says we should give it to the people instead – in the form of a debt jubilee, a move he has called “Quantitative Easing for the People”

    Skip to 4:07 to hear Prof. Steve Keen talk about his idea of a debt jubilee:

    So instead of handing money to the banks, where it will sit in reserves and benefit the richest, this money would be given to everyone. If we assume for the sake of simple maths that there are 50 million adults in the UK (which is probably about right, but I’ve not been able to find an accurate number for this, sure it must be available from the 2011 census somewhere), that would mean £1,000 each in the event of a further £50bn QE being created by the Bank of England.

    That money would have to be used to pay off debts, and any money left over people would be free to spend as they wish. That would mean anyone in debt would pay some or all of their debt off, and have a reduction in their outgoings, leaving them with more disposable income each month, whilst people without debt would see a cash bonus that would probably be spent, directly increasing demand in the economy.

    Prof. Keen says The broad effects of a Modern Jubilee would be:

    • Debtors would have their debt level reduced;
    • Non-debtors would receive a cash injection;
    • The value of bank assets would remain constant, but the distribution would alter with debt instruments declining in value and cash assets rising;
    • Bank income would fall, since debt is an income-earning asset for a bank while cash reserves are not;
    • The income flows to asset-backed securities would fall, since a substantial proportion of the debt backing such securities would be paid off; and
    • Members of the public (both individuals and corporations) who owned asset-backed securities would have increased cash holdings out of which they could spend in lieu of the income stream from ABS’s on which they were previously dependent.

    To read more about this plan, click here and scroll down to the section titled “modern jubilee”

    So as the Bank of England talk of more QE for the banks, you should be calling instead for QE for the people. £1,000 for everyone to pay down debt or spend if they are debt free. Money into the economy instead of the bank’s vaults, leading to increased aggregate demand which will give confidence to the private sector, creating jobs and growth.

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