Tag Archives: Social Security

We Will Remember The Victims Of Austerity Britian And Oppose The DWP Which Broke Their Soul

50c16-iain-duncan-smith-image-1-760284306A group of claimants in Birmingham have called a vigil to remember the victims and those suffering from the welfare reforms and culture being created at the DWP. All of you who oppose social injustice in the Birmingham area are invited to take part in commemorative vigil to remember some of the vicitims of companies like ATOS, workfare profiteers like A4e and the Publicly funded Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), all of whom have pushed people over the edge of the emotional abyss.

Saturday 7th September
Broad Street Jobcentre 1pm-2pm
ATOS five ways 2pm-3pm

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A Selection Of Especially Stupid Sanctions

jcp-signThe number and length of benefit sanctions has risen hugely under the coalition. Two and a quarter million JSA claimants have had their money stopped, and since October 2012 sanctions are for a minimum of four weeks and a maximum of three years. ESA claimants can have 70% of their benefits stopped indefinitely. Imagine being without any income for a month, when your annual income is less than £4,000 a year – no chance of savings to fall back onto. Claimants go into debt, go hungry and use foodbanks, go into rent arrears or don’t turn on the heating when it’s cold. Now imagine being without any income for three years and what you’ll do then. On twitter next week, various CAB branches will participate in #CABLive, if you want to see the reality of life for many people at the moment, follow the hashtag.

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Osborne’s Spending Review: Cap Benefits, Cut Benefits, Restrict Benefits

Osborne and Cameron laughing during the mini-budget, dec 2012George Osborne set out his spending review on Wednesday, detailing spending plans for 2015/6, and social security is once again in the sights of his scissors. He plans to cap total benefits payments, so if more people need to claim social security, the amount paid to each will go down. He is also planning to increase the amount of time before you are able to claim benefits after losing a job to 7 days. More conditionality on jobseekers will restrict benefits further and create even more traps for sanctions which can mean up to 3 years without jobseeker’s allowance.

Labour offer no alternative, agreeing with all these cuts to benefits and saying they will stick to Osborne’s spending plan, which covers the period after the next general election, meaning that on economic policies there really is no difference at all between the main 3 parties. Any vote hoping for an end to austerity must go to parties to the left of Labour.

The benefit cap will not include pensions, but will include pensioner age benefits such as the winter fuel allowance and housing benefit. The total amount that will be allowable to be paid in one year has not been announced yet. If the government exceeds this amount they have to explain themselves to parliament so there is a get out clause, but assuming they intend to actually stick to the cap the reality is that if more people need to claim benefits then the amount everyone gets paid will be reduced.

Snow in April 2013Think about what this means. Claimants – which includes people in part time and low paid jobs, disabled people, carers, unemployed people, single parents with young children, and pensioners – will not know from one month to the next how much money they will get. Benefits are already falling in real terms and are often a struggle to live on even before you get sanctioned or something breaks or winter lasts forever and it snows in April so you have to spend more money on heating than is believable.

Now you might suddenly find you get less next month. Why? Because more people have become unemployed, or disabled, or retired… totally out of your control, nothing to do with you and through no fault of your own you will have less money this month than last.

This also affects housing benefit. So what happens when rent rises? Your benefit won’t go up, because it’s capped. Suddenly you’ll have to make up the difference or find somewhere cheaper. But if you’re renting int he private sector you’re already restricted to the cheapest 30% of the market, and if you’re under 35 to a shared house only, so there’s not much cheaper to move to. If you’re in social housing you might already be in arrears because of the Bedroom Tax and now find your benefits are cut further.

Father and young child beggingCapping the total amount paid out in social security does not make sense. It is not the kind of spending you can exactly plan. The effect of it is both unfair and cruel. It is extremely difficult to live not knowing what your budget is. And whatever level the cap is set at, it will no doubt represent an immediate cut in benefits, and over time be pushed downwards to cut benefits even more. So expect more debt, more homelessness, more hunger and foodbank users and more suicides.

It should be noted that the NHS is largely budgeted in a similar way, and if the benefit cap happens and is accepted, we should expect a cap on the NHS budget next.

For unemployed people the story gets worse. If you lose your job you will not be able to claim benefits for the first seven days of being unemployed. This is a gift for loan sharks like Wonga. Labour MP Simon Danzcuk reminded us that there is no point in Labour when stating his support for this on twitter, claiming it was fine because you only needed to save a weeks wages. Not too hard to save money when you are on £65k/year plus expenses and subsidised food and whatever other jobs you fancy doing for companies and lobbyists. Try it on a part time job paying minimum wage with housing benefit not quite paying your rent and tax credits and child benefit not covering the cost of your 5 year old child. Hell, just try it as a single person in a full time job on minimum wage. Another out of touch MP.

jcp-signOsborne said that people should be spending their first week of unemployment looking for work not signing on, but then he says that people will be required to go to the job centre every week, so apparently after the first seven days, signing on is exactly what you should be doing more of. Quite how the already overworked job centres will cope, or whether we’ll see some of the failing Work Programme companies brought in the the job centres directly is yet to be decided. What is clear is that increased visits to the job centre will bring more opportunities for sanctions and general harrasment of unemployed people. The Work Programme has people going in more often, sometimes even more than weekly, and this produces worse results than just the standard fortnightly job centre visit. Perhaps we should think about what this tells us, and wonder if less frequent visits to the job centre would be a good thing. It would after all leave more time for actually looking for work or volunteering rather than some time being looked down on by JCP staff.

Some extra conditionality too – anyone whose English is not good enough will be forced to go on an ESOL course, never mind that such courses are oversubscribed already. Oddly the Tories cut funding for ESOL a couple of years ago, but now they seem to think it’s such a great thing that people should be forced to do it. It’s not clear if more funding will be released for ESOL courses, or if the Tories expect people to magic them out of thin air in order to be able to claim benefits.

All in all this is not just bad news for all claimants, it is also unfair and fundamentally wrong way of thinking about how things like social security and the NHS need to be paid for in order for them to be able to do what they do – which is provide insurance in terms of both the essentials of life and medical aid when needed. Think about how private insurance companies operate, and how eager they are to find ways to get out of paying, how expensive it is. Look at the future for the insurance services provided for by tax.

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Saturday’s Bedroom Tax Protest March Route

BBJ draft leaflet for 15th june (3)A demonstration against the bedroom tax will take place on Saturday in Birmingham, in memory of Stephanie Bottrill who committed suicide, blaming the government in her suicide note. Like many facing the bedroom tax, Stephanie was not able to find a smaller property to move to, and was only offered one six miles away from her support networks, friends and family.
The demonstration on Saturday meets in Chamberlain Square at 12noon. The march will proceed down New Street onto High Street, up Union Street and Cherry Street to the Cathedral, down Temple street to New Street and back to Chamberlain Square. There will be a shortened route that stops at the junction on New St and Temple St, waiting for protesters to complete the long route before heading back to Chamberlain Square.

12noon, Saturday 15th June
Chamberlain Square.
Long march route: approx 1 mile.
Short march route: approx 0.4miles / 700meters
The march returns to Chamberlain Square so anyone who does not want to or cannot walk the short route can remain in Chamberlain Square.

Birmingham City Centre is step free. Accessible toilets are available in Paradise Forum by Chamberlain Square, and a single person accessible public toilet is located in Victoria Square, less than 100m from Chamberlain Square.
Various accessible toilets are available along the march route in the Pallisades, Bullring and Pavilions shopping centre, and in restaurants and pubs.

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Bedroom Tax Demonstration, In Memory Of Stephanie Bottrill – Sat 15th June

Birmingham Benefits Justice Campaign are holding a demonstration on Sat 15th June from 12noon in Chamberlain Square. This will remember Stephanie Bottrill from Solihull who committed suicide, blaming the government and the bedroom tax in the notes she left. This is being held with permission of the family.

12noon
Saturday 15th June

Chamberlain Square, B3 3DH

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Labour Get Extra Funding To Increase Council Tax Benefit

Back in January, when Labour announced how they were going to deal with the localisation of Council Tax Benefit (now called Council Tax Support) and the 10% cut in funding that came with it, they decided to impose 20% charges on all unemployed and some disabled people in the city, whilst neighbouring councils absorbed the cut into their budgets, possibly in expectation that 84% of people would be unable to pay the charge and that court action would be financially unviable. Strangely, having cut the amount of benefit being paid, the coalition offered some transitional funding worth £2.1m for one year to reduce the amount cut. At the time, the Labour council here turned this down due to the conditions attached to accepting the money.

Yesterday however it was announced that Labour have now decided to accept this money, reducing the charge from 20% to 8.5%. This is an excellent move by the council, even though the money is only for one year, it provides breathing space for claimants who are already struggling with food, rent and energy price rises, a real terms benefit cut and for many the bedroom tax as well.

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Protest The Council’s Decision To Make Crisis Grants Only Spendable At ASDA – Sunday 19th May

Kings Heath ASDA

Activists from the Slaney Street blog have called a demonstration at Kings Heath ASDA on Sunday 19th may against the council’s decision to pay crisis grants – the replacement for the Social Fund Crisis Loans scrapped by the ConDem coalition – a pre-paid card usable only at ASDA.

2pm Sunday 19th May
ASDA, Kings Heath High Street, B14.
Join the Facebook event
Kings Heath High Street is step free and accessible toilets are available at Kings Heath Library and various restaurants/pubs along the high street.

On April 1st as part of the welfare reform bill, the coalition government scrapped crisis loans – small short term loans that people receiving or waiting for benefits could get in an emergency (including being a victim of crime) to pay towards essentials such as food or heating (including boiler repairs) and many other items. Crisis loans were interest free and paid back out of future benefits. The scheme was more or less cost-neutral as everyone paid back the loans, but was scrapped and a smaller sum of money handed over to councils to use as they chose.

Many councils have adopted voucher schemes of one kind or another and some have used the money to fund foodbanks. In Birmingham, they decided to pay the money out as grants – an improvement on the old system – but that these will be in the form of pre-paid cards usuable only at ASDA, and therefore only on a limited range of items in a very few places. Scotland and Wales have both moved to a grant system which can be paid in money useable anywhere on essential items.

Johnny Void summed up the issue with paying vouchers:

This ignores the reality of poverty for millions in the UK today, whose chief concern is keeping pre-pay electricity and gas meters topped up enough to keep the lights and heating on. A bag of food bank pasta is of little use if you can’t boil water.

Birmingham City Council have decided to hand over £6.1m of our money to ASDA rather than allow claimants to spend it in local shops and the markets. In doing so they have made life harder for claimants who now cannot buy many of the essential items they used to be able to, and unless they happen to live close to one of the seven ASDAs in Birmingham, they face long walks of up to five miles to get anything at all – that is unless they cash their cards in below face value to the criminals waiting to take advantage of desperation. Following the outcry over the decision, the council have said they will be bringing other supermarkets into the scheme – still denying claimants the ability to spend the money on essential items like heating and transport that are not avialable at supermarkets, and from seeking out the best deals at other shops.

Birmingham City Council should replace the pre-paid cards with money and allow people to shop at local business and places like the markets who are losing money as benefit cuts hit the city, whilst the council is warning of chaos as nobody knows how the benefit reforms work (including the DWP) and welfare offices face closure in council cuts.

Dan Doherty criticised the Labour administration in his article on this decision on the Slaney Street blog.

By failing to stand up for some of its most vulnerable inhabitants, the men and women who run our city have once again shown their cowardice, their complacency, and their complicity. They have wholeheartedly bought into Whitehall’s message that the poorest must be demonised, castigated, and stripped of their dignity and autonomy

We would encourage everyone to attend this demonstration. Kings Heath high street is step free and accessible toilets are available at Kings Heath library which is approximately 0.2miles from ASDA. (Other accessible toilets may be closer).
The council have already started to backtrack from this stupid decision, claiming that other supermarkets are going to join the scheme – but why should the Bullring markets and our local shops lose out to multibillion pound businesses?

Bernice Ellis of the Open Market Trader’s Association has said that their customers are often low income and therefore likely to be affected by this:

We serve low income people, they come to us for the low prices. People will get on a bus to come to us because the price of food is so much lower than anywhere else

We call on the council to change the scheme so that it can be paid in money to allow people to find the best deals and spend it on the things they need in a crisis to survive.

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Local Areas Organising To Resist The Bedroom Tax

bbj-bedroom-tax-logo[1]There will be a number of meetings in the next couple of weeks in local areas around Birmingham that are heavily affected by the Bedroom Tax, as local residents start to organise themselves to resist the charge and any evictions that may come from it.
Meetings will take place in Ladywood, Stockland Green and Highgate:

Ladywood
7pm
Wednesday 15th May
Ladywood Community Centre, Vincent St West

Stockland Green
7pm
Wednesday 22nd May
St Barnabas Church Centre, Erdington High Street
Speakers: Dave Nellist and a Communities Against The Cuts campaigner

Highgate
7pm
Thursday 23rd May
Stanhope Community Centre , Emily Street Highgate

There will also be a lobby of Albert Bore’s surgery at the council house on Friday 17th May from 6:30pm and a protest outside. See here for more information.

Flyer for Stockland Green meeting

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Lobby Albert Bore For No Evictions Over The Bedroom Tax – 17th May

bbj bedroom tax logoAt the meeting in Ladywood last week it was decided that tenants from Ladywood would go to Albert Bore’s surgery at the Council House on Friday 17th may and that there would be a protest outside to support them. They will hand in any letters and petitions collected. We want a big number outside to support them. This follows a meeting last week at which Albert Bore has said that they will evict people eventually.

6:30pm
Friday 17th May

Birmingham Council House
Victoria Square, B1 1BB Birmingham, United Kingdom
Facebook Event

Any questions, please join the Birmingham Benefit Justice Campaign group on Facebook

There will also be a meeting in Ladywood on Wednesday 15th May at Ladywood Community Centre, Vincent St West from 7pm

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Ladywood Meeting vows to fight Bedroom Tax

bbj-bedroom-tax-logo[1]

Tenants on Ladywood estate tonight set up their own local action group to fight the bedroom tax.
A meeting organised by Birmingham Benefits Justice Campaign was attended by 17 tenants and 8 supporters. A number of tenants described how they were already in arrears because they just could not pay the extra money. Others who had made the first payment said they would not be able or willing to pay again.

Speakers pointed out the nonsense and injustice that tenants were being fined for not moving to smaller properties when everyone knows such properties do not exist. Birmingham would require 5000 extra one bedroom properties and be left with 5000 empty 3 bedroom properties to meet the government size guidelines

The meeting agreed to lobby local councillor Albert Bore’s surgeries on Friday 3rd and Friday 17th of May to demand that the council gives promises of no eviction, or agrees to reclassify properties so no bedroom tax is payable. It was agreed to spread the word and meet again on Wednesday 15th May at 7.00 at Ladywood Community Centre.

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