Archive for the ‘JSA’ Category

So the party conference season is here and once again our glorious leaders have come up with plans to help the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Help them to be poorer and more vulnerable that is.

Labour, those champions of the poor and oppressed, kicked things off with Ed Balls pledging to keep the Tory/Liberal imposed benefit cap, raise the state retirement age and scrap the winter fuel allowance (after all those old folk won’t need to heat their homes so much if they’re at work will they?). According to Jessica Elgot of the Huffington Post he also said they would “introduce limits on overall ‘structural’ welfare spending” (Huffington Post, 22/09/14). Presumably it was left to Ed Balls to announce these attacks on benefit claimants and pensioners so that the other Ed could ‘forget’ to mention them and play the good cop.

Commenting on Ed Balls conference speech Matthew Reed of the Children’s Society said policy “is about making choices and the shadow chancellor has made a choice – to look for savings by cutting help for children” (ibid) referring to the cuts to child benefit which the Labour party are refusing to reverse if they win the next election.

As awful as these plans are and as much as they are a slap in the face for many a prospective Labour voter it is, of course, still true that when it comes to kicking you when you’re down the Labour party are still amateurs. The warm up act over it was time for the headliners to appear on stage. Like some aging band playing to the faithful who have followed them since Woodstock the Tories got their show underway belting out old favourites like Class hatred, Tax cuts for the rich and, of course, Make the scroungers work. They’ve even had time to pen some new material like Iain Duncan Smith’s madcap Prepaid benefits cards. All much stronger stuff than Ed Miliband’s weak folky set which included My pal Diamara and I met this bloke down the pub.

OK I think the music festival analogy has gone far enough and it makes the Tories cooler than they are. The point is the Tories were playing to their audience and their audience are a really nasty selfish bunch. Exactly the right kind of people to put a plan for prepaid benefits cards to. Iain Duncan Smith presented the policy to the Conservative party conference by saying it was aimed at benefit claimants with “destructive habits” such as alcoholism, drug abuse or even debt (Guardian, 29/09/14). The reality is it was aimed at those voters, and MPs, thinking about defecting to another party. He claimed it would help them by making sure the money they got was spent on essentials like food. It went down very well in the hall but his apparent concern for those on benefits would be easier to believe if it wasn’t for the fact that his policies have pushed many of the people in question into debt and other problems. This is, after all, the same government minister who came up with the idea of paying housing benefit to claimants rather than directly to landlords. So on the one hand he wants to teach those on benefits responsibility, which is really insulting coming from a man who lives off the wealth of his wife’s family, by giving them their rent money to pay to their landlords but on the other hand they’re not to be trusted with their JSA.

The Tories weren’t finished with just one attack on benefits claimants. Oh no, there’s an election in a few months and they need to shore up their support in case that party of Mad Hatters (maybe that should be mad haters) to their right steal too many votes from them. So, just to assure the tory faithful that the nasty party still hates poor people as much as ever, George Osborne announced a freeze on benefits for 2 years.

When asked about this policy on the BBC, the Prime Minister said it was “a basic fairness” that benefits shouldn’t rise faster than wages. A typically Tory trick – deflect attention from the rising cost of living, and the government’s failure to do anything about it, by claiming someone is getting a free ride. The PM was then pressed on the issue of ‘fairness’ and asked if he thought it was fair for the poorest to pay off the deficit to which he responded that his government had made the rich pay their share. When asked to provide examples of this he pointed out stamp duty on expensive houses and the Chancellor’s pledge to make corporations like Google (which Osborne didn’t actually name you’re just supposed to guess who the tax dodgers are) pay the corporation tax they should be paying. What an insult! While freezing (in effect cutting) in and out of work benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance and Working Tax Credit this is all they can come up with?

The highest rate of stamp duty is currently 7% and is applied to homes that cost over £2million. That means is you buy a home that costs £2million you pay £140,000 in stamp duty. That’s a fairly hefty amount of tax. The problems with this approach to making the rich pay their ‘fair share’ of the deficit are that firstly – it’s avoidable, if you don’t want to pay that much don’t buy a house that costs £2million and if you don’t want to pay it at all just don’t buy a house; secondly – if people are buying houses that cost 2 or 3 million quid they can not only afford to pay that stamp duty but they’ve already had an income tax cut as well as a variety of other tax cuts; and thirdly – whether people are paying huge amounts on stamp duty or not that doesn’t change the potentially devastating effect a benefits freeze could have on people who can only dream of having the problem of paying £140,000 in stamp duty.

As for making Google et al pay corporation tax – how dare George Osborne even bring that up? They’ve been in power since 2010 and now they decide to do something about companies not paying tax. We already have a low level of corporation tax which companies choose to avoid paying and this government (and previous Labour governments) have chosen to tackle the issue with spectacular inactivity but we’re supposed to believe that if they’re re-elected they’ll sort out Google and make them pay their ‘fair share’. If they were serious about tackling tax dodging (by the wealthy) they’d have at least made a start – they haven’t.

One side issue here is that the above discussion of the Prime Minister’s comments is largely based on the 1 o’clock news on BBC1. In that programme the main thrust of the report was about the freeze on benefits but by the 6 o’clock news the same report had been changed to focus on the issue of an in/out referendum on EU membership. I’m not suggesting that the BBC were ‘got at’, far from it Cameron seemed even less comfortable with the questions on the EU referendum, but it does show that attacks on the poorest people in our society, attacks that will lead to deepening levels of poverty and quite possibly contribute to rising suicide levels among benefit claimants can’t even hold the media’s attention for a few hours.

So, there it is, the poorest pay more, benefit claimants are attacked again, claimants are once more linked with social problems like alcoholism and drug abuse (a classic IDS ploy to lessen any residual public sympathy for them) all while those who really could afford to pay off the deficit get an easy ride.

I said earlier that the audience the Tory ministers were playing to are a nasty selfish bunch – they are, and if you’re not convinced of that the fact that so many of them are looking for an even nastier party than the Tories should be proof enough. As for the Labour Party seem to want to ignore their own audience and please the Tory faithful instead.

In my first post in this blog (http://skintandangry.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/work-programme-what-do-you-do/) I asked the question: Work Programme what do you do? I’m still asking that question and I still don’t know the answer. Since June 2011 1.2 million people have been referred to the Work Programme but in only 13% of cases has there been a “job outcome” payment which is usually paid to the Work Programme provider when their client has been in work continually for 6 months. Although the Work Programme’s results have improved in the second year (much of that 13% referred to above) it still isn’t hitting its targets. But even if it did hit its targets we have to ask what the Work Programme provider’s actually do to justify being paid. I’ve never had much help from them and I don’t think my experience is uncommon. I asked Lisa, another Work Programme client, from Clackmannanshire about her experience of the service the Government’s ‘flagship’ programme is providing.

Sean. How long have you been unemployed?

Lisa. Seven years.

Sean. What benefit are you on?

Lisa. I’m on JSA.

Sean. How long have you been on the Work Programme?

Lisa. I’ve been there since June this year.

Sean. Who is your Work Programme provider?

Lisa. Triage Central/Ingeus.

Sean. Have they provided you with any help and if so, what?

Lisa. They mentioned a confidence course that I’ve heard no more about.

Sean. Mentioning courses or different kinds of help that are supposed to be available and then not following through seems to be typical of the Work Programme. Have you been left to look for work on your own?

Lisa. I was handed a sheet of paper with an agency job printed on it, and was told to try Office Angels agency but my Jobcentre adviser agreed that agency work is no good. I was told to attend a CV workshop which I turned up to, and there was no workshop…I was told to print my CV out and do a quick job search…I could have done this at home easily.

Sean. In my experience almost everything you have to do with the Work Programme could be done at home. Have you had any interviews while on the Work Programme?

Lisa. No.

Sean. How have your advisers treated you?

Lisa. I’ve spoken to the Triage adviser for about half an hour the whole time I’ve been on the programme. It feels like a waste of time going there as I can do my job search at home. My Jobcentre adviser is great and is really nice.

Sean. Is Triage the provider you are with now and if so do they operate on behalf of Ingeus?

Lisa. Triage are linked to Ingeus, so it says on the website.

Sean. Would it surprise you to hear that the Work Programme is funded with £5 billion of public money?

Lisa. They get all that money? What a waste.

Sean. So you don’t think the Work Programme is worthwhile?

Lisa. I would think the Work Programme was helpful if they actually helped. I can job search on my own and I don’t see the point in having to go there for that purpose. They are also guaranteeing a job at the end of the two years apparently.

Sean. Good luck with that.

And good luck to everyone hoping the Work Programme will actually provide them with help at some point rather than just pressure.

A while back I signed off Job Seeker’s Allowance again but it’s not as easy a process as some might expect. It has always surprised me that it’s not easier but this time round was really an extraordinary experience.

First I checked my signing book for a phone number. There is a box on the front of the book under the words “If you need to tell us that your circumstances have changed, please call us on this phone number” the box was, of course, empty. Memories of previous occasions when I’d signed off came flooding back. For some reason no one ever bothers to put a number in that box.

I found a number on the back of the book as far from the box as possible. When I phoned it I had to listen to some dreadful musac for a while. Eventually someone answered. This is a truncated version of what happened next -

Jobseeker’s Direct (JD): You’re through to Jobseeker’s Direct how can I help you?

Me: I want to end my JSA claim.

JD: This is Jobseeker’s Direct how can I help you?

Me: Eh I want to end my claim for JSA.

JD: Which Jobcentre do you sign on at?

Me: It’s …

JD: Can you tell me which Jobcentre you sign on at?

Me: Yes it’s … in Glasgow.

JD: OK I’ll put you through.

Me: Thanks.

Telephone rings … and rings … keeps on ringing … rings some more. Telephone is answered.

JD2: You’re through to Jobseeker’s Direct how can I help you?

Me: What?!

JD2: You’re through to Jobseeker’s Direct how can I help you?

Me: I want to stop my JSA claim.

JD2: Which Jobcentre do you sign on at?

Me: It’s …

JD2: That’s in Glasgow right? I’m putting you through.

Telephone rings … and rings … rings … rings a bit more. Telephone is answered.

JD3: This is Jobseeker’s Direct how can I help you?

Me: Seriously?

JD3: How can I help you?

Me: I’m trying to sign off and end my JSA claim.

JD3: And which Jobcentre do you sign on at?

Me: It’s …

JD3: Could you repeat that please?

Me: I already have. It’s …

JD3: I’ll put you straight through.

Telephone rings … continues to ring … more ringing … and a bit more. Telephone is answered.

JD4: This is Jobseeker’s Direct how can I help you?

Me: (under my breath) F… sake!

JD4: Hello? This is Jobseeker’s Direct how can I help you?

Me: I’m just trying to end my JSA claim.

JD4: Which Jobcentre do you use to sign on?

Me: It’s …

JD4: Putting you through now.

Telephone rings … rings a bit more. Telephone is answered.

JC: Hello this is … Jobcentre. I’m … how can I help you?

Me: (under my breath) Thank F…!

JC: How can I help?

Me: I’m trying to sign off and end my claim for JSA.

JC: OK this isn’t actually the right office for that. We don’t deal with that here.

Me: !

JC: I’ll give you the number. Do you have a pen?

Me: Can’t you just put me through?

JC: No, sorry. Do you have a pen?

Me: Yes.

JC gives me the number. I note it down and call it. Telephone rings … and rings until an automated response tells me – “We are taking a high volume of calls right now and all of our operators are busy please try again at another time. For ‘call back’ press 5.” I press five and a different automated voice says “’Call back’ doesn’t work on this type of call.” I put the phone down calmly, take a deep breath and then unleash a string of swear words, shouts and threats at the phone, at the wall, at the heavens and at everything so angrily, loud and long that I forget to breathe for a while. I get dizzy and have to go and sit down well away from the phone and put it out of my mind until I’ve recovered. After a while I get up and try again and get the same automated messages, once, twice, three times, four times, five times, take another break, try again and again and finally a person answers. It takes the very helpful call handler about five minutes to end my JSA claim.

I’m now convinced that a dead rabbit lying at the side of the road being consumed by maggots could design a more user friendly system than Jobseeker’s Direct and Jobcentre Plus. Of course the system is in general designed to be difficult to put people off claiming benefits or to confuse them so much they don’t know which benefits they are entitled to but you’d think they’d at least make it easy to sign off. They actually make it difficult for you to stop them giving you money!

At the moment claimants of Job Seeker’s Allowance are expected to look for work every day and to spend a minimum of 20 hours per week in their search. Later this year it will rise to 35 hours. This is clearly a ridiculous figure. You can search for just about every available job relevant to your skills and experience by visiting just one or two websites and if there are no jobs suitable for you that day, you are just supposed to go on searching even though you know the jobs aren’t there.

Then there’s the job search diary or Customer Activity Log the layout of which is just plain stupid. There is nothing new in the idea of a job search diary, unemployed people have been noting down their job search activities for generations and yet the layout of the current log is actually worse than previous diaries. You’re supposed to go into enormous detail explaining the steps you took to find work, such as which websites you searched, which employers you sent CVs to, which jobs you applied for and any other job search activities you have undertaken and you’re supposed to do all that in a space the size of three stamps. I recently applied for 9 jobs in one day and it took 3 lines to give them the details they wanted and for the rest of the week I had to cram information into the margins. Then there is the “what happened” box which to me is a question but there’s no question mark. As far as I can tell this box requires at least some of the same information as the first box listing your activities and is pretty much a pointless waste of space.

Nevertheless I have been twice hauled over the coals about this box in recent weeks. Let me clarify that I wasn’t in trouble for being late or for not applying for jobs or for not spending enough time looking for work, I had met all the criteria I was supposed to and then some. I was interviewed at length because I had written “nothing” or “nothing applicable” in the “what happened” box when I hadn’t found anything suitable. I then had it explained to me in a way that made little sense so I asked for a photocopy of the notes she’d made on my diary as a guide for next time. What happened next time? I was given a hard time again, by a different adviser, who insisted I put most of the information I had been told to put in the “what happened” box in the first box instead! So even the advisers don’t seem sure of the purpose of this box but they are quite happy to give someone a hard time over it.

Back in the day the job search diary was a little booklet and that meant you could take as much space as you needed. Now they issue you with a single piece of paper 8 lines (a table) on each side if it’s been photocopied correctly. The lines aren’t even the same size and none are big enough to fit a postage stamp on. This might seem like a small matter compared to the Bedroom Tax, benefits cap etc., some might say “use a piece of scrap paper numpty” but for me it’s symbolic. They want enormous detail but don’t provide you with the space you need to give them what they demand. It’s petty, just like the demand that you spend a set numbers of hours each week looking for jobs regardless of the state of the jobs market and just like the Government’s attitude in general towards unemployed and disabled workers.

You can of course be sanctioned for not filling in your job search diary which leads me to a wider issue. People have asked me about what’s required of a job seeker in order to get the money you are legally and morally entitled to and if you can be sanctioned for not doing these things. This isn’t an advice blog and I feel uncomfortable giving advice, especially about such a convoluted system that has been designed to trip people up. Reluctantly, however, I’ve decided to write a little advice on avoiding sanctions.

First of all you must turn up to sign on. You are supposed to come 10 minutes early to check the job points and you can be sanctioned if you are more than 10 minutes late for your appointment – the irony being that Jobcentres are full of people every day who turned up early and are then kept waiting for 10, 20 or 30 minutes after their appointment time without so much as an apology. You are entitled to two short periods of sickness each year but if you are ill and miss signing on phone them and tell them you’re sick. If you don’t you could lose money. Also get in to sign on as soon as you can to avoid your payment being delayed any longer than necessary.

Secondly you must bring your signing book and filled in job search diary. I have heard of extremely busy Jobcentres calling names like a roll call or getting people to sign en masse without checking diaries. But in even a Jobcentre like that I would strongly advise you to bring your signing book and completed job search diary – just because they didn’t ask to see it last time doesn’t mean they won’t ask next time. They will also refuse to sign you if you don’t have your signing book and have the power to sanction you if you don’t produce your diary when asked. Don’t give them the opportunity to take your money away from you.

Thirdly, when searching for work you must meet the time criteria of 20 hours a week or 35 hours later this year. The fact is that this is a ridiculous amount of time to look for work each week but since the policies this government are directing towards people on benefits are designed to take money away from the poorest and most vulnerable in society, while the wealthy get tax cuts, and they are therefore deeply immoral so as far as I can see there is nothing wrong with being “creative” (clears throat). Google and Amazon do it to avoid paying tax so why shouldn’t you do it to make sure you can eat? If your hours are coming up short good places to go are council, F.E. college and university websites. They are big employers and even individually they have a wide range of jobs going so whether you’re a teacher, administrator, driver or cleaner you can reasonably expect to find something to apply for if you look at enough of them. The best thing is everyone knows that the online applications on these sites can take an age to fill in so if you’re applying for a university job, for example, putting 2 ½ or even 3 hours in your job search diary shouldn’t raise any eyebrows. They don’t need to know you stopped to eat your dinner or watch Eastenders in that time. Just be careful if you actually do stop for a break, or to shout obscenities at the computer like I do because of the ridiculous nature of the questions, that your session doesn’t time out.

You must also accept a reasonable offer of employment – i.e. one that fits the requirements that you and your adviser agreed to put in your jobseeker’s agreement. Failure to accept such a job could easily lead to sanctions so make sure there are no jobs in your agreement that you’re not actually prepared to do.

If you are on the Work Programme your provider Ingeus, A4e or whoever cannot actually sanction you because they don’t have that power but that is only a technicality. If they ask the jobcentre to sanction you then sanctioned you will be so tread carefully with your Work Programme provider.

Then there are various workfare schemes. Unfortunately this is a murky world full of half-truths, lies and myths so it is difficult to know what is true and what isn’t. I have never been on one of the schemes created in recent times, although I was on a scheme for graduates years ago, so I cannot draw on personal experience of workfare. What I do know, however, is that there are several (at least 4) such schemes. The one that got lots of publicity a while back and is aimed at people who are 24 and under is voluntary. At least it’s voluntary until you’ve started then you’re stuck with it. Some young people have ended up on that scheme because they were told or were led to believe, by Jobcentre staff!, that it was mandatory. The evidence of this is too common to ignore and Jobcentre staff have to decide which side they’re on.

There are other less well reported schemes that involve Mandatory Work Activity (MWA). Your Work Programme provider can send you on one of these schemes and non-attendance/ non-compliance can and will lead to sanctions. That said if you are sent on such a scheme you are supposed to be given 5 working days notice before it starts and you can request to find your own placement, see http://skintandangry.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/benefit-sanctions-lunacy/ . Sadly, however, if you are placed on a MWA scheme as long as they have followed the rules you have to do it.

The government is particularly fond of these schemes because they keep the Tory right happy by making “scroungers” work for their bread and even though people on workfare are still receiving JSA or another benefit they magically don’t appear in the unemployment figures. All 100,000 + of them just disappear. They are doing “work like activity” or “work experience” not actual “work” so they don’t get paid by their employers who get to use them to maximise their profits by stopping overtime, cutting hours or even laying off staff. But even though their employers don’t think they are “working” the government disagrees – not to the extent of making sure they get paid but just enough to make sure they don’t appear on the unemployment figures.

One more issue to consider is the Universal Jobmatch website. You don’t have to set up an account just because your adviser tells you to. If you really don’t want to and dig your heels in they can issue you with with a written instruction to do so (see http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/105 for excellent advice on this). You do NOT have to provide your Jobcentre adviser with access to your account. You are covered by data protection law. If you choose to allow them access that’s your decision and there might be strong arguments in favour of it but don’t let anyone tell you you have to. You don’t, it’s your choice.

My final piece of advice is that if there is anything you are not sure about you should ask your Jobcentre adviser for clarification – but talk hypothetically. Don’t give them any ammunition against you but they are there to do a job so make them do it. Don’t ask a Work Programme provider because most don’t know how the Work Programme works never mind the benefits system and the sanctions rules. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau is another option or welfare rights officers and boycottworkfare.org is a good place to go for information on workfare.

This month the Con-Dem government implemented its latest punishment of the poor and vulnerable – the Bedroom Tax. If you were wondering what’s wrong with it, what all the fuss is about or why should we oppose it here are some points to consider -

1: It’s unfair

The Bedroom Tax means that people in social housing who rely on Housing Benefit will lose 14% of that benefit if they have one spare room and 25% for two or more spare rooms. This is clearly a huge financial blow to people who are already on a very low income.

Even the phrase “spare room” is contentious. Spare rooms are not necessarily “spare”: disabled people, for example, may need a room for equipment or their partner may have to sleep there on occasion. Some disabled people may have a carer who might need the room to stay the night from time to time.

The Conservative Party is big on what it calls “family values” and the importance of both parents being involved in the lives of their children. They are also keen to have a go at absentee parents who are not involved in their children’s lives or who are not paying maintenance. The Bedroom Tax will make it harder for estranged parents to spend time with their children. When they do have their children over to stay with them they will have to sleep on the floor and they will not have a room that is theirs in what is effectively their home.

It will also mean fewer working class people will have a room available if they are interested in becoming foster carers. Schemes like Throughcare and Aftercare, which help young people leaving the care system need people with a “spare room”. In these kind of schemes the young person leaving care stays with someone in the months leading up to turning 18 to get a taste of independent living before they have to do it without a safety net. If there are fewer people with a spare room there will be fewer rooms in supportive households available for these young people.

Then there is also the fact that the smaller accommodation people are expected to move into doesn’t exist. I recently considered moving from the small private let flat I live in to a housing association flat – there were no one bedroom flats to be found. Someone from my community has a four bedroom house where he has lived for many years and where his children grew up – he applied for a one bedroom flat five years ago and is still stuck where he is. If someone who has been trying to move for five years hasn’t been able to what hope is there for people trying to move now as the mad rush for one bedroom accommodation begins?

The Bedroom Tax is being imposed by millionaires with no shortage of spare rooms themselves. The architect of welfare “reform”, Iain Duncan Smith, lives in a £2million mansion that he doesn’t pay rent on because it belongs to his father-in-law the 5th Baron Cottesloe. David Cameron has, between Downing Street and Chequers, 14! bedrooms paid for by the tax payer and government minister and firm proponent of the Bedroom Tax Lord Freud has 11 spare rooms. That said his country home Eastry Court was built in 603AD for King Ethelbert so given how old it is it’s probably a dump.

Government ministers may be talking about houses and flats but the people at the sharp end of this argument are talking about homes. In many cases, like the man I mentioned above, they are talking about homes where people have lived for years or even decades, where they brought up their children, where relationships were made or broken, where there is a happy memory (or a sad one, or a funny one) lurking in every room and in every nook and cranny. They are not just houses and flats to the people who live in them they are family homes. How would Lord Freud, Iain Duncan Smith and his rich father-in-law or David Cameron feel if they were forced out of their family homes?

The people imposing this tax or more precisely this attack – because that is what it is – have cut income tax for the richest people in our society and they oppose a mansion tax or an increase in the top rate of Council Tax but they think it’s OK to impose a levy on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country. What happened to “we’re all in it together” and “those with the broadest shoulders” and so on?

Many of those hit by this attack will have to move into the private lets, which may well be one of the hidden objectives – to boost the housing market by improving the prospects of making a profit in the buy to let sector. But even here there are new problems facing those driven from social housing. For example many private landlords aren’t willing to rent to people on benefits. Another problem is that when you live in a private let the equivalent of Housing Benefit is capped at £360 per month and you have to make up the shortfall and there will nearly always be a shortfall because rents in the private sector are significantly higher than those in the social sector. That means people fleeing the Bedroom Tax will be hit by another extra cost.

Last, but by no means least, people who were previously good tenants who paid their rent on time will fall into arrears and may end up being evicted. The government has stated that welfare reform is about fairness but how can it ever be fair to force people into debt and then kick them out of their homes?

2: It’s potentially costly

Not only will the Bedroom Tax hit those directly effected by it in the pocket but it will hit tax payers generally. To evict someone costs money. According to the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation it can cost up to £26,000 to evict someone. That means that with an average Bedroom Tax of around £750 per year it would take over 30 years to save enough money to cover the cost of eviction. And the cost might be even higher if tenants oppose evictions in court.

Where do they go if they are evicted? Councils will put up homeless people wherever they can so there is the cost of hostels, B&Bs or even hotels to house homeless people who were until now living in a home and paying or trying to pay the rent.

Then there is the actual cost of rent. It is more expensive to rent in the private sector than in the social. Let me give you an example – my mother lives in a two bedroom council house with a front and back garden and I live in a small one bedroom flat yet my rent is £25 per week higher despite the fact she has just had a £5 per week rent increase. Given that I claim benefits for my rent if I was able to get a single bedroom council or housing association house/flat that would be a saving of at least £25 per week on the benefits bill. Imagine that saving replicated across the UK in many thousands of housholds. How much is it already costing the tax payer to allow a situation to continue where the health and profitability of the housing market is more important than actually housing people?

Another issue is that social landlords will find it harder to collect rent which means they will have less money to invest in the upkeep of properties and it may also have the knock on effect of them laying off staff. This has already been hinted at by a series of pilot schemes designed to test another aspect of the welfare “reforms” – paying Housing Benefit to the claimant instead of directly to the landlord. In all six of the pilot areas people who had never been in arrears found themselves struggling to budget and and falling behind with their rent. In Wales Bron Afon Community Housing said it had seen a 50% increase in the number of tenants in arrears during the pilot. There was a rise in the cost of collecting rent and over a third of Housing Associations said they thought the change would result in them having less money to spend on the maintenance of housing stock or the building of new houses. For more on this see my blog: http://skintandangry.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/housing-benefit-changes-a-disaster-already/. This gives us a clear indication of the kind of costs and pressures that social landlords will be faced with when dealing with the Bedroom Tax.

3: What will be attacked next?

The Bedroom Tax is by no means the only change in welfare and when I say “change in welfare” I mean – attack on the low waged, unemployed and disabled. It is just one in a series of attacks. The right to be paid for your labour or to be treated fairly when you are out of work is under attack in the form of workfare schemes that force unemployed people to work (often for highly profitable private companies) without pay which may be robbing people of paid work and exacerbating the unemployment problem. Housing benefit is to be paid direct to claimants regardless of how they feel about it, it’s equivalent in the private let sector is already capped at £360 per month, young people cannot claim Housing Benefit at all now and people in their 20s and early 30s are expected to share accommodation in order to claim it. Out of work benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance are to be frozen below the rate of inflation for 3 years which is a cut. The replacement of Disability Living Allowance by Personal Independence Payments will see many disabled people suffer a fall in income or a loss of this benefit entirely. And then there are the cuts to Council Tax Benefit. Can we really believe that the Bedroom Tax is the final assault? Of course it isn’t. If a bully gets away with it he/she keeps coming back. Maybe the next time the very existence of social housing will be questioned or perhaps the minimum wage or maybe unemployed people will be expected to be flogged publicly for the crime of not having a job in a country where there are more than five people out of work for every vacancy? So there are the reasons to oppose the Bedroom Tax 1,2,3,4,5 … and so on.

The Bedroom tax, Universal Credit, workfare, benefit cap, below inflation rise in benefits, cuts to legal aid – they just keep coming with this stuff. I for one would appreciate some candour from the government – if they hate people on the dole or if they hate the working class or if they hate the low waged they should just say so but for Iain Duncan Smith to say he could live in £53 a week and that benefits are not being cut and for George Osborne to follow it up with that joke of his about cuts to benefits and public sector pay freezes on the one hand and tax cuts for millionaires on the other being about “fairness” is just galling.

Iain Duncan Smith (the Ratbag), meanwhile, has been mouthing off that he could survive on £53 a week. Easy to say when you know you’ll never have to. While those on the dole are attacked as scroungers draining the country dry MPs get a food allowance of twice the size of Jobseekers Allowance each week on top of their pay of £65,738 a year – that’s right as well as being paid for their job they get their food paid for them by the tax payer – a bill that has gone up by 20% since 2009 while most people have seen their incomes fall. But since Iain Duncan Smith is a Cabinet Minister not just an ordinary MP his pay is £134,565 plus all the juicy expenses and pensions contributions (www.parliament.uk). Oh and unlike people who really do have to scrape by on a pittance IDS has his rich father-in-law, the 5th Baron Cottesloe, to fall back on. £53 a week doesn’t look so scary when there’s a rich Baron in the family. No one should have to live on £53 a week and if you do have to you certainly shouldn’t be vilified for it.

Universal Credit has been dealt a blow with its start date being pushed back but they are determined to go ahead with it. Many thousands of people, perhaps hundreds of thousands will have to sort out their benefit claims online regardless of whether they have internet access or the necessary computer skills. Iain Duncan Smith has previously said that one of the reasons they are switching to an online system is to encourage people to learn those computer skills. In other words learn or starve. I for one would certainly encourage people to learn some basic IT skills but where are people to learn these skills? College budgets are being cut and libraries are closing. Perhaps they’ll set up computer skills camps where people can earn a bowl of gruel if they manage to successfully navigate the Universal Jobmatch site or print of a CV. I’m sure the guard dogs and barbed wire would only be there to ensure the safety and comfort of the campers.

Some are already working for their gruel. Poundland, ASDA, Argos and Debenhams are all happily making profits off the backs … sorry, providing unpaid work experience to unemployed people. Apparently it’s good for the economy and it helps people “get ready for work” and so on. If that’s true then Homebase must be the most altruistic company in history. They have taken on 21, yes TWENTY ONE, unpaid staff at a single store in Haringay. For Homebase business is clearly all about doing good. I wonder how many paid staff selflessly gave up their overtime or even their jobs to make way for those in desperate need of learning how to be taken advantage of?

Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne have angrily defended the benefit cap and the limiting of the rise in out of work benefits to 1%. IDS actually said, with a straight face, that the government weren’t cutting benefits they were “managing the growth” in benefits. As if that wasn’t insult enough Osborne said that cutting benefits on the same day as cutting income tax for millionaires was about “fairness”! He’s got a pair I’ll give him that. He also said it wasn’t right that a third of government spending was on welfare. At last something we can agree on – it’s not right. It’s not right that intelligence, talent, experience and even lives are wasted. So the obvious solution is to take money away from the poorest in society and give it to the richest – oh no wait! That’s not the solution. The solution is to create jobs and make sure they pay well so that people don’t need to claim benefits in the first place. Huge numbers of people work AND claim benefits because their jobs don’t pay enough. It’s time the government accepted the need for a living wage.

Not enough for you? Want some more bad news? OK if you happen to require “justice” at some point in your life you better hope you win the lottery first because otherwise there’s a good chance you won’t get it. The government, not content with attacking benefits, cutting tax for the rich (they’re so put upon after all), punishing people for living in social housing and forcing people to work for free have also cut Legal Aid. £350 million has been cut from the Legal Aid budget. Shelter and the Citizens Advice Bureaux have already shut down offices because of this. The government’s own research showed that a staggering 600,000 people would lose access to legal advice and representation.

They’re coming at us from all sides. “Where’s the silver lining?” you ask. Well disability rights campaigners, anti-workfare campaigners (still happy about their success in driving Superdrug out of the scheme) and now the anti-bedroom tax campaign shows us that we can fight back. At the weekend thousands of people across the UK from Edinburgh to Belfast to London and around 5,000 in Glasgow protested against the bedroom tax, meetings and campaign groups are springing up all over the country at a rate that some veterans of the anti-poll tax campaign of a quarter of a century ago say compares favourably with the movement that brought Thatcher down. At a meeting in Glasgow one anti-bedroom tax campaigner, Luke Ivory, pointed out that the anti-poll tax movement had faced a strong government and a Prime Minister who had defeated Labour time and time again, defeated the Miners and other unions as well as Argentine President General Galtieri, had herself been brought down by working class people who had had enough of her and stood up for themselves. He went on to say the government we face is much weaker. Former MSP, Tommy Sheridan, at the same meeting, called for a tax on the mansions of the millionaires rather than a tax on the bedrooms of the millions.

The Tories obviously want a fight – I think we should oblige them.

Joe from Glasgow was sanctioned under the rules governing Workfare or Mandatory Work Activity (MWA). He shared his experience of the benefit sanctions regime with me.

Why were you selected for Mandatory Work Activity?

I was selected for Mandatory Work Activity by my jobcentre adviser who claimed I lacked certain skills and needed more experience.

My adviser also told me that is was policy now that if you have been claiming job seekers allowance for more than 6 months you are automatically referred to MWA.

Why did you turn down the placement?

I met with a work experience adviser at my local JCP [JobcentrePlus] who advised me on work experience and gave me a self-marketing form to send to potential work placements, and told me I can source my own work experience as long as it meets DWP requirements. Through my own initiative I searched for my own work experience and contacted an organisation called Project Scotland in which I spoke to an adviser who informed me that they can offer me a work placement meeting the demands of the DWP as Project Scotland works in partnership with the Government and DWP. Project Scotland matched my skills and experience to a work placement called Fareshare in Glasgow this was for 30hrs per week and was for a period of 3 months and Fareshare is also a voluntary organisation – meeting all the demands of the DWP. Throughout my attendance at my local JCP I spoke to many advisers and explained to all of them that I was in contact with Project Scotland and planning on starting the work experience in January 2013.

I also refused to start mandatory work experience due to the fact that JHP Employability (the work placement sourcer) informed me to attend a group interview at their local office. There was around 20 people, a diverse range of people, we were all told the same thing and the adviser who took the group meeting pointed to posters in the office which gave us reasons why we there. The reasons included we ‘lacked soft skills’ and we ‘had no discipline for work’ also we ‘lacked the experience of work’

I refuse to believe that all the 20 people who were referred to JHP lacked all of these skills and experience.

How did the jobcentre react to you not accepting the placement?

I asked to have an interview with my job adviser at my local jobcentre regarding my decision not to attend and to explain the reasons why I was refusing, however, when I attended the interview my adviser informed me that there’s nothing she can do that it is now a matter for a DWP Decision maker.

They were not cooperative when I tried to ask to speak to anyone regarding my work experience.

The staff’s tone and language used towards me in the interview was degrading and my adviser ended my interview by stating

“well Joseph there’s no such thing as free benefits anymore.”

What were the sanctions applied to you?

I was then informed of a sanction about a week after I refused to attend. The sanction was for a period of 3 months and that was without any payment and even after the 3 months I would still have to do work experience.

The only assistance you are offered is a hardship form to complete and even that then takes many interviews to get processed.

Did you appeal and if so how is that going?

I appealed the decision to sanction me by filling out the JCP appeal form but received a rejection back from my first appeal.

However, I then appealed with an appeal letter and for the second time sent it to a DWP decision maker.

I also went to my local MP’s office for some advice about my sanction and to seek any help they could offer. The caseworker did help my appeal by writing on behalf of me to the DWP in support of my appeal and asking them to overturn the sanction.

After sending my appeal letters away to the DWP I waited several weeks until I received a response stating that my benefit has been reinstated and I will have my money back dated.

The letter was very vague as to the reasons why they were reinstating my benefits but it was a great relief.

But I then wanted to pursue a complaint against 2 members of staff who had been my personal advisers who I believe had been speaking to me in a degrading manner and using comments that should not be used when speaking to the unemployed.

Also I raised issues in the complaint about my experience of JHP Employability and the way they group people together and judge them without assessing them and how that has affected my self-esteem and confidence.

At the beginning of this month I was informed by the deputy manager for the DWP Glasgow region over the telephone that my complaint has been processed, that the 2 members staff have been interviewed and disciplined by their line managers, she then passed on her apologies on behalf of the DWP and admitted that errors were made when assessing me and giving me information regarding mandatory work experience.

The deputy manager also informed me that she was concerned about the issues I raised about JHP Employability and she would be passing this complaint on to higher management and to a government level.

What advice do you have for people in a similar position?

My advice to people who find themselves in a similar position is to know your rights and seek out all the information before you attend interviews about work experience. Keep records of your visits to the job centre and complain about any member of staff who you find acts unprofessionally towards you. Seek advice from your local MP and don’t be disheartened, keep appealing and know you are not alone!