What to cut and what to do
Cut private providers and ‘work for your benefits’ schemes.
Create jobs that society needs.
Private providers are expensive and do not actually do very much. They harass claimants, but they do not generally find people jobs. Their focus is on surveillance rather than support and careers advice. This leads to greater stress on claimants but not improved job outcomes. A number of them have been engaged in dubious practices and straight fraud such as having contracts with certain employers or even operating as a job agency.
We should be creating jobs that society needs: 4,000 new homes are needed in Hackney but the council plans to only build less than half that, the health service is chronically under-staffed, environmental projects and college apprenticeship schemes amongst many other examples.
While all this necessary work is left undone claimants are being put forward for low paid, short term work under threat of losing their benefits if they don’t take it. Someone who came to our meeting had been told he was being sent to a gardening job. When he arrived he found it was a cleaning job with a one week contract.
Contracts given to profit hungry companies with substandard working practices and values such as Working Links and A4E should be immediately scrapped. These private contractors aren’t working now and they definitely should not be extended. Their cost is not only the direct payments they receive, but the toll they take on claimants’ mental health, as well as family breakdown and the homelessness that can result. Scrapping them would save millions of pounds or more and we could be looking for jobs and not wasting time on expensive, unnecessary courses and bureaucracy that don’t lead to suitable work.
In addition, people are being forced to work for £65 a week through ‘work for your benefit’ schemes. Unemployed people – just like everyone else – would like to be engaged in socially beneficial work but ‘work for your benefit’ schemes are the exact opposite of this and will lead to more unemployment as they will undercut workers already in the jobs they will replace. For example, when someone is forced to work in a park to get their benefits they put the previously employed park attendant out of work. These ‘jobs’ will take up valuable time which could be used to look for a real job. Jobs offered at the Jobcentre must have employment contracts and must respect workers’ rights.
In addition, it doesn’t make sense to cut public sector jobs. Such cuts will increase unemployment, and therefore public expenditure as well as decreasing tax revenue. It will not decrease total debt. These sorts of cuts will not work – it is not as simple as that.
Improve the benefits delivery system.
Jobcentres are not providing an adequate service to claimants and are not making signing on any easier. What other public service does not even have public toilets? There is a culture of disrespect towards claimants, coming from the Department of Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus management. In Hackney Jobcentre for example a manager was overheard saying, “If staff get too friendly with the claimants I move them on.” New staff are given very little training and are employed on low paid, short term contracts. Staff should be adequately qualified and trained and given decently paid permanent jobs so they are able and willing to be more responsive to claimants’ needs. Jobcentre management should be regularly assessed by claimants to make sure they are providing an adequate service.
Alongside this, our benefits must not be sanctioned. Jobcentre Plus is given instructions by the DWP to refer 6% of people for sanctions, with a “benchmark” of half of these being penalised. This is arbitrary, unfair and wrong. Examples of people who had their benefits sanctioned for ‘not fulfilling the terms of their jobseeker’s agreement’ include:
- someone who has been applying for three jobs a week, but had forgotten her job book that week
- someone with a low level of literacy who was mocked by Jobcentre staff for not filling her job book in correctly (even though she had been to two job interviews that week)
- someone who was five minutes late to sign on one week (after having to wait at least fifteen minutes every other previous time when she had been on time or early)
- a single mother whose postcode was written down wrongly by Jobcentre staff
- a woman who refused to give her personal medical history in a public room
…. the list goes on.
Benefits are not charity, they are our right. The current rate of unemployment benefits is barely enough to survive on and not enough to live on! As unemployed people’s only source of income they should never be sanctioned as this is cruel and oppressive.
The TUC has just released figures showing that nationally there are 5 claimants for every job. In Hackney, this is increased to 24 people for every one job. The current emphasis therefore on blaming claimants for being out of work is totally wrong-headed. The image of the “benefit scrounger” sitting on the sofa and scoffing at the system is a myth. We refute the stigmatisation of unemployed people. If the government wants to cut wasteful public expenditure it should start with the odious benefit fraud posters that litter our public spaces.
Cut “benefits” for the bankers.
Improve benefits for the unemployed.
The Government has given support of more than £850 billion to the banks. The latest estimate for the final cost to the taxpayer for bailing out the financial system is £98 billion. You should demand this back in instalments before making spending cuts for which the Conservative Party does not have a mandate – you did not win the election! 55% of voters supported parties who opposed any public spending cuts this year. Claimants are forced to live on £65 a week, while bankers continue to enjoy bonuses in the millions. £65 a week has to cover food, bills, clothing, travel, and other living expenses. It is not enough to survive on and is completely inadequate for more than a few weeks.
People with serious medical conditions live under threat of being forced into unsuitable work by privately contracted doctors whose only concern is to hit targets to reduce the amount of people on Employment Support Allowance and incapacity benefits.
If the rate of benefits had increased in proportion to the cost of living since the 1970s they would be £120 a week. A decent income means less stress and worrying about money and more empowerment, thereby enabling people to have a sense of ownership of their lives and to take responsibility for their future. Being forced to live hand to mouth and deal with a system that seeks to penalise rather than help us is totally counterproductive.