Posts Tagged ‘Benefits’

The Living Wage, How Does It Work?


The campaign for a living wage is one I support. Too many employers are allowed to get away with paying workers poverty wages. What I don’t understand is how it can be set at a set figure, so one size has to fit all. If it was say £7.50/hr for areas outside London, how would that work? It might be enough for a single person in a council flat, but how could it fit with someone who has children or who lives in expensive private rented accommodation (and let’s face it, it’s all expensive). Shouldn’t it really be set at a level where someone can support themselves without having to claim benefits?

If your wage is sufficiently low that you have to claim benefits (like tax credits if HB) in order to make ends meet, then it’s not a living wage is it?


Time to Vote, But For Whom?


Michael Sheen’s recent fascinating documentary about the massacre of chartists in Newport in 1839, and in parallels to modern day voter apathy, ended with the caption:

On May 7th 2015, there will be a general election.

Will you use your vote?

The answer to that is simple: yes, obviously. It was a right fought for and should not be wasted. However, there remains the question of who to vote for, as I share much of the discontent with politics and politicians. If I end up voting Labour, it will be – as it was in 1997 – not out of any conviction, but more of a tactical thing; a desire to get shot of the current shower of bastards in the hope of getting a hopefully less odious shower of bastards.

The problem I have with Labour is twofold. On a local level, my MP was parachuted into the safe Labour seat with no previous connection to the area; and secondly, I don’t feel the party has much connection with what should be its core base: what you could call, at the risk of sounding patronising, the ordinary person in the street. Someone doing a normal job, perhaps struggling to get by on part time hours (or worse, on a zero hours contract) and poor pay; or someone forced through no fault of theirs into the pseudo-Victorian morality of the benefits system. Let us not forget it was a Labour prime minister (the odious Blair) who was proud that we had amongst the weakest labour laws in the western world. His government continued the previous Tory government’s policy of stigmatising those claiming benefits, and the current party echoes the even harsher language used about this by Cameron and co.

And of course, the party is – and it’s not alone in this – far too full of professional politicians. The sort of affluent type from the metropolitan elite who gets a PPE degree from a good university, works for a party then gets a safe seat. No experience of the “real” world at all. I’m sure many go into it with the best of motives, but I’m equally sure many do it simply as a career choice. (There aren’t that many jobs where you get to decide your own rates of pay and terms and conditions, rights denied the rest of us).

Then there is the question of the relation to business. For that, read big business. They are currently being attacked for being anti-business, or not pro-business enough. For me, pro-business means getting rid of regulations so business can do what the hell it likes with no accountability, and to get away with not paying their taxes. I would expect a Labour government to close tax loopholes, improve worker rights and make business behave in a socially responsible way. But will they? Sadly, I rather doubt it.

I’m not sure just where this leaves me. I suspect I will be still pondering this as I walk into the polling booth in May.

David Cameron: Ignorance and Lies As Virtue


The European Court of Justice today delivered a judgement about whether benefits can be claimed by EU nationals when they go to other countries.

The court has apparently said there is no automatic right for those who don’t work to claim. David Cameron hailed this as a breakthrough. No Dave, it merely restates the position in the UK. No one can just claim, they have to satisfy the qualifying conditions. An economically inactive person can NOT claim benefits here. The only people who can are those who are either working or who have worker status. The UK brought in the Habitual Residence Test to stop so-called “benefit tourism” almost 20 years ago. This isn’t just my opinion, it’s fact: I worked in benefits for over 10 years so I know whereof I speak. It would be nice if sometimes our politicians did too.

You’re supposed to be the PM Dave, yet you’re totally ignorant of UK law. Either that or this is yet another cynical attempt to whip up anti-claimant propaganda. Either way, go and check your facts before opening your over-privileged gob.

Demonising Benefit Claimants is for Nazis


This is the result of demonising benefit claimants. Anyone who has posted or reposted nonsense about scroungers should read this and feel ashamed. Demonising a minority and blaming it for society’s ills is a Nazi tactic. Harsh words perhaps, but true.

From The Mirror.

“People on benefits have been beaten up, denied bank accounts and made homeless after being demonised as “scroungers”.

Devastating research reveals that four years of Tory-led war on the poor – and the recent TV series Benefits Street – have taken a terrible toll on the most vulnerable in society.

A YouGov survey shows:

Up to 212,000 have been physically attacked because they’re on benefits
6% say their children have been bullied at school because the family gets state aid
16% of claimants have been turned down for a home, and
11% have even been shunned by
their own families
Now charities are calling on the Government to change its callous tone and stop trying to create a divisive battle between “workers and shirkers”.

Full story here:

Diary of a Benefit Striver #7: Contribution Exhaustion


So my 26 weeks are up. My JSAC has expired. JSAC is the contributory part of the benefit where entitlement is based solely on National Insurance Contributions. This is time limited to 26 weeks (it used to be 52 weeks) and is paid at the same rate as someone who has never paid any NICs. This has long struck me as unfair.

Politicians are very fond of talking up the contributory principle. This is one reason for exempting pensioners from all the attacks on the benefits, because they have “paid in” to the system. (A more honest reason is that pensioners are more likely to vote). But I have “paid in” too. Why are my contributions worth less than those of a pensioner? When I worked in housing benefits, I lost count of the number of people I met who were shocked at just how little benefit they got, despite “paying in” for years. Time limit it by all means, but benefits based on contributions should be more generous. This is long overdue for reform.

JSA letter 10001

More Lies From Osborne


I’m not remotely taken in by George Osborne’s recent statement that he wants full employment. It’s a soundbite, nothing more. He isn’t going to pursue any worthwhile policy that would promote it. Official unemployment may indeed have fallen, but the numbers still don’t add up: 2.5 million unemployed chasing 500,000 vacancies, and that’s just the national average. The local picture will be far worse than that in the north of England. Let us not forget that it was another Tory chancellor – the odious Norman Lamont – who once said that high unemployment was a price well worth paying for getting inflation down. Substitute defecit reduction (with an undelcared policy of further enriching the rich and big business) for inflation and it’s clear nothing has changed.

Stoke Council Concerned Over Inexperienced Benefit Staff


I understand that the leadership of Stoke-on-Trent City Council (by which I mean the elected ones, not Vanguard’s Representative On Earth) are concerned that the benefits department has so many inexperienced staff. Well, my heart bleeds, I don’t think. This is an entirely self-inflicted wound. People like me who left last year did not do so lightly. Why would so many choose (nay, queue up) to leave what was a good public sector employer during a recession? (It may not officially be a recession any more, but up here it still feels like one). Half the assessment staff (yes half) left because they felt they had no other choice, had been forced into it by a bullying and uncaring management.

The reasons I left were bound up with all this. As a result of the changes to the job – making it largely face-to-face – people like me who preferred to work in the back office were left with a stark choice by management: adapt or fuck off. So a lot of us fucked off, fed up with being badly treated. I didn’t want to leave the council, but the stresses of the changes caused my depression to return and to require a steadily increasing dose of medication to combat it. I made three visits to Occupational Health in my last two years there, and their recommendations were always ignored by management. Adapt or fuck off. Every day, I would wake up and dread going in. I hated it. If I hadn’t left, I would have remained ill and the illness would almost certainly have got worse. Even though the job I went to turned out to be shit, I still managed to kick the medication. This would have been impossible if I had remained at Stoke.

So I would say this to the leaders. While I admit that I don’t envy your having to make savage cuts (who would want to go into public service to do that?) the loss of so many experienced benefit assessors happened on your watch. If you had taken a closer interest in the welfare of your staff and not allowed a bullying management culture to take root, this would probably not have happened.

Diary of a Benefit Striver #5: Universal Job Match


One of the conditions of claiming Job Seekers Allowance is that you have to use the government’s Universal Job Match system. This is run by online recruitment firm Monster. The system is fine in theory but I quickly discovered it has several shortcomings. If you believe the DWP’s propaganda, it is an invaluable tool to help the unemployed find work. I have always found “help” to be non-existent and that UJM is only used to monitor claimants. Thanks to the internet, there are more resources available these days, but UJM is probably the worst. When I started using it, it allowed you to store a CV but no covering letter: this was only changed this year; there were numerous ads with no employer name (listed as “company confidential”); and even more for catalogue distributors.

If a company advertising a vacancy won’t disclose its name, that suggests something dodgy: a bona fide employer would surely have no problem saying who they are. I won’t apply for these on principle. How far do you think a job seeker would get saying this:

“I’d like to apply for this job please”

“Certainly sir, what’s your name?”

“That’s confidential”!!

The catalogue distributor vacancies are little more than pyramid selling scams, requiring a hefty fee to be paid upfront and no guaranteed wage.

It’s also clear that vacancy ads are not properly vetted. A job for a woman to work as a prostitute in a massage parlour was recently on the site and was only removed when the press got hold of it. There have even been ads for hitmen and mafia couriers! I saw another for an “Administartion Assistant”, which required “attention to detail”, something the advert placer clearly lacks.

However, it gets worse. Recent investigations by Labour MP Frank Field, The Guardian and Channel 4 News have revealed that up to half of all vacancies on UJM are bogus or even fraudulent: multiple ads for the same job; ads failing to meet the DWP’s own guidelines; non-existent jobs. The DWP response to the allegations shows just how disconnected they are from reality: “The truth is that the vast majority of employers post genuine jobs, and we crack down on those who don’t play by the rules. We also regularly monitor the site and remove jobs that don’t meet our rules, such as duplicate advertisements or jobs for franchises.” This is yet another example of the incompetence of Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP.

Since these allegations were published, the DWP has removed 120,000 vacancies (about 1/5th of the total). I certainly haven’t seen any catalogue distributors for several weeks, but problems with the site remain. Claims have now surfaced that the DWP will be scrapping UJM in its current form when the contract with Monster ends in 2016, though they have denied this.

In the meantime, the unemployed are forced to use a flawed system that is there mainly to spy on them and which exposes them to the risk of fraud. The situation should never have been allowed to get this bad. Heads should roll. Starting with that liar, that incompetent fool Iain Duncan Smith. Fat chance.

Guardian reports:

Channel 4 News Investigation:

Reports of UJM being scrapped:

UJM spelling error

Diary of a Benefit Striver #4: Advisor Interview


Another meeting with the adviser on the 28th February. Followed a similar pattern to before really, but at least they sent me to the right place this time and I got a seat.

My Arrival time: 09.35
Apppointment Time: 09.40
Time Seen: 09.47
Minutes late: 7

Cameron Plumbs New Depths


The disgusting unfairness of the coalition’s welfare reform is now axiomatic. Every time I decide to stop getting angry about it, the bastards propose something even more noisome. Their latest idea is for the DWP to charge a fee if any claimant has the temerity to challenge any decision they disagree with.

Recent figures (according to this week’s Guardian) show 58% of appeals by claimants are successful. Aside from the rank unfairness – how is someone supposed to afford a fee when they’ve had their benefit stopped? – it will also serve to hide widespread incompetance by DWP officers. The department is clearly employing far too many people who don’t know what they’re doing. The tragedy is that these morons have the power to make people destitute. The fee will obviously be a deterrant to appealing, so the inevitable consequance is even more people being unjustly kicked off benefits. Yet another attack on the poor. Makes you proud to be British doesn’t it?

I’d like to think that Labour will oppose this, and should it become law, repeal it should they win in 2015. I won’t hold my breath however.

Nick Cohen: Writing from London

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