Tag Archives: London

In The Age Of Robots Why Are We Still Slaves To Work?

images  With the advent of automated assembly lines, notably in the car industry, there is no longer a need for huge armies of workers as there was in the days of Henry Ford who once employed over 800,000 people at his River Rouge plant in Detroit. Technology has always been seen as something of a threat to jobs and the working class has always protested against it, sometimes in Luddite fashion, in defence of their livelihoods. There’s a sense of injustice that the ‘right to work’ is being denied people as whole communities have been tossed on the scrap heap of capitalist production to languish in poverty and despair.

But should we be looking at things this way? Industrialists are still creating wealth without the labour of many of us. Does the real injustice not lie in the fact that they keep all this wealth for themselves?

lafargue_theright       I recently happened upon an interesting old pamphlet, “The Right to be Lazy” a satirical piece written in France back in 1883 by Paul Lafargue around 50 years into the Industrial Revolution- a time when new technology radically altered the lives of ordinary working folk across Europe. Lafargue, a utopian Marxist, was married to Karl Marx’s  second daughter, Laura and was in prison in France for subversion when he wrote this piece. There weren’t many utopian Marxists around and Marx and Engels themselves wouldn’t have counted themselves amongst them. Lafargue was lucky to have inherited a fortune in 1870 so it was easy for him to indulge in the lifestyle he is advocating for the working class in this pamphlet. Nonetheless, he does raise some very salient points which are worth considering.One thing the pamphlet does show is the inherent hatred and disdain of the poor expressed freely by capitalists which for until very recently had become suppressed. Our current government have revived both it and their perceived right to express it.

the_right_to_be_lazy Born in Cuba, he travelled to France as a young boy and studied medicine there. He was one of the founders of the Marxist wing of the French Workers Party and from 1861 took part in the republican movement. In 1870-71 he carried on organisational and agitational work in Paris and Bordeaux; after the fall of the Commune he fled to Spain where he fought for the line of the General Council then settled in London. After the bloody May Day in Fourmis (1891) he was sentenced to a further year’s imprisonment. Lafargue fought against reformism and Millerandism and was an advocate of women’s rights.

Lafargue was an influential speaker and after inheriting his fortune he devoted his time to political writing and consequently wrote numerous works on revolutionary Marxism. I suppose you could say he was a kind of 19th century blogger. By age 70, in 1911, he and his wife committed suicide together.The rather dubious official story was that they both decided they had nothing left to give to the movement to which they devoted their lives. However, some sources claim he took his own life because being an inveterate pleasure seeker he couldn’t bear the thought of increasing ill health and pain that accompany old age. Presumably, Laura, his wife, who was a good four years younger, felt the same way but we’ll never know the truth of that now.

You can read Chapter Two of “The Right to be Lazy” entitled “Blessings of Work” below. If you want more you’ll find the whole pamphlet here.

Paul Lafargue

The Right To Be Lazy


Chapter II
Blessings of Work

In 1770 at London, an anonymous pamphlet appeared under the title, An Essay on Trade and Commerce. It made some stir in its time. The author, a great philanthropist, was indignant that “the factory population of England had taken into its head the fixed idea that in their quality of Englishmen all the individuals composing it have by right of birth the privilege of being freer and more independent than the laborers of any country in Europe. This idea may have its usefulness for soldiers, since it stimulates their valor, but the less the factory workers are imbued with it the better for themselves and the state. Laborers ought never to look on themselves as independent of their superiors. It is extremely dangerous to encourage such infatuations in a commercial state like ours, where perhaps seven-eighths of the population have little or no property. The cure will not be complete until our industrial laborers are contented to work six days for the same sum which they now earn in four.” Thus, nearly a century before Guizot, work was openly preached in London as a curb to the noble passions of man. “The more my people work, the less vices they will have”, wrote Napoleon on May 5th, 1807, from Osterod. “I am the authority … and I should be disposed to order that on Sunday after the hour of service be past, the shops be opened and the laborers return to their work.” To root out laziness and curb the sentiments of pride and independence which arise from it, the author of the Essay on Trade proposed to imprison the poor in ideal “work-houses”, which should become “houses of terror, where they should work fourteen hours a day in such fashion that when meal time was deducted there should remain twelve hours of work full and complete”

Twelve hours of work a day, that is the ideal of the philanthropists and moralists of the eighteenth century. How have we outdone this nec plus ultra! Modern factories have become ideal houses of correction in which the toiling masses are imprisoned, in which they are condemned to compulsory work for twelve or fourteen hours, not the men only but also women and children. [1] And to think that the sons of the heroes of the Terror have allowed themselves to be degraded by the religion of work, to the point of accepting, since 1848, as a revolutionary conquest, the law limiting factory labor to twelve hours. They proclaim as a revolutionary principle the Right to Work. Shame to the French proletariat! Only slaves would have been capable of such baseness. A Greek of the heroic times would have required twenty years of capitalist civilization before he could have conceived such vileness.

And if the miseries of compulsory work and the tortures of hunger have descended upon the proletariat more in number than the locusts of the Bible, it is because the proletariat itself invited them. This work, which in June 1848 the laborers demanded with arms in their hands, this they have imposed on their families; they have delivered up to the barons of industry their wives and children. With their own hands they have demolished their domestic hearths. With their own hands they have dried up the milk of their wives. The unhappy women carrying and nursing their babes have been obliged to go into the mines and factories to bend their backs and exhaust their nerves. With their own hands they have broken the life and the vigor of their children. Shame on the proletarians! Where are those neighborly housewives told of in our fables and in our old tales, bold and frank of speech, lovers of Bacchus. Where are those buxom girls, always on the move, always cooking, always singing, always spreading life, engendering life’s joy, giving painless birth to healthy and vigorous children? … Today we have factory girls and women, pale drooping flowers, with impoverished blood, with disordered stomachs, with languid limbs … They have never known the pleasure of a healthful passion, nor would they be capable of telling of it merrily! And the children? Twelve hours of work for children! 0, misery. But not all the Jules Simon of the Academy of Moral and Political Science, not all the Germanys of jesuitism, could have invented a vice more degrading to the intelligence of the children, more corrupting of their instincts, more destructive of their organism than work in the vitiated atmosphere of the capitalist factory.

Our epoch has been called the century of work. It is in fact the century of pain, misery and corruption.

And all the while the philosophers, the bourgeois economists – from the painfully confused August Comte to the ludicrously clear Leroy Beaulieu; the people of bourgeois literature – from the quackishly romantic Victor Hugo to the artlessly grotesque Paul de Kock, – all have intoned nauseating songs in honor of the god Progress, the eldest son of Work. Listen to them and you would think that happiness was soon to reign over the earth, that its coming was already perceived. They rummaged in the dust of past centuries to bring back feudal miseries to serve as a somber contrast to the delights of the present times. Have they wearied us, these satisfied people, yesterday pensioners at the table of the nobility, today pen-valets of the capitalist class and fatly paid? Have they reckoned us weary of the peasant, such as La Bruyere described him? Well, here is the brilliant picture of proletarian delights in the year of capitalist progress 1840, Penned by one of their own men, Dr. Villermé, member of the Institute, the same who in 1848 was a member of that scientific society (Thiers, Cousin, Passy, Blanqui, the academician, were in it), which disseminated among the masses the nonsense of bourgeois economics and ethics.

It is of manufacturing Alsace that Dr. Villermé speaks, – the Alsace of Kestner and Dollfus, those flowers of industrial philanthropy and republicanism. But before the doctor raises up before us his picture of proletarian miseries, let us listen to an Alsatian manufacturer, Mr. Th. Mieg, of the house of Dollfus, Mieg & Co., depicting the condition of the old-time artisan: “At Mulhouse fifty years ago (in 1813, when modern mechanical industry was just arising) the laborers were all children of the soil, inhabiting the town and the surrounding villages, and almost all owning a house and often a little field.” [2] It was the golden age of the laborer. But at that time Alsatian industry did not deluge the world with its cottons, nor make millionaires out of its Dollfus and Koechlin. But twenty-five years after, when Villermé visited Alsace, the modern Minotaur, the capitalist workshop, had conquered the country; in its insatiable appetite for human labor it had dragged the workmen from their hearths, the better to wring them and press out the labor which they contained. It was by thousands that the workers flocked together at the signal of the steam whistle.

A great number, – says Villermé – five thousand out of seventeen thousand, were obliged by high rents to lodge in neighboring villages. Some of them lived three or four miles from the factory where they worked.

At Mulhouse in Dornach, work began at five o’clock in the morning and ended at eight o’clock in the evening, summer and winter. It was a sight to watch them arrive each morning into the city and depart each evening. Among them were a multitude of women, pale, often walking bare-footed through the mud, and who for lack of umbrellas when the rain or snow fell, wore their aprons or skirts turned up over their heads. There was a still larger number of young children, equally dirty, equally pale, covered with rags, greasy from the machine oil which drops on them while they work. They were better protected from the rain because their clothes shed water; but unlike the women just mentioned, they did not carry their day’s provisions in a basket, but they carried in their hands or hid under their clothing as best they might, the morsel of bread which must serve them as food until time for them to return home.

Thus to the strain of an insufferably long day – at least fifteen hours – is added for these wretches the fatigue of the painful daily journeys. Consequently they reach home overwhelmed by the need of sleep, and next day they rise before they are completely rested in order to reach the factory by the opening time.

Now, look at the holes in which were packed those who lodge in the town: “I saw at Mulhouse in Dornach, and the neighboring houses, some of those miserable lodgings where two families slept each in its corner on straw thrown on the floor and kept in its place by two planks … This wretchedness among the laborers of the cotton industry in the department of the upper Rhine is so extreme that it produces this sad result, that while in the families of the manufacturers, merchants, shop-keepers or factory superintendents, half of the children reach their twenty-first year, this same half ceases to exist before the lapse of two years in the families of weavers and cotton spinners.”

Speaking of the labor of the workshop, Villermé adds: “It is not a work, a task, it is a torture and it is inflicted on children of six to eight years. It is this long torture day after day which wastes away the laborers in the cotton spinning factories”. And as to the duration of the work Villermé observes, that the convicts in prisons work but ten hours, the slaves in the west Indies work but nine hours, while there existed in France after its Revolution of 1789, which had proclaimed the pompous Rights of Man “factories where the day was sixteen hours, out of which the laborers were allowed only an hour and a half for meals.” [3]

What a miserable abortion of the revolutionary principles of the bourgeoisie! What woeful gifts from its god Progress! The philanthropists hail as benefactors of humanity those who having done nothing to become rich, give work to the poor. Far better were it to scatter pestilence and to poison the springs than to erect a capitalist factory in the midst of a rural population. Introduce factory work, and farewell joy, health and liberty; farewell to all that makes life beautiful and worth living. [4]

And the economists go on repeating to the laborers, “Work, to increase social wealth”, and nevertheless an economist, Destutt de Tracy, answers: “It is in poor nations that people are comfortable, in rich nations they are ordinarily poor”; and his disciple Cherbuliez continues: “The laborers themselves in co-operating toward the accumulation of productive capital contribute to the event which sooner or later must deprive them of a part of their wages”. But deafened and stupefied by their own howlings, the economists answer: “Work, always work, to create your prosperity”, and in the name of Christian meekness a priest of the Anglican Church, the Rev. Mr. Townshend, intones: Work, work, night and day. By working you make your poverty increase and your poverty releases us from imposing work upon you by force of law. The legal imposition of work “gives too much trouble, requires too much violence and makes too much noise. Hunger, on the contrary, is not only a pressure which is peaceful, silent and incessant, but as it is the most natural motive for work and industry, it also provokes to the most powerful efforts.” Work, work, proletarians, to increase social wealth and your individual poverty; work, work, in order that becoming poorer, you may have more reason to work and become miserable. Such is the inexorable law of capitalist production.

Because, lending ear to the fallacious words of the economists, the proletarians have given themselves up body and soul to the vice of work; they precipitate the whole of society into these industrial crises of over-production which convulse the social organism. Then because there is a plethora of merchandise and a dearth of purchasers, the shops are closed and hunger scourges the working people with its whip of a thousand lashes. The proletarians, brutalized by the dogma of work, not understanding that the over-work which they have inflicted upon themselves during the time of pretended prosperity is the cause of their present misery, do not run to the granaries of wheat and cry: “We are hungry, we wish to eat. True we have not a red cent, but beggars as we are, it is we, nevertheless, who harvested the wheat and gathered the grapes.” They do not besiege the warehouse of Bonnet, or Jujurieux, the inventor of industrial convents, and cry out: “M. Bonnet, here are your working women, silk workers, spinners, weavers; they are shivering pitifully under their patched cotton dresses, yet it is they who have spun and woven the silk robes of the fashionable women of all Christendom. The poor creatures working thirteen hours a day had no time to think of their toilet. Now, they are out of work and have time to rustle in the silks they have made. Ever since they lost their milk teeth they have devoted themselves to your fortune and have lived in abstinence. Now they are at leisure and wish to enjoy a little of the fruits of their labor. Come, M. Bonnet, give them your silks, M. Harmel shall furnish his muslins, M. Pouyer-Quertier his calicos, M. Pinet his boots for their dear little feet, cold and damp. Clad from top to toe and gleeful, they will be delightful to look at. Come, no evasions, you are a friend of humanity, are you not, and a Christian into the bargain? Put at the disposal of your working girls the fortune they have built up for you out of their flesh; you want to help business, get your goods into circulation, – here are consumers ready at hand. Give them unlimited credit. You are simply compelled to give credit to merchants whom you do not know from Adam or Eve, who have given you nothing, not even a glass of water. Your working women will pay the debt the best they can. If at maturity they let their notes go to protest, and if they have nothing to attach, you can demand that they pay you in prayers. They will send you to paradise better than your black-gowned priests steeped in tobacco.”

Instead of taking advantage of periods of crisis, for a general distribution of their products and a universal holiday, the laborers, perishing with hunger, go and beat their heads against the doors of the workshops. With pale faces, emaciated bodies, pitiful speeches they assail the manufacturers: “Good M. Chagot, sweet M. Schneider, give us work, it is not hunger, but the passion for work which torments us”. And these wretches, who have scarcely the strength to stand upright, sell twelve and fourteen hours of work twice as cheap as when they had bread on the table. And the philanthropists of industry profit by their lockouts to manufacture at lower cost.

If industrial crises follow periods of overwork as inevitably as night follows day, bringing after them lockouts and poverty without end, they also lead to inevitable bankruptcy. So long as the manufacturer has credit he gives free rein to the rage for work. He borrows, and borrows again, to furnish raw material to his laborers, and goes on producing without considering that the market is becoming satiated and that if his goods don’t happen to be sold, his notes will still come due. At his wits’ end, he implores the banker; he throws himself at his feet, offering his blood, his honor. “A little gold will do my business better”, answers the Rothschild. “You have 20,000 pairs of hose in your warehouse; they are worth 20c. I will take them at 4c.” The banker gets possession of the goods and sells them at 6c or 8c, and pockets certain frisky dollars which owe nothing to anybody: but the manufacturer has stepped back for a better leap. At last the crash comes and the warehouses disgorge. Then so much merchandise is thrown out of the window that you cannot imagine how it came in by the door. Hundreds of millions are required to figure the value of the goods that are destroyed. In the last century they were burned or thrown into the water. [5]

But before reaching this decision, the manufacturers travel the world over in search of markets for the goods which are heaping up. They force their government to annex Congo, to seize on Tonquin, to batter down the Chinese Wall with cannon shots to make an outlet for their cotton goods. In previous centuries it was a duel to the death between France and England as to which should have the exclusive privilege of selling to America and the Indies. Thousands of young and vigorous men reddened the seas with their blood during the colonial wars of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

There is a surplus of capital as well as of goods. The financiers no longer know where to place it. Then they go among the happy nations who are leafing in the sun smoking cigarettes and they lay down railroads, erect factories and import the curse of work. And this exportation of French capital ends one fine morning in diplomatic complications. In Egypt, for example, France, England and Germany were on the point of hair-pulling to decide which usurers shall be paid first. Or it ends with wars like that in Mexico where French soldiers are sent to play the part of constables to collect bad debts. [6]

These individual and social miseries, however great and innumerable they may be, however eternal they appear, will vanish like hyenas and jackals at the approach of the lion, when the proletariat shall say “I will”. But to arrive at the realization of its strength the proletariat must trample under foot the prejudices of Christian ethics, economic ethics and free-thought ethics. It must return to its natural instincts, it must proclaim the Rights of Laziness, a thousand times more noble and more sacred than the anaemic Rights of Man concocted by the metaphysical lawyers of the bourgeois revolution. It must accustom itself to working but three hours a day, reserving the rest of the day and night for leisure and feasting.

Thus far my task has been easy; I have had but to describe real evils well known, alas, by all of us; but to convince the proletariat that the ethics inoculated into it is wicked, that the unbridled work to which it has given itself up for the last hundred years is the most terrible scourge that has ever struck humanity, that work will become a mere condiment to the pleasures of idleness, a beneficial exercise to the human organism, a passion useful to the social organism only when wisely regulated and limited to a maximum of three hours a day; this is an arduous task beyond my strength. Only communist physiologists, hygienists and economists could undertake it. In the following pages I shall merely try to show that given the modern means of production and their unlimited reproductive power it is necessary to curb the extravagant passion of the laborers for work and to oblige them to consume the goods which they produce.

Footnotes

[1] At the first Congress of Charities held at Brussels in 1817 one of the richest manufacturers of Marquette, near Lille, M. Scrive, to the plaudits of the members of the congress declared with the noble satisfaction of a duty performed: “We have introduced certain methods of diversion for the children. We teach them to sing during their work, also to count while working.” That distracts them and makes them accept bravely “those twelve hours of labor which are necessary to procure their means of existence.” Twelve hours of labor, and such labor, imposed on children less than twelve years old! The materialists will always regret that there is no hell in which to confine these Christian philanthropic murderers of childhood.

[2] Speech delivered before the International Society of Practical Studies in Social Economics, at Paris in May 1863, and published in the French Economist or the same epoch.

[3] L.R. Villermé. Tableau de L’état physique et moral des ouvriers dans les fabriques de coton, de laine et de soie (1840). It is not because Dollfus, Koechlin and other Alsacian manufacturers were republicans, patriots and protestant philanthropists that they treated their laborers in this way, for Blanqui, the academician, Reybaud, the prototype of Jerome Paturot, and Jules Simon have observed the same amenities for the working class among the very catholic and monarchical manufacturers of Lille and Lyons. These are capitalist virtues which harmonize delightfully with all political and religious convictions.

[4] The Indians of the warlike tribes of Brazil kill their invalids and old people; they show their affection for them by putting an end to a life which is no longer enlivened by combats, feasts and dances. All primitive peoples have given these proofs of affection to their relatives: the Massagetae of the Caspian Sea (Herodotus), as well as the Wens of Germany and the Celts of Gaul. In the churches of Sweden even lately they preserved clubs called family clubs which served to deliver parents from the sorrows of old age. How degenerate are the modern proletarians to accept with patience the terrible miseries of factory labor!

[5] At the Industrial Congress held in Berlin in Jan. 21st, 1879 the losses in the iron industry of Germany during the last crisis were estimated at $109,056,000.

[6] M. Clemenceau’s Justice said on April 6. 1880 in its financial department: “We have heard this opinion maintained, that even without pressure the billions of the war of 1870 would have been equally lost for France, that is under the form of loans periodically put out to balance the budgets of foreign countries; this is also our opinion.” The loss of English capital on loans of South American Republics is estimated at a billion dollars. The French laborers not only produced the billion dollars paid Bismarck, but they continued to pay interest on the war indemnity to Ollivier, Girardin, Bazaine and other income drawers, who brought on the war and the rout. Nevertheless they still have one shred of consolation: these billions will not bring on a war of reprisal.


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Bedroom Tax Protest: The Mass Sleep Out: 24th August

Reblogged from  http://tmso.org.uk/. Please support

The Mass Sleep Out – What’s it all about?

The Mass Sleep Out (TMSO) is a national day of action being held on August 24th, 2013. On this day people will gather in towns and cities across the UK and sleep on the streets, to raise awareness of the impending mass homelessness brought on by the bedroom tax and other government cuts.

What started off as an idea has now captured the hearts, minds and interests of more than 2000 people across the UK who wish to stand against the cruel measures being imposed by the coalition government.

Whilst the highest earners in the country are awarded tax breaks and big business invariably gets away with not paying it’s fair share – or in some cases paying no tax at all – the ConDem coalition is targeting some of the most vulnerable in society to pay for the financial crisis. Many of these people are now facing eviction proceedings as they are simply unable to meet the financial demands being made of them. This cannot be allowed to continue – now is the time to show your disapproval!

We need your help!

There already events planned as part of our national day of action on August 24th in over 40 towns and cities across the UK, but we would like to see this spread further!

If there is no event currently planned for your own town/city, we urge you to consider getting one started. We can offer support for anyone seeking to do so, including help & advise from other event organiserspromotional material to raise awareness of your event and important documents/statistics relating to the bedroom tax.

If you don’t wish to organise an event yourself – and even if you are unfortunately unable to attend on the 24th – there is still plenty you can do to help. We are relying on word of mouth to spread the message of this campaign, so please talk about it to people you see and share on your social media accounts to publicise the campaign as much as possible.

Confirmed Events

Barnsley
Barton-Upon-Humber
Bath
Belfast
Birmingham
Bolton
Bournemouth
Brighton
Bristol
Cardiff
Carluke
Cheltenham
Coventry
Derby
Derry
Dundee
Eastleigh
Edinburgh
Folkestone
HemelHempstead
Kingston-Upon-Thames
Leeds
Leicester
Liverpool
Livingston
London(City)
Manchester
MiltonKeynes
Newcastle-Under-Lyme
NorthLondon
Norwich
Northampton
Northumberland
Nottingham
Penzance
Peterborough
Plymouth
Portsmouth
Salisbury
Sheffield
Southampton
Southend-on-Sea
Stirling
Stockport
Swansea
Wakefield
Weston-Super-Mare
Worcester
Worthing

Can’t find an event in your area? Please feel free to set one up, and get in touch by using our contact form or via our Facebook page so we can help promote the event for you!

The Crazy Tory Law That Criminalises The Homeless And Could Cost £790 Million.

On 1st September 2012 it became a criminal offence to be found squatting in a residential building, punishable by a fine of £5000 or six months in prison. Section 144 of the new Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was rushed through Parliament with little attention being paid to the consultation responses from various homeless charities and police, 98% of which were against the legislation.

According to a report in March this year by Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) evaluating the first six months of the Bill, there have been 33 arrests leading to 10 convictions. Their press release summarises their findings thus:-

“The Case Against Section 144″ Press Release

Press Release

For immediate release

Campaign to repeal new squatting law launched in Parliament

Entitled ‘The Case Against Section 144’, SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes) are launching a new report and campaign in Parliament today.

The report’s findings suggest the major concerns regarding criminalisation that arose during the government’s consultation process have been proven right, with homeless and vulnerable people disproportionately affected. No arrests so far have been for squatters displacing anyone from their home, which does suggest that the Criminal Law Act 1977 was sufficient for dealing with squatters – as predicted by many legal experts.

The report concludes with a call for repeal of Section 144. It provides a detailed six-month analysis of the effects that the new legislation has had since its introduction in September 2012, and sets this against the wider backdrop of the UK recession, high homelessness rates and current housing crisis.

The report will be launched today in the House of Commons at a meeting of concerned MPs, Lords, lawyers, homelessness groups and academics. An online government e-petition petition calling for repeal has reached over 2000 signatures in only a few weeks.

Last week, a homeless person in Kent died outside of an empty bungalow, media reports suggest he was prevented from going inside the building by Police because of the new offence of Section 144 which makes it a criminal offence to squat inside a residential property.

SQUASH campaigner Joseph Blake said:

“The new law is appalling. Homeless people are being put in jail for using empty buildings to keep a roof over their head. Section 144 needs to go and any further criminalisation quickly dismissed”.

Professor Danny Dorling, endorsing the report said:

“Squatting is what people do when they get desperate, it is not criminal behavior. Squatting rises when inequalities increase and housing is not treated as a necessity. This is a great report – every MP needs to read it.”

John Mcdonnell (Labour MP) said:

“”This meticulously researched report confirms what we feared about the effect of the new laws criminalising squatting. People are being made unnecessarily homeless and very vulnerable people are suffering as a consequence. This legislation was based upon prejudice and has only made matters worse. This new evidence demonstrates so clearly the need to repeal this misguided law.”

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Lib-Dem Peer) said:

“A few months after the Government brought in the disgraceful law criminalising the homeless occupying an empty house we can see that some of the most needy are indeed suffering in the way that we feared. This is a very useful report that should make people think hard.”

crispin-blunt-paul_1404232c  There was much opposition to s144 during Parliamentary debates of the Bill which was led by Tory Justice Minister Crispin Blunt pictured here alongside his £485k Surrey constituency home – he has a second family home in London which is heavily subsidised by tax payers. Labour MP John McDonnell tabled an amendment which had it been successful  would have protected the genuinely homeless who were squatting in long empty properties. Blunt, however, put forward several specious arguments to justify the criminalisation of squatters. He first of all blamed the squatting homeless for the fact that properties were empty in the first place:-

Many homelessness charities, for instance, are likely to continue to say that the new offence will criminalise homeless and vulnerable people who squat in run-down residential properties, but one of the reasons that the properties remain in that state is that the owners cannot get in to renovate them because the squatters are present.

And its clear whose interests this government are more concerned about and just how out of touch they are by the following excuses he makes for the properties being left empty by their owners:-

We consider that this option strikes the best balance. It will protect those who are likely to suffer most from squatting—those whose homes are taken over by squatters.… that point was made by squatters and squatters groups, but respondents who made that argument were missing one rather important point: the houses are not theirs to occupy. There are many reasons why a house might be left empty for more than six months without any steps being taken to refurbish, let or sell the building. For example, somebody might decide to do charitable work in another country for a year, or they might visit their second home during the summer months only…. 

Clearly, on Planet Cameron its quite normal to be able to afford to take a year off work and commonplace to own a second home. Blunt was obviously oblivious to the irony of such normalisation of privilege during a debate essentially about the growing thousands of people without hope of a secure roof of any kind over their heads.

Bribing-Mike-Weatherley-MP When you consider the number of empty houses there were at the time of this debate in November 2011 – a massive 710,000 – Blunt is really stretching our credibility if he wants us to believe that they are all merely empty because their owners are off doing good works in foreign climes or languishing in luxury in their second homes, unable to get back into their properties because of all those inconvenient paupers cluttering up the place.

McDonnell provided the charming Mr Blunt with a few statistics about the squatting population, no doubt hoping to shame him into a more compassionate state:-

41% of homeless squatters report mental health needs, 34% have been in care, 42% have physical ill health or a disability, 47% have experienced drug dependency, 21% are self-harming, 15% have a learning disability, and 90% have slept rough. Those are the people whom this legislation is about to criminalise…..The Crisis survey found that many of those people had no alternative, and that 78% had approached the local authority for help and been turned away. Among the housing charities—Crisis, Thames Reach, Shelter, Homeless Link, Housing Justice, St Mungo’s—there is a fear that the new legislation could criminalise extremely vulnerable people and force them into more dangerous situations, particularly rough sleeping.

625527_302908889837161_1145371516_n  What MP McDonnell feared but couldn’t have known at the time, was that there could be very drastic consequences for the vulnerable homeless he was describing. Tragically, he was proved right when not six months later homeless Daniel Gauntlett died from hypothermia whilst sleeping outside the abandoned and boarded up bungalow pictured here after being warned by police that if he entered the property to shelter from the bitterly cold weather he would be arrested and possibly sent to jail. Daniel decided to obey Blunt’s law and died as a consequence. No doubt Blunt from the comfort of one of his own homes was ‘unavailable for comment’, despite there also being no doubt that he and his government was indirectly responsible for this young man’s death. As McDonnell said at during the debate in November 2011:-

When there are 40,000 homeless families, 4,000 people sleeping rough in the capital, and 1.7 million households on waiting lists, desperate for decent accommodation, it is immoral that private owners should be allowed to let their properties stand empty for so long.

487757  At lot has happened since that debate that has made the housing situation in Britain far worse than it was back then. As the tide of welfare benefit cuts and bedroom tax has swelled so have the numbers of families whose housing has become very insecure indeed. SQUASH  have estimated that the cost of mitigating the effects of s144 alone could cost around £790 million over the next five years. We already know that the consequences of the bedroom tax are going to cost millions in increased housing benefit as families are forced into private sector renting. Not to mention the possible burden on the NHS from increased ill health due to stress, malnutrition and other poverty related conditions. If this is the government’s idea of saving money then I can only conclude that they are dangerously crazy.

timthumb Mr Blunt may not show much concern for the finances of the homeless and being Tory is automatically implicated in the media hate campaign which characterises the poor as workshy scroungers living it up at the state’s expense. I’m always amazed by the blunt dishonesty of such double standards. This Telegraph report of 2009 is a good illustration of what I mean:-

Documents lodged with the fees office show that Mr Blunt claimed that London was his second home from 1997.It was not until April 2003, when he discussed his Additional Costs Allowance with the fees office, that an official noted: “It was clear that his London home is his main home and has been for some time. His family live in London and his children attend London schools.”

The official said that “it would appear” Mr Blunt had nominated his London home as his second home because of his “mortgage arrangements”. He added: “I suggested that he change his nomination.” Mr Blunt then wrote to the fees office agreeing to move his “main home” designation to London, but suggesting that he took out an additional mortgage on his house in his Surrey constituency, and secure it on his home in south-west London. He said: “I will only claim mortgage interest from my additional cost allowance up to a sum not exceeding the valuation of my now ‘additional home’.”

The fees’ office reply is not recorded, but land registry documents show that Mr Blunt sold the property in Horley, Surrey for £224,000 in July 2004. He bought another property in the same village for £485,000 in November 2005 and claimed £16,000 in stamp duty and legal bills.

Daniel Gauntlett lost his life because he was a law abiding citizen. Mr Blunt commits what can only be seen as fraud without a prick of conscience and loses nothing. On Planet Cameron this is known as ‘fairness’. Where I come from its known as corruption.

“You Can’t Tell Someone’s Immigration Status Just By Looking At Them” say Black Feminists

The following post is reblogged from the Black Feminists website who have set up a petition against the current disgraceful behaviour from the Home Office involving the offensive “Go Home” vans and stop and search policy at tube stations. Please sign their petition which can be found on their website by following the link above.  Lets show David Cameron and his party of prejudice that we won’t stand by and let them treat people like this.

Black Feminists

 Visa Checks in Tube Stations – and They’re Not New #UKBA

August 3, 2013 in Immigration

ukba  Officers at Kensal Green station. Copyright: Twitter @SaveKRLibrary

By Kiri Kahkhwende

Spot immigration checks on public transport are in the headlines now – its news now, but it’s certainly not new. An exclusive report by the Independent calls it “the new stop and search”. Londoners have been tweeting eyewitness reports of predominantly black people being stopped at tube stations in places like Walthamstow and Stratford. One incident at Kensal Green tube station was witnessed by a reporter for the New Statesman, who duly reported on it.

However, anecdotal reports from people living in West and North London suggest that these spot immigration checks have been going on since at least 2008. This would appear to be backed up by an episode from the first season of Sky’s UK Border Force programme, made in 2008, which shows, in the first six minutes, a team from UK Border Force stopping a black man at North Greenwich  station and later arresting him when he tries to flee. They do not specify how they know that someone is an illegal immigrant; the officer states only that they are looking for “anyone suspected of committing immigration offences.” An African man who challenges the officers (“Go and control your borders, not the station!”) is also stopped.

He has a point. Random checks at tube stations are not an effective border control solution. It is inconsistent and serves only one purpose; PR. Like the ‘racist van’, it is a publicity stunt aimed at reassuring the British public that the government is doing something about illegal immigration and but the effects of these stunts are felt disproportionately by people of colour.

You can’t tell someone’s immigration status just by looking at them. Notably, these checks have not extended to Clapham or Earl’s Court, where high numbers of Australians and New Zealanders live. Instead, the checks are happening – and have been happening for years – in mixed areas of London, in tube stations and on buses.  The ‘racist van’ controversy has brought this into the public domain but racial profiling is rife in areas of London outside of the media gaze. The only difference now is that we’re more aware of it.

This is the new stop and search. And like stop and search, its benefits are disputed but its damage to community relations is undeniable. The assumption underlying this is that only white people are British. Those defending tough policing aren’t just overlooking their prejudices about race and Britishness, they are denying the historic resonance of black people arbitrarily being asked to justify their right to belong.

Know your rights. There is a growing abundance of information about what to do in case you are stopped, the responsibilities of the officer involved and how you should respond. This infographic is a handy tool – print it off, carry it with you, share it. For an in-depth analysis of your rights and the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) own rules on the checks, read Ian Dunt’s article on politics.co.uk  on the high standard which officers have to meet to make a spot immigration check. Even if you’re not stopped, you can help someone else: Record everything. You can also inform the person of their rights.

And if you’re stopped, remember: “It is illegal for an officer to conduct a speculative check on your immigration status. If you are a commuter simply going to the Tube station, you do not satisfy this standard. Demand to know why you are being questioned. If you do not receive a decent answer, inform the officer of your rights and walk away. You can walk away, because this is a free country.”

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Immigrants and ‘Undesirables’ Held in Prison Camps in Greece: Could This Happen Here?

londonboroughs   images (2)

For the last few days the Home Office has been tweeting boastfully about the number of arrests that have been made by officers of the UKBA of ‘suspected’ illegal immigrants in London boroughs. The underlying message this sends is chilling to say the least. They give no information about where these unfortunate people are being held, or under what conditions. Have they had access to legal representation? We don’t know. How long will they be held for? We have no idea.

SNN3004GXA_1774004a  As this Home Office experiment was about to launch the Sun did a poll of its readers asking if they supported the ‘migrant vans’. From the results, seen here, it would seem that even rampantly right wing Sun readers are not overwhelmingly in favour of this latest demonstration of Tory bigotry. And when I checked out the (huge) response on Twitter, last night, to the Home Office’s boasts of arrests NOT A SINGLE ONE expressed support; in fact the overall message to the Home Office can be summed up as ” This is disgusting. Not in my name, please”.

Then this morning, by a strange coincidence, I came across the following blog post reporting on a comparable situation in Greece, which although more extreme than what’s going on here, made me wonder nonetheless just how close we were to scenes like it….

…and then they came for the trans* people. (via Second Council House of Virgo)

Operation Zeus in August last year marked the start of an ugly reminder of a European past that we thought we had long buried.  Nearly 60 years after the end of the Second European War, migrants were round up from the streets of Greece and shoved unceremoniously…

Continue reading

Pride Comes Before A Fall: Problems With Universal Credit Could Leave IDS With Egg On His Face.

Fee-for-use-Iain-Duncan-Smith-1797134 In yesterday’s Observer Iain Duncan Smith once again boasted about how proud he was of his precious welfare reforms. Instead of addressing the very real and totally legitimate criticisms of his performance so far he pointed to the fact that the DWP had delivered their programme of torture on time:-

… we already have a proud record of achievement… We promised a benefit cap and it began, on time, in April in four London areas. It will be completely rolled out by September. We introduced the new personal independence payment as planned and on time. Automatic enrolment started last year, and now 1 million people have been registered into a workplace pension. People are using our Universal Jobmatch website for more than 5m job searches a day. Our Work Programme has launched and the industry tells us that so far 321,000 people have found a job through it.I am proud of this record.

sick  How any decent, sane human being can ignore the thousands of lives that have been devastated by his policies or refuse to acknowledge the deaths and suicides that can be directly linked to his actions is totally beyond my comprehension. Why a newspaper like the Observer gave him the space to make those comments is also a  mystery to me. And his refusal to undertake an impact assessment of the effect he’s had on the lives of disabled people simply shows that he doesn’t want to know. The only conclusion you can draw from this is that he’s irresponsible, unprofessional and should never be allowed to ‘serve’ as a politician again.

shoes But as usual the odious Mr Smith is not giving us the true picture about the DWP’s performance when it comes to the progress of Universal Credit. There are huge problems with it. Two aspects stand out here. The first is to do with their badly thought through devotion to ‘digital by default’. This report from Public Net published today shows that the DWP have overestimated the number of people who will be able to claim the benefit online. The potential for chaos is tremendous.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT PILOTS REVEAL CHALLENGES FACING BENEFIT CLAIMANTS

Headlines: July 29th, 2013

Many benefit claimants will struggle to meet the requirement of the new welfare arrangements which are due to be introduced from October 2013 with the launch of universal credit. Pilot schemes started last year by councils have revealed the scale of the difficulty many claimants will experience.

Universal credit will require all claimants to submit claims on line. Although 86 per cent of the UK population have access to the internet, the pilots have found that in the case of benefit claimants it is closer to 60 percent. Theoretically claimants can use facilities in libraries to submit claims, but they don’t visit libraries and they need support to cope with the technology and with the benefit processes. Some pilots are experimenting with providing access points in council premises and with staff on hand to support the claimants. Other pilots are exploring various approaches to improving access but have found it difficult to encourage take up.

Universal credit will roll up all benefits into a single payment which will be made directly to the claimant. This will meant that currently where some housing benefit is paid to landlords, in future it will be paid directly to the claimant. The pilots have revealed that many social housing tenants have problems with debt and rent arrears which might compound possible problems with personal budgeting.

Some councils have found a reluctance from customers to take part in budgeting and financial training in group sessions. It is thought the reluctance is due to the stigma of engaging in sessions which may highlight personal debt and rent arrears issues. The uptake of group financial education sessions in some authorities has been so low that sessions have been cancelled. This evidence is mirrored in the Direct Payment Demonstration Pilot areas.

Different approaches are being used to support personal budget management. They include sessions in smaller community groups and collaborating with partner organisations. Changing the welfare culture, which universal credit seeks to achieve, is a mammoth undertaking and it raises issues which must be addressed to bring success. While solutions to the problems are available, they will need time and funding on a scale which has probably not been foreseen in the implementation plan.

global race  The second report is potentially more damaging since it concerns the IT system that’s being developed to allow Universal Credit to be calculated. Because it combines all previous benefits into one package claimant information has to be gathered from HMRC systems and the system used by local authorities to calculate Housing Benefit. It seems they’ve messed up and now need to start from scratch. With the next roll out due in only two month’s time (October) its looking increasingly unlikely that even the six centres that are earmarked for the next stage will be able to cope. These computing problems were highlighted earlier in the year but in typical IDS fashion our SoS shrugged them off and refused to acknowledge that his ‘baby’ wouldn’t be born on time. Again Public Net have the story:-

UNIVERSAL CREDIT AMBER RED-RATING VINDICATED

Headlines: July 15th, 2013

Last year’s Government review conclusion that the Universal Credit project should be rated as amber/red because its successful delivery was in doubt and urgent action was needed, has been proved to be correct. Current trialling of the system with simple claims has revealed failings and there is to be a new design for dealing with the more complex claims.

Universal Credit will simplify the benefits system, improve work incentives and reduce fraud and error. It will replace income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; income-related Employment and Support Allowance; Income Support; Child Tax Credits; Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.

The Universal Credit project is being tested in 2 areas of the north-west, with another 2 starting later this month. The pathfinder trial is restricted to new claimants who are specially selected. Despite this narrowing of usage, it is understood that significant manual input by officials is required to verify accuracy and deal with other problems.

This assessment of the pathfinder is supported by the announcement that the next stage of development in October will be restricted to 6 additional job centres. The original project plan was for all new claims for out-of-work support to be treated as claims to universal credit from October 2013.

A potentially more serious aspect of the project is how the system interacts with Real Time Data System which includes information about earnings of claimants from HMRC. It appears that this element of the system design has been scrapped and it is now ‘back to the drawing board’. The official line about this re-think is that there is a need to explore enhancing the IT for Universal Credit working with the Government Digital Service.

The need for a re-think is unsurprising, because the universal credit system design was completed prior to the emergence of the Real Time Data System. Pressing on with the system design without knowing what the final integration requirements would be, involved many assumptions. This was a high risk strategy which proved unsustainable.

Re-writing this element of the system will take time and the trialing of in work claims cannot start until it is possible to use information from the Real Time Data System. Getting the IT system to perform effectively is only one of the major risks to the success of the project. The cultural transformation involving claimants moving to a digital service will be difficult to achieve. In a move to promote this transformation 20,000 Job centre Plus advisers will be involved in a training scheme and ten pilots will test how to best encourage claimants to progress in work.

6a00d8341d417153ef0133f5d6b4ef970b-550wi   Mr Smith’s plans to get everyone including the terminally ill and profoundly disabled working to make Cameron’s pipe dream of winning the ‘global race’ come true seem to be nothing more than pie in the sky. The tragedy is by pursuing their hopeless policies this government are causing misery and death.

Tower Hamlets’ Council Speaks for All LA’s About DWP Failings

_52802919_52802918 Back in February this year the London Borough of Tower Hamlets submitted evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee outlining the difficulties it was having in supporting vulnerable families who were suffering the impact of welfare reforms. Their evidence is reproduced below, It speaks for all Local Authorities struggling to cope with the fallout of Iain Duncan Smith’s precious baby, welfare reform.

Housing-Crisis-Continues-001 Tower Hamlets was dubbed an ‘Islamic Republic’ by the Telegraph back in 2010 after it elected  Lutfur Rahman as mayor. In a 2012 local election the Tories expressed concern that that there had been vote rigging and electoral fraud.

1315088493-edl-fail-to-demonstrate-in-tower-hamlets--london_815479 Perhaps because Tower Hamlets has a big Muslim community it has been a magnet for extreme right wing groups such as the English Defence League whose recent attempt to hold a rally in the borough was thankfully successfully blocked by concerned residents of all creeds. Its a close knit community and a community that is suffering badly thanks to benefit caps and bedroom tax. In this sense it has a lot in common with many more Local Authority areas in the UK so the evidence its councillors presented to the Select Committee could have come from anywhere in the country. Here’s what Tower Hamlets said,

HC 833 Implementation of Welfare Reform by Local Authorities

Written submission from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (IWR 49)

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets welcomes the Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry on the implementation of welfare reform by local authorities, and the opportunity to respond.

As Service Head for Corporate Strategy and Equality I oversee the Tower Hamlets Welfare Reform Task Group. This Task Group brings together officers from across Council departments, including Housing Options and Benefits, as well as health partners, advice agencies, housing providers and Job Centre Plus.

The close working of this group allows us to stay abreast of all critical developments around welfare reform and ensures we are able to work across the partnership. It also allows us to draw on a wide range of expertise and experience, from how we inform our residents to monitoring the impact of the changes.

Our submission reflects the expertise across the Welfare Reform Task Group and although I am its primary author, I credit the work of my colleagues in enabling us to submit this comprehensive response.

1. Executive Summary

1.1 Inner London, and Tower Hamlets in particular, are particularly impacted by welfare reform due to high housing costs, low wages relative to the cost of living and barriers to employment.

1.2 The Council and its partners have real concerns that for some families the impact will be increased hardship which is likely to increase pressure on already stretched public and voluntary services locally.

1.3 In particular, we are not sure that the potential impact of a policy such as the national cap, unrelated to local rent levels, on high rent areas such as inner London has been fully considered.

1.4 The somewhat arbitrary nature of the cap, impacting those on sickness benefits, or those caring for them, and those exempt from seeking work due to responsibilities for young children as well as those fit for and seeking work, is a particular concern.

1.5 Our evidence is that it does have a differential impact on black and minority ethnic and female-headed households and that its equality impact should be further reviewed with this in mind.

1.6 We also have concerns about how the impact of the benefit cap on council finances, both directly through our duty to those who are found homeless, and indirectly through the pressure that increased hardship or forced moves amongst families, will put on services such as schools, social care, health and mental health provision, amongst others. Whilst difficult to quantify at this time, it will be important to explore further whether these new pressures and the impact it will have on the 1600 households and nearly 5000 children, will outweigh any savings achieved by the cap.

1.7 Other changes such as the localisation of Council Tax Support and localisation of the Social Fund will bring additional administrative burdens to the Council. It is difficult to see how devolving these very similar processes and having them run separately within separate authorities, potentially requiring a myriad of new IT systems and processes, can be cost effective overall.

1.8 More generally, we have been disappointed in the quality of information and guidance that has been forthcoming from the DWP in enabling us to deal effectively with these changes. Greater sharing of information about those to be affected or, in the case of the Social Fund about current caseloads and recipients, would have helped us prepare better for these new burdens.

1.9 Within these difficult circumstances, we have found real commitment within our authority and amongst our partners in registered housing providers, third sector advice agencies, health and Job Centre Plus, in working with us to ensure the implementation of these changes is as smooth as possible and that those affected are informed and supported to prepare. The extent of work we have done in this field has been identified as amongst the most comprehensive in London and we would like to take this opportunity to share with the Committee this material which is all available on our local Council website atwww.towerhamlets.gov.uk/welfarereform

Finance

2. Are local authorities being allocated sufficient resources to deliver services such as localised Council Tax Support and advice to claimants on Universal Credit?

2.1 We have significant concerns that sufficient resources are not being allocated to support this major change to the welfare system. Indeed resources are being cut back.

2.2 Reductions in funding include:

· 10% plus cut in award funding for Council Tax Support (CTS)

· DWP has recently informed the council that Housing Benefit (HB) / Council Tax Benefit (CTB) admin funding will be cut by almost £500,000 for 2013/2014. (Circular HB/CTB A5/20012)

2.3 In addition, there are significant other resource pressures:

· We believe there is a risk of significant further reduction in Government admin subsidy funding to local authorities.

· The rationale for this would be that local authority admin requirements would reduce in line with the number of HB claims lost to Universal Credit. However, our analysis in Tower Hamlets shows that there will not be a significant reduction in caseload and assessments when HB migrates to UC.

· We also currently operate a joint HB/CTB processing system and the complexity of CTS assessments will remain on par with CTB assessment (and possibly more complicated).

· We therefore doubt that significant savings in respect of admin will be realised.

2.4 Lack of clarity about future funding: Considering the new burdens being faced by local authorities through the implementation of the various welfare reforms, it is yet unclear whether:

· The CLG / DWP have undertaken an analysis of the resource pressures and new burdens local authorities are facing and will continue to face.

· Funds will be made available to reflect this additional resource requirement, what the rationale for the apportionment would be and how much local authorities will be allocated.

3. Are there financial risks to local authorities from Welfare Reform changes? Are such risks being adequately addressed?

3.1 Benefits Cap: The most significant resource challenge for local authorities, primarily those in London, will not be the implementation of localised council tax support or advice on Universal Credit, but mitigating, as much as possible, the severe impact of the Benefits Cap.

3.2 Based on DWP scan data around 1600 households in Tower Hamlets will have a shortfall in benefit payments following the introduction of the cap. The average loss will be £103 per week (£6,706 per annum). The households affected include nearly 5000 children who will be impacted, at threat of losing their homes.

3.3 Tower Hamlets has implemented a number of actions to mitigate the impact of the cap including:

· Borough wide awareness campaigns of the changes

· Personalised joint housing options / employment advice visits to every household who is at ‘high’ and ‘medium’ risk

· A series of high profile drop in roadshow events (“Money Matters Month”) providing advice to over 600 residents in one month

· A short welfare reform video, booklet and practitioners guide

· Ongoing training for council, housing provider and partnership staff

· A rich number of resources for residents and practitioners on our website: www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/welfarereform

3.4 Despite these activities, we still envisage a large impact on a significant number of households across the borough.

3.5 In Tower Hamlets some of the biggest losers are black and minority ethnic families and single parent households, usually headed by women. We have concerns about the extent to which the equalities impact of this policy was fully assessed and considered before implementation.

3.6 Our biggest concern is about the human impact of this change on some of our most vulnerable residents. There will also be consequent financial risks to the local authority which include:

· Cost to the local economy: Based on DWP scan data the estimated total loss to Tower Hamlets residents in lost benefit payments due to the cap will be approximately £8.5m per annum which will have a serious impact on the affected households. As spending patterns are not entirely clear, it is difficult to calculate what percentage of this loss will be felt in the local economy, but the overall loss is likely to be significant, potentially exacerbating depressed demand, increasing debt and reducing local economic growth.

· Temporary accommodation costs: There are currently 450 households living temporary accommodation due to homelessness who will be affected by the cap. The Housing Benefit lost to these claimants has been calculated to be £3.27m per annum. The Council has a duty to house these residents. Tower Hamlets Council will be forced to meet these costs unless able to find alternative and less costly housing options for these families.

· Lack of affordable housing options: There are no private rented options within the borough or within most of the neighbouring boroughs which will be affordable to families affected by the benefits cap. The average rent for a two bedroom property in the Tower Hamlets is £350 per week, and a four bedroom is £524 per week as of March 2012, in itself over the £500 per week cap. The Council will therefore have little choice but to consider rehousing homeless families outside of the borough, and potentially some distance from families, disrupting communities, schools and support networks.

· Increase in homelessness: On top of those families already homeless and in temporary accommodation, there are a further 460 households currently in the private sector who will be affected by the cap. The average shortfall for these families is £104 per week (very slightly above the £103 average for all types of dwelling. The loss for those in the private sector is above a £79 average weekly shortfall for those renting in Housing Association dwellings and below the £143 shortfall for families in homeless accommodation). They are unlikely to be able to negotiate lower rent levels with their landlords or find alternative local housing solutions. Many will find themselves in rent arrears and subject to eviction, leading to further homelessness applications to the Council.

· The cost of rehousing: There is a massive human cost in re-housing families out of the borough – with the loss of support networks and community ties. There are also potential hidden financial costs to the public purse which may outweigh benefits savings. For example, many provide or rely on informal care from families and these costs may in future fall to the state. Allocating new schools, new GPs, new addresses, new practitioner contacts and of course new housing are all additional costs relating to rehousing some of the most vulnerable residents in society.

· Increased demand for emergency support: Those affected by the cap will face the sharp dilemma of paying their rent or feeding their families and heating their homes. Local authorities who will from April be delivering the Social Fund face a potential significant increase in demand for these, and for other payments including child care costs and discretionary housing payments. Our whole Localised Social Fund budget is currently £1.4m compared to an estimated benefit shortfall of £8.5 million. There are also additional administrative costs related to the localised Social Fund which each individual council is having to bear, calling into question the efficiency and rationale of devolving the Social Fund.

3.7 Planning for these risks is hampered by:

· Lack of information and funds from CLG / DWP making it difficult for Tower Hamlets to plan accordingly for the forthcoming changes, and to enable us to attempt to maintain the current level of service provision

· The timetable for implementation is too tight to ensure enough support is given to residents to cope with changes – both rehousing and finding employment solutions for vulnerable residents take time.

· There has been little or no information about the historic demand for Social Fund payments (i.e. who is demanding what and why) making planning and effective delivery of the new Localised Social Fund more challenging and less efficient.

Housing

4. How will the separation of the administration of Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit affect claimants?

4.1 LBTH, like most Local Authorities are committed to maintaining a seamless service in respect of both Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support, whist the Council retains responsibility for the administration of HB.

4.2 This is being achieved in the following ways:

· Initially involving the retention of a single application form and joint HB/CTB processing via integrated ICT processing systems which issue separate award notifications.

· In addition to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit the application form also incorporates an application for education and welfare benefits.

· Currently recipients of ESA(IR), IS, and JSA(IB) are passported to full HB/CTB without LA’s having to enquire further regarding any other income they may have. However, the inclusion of Housing Benefit within Universal Credit and the fact that it is impossible to separate and disregard the Housing Cost element of the final Universal Credit award, means that “passporting” will not be possible and this is likely to complicate the Council Tax Support assessment process.

4.3 Local Authorities will have significant difficulty replicating the passported provision inherent in the current HB and CTB schemes. This means that a relatively streamlined, joined-up process currently faced by claimants is likely to be significantly complicated in the future.

4.4 It is also likely to increase the assessment requirement for Council Tax Support – meaning claimants will have to complete separate forms and provide information to both the DWP and to the Council.

4.5 Universal Credit is being designed to be One Benefit and One Payment and CTB local schemes are likely to closely resemble the benefits incorporated within UC. The rationale for operating a local CTS scheme independent of Universal Credit has therefore not been made clear.

5. How significant an issue is housing benefit fraud under the proposed new system and what measures are being taken to address it?

5.1 Tower Hamlets has a number of mechanisms in place to prevent fraud. The investigations team works closely with other agencies including other departments within our council, other councils, the Department for Work and Pensions, the police and members of the public to ensure incidents of fraud are continuously addressed.

5.2 The committee may want to consider how media coverage remains overwhelmingly negative with regards to those receiving benefit payments. A report by Turn2us, part of the poverty charity Elizabeth Finn, illustrates the level of disinformation here [1] . This amount of disinformation can have a negative impact on the quality of the debate on welfare reform, and the subsequent solutions to challenges around welfare.

6. Are there sufficient safeguards to protect social landlords from financial harm resulting from the payment of housing benefit direct to claimants?

6.1 Social landlords have considerable concerns about the payment of benefit direct to claimants.  Residents as well as their landlords will face considerable pressures as a result. The full scale of the impact has not yet been clarified – the pilots have not reported in sufficient detail to be able to take a view on the risk to rental income and that in itself is a worry. However, there are some key areas where social landlords do have concerns:

6.2 Impact on Landlords

· The increase in transaction costs decreases provider income which is used to invest in homes and services.  That income will instead be paid to the companies such as AllPay or the Post Office or the banks who facilitate the transactions.

· Feedback from partner landlords suggests that all are increasing the resources we spend on supporting residents and chasing arrears – at the expense of improving homes and services to residents – this is on top of the pressure on income should arrears start to increase

· We still don’t know how the courts will view arrears cases which are as a result of these changes – guidance to the courts from the Government would be useful.

· We would suggest that the level of arrears necessary to trigger a direct payment needs to be low enough such that there is a realistic prospect of the arrears being paid in a reasonable timescale and servicing the arrear is not significantly onerous on the tenant.

6.3 Impact on claimants

· Many of our residents are vulnerable to financial abuse, from legal and illegal lenders – we will need to provide additional services to identify and support these residents as otherwise this cash will be diverted to their abusers and we will end up pursuing arrears. Locally, we have a financial inclusion network which is seeking a range of ways to increase local people’s skills in managing money and avoiding debt, but the level of change associated with welfare reform is likely to significantly increase demand on these resources.

· Once direct payments are introduced, many residents may also be more open to abuse from family members and acquaintances. With the payment going to the notional head of household it will put many already vulnerable residents – particularly but not exclusively women – more dependent on their abusers and so more trapped in abusive relationships with the associated risks. Residents are also considering moving back in with abusive family members as a consequence of falling incomes because of the cap.

· We would suggest that the Committee seriously consider recommending a change to this aspect of the policy, specifically where a tenant wants to have their rent paid direct to their landlord they should be able to request this at the outset.  If it is an informed choice then we do not see how this would undermine the Government’s publicised intent that people should take responsibility for their finances.

Employment

7. What impact have Welfare to Work schemes had, or are likely to have, on the numbers of benefit claimants?

7.1 Our contact with our affected families in temporary accommodation, coupled with discussions with Job Centre Plus, local employment support agencies and housing providers have stated that the overwhelming majority of those affected by the cap and not in work are unlikely to be able to move easily into work.

7.2 This is often because of childcare responsibilities and/or childcare costs make it financially unviable for lower earners. Nearly half (46%) of those affected by the cap in Tower Hamlets are single parents. Many of these have children under 5 and thus are not expected, even within new stricter job seeking rules, to be available for work.

7.3 Other residents have poor health and are receiving Incapacity Benefit or Employment Support Allowance in reflection of this.

7.4 In the move from IB to ESA the Government has itself recognised that assisting long term claimants of sickness benefits is a long term approach which needs to be accompanied by training and support. There is no quick fix which will enable employment options to be realistic for those affected by the cap on implementation in April next year.

7.5 Often part time work is a useful option for those moving back into work following ill-health – but part time options below 24 hours will not exempt people from the benefits cap.

7.6 Even where those affected are available and looking for work, the lack of job opportunities, particularly in a job market hit by recession means finding employment is not a simple solution. In addition, many residents lack relevant competencies, which require significant additional investment in training and skills.

Other

8. Is the guidance available to local authorities from central government on implementing welfare reform adequate? Are there areas where more or better guidance is required?

8.1 In general, we have been disappointed about the level of information and guidance available to local authorities to implement these reforms. This includes:

8.2 A lack of information on the progress being made on Universal Credit implementation and likely timescales

8.3 A lack of information on the level of contingency funding available to help offset the impact of the reforms.

8.4 A lack of accurate information about numbers affected – the DWP scan produced to identify residents likely to be affected by the cap, appears to be flawed as it is not based on current data. We have received three different scans each with different numbers and names of those affected. We have worked with the DWP on these issue, but to help us identify errors with the scan it would be helpful if DWP were to publish their assessment formulae.

8.5 A lack of information with regard to local Social Fund administration – in particular DWP were extremely slow to publish statistics regarding current administration of the Social Fund and although figures have now been published on the DWP website, we feel it would be beneficial to visit the local DWP centre which processes Social Fund applications from LBTH residents. However, our requests have been refused, which is a pity as we feel this would be of more practical use than the regional and generalised Social Fund seminars being conducted by DWP.

8.6 DWP HB/CTB Circulars are less frequent and HB Direct does not provide the level of guidance we are seeking.

Methodology:

9. Is the Government’s timetable for implementing Welfare Reform achievable?

9.1 We believe it will be exceptionally difficult. The DWP have only recently set up specialist teams to deliver the benefits cap which will involve merging benefit streams to calculate the total. Effective UC delivery is likely to require the integration with HMRC’s RTI system, but developments on this have not been forthcoming

10. What evidence is there that local authorities are able to use effectively existing services or contracts for the delivery of new local Social Fund schemes

10.1 The new work to operate the Social Fund for Tower Hamlets will require additional claim handling and assessment staff and new systems. Workload planning is hampered by the lack of recent detailed information from DWP on the volume of applications and on the number, values and purposes of grants or loans.

10.2 We are evaluating potential suppliers of systems to administer the Social Fund, including some with whom we have an existing contract. However, it is very unlikely that we can make variations to a contract to encompass the Social Fund, given the potential value of the contract and the need to ensure best-value, fair and transparent procurement. This gives some concern in terms of the timescales to evaluate options and procure a system.

10.3 All of the potential suppliers are still developing their systems, so there is a risk that we may move to procure a system which is not ready for testing, training and adapting for local criteria in time for 1st April 2013.

10.4 Some council services, especially in the social work fields, already help people with their applications for Social Fund payments from the Job Centre, and we are working to ensure that this support will still be provided. However, it seems likely that there will be an increase in applications to the Social Fund, and there would be no additional resource in social work or in local advice agencies to provide support for higher numbers of applicants.


[1] Benefits Stigma: how newspapers report on welfare; Guardian Data Blog http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/nov/20/benefits-stigma-newspapers-report-welfare Accessed 11/12/2012

©Parliamentary copyright

Prepared 5th February 2013

250px-Canary.wharf.from.thames.arp As you can see Tower Hamlets council is pretty critical of the DWP. It seems that the DWP are not only reluctant to give us, the public, any clear and unambiguous information about their plans, but they also keep Local Authorities in the dark making it harder for them to plan ahead to help those in the most need – which they have a duty to do.

Personally, when people are vague and downright obstructive with me I tend to think they’re up to no good…so what is the DWP really up to?