Tag Archives: community service

New attempt to demean benefit claimants launched by right-wing loonies

Bin it: We don't need the Taxpayers' Alliance or its rubbish ideas.

Bin it: We don’t need the Taxpayers’ Alliance or its rubbish ideas.

For a change, it isn’t the government!

The Taxpayers’ Alliance, an organisation of right-wingers determined to turn the UK into a low-tax economy by any possible means, has decided that Universal Credit claimants need to do community service-style unpaid work – or they shouldn’t receive a penny.

According to the BBC, the group reckons people should do 30 hours’ unpaid activity every week, and has suggested this could save £3.5 billion in social security payments every year.

Is that because it has worked so well in the past?

Schemes like this are already in place for jobseekers and, guess what, they don’t work. It costs more money to employ the private firms that administer them than they ever succeed in saving, and their success rate in getting people into jobs is so bad that benefit claimants would have a better chance of success if they just go and look for work by themselves.

In addition, Universal Credit will be paid to working people who claim, for example, tax credits and/or housing benefit. They have to claim these benefits because their employers do not pay them enough money to cover all their necessary outgoings – food, rent, electricity and so on. That is a result of right-wing government policy that aims to keep wages low. How are these low-paid working people supposed to fit another 30 hours’ work into their already-busy week?

Also: Community service? That’s what convicted criminals do. Unemployment is not a criminal offence and every TPA member should be ashamed that their leaders have conflated the two.

Finally, for every person carrying out unpaid work, a paid job is removed from the economy. Has it not occurred to the Taxpayers’ Alliance that the amount HMRC collects from them might drop, if more people were actually paying taxes?

Probably not, but then – oh, look – it seems the TPA is being investigated for, don’t laugh, dodging tax.

“Taxpayers rightly expect something back for the enormous amount they pay for out-of-work benefits, at the very least a real commitment to find a job as soon as possible,” said TPA chief executive Matthew Sinclair, proving in a single sentence that he understands neither Universal Credit nor the fact that people who claim it are also taxpayers.

No – this is not about helping anybody. It won’t save government money; it won’t help businesses and it certainly won’t help people on Universal Credit.

This is about demeaning people who are already in a very difficult place through no fault of their own. It is about pretending that they are a burden on society when it is the government’s own schemes – and the schemes that the TPA wants brought in – that are creating the burden.

Still, today’s misguided and wholly wrong-headed outburst does allow us to clarify what is needed.

People in work need to be paid a living wage, and should be respected by their employers for the work that they do.

And firms currently taking part in unpaid ‘workfare’ schemes need to be told that enough is enough; they’ve had the benefit of free workers for many years, and now it’s time to give something back by turning those positions into paid jobs – again at the living wage.

People in paid work pay taxes – and those earning enough that they don’t need any benefits at all are a double boon to the Exchequer because they pay into the Treasury but do not take anything out.

That is the way forward.

No need for Ballsbornism, or: Who’s afraid of the big bad spending review?

Don't be complacent: It may seem as though the Coalition government that has blighted the UK for the past three years is marching willingly to its own demise - but that is by no means certain. We must all be vigilant against the apathy that allows them to spread their poisonous views and convince impressionable people that they are speaking common sense ideas that are held by the majority.

Don’t be complacent: It may seem as though the Coalition government that has blighted the UK for the past three years is marching willingly to its own demise – but that is by no means certain. We must all be vigilant against the apathy that allows them to spread their poisonous views and convince impressionable people that they are speaking common sense ideas that are held by the majority, when we all know that this is a falsehood.

I’m not!

So Gideon George Osborne is announcing £11.5 billion of cuts to be implemented from April 2015 to the end of March 2016 – so what? There will be a general election the following month and he would be delusional if he thinks his party will win.

Ed Balls has said Labour would match the Coalition’s spending totals for that financial year, but we should not be fooled into believing this means Labour would make exactly the same choices as a Conservative or Conservative-led government. It won’t.

For example, Coalition welfare reform policies currently cost us all £19 billion per year. That’s right – it costs us money to knock all those poor, sick and disabled people off-benefit, because we pay private companies to carry out the government’s dirty work. Not only are they doing a very poor job, but they are also charging us a fortune for it.

Ed Balls could cancel the lot and, working with a decent Labour Work and Pensions secretary (not Liam Byrne), install a new system aimed at the causes of unemployment, sickness and disability, and still pay less than the current government.

You see, Tories aren’t really about saving money for the taxpayer. They’re about making poor people pay taxes to support rich people who don’t need them.

That’s just one – extremely oversimplified – example of why I don’t think we have to live in a country dominated by ‘Ballsbornism’, even though I coined the expression earlier today in a response to a comment.

‘Ballsbornism’ implies a consensus economic policy, much like the ‘Butskellism’ of the 1950s that married the ideas of Tory Rab Butler and Labour’s Hugh Gaitskell, and recent announcements by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have stirred up fears that the Labour front bench has capitulated to the Tory economic viewpoint.

This blog has been part of that, and I make no apology for it. Like all political movements, Labour must be made to see that it cannot take the easy way out. People’s lives – no, I’m not making this up – depend on their decisions and those lives will be on their conscience if they cock up the system (as Osborne has been doing) or make lazy decisions.

The Tory-led Coalition likes to say its policies on benefits “encourage” people to sign off (and goes on to suggest that they then get jobs, although the evidence is overwhelmingly that they end up with no form of income at all); if we want better for our future, then the people of this country must similarly “encourage” Labour into policies that will genuinely improve our situation.

I have outlined my opinion of what those policies should be, in a previous article, so need not rehash them here.

And let’s remind ourselves of the absolute lunacy that could be foisted on us if the Conservatives come back into power: Tory backbencher Peter Bone, alongside similar-minded nutters, has compiled an alternative Queen’s Speech (or is it an alternative to the alternative, as Labour already produced one?).

This suggests restoring the death penalty for criminals (we all know this leads to injustice); privatising the BBC (more money for rich Tories who don’t deserve it, along with a diminished and politically-biased national broadcasting service), abolishing human rights legislation (to the huge detriment of all citizens and working people who rely on it, as discussed many times on this blog), and renaming the August Bank Holiday as ‘Margaret Thatcher Day’ (an insult to everybody whose lives were blighted by her policies).

Bone, whose bizarre pronouncements create semi-regular moments of comedy during Prime Minister’s Questions, told the BBC he was “putting forward Conservative policies” that would be “very helpful” to David Cameron.

This is an elected Conservative member of Parliament, remember – one of several who have drafted these proposals. And let’s not forget the Free Enterprise group of Tory right-wingers, whose book Britannia Unchained suggests (wrongly) that British workers are among the laziest in the world, and anyone unemployed for more than six months should do 30 hours’ community service and lose 10 per cent of their benefits, as if being forced out of work by (Tory) employers was a crime!

So let Osborne have his moment, when he announces his review on Wednesday. Then reflect on where you’ll be putting your vote in 2015 and enjoy the prospect that he will have wasted his breath.

Work programme is on the rocks – but the battle’s not over yet

Slave auction: One of the posters created to protest against the work programme when A4e was still involved.

The number of people being referred to the government’s flagship work programme has dropped dramatically, according to official figures – but I wouldn’t start celebrating yet, if I were you.

Figures for the year to the end of July 2012 show 878,000 referrals, but total monthly referrals in July were fewer than 49,000 – less than half of the 100,000 who were put on the controversial scheme in July 2011.

The number of long-term Jobseekers’ Allowance claimants has risen by 188,000 during the same period.

Since January, 15 charities or voluntary groups have quit the work programme, possibly due to the bad publicity the surrounds it. But 20 more signed up.

According to The Guardian, “The programme is supposed to link job centres to the companies that help unemployed people find work. The firms are paid for every jobless person who is found work.

“Under the contract, companies, and the charities that work for them, can collect £13,550 for finding such claimants long-term work; double the money paid for getting an unemployed person a job.”

This certainly agrees with the information sent in by Vox Political commenters, like this one: “The WTW [Welfare-to-Work] provider gets a £600 attachment fee. They also get paid fees for ‘providing support’ i.e. bullying her into doing what they want. Later they get an ‘outcome fee’ for making her stay in the minimum wage job of their choice. If she finds something with no help from them, they still pocket the dosh. If she finds training other than their useless ‘courses’ she gets rewarded with a sanction (benefits withheld indefinitely) to ensure compliance.”

That comment was made by a person who was placed with A4e [Action for Employment], a training company whose government contracts have been terminated after allegations of fraud were made against it. A Channel 4 investigation revealed in September that A4e had only found 4,020 jobs that lasted more than three months, in the 10 months up to May 2012, for its 115,000 compulsory attendees, at a cost to the taxpayer of £45 million.

Only a few days ago I wrote about one such “training” company – it might have been A4e – that took £400 per claimant, then passed each person on to Job Centre Plus, to go on a £300 work scheme. The cash taken by the company – for doing nothing – was excused as an “administration” cost.

These are all incidental to the main criticism of the work programme, which is that it keeps unemployment high by offering private companies people who must work for no pay – in other words, state-sponsored slavery. When the work placement ends, the private company throws away that person and brings in another. My belief is that it is not the taxpayers’ responsibility to pay the wages of people employed by a private company; if a firm wants people to stack its shelves, it should hire them at a living wage, rather than ask the government to provide workers and pay them only in state benefits.

I do not think it is a coincidence that the work programme has slumped, apparently because Job Centre Plus staff are moving claimants straight into jobs. And look at some of the other figures! Unemployment – down. GDP growth – up.

I have always believed that the work programme was an attempt to funnel taxpayers’ money into the hands of ministers’ friends, and these figures suggest I am right. The nation is better off without the work programme.

But that means these friends of the ministers would go without, and we can’t have that, can we? So what will the government do?

Let’s all remember that one of Chris Grayling’s last decisions at the Department for Work and Pensions was to roll out the work programme in 16 London boroughs – all notable sites of the summer riots in 2011 – starting in September. So youngsters who probably weren’t involved in those riots will end up doing 390 hours’ community service, while Grayling’s fat-cat business buddies continue to get their government backhander.

Memes of the moment

A man who hid in a toilet in order to get near enough to David Cameron to shout, “No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts” has been sentenced to community service. The public were quick to spot the difference in treatment between this man and Andrew Mitchell, who verbally abused a policeman (an arrestable offence) but was not prosecuted. One wonders what punishment the young man in this photograph would have received for the words here.

One of the best ways to make a point on the internet – satirical or otherwise – is to create a ‘meme’. For the uninitiated, this is a picture that has been modified to make a point, then sent around the net via Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites. Some of the recent ones have been very good so, while I work on my next piece (probably Cameron selling weapons to the Middle East), I thought I’d put them on show.

David Cameron will always be remembered as the Prime Minister who re-introduced class, and class war, to the UK with his Cabinet of millionaires, and government of aristocrats. Here, Paul Weller gives him the scorn he deserves.

Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous words about the Nazis get an IDS update here. In a week when Iain Duncan Smith turned the glare of his DWP spotlight onto step-parents, single parents and “broken” families, the targeting might seem a little off, but the words still ring true, and it shows that comparisons with Nazism are still coming thick and fast. The fact is that both the Conservatives (now) and the Nazis (in the 1930s) got into government without getting a majority of the national vote, and then set about policies that were not what they had professed to the public.

Finally, a little background reading. Next time you hear the Insidious Dole-Snatcher – or any of his chums – spitting out these claims as though they’re true, just take a moment to check their veracity. The link is in the image.

Mitchell resigns, Osborne in trouble… Fit to rule?

On the day Andrew Mitchell finally resigned as Chief Whip after the now-notorious ‘Gate-gate’ incident, George Osborne (the Chancer of the Exchequer) has been found fare-dodging on a train (he was sitting in First Class but had only a standard ticket).

Meanwhile, the man who disrupted the Oxford/Cambridge boat race by swimming in the Thames while it was taking place has received a six-month prison sentence, raising questions about the disparity between punishments for MPs and those for other UK citizens.

Perhaps it really is time for MPs to have some of their own medicine. We’ve had “We’re all in it together” thrust down our throats for two years, now – isn’t it time members of the government took an Atos-style assessment to see whether they’re fit to govern?

Personally, I think the demarcation point suggested by the cartoon is unfair and that they should all be placed in the “sub-normal” category (when I was typing this, my fingers automatically tried to type “sub-moral”. Draw your own conclusion). However, this is an Atos assessment regime, so fairness has nothing to do with it!

Coming soon: criminal sentences for the long-term unemployed?

Jobless criminal: Proposals by the Tory Free Enterprise group would put the clock back to the 16th century, when joblessness was a criminal offence.

According to the Telegraph, that outstanding group of backwards-thinking Tories, the Free Enterprise group, has come up with a new way of turning back time to the Middle Ages.

The group, some of whose luminaries were responsible for the stain on literature known as Britannia Unchained, believe those out of work for more than a year should have their benefits docked by 20 per cent.

Anyone unemployed for more than six months should do 30 hours’ community service and lose 10 per cent of their benefits, they reckon.

Britannia Unchained, you will recall, wrongly suggests that workers in the UK are among the laziest in the world.

Magistrates regularly dish out community service orders to people who have been convicted of criminal offences that may be punishable by imprisonment. These orders are for work totalling not less than 40 hours. I suppose the Free Enterprise zealots think they have cleverly avoided comparisons by limiting their suggestion to 30 hours, but if a person is unemployed for more than a year, under their proposal, they would have to do 60 hours’ unpaid work in the community – well within the amount for criminal offences.

Taking away 20 per cent of a person’s income has never been within a magistrate’s – or a judge’s – powers as fines have always been specific amounts. I would imagine that a judge would consider such a sentence to be an overly cruel and unusual punishment.

The whole proposal is reminiscent of the days – perhaps the Free Enterprisers consider them ‘good old days’ – when unemployment was considered a crime, along with vagrancy. Perhaps we should be happy they don’t want to reintroduce the death penalty for it!

That is exactly what unemployment used to attract. From 1536, the law allowed vagabonds and the jobless to be whipped and hanged. In 1547, a bill was passed that subjected vagrants to some of the more extreme provisions of the criminal law, namely two years servitude and branding with a “V” as the penalty for the first offense and death for the second. During the reign of Henry VIII, as many as 72,000 people are estimated to have been executed.

He was on the throne for a fair amount of time, so he’d probably be impressed by the death toll already racked up by this government among the sick and disabled.

Chris Skidmore, Conservative MP for Kingswood, who part-wrote the report, tried to make it look respectable by saying, “Now is the time for the Conservative party to be brave. We need bold thinking and ideas that reflect the fact that we are the party that believes people should have the freedom to make the decisions about the things that affect them.”

Which people? Not unemployed people, I take it. People like you, Chris?

We know the welfare budget is going to be hit again by the Coalition government – these idiots simply don’t have any other ideas. Comedy Prime Minister David Cameron told Andrew Marr his party would “level” with the public about the need for another £16 billion of spending cuts in 2015-16.

“We have to find these spending reductions and if we want to avoid cuts in things like hospitals and schools, services that we all rely on, we have to look at things like the welfare budget,” he said.

So the Free Enterprise group’s foolishness might soon become government policy.

And don’t be fooled by Cameron’s comments about hospitals and schools. When he says these are services “we all rely on”, he means that he and his cronies are relying on turning them into cash cows from which they can all profit. The hospitals are already being sold off piecemeal to private firms that Tory ministers partly own.