Sunday, 8 June 2014

My speech to Yorkshire Morning Star Conference 7 June 2014 - Campaigning for a Just Welfare System

The Welfare State. Our Welfare State. Beveridge was set the task in 1942 to discover what kind of Britain people wanted to see after the war. And it was obvious. People wanted to see a socially just and fair Britain where the state cared for and valued its citizens: their talents, their strengths and stepped into protect them from harm when illness or unemployment came their way. A Compassionate BritainA Compassionate Government.

Beveridge declared there were 5 giants on the road to reconstruction:

Poverty
Disease
Ignorance
Squalor
Idleness

To defeat these giants he proposed setting up a welfare state giving people:

Social Security
A National Health Service
Free Education
Council Housing
Full Employment

The Labour Party under the leadership of the great Clement Attlee did just that. An EXTRAORDINARY social vision became reality for the people of Britain. The greatest piece of social justice ever given to the citizens of these shores.

Fast forward to today –

 Iain Duncan-Smith says:

Cuts to Housing Benefit are FAIR
The Bedroom Tax (or his Spare Room Subsidy) is FAIR
Tax Cuts for Millionaires is FAIR
Terminally ill people and the disabled waiting months to either receive or appeal for disability benefits is FAIR
Sanctioning those on Job Seekers Allowance for pernicious reasons is FAIR.

As a passionate campaigner for social justice I say to you:

Do you think it’s fair?

Because I say No! No! No!

The Welfare State was not set up to punish the most vulnerable in society. It was not set up to hound disabled people and carers out of council homes by imposing the hugely cruel Bedroom Tax. The Welfare State was never designed to punish the unemployed for turning up to Job Centre interviews on the wrong day, because the DWP computer made an error!

The late great Tony Benn said:
“I think there are 2 ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly demoralise them.”

This is exactly what this ConDem government have done! Instead of putting the blame squarely at the feet of this Eton Mess of a cabinet;stuffed full of posh rich boys, and their mates the 
hedge fund bankers, Cameron (ably abetted by the Judas Party of LibDems) have frightened 
people into believing austerity is about the amount of immigrants coming into the country taking ‘British Jobs’. The rise of the far right Ukip are hitting that message home quite thoroughly too. Osborne rants about ‘hard working people’ going out to work while their neighbours curtains are drawn – not even stopping to think that neighbour may be a night shift worker at a hospital, or late night bus driver. They peddle the politics of fear to the working class to take the heat off their own rich, tax avoiding backs.

The very word ‘Welfare’ has been seized, turned around, demonised and claimed by the Tories and their American Tea-Party cousins as now meaning ‘hand outs to scroungers’

So what can we do?

Firstly the Labour Party in conjunction with the unions and all of us campaigners and community activists on the left must reclaim ‘Welfare’ by using the Attlee term-

SOCIAL SECURITY


Security and a safety net so that –

The unemployed are helped, yes helped back into work or to find that 1st job
The sick and disabled are given disability payments as a socially just society protects and defends its most vulnerable citizens. That’s the bottom line. Full Stop.
Rent controls, so greedy buy-let landlords can’t easily hike rents up to unmanageable levels, thus leaving people needing huge increases in housing benefit
Carers are rewarded financially by setting the bar for Carers Allowance considerably higher than the derisory £61 pw currently. Even Cameron acknowledges carers save this country millions of pounds in care costs every year
Women are not forced back into work in fear of being demoted or thought less of for taking full maternity leave,and a recognition that single parents and parents of disabled children need extra childcare support should they find work.

There are many more social security issues that I will focus more on shortly.
The key theme to campaigning for a socially just welfare system is to oppose the implementation of the current system based on punishment.

Punishment for being poor
Punishment for losing a job or being made redundant
Punishment for being ill
Punishment for being disabled
Punishment for being female
We need to move to campaign en masse for the following to ensure a fair and just welfare system:

The repeal of the Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap

The Bedroom Tax was devised to punish those who cannot afford to buy their own home. It is one of the most pernicious cruel policies this Government has devised for people in council houses. Not just houses but homes.


A Tax on couples where one is disabled and needs an extra bedroom for a carer or to store equipment.

A tax on families with a disabled child who cannot share a room with other brothers and sisters.

An unbelievable  and costly ‘Yo-YO’ tax where due to silly age limits and the sex of your 
children one year, you may not need 3 bedrooms according to the DWP, but the following year as your children are older their age dictates the need for another bedroom!

Moving people out of  council houses that may have been their homes for decades where they have brought up families, tended gardens, even scattered the ashes of loved ones under rose bushes, is just an action of a cruel, uncaring insensitive, bully-boy Government.

And the Benefit Cap? The Coalition has been masterful in getting out the message the cap set at £26k is literally being received in cash sums by families. We know the reality is that probably £20k of that amount goes to the buy-let landlord in rent via Housing Benefit! We must urgently campaign to change that narrative. Informing people at work, in our communities, our parties, our unions and through social media that the benefit cap is not money coming into a household but money being used to subsidise wealthy landlords who can charge whatever they want in rent prices.

In London we are seeing the poor being socially cleansed from the capital. The Benefit Cap has forced people to move to other areas, often hundreds of miles from the city and communities they have grown up in and the schools, relatives and support networks they need. The Benefit Cap is another policy designed purely to punish. I call for both its and the Bedroom Tax’s abolition.

We desperately, urgently need a Labour Party once elected into Government to commit to a mass council house building scheme, but a bold innovative scheme in my opinion.

Council Housing has been reduced to ghettoes in many areas where we dump the unemployed 
and the poor and leave them to rot. Often surrounded by a harsh environment, poor quality housing, failing schools, this Government basically says ‘That’s your lot in life – expect no 
more.’

I say let’s plan for bold council housing schemes built for a variety of people side by side. In Norris Green in Liverpool one of the country’s toughest estates where I lived for 10 years, old concrete homes with outside toilets have been replaced with bungalows for the elderly and disabled who are joined to a small block of ground, 1st and 2nd floor flats, who are connected to a 3 bed semi who face opposite a 5 bed house. Young, old, disabled unemployed and employed, low paid workers exist in a well planned community with gardens and green spaces and play areas.

Utopia?

It can be done. Attlee did it! Labour should plan for it. We should campaign for it!

A mass council house building scheme would provide a huge number of quality jobs in the construction industry, making new apprenticeships for young people, passing down building and construction skills to a new generation of workers, giving stable employment to skilled men and women.

Time and again experts have told Osborne to build his way out of austerity. He refuses to listen – even for private houses. The Labour Party must listen. It would be foolhardy not to.


 There is a need to campaign for the abolition or complete radical overhaul of the Work Capability Assessment and Assessments for Disability and the new Personal Independence Payments done by profit making private companies, taking sweeteners from our Government to hound our own people.

The Work Capability Assessment for the sick and disabled is literally killing people. Until recently firms like the disgraceful ATOS were ‘processing’ people and finding them fit for work with the most complex of medical conditions. Even patients in comas were being sent letters finding them fit to work.

Absolutely unbelievable – but it is happening in Tory Britain underIain Duncan-Smith. People on Employment and Support Allowance are waiting months, even years to be assessed. In a majority of cases they are being assessed and if found NOT FIT FOR WORK CURRENTLY are being placed in a ‘support group’. They then get another letter a week or two after the initial assessment giving them another date often in the same month to come and be re-assessed again! The stress and the continual proverbial axe being held over peoples heads , never mind the cost of the whole pointless exercise,then makes people sicker!

That is the irony of the situation. If you are found FIT TO WORK  which is often the case, and have the temerity to appeal the decision maker, you are stopped your Employment and Support Allowance and placed on the very basic Job Seekers Allowance while the appeal takes a year plus to be heard. On attending the Job Centre clients are told they are too sick to be available for work, which is one of the conditions under which you must be available to seek work, and so taken off Job Seekers Allowance and left to the mercy of the localfood bank! A horrific 72% of employment and support allowance cases are in limbo – waiting to be assessed or an appeal heard!

Cameron is now parading the idea that in an effort to cut down the backlog of appeals which are nearly 50% successful anyway, after 2015 he will CHARGE people to appeal. The Tory final 
solution perhaps?


The Work Capability Assessment needs abolishing or radically overhauling to be fair. Couple this with the new assessments for Disability Benefit and I have a radical solution:
Let’s fund GP Practices. GPS know their patients capabilities. Let’sput our trust in GPS who have a detailed knowledge of a patient’smedical history not a faceless corporate profit making giant like ATOS or Capita. For disabled people the sheer terror of the lettersummoning them to assessment centres, many of whom are not even accessible for disabled people is a cause for huge stress and worry. Fund our GPS not these private companies and disability assessments and fitness for work can be carried out with dignity and assurance that every effort has been made to come to a correct knowledgeable decision.

Remember, a civilised socially just country, and government,protect the most vulnerable. That’s the bottom line we should be campaigning for.

This leads me onto another key issue to campaign for in a quest for a just welfare system:


 A Financial Recognition for Carers with a GP assessing both the disabled person but also assessing carers and carers needs like respitebreaks etc looked at in conjunction with social services. A holistic approach and one lauded by Andy Burnham.

A s I said previously Cameron acknowledges the massive amount of money Carers save this government every year. But what does he do about it? Nothing. £61 per week is an affront to the damned hard work carried out by carers 24/7 365 days a year with no let up and little local authority support due to the savage cuts inflicted by the ConDems. Talk about the minimum wage! Carers would no doubtLOVE to receive the minimum wage for the hours they 
do. What does £61pw provide? Next to nothing. It pays for 1.5 breakfasts Iain Duncan-Smith 
enjoys in London at £39 a throw!

The right as ever, will say the country can’t afford to care for carers. Wrong! We need to invest and value carers, perhaps by forcing the likes of Vodafone, Amazon, Starbucks and Gary Barlow to pay tax. I’m sure that would help to fund our carers considerably! Again the right can be appeased by putting in the safeguard of a GP and social services assessment so there can be no gaming of the system. The GP will assess and know the care requirements of the disabled person and so can advise on the type of care needed. Social Services can provide a support system for the carer with respite breaks and mental support. Many carer’s are young carers under 16. They juggle school with caring – huge burdens to place on our young, Young carers under 16 don’t even qualify to receive the £61pw carer’s allowanceLet’scampaign to change that initially. We should seek to start a flat rate Carers Allowance increase to £100pw for those caring full time as a recognition of the work they do, then campaign to raise this every year. A carer is a carer whether 14 or 70. Let’s recognise that too. With the inbuilt safeguard of a GP and social services assessment we owe these unsung heroes a huge debt. Let’s start singing out for them.

We need the abolition of workfare for the unemployed and the removal of the sanctions regime.

It is in everyway the total opposite vision of what Beveridge and Attlee had in mind to achieve full employment. Iain Duncan-Smith, out to seek revenge on a party that threw him out as leader, a party who sees him as a ‘bit dim’ has enacted a savage retribution on the unemployed. No more has the Job Centre become a place to seek advice and help back into work or to seek that 1st job. I am going back to that word again –

Punishment.


The whole DWP Department is about punishment.
Punishment for being unemployed
Punishment for being ill
Punishment for daring to claim the mighty sum of £71pw or £53 if you are young. One of the lowest rates of unemployment benefit in Europe.

Workfare is an abomination on all fronts. Paraded by the Tories as ‘work experience’ companies have leapt in to sign up with both feet, eager to exploit a huge untapped resource of free labour.

30+hours a week of soulless shelf stacking when you are a university graduate perhaps, in order to get your £71pw ain’t going to get you a shelf stacking job at the end of the ‘work experience’ anyway! As  your workfare stint ends, you are replaced with another readily available unemployed person while you revolve back to the Job Centre on Iain Duncan- Smiths carousel.
If employers want the unemployed to do work experience to gain more knowledge and expertise then pay the going rate for a probationary period of no more than 12 weeks. But the caveat is; there must be an offer of a job on the table at the end of the probationary time as it was back in the 70’s and 80’s should the potential employee match up to the job.

No more workfare!
No more free labour!
No more exploitation!

The sanctions regime is nothing but a DWP excuse to massage unemployment figures and refuse to pay out benefit. The regime has led to a huge boom in foodbank use as unemployed people often find out they have been sanctioned, when their benefit money is not in their bank account, and are left destitute.


Where I live in North Wales the nearest job centre is 5 miles away in the next town. One of my sons friends was sanctioned for being 5 minutes late for his appointment as the train was not on time. Public transport like buses is priced out of the reach of the unemployed and even the trains are very costly for short journeys. People in rural and coastal areas are being doubly punished.

Whistleblowers who have left the Job Centres FREQUENTLY CITE STRESSFUL WORKING CONDITIONS FOR STAFF, who know bysanctioning clients, some very vulnerable with mental health problems, they are leaving them destitute and at the mercy of loan sharks, pay day loan companies or begging for help at their local foodbank.

Have you noticed the security staff employed by the DWP at job centres?Security staff. It beggars belief. When my son was seasonally unemployed a few winters ago he was passing the job centre one afternoon and wanted topop in and look for work. One of the security guards asked him if he had an appointment. When he replied no, he was refused entry. Really.

Job Centres that bar you coming in and looking for work.  Welcome toIain Duncan-Smiths world!



 Whilst receiving social security benefit in times of hardship or illness we need to campaign for a fair, liveable, basic level of benefit when socialsecurity is needed.

Under the Coalition we have one of the lowest rates of social security in Europe. Unemployment benefit, child benefit, tax credits and all other types of benefit have been cut in real terms by this Government, in the most oppressive banker –led recession Britain has ever seen. The poor have been made to suffer and whats more they now have ‘brothers in arms’ a new type of poor never before seen in Britain until the Tories gained power.

The Working Poor.

A new army of people fighting to survive austerity. We working class certainly are all in this together! Recent mutterings from the DWP indicate a much tougher stance on parents claiming working tax credits under the multi billion pound flop that is Duncan-Smiths raison d’ĂȘtre – Universal Credit.

Already to claim working tax credits, hours for couples have risen from 16-24 hours a week at a time of unemployment, austerity and zero hourscontracts. For the self employed dear Iain has devised the MinimumIncome Floor whereby self employed people have to earn a minimum of £11k per year or be forced off the working tax credit part of Universal Credit, and put on Job Seekers Allowance and forced to seek employment. For those self employed getting £11k per year there will be a new monthly reporting session carried out at the local job centre where you will present your accounts for scrutiny in order to claim Universal Credit and be ‘urged’ to look for more work to boost your earnings! Punishment extended for those IN WORK this time!

This new form of DWP Torture impacts heavily on women in particular, as many self employed women are Avon, Kleeneze or Betterware sales reps. Once upon a time they earned the odd £20 0r £30 quid a month as pin money. Now they have to be registered with HMRC by law. You earn commission on sales once every campaign which covers a 3 week period. If you manage to sell £500 
worth of products which is difficult in this climate you will earn £80 in commission. There is no way over 95% of these women will get anywhere near the minimum income floor of £11k P/A.

Likewise crafters, sculptors, actors, writers – our creative self employed will be written off and forced to claim job seekers allowance and their self employment stopped.

Until a universal Living Wage is adopted the Working Poor have to be supported by tax credits. End of. A fair liveable basic income of benefit acts as a safety net to stop the more costly scandal of destitution. A civilised society recognises this. We must campaign for it.



This leads me neatly on to:

A Social Security System that is sympathetic to women.

Most carers are women. Whether to babies, older children, the disabled or elderly relatives,

Women have been left to bear the brunt of austerity during the last 4 years of this government. Take a look at their front bench in Parliament. There are 3 women in Cabinet. 3. That’s what the ConDems think of women.

With child benefit and tax credits being cut in real terms, food costs soaring, older teenagers struggling to afford university tuition fees, children unable to leave home due to housing costs, elderly relatives needing more care, mumis bearing the burden sandwiching her time between work, family and caring roles.

Women’s public sector jobs have been slashed. For every 100 jobs created in the private sector 63 go to men.

Gordon Brown must weep when he sees the closing down of the innovativeand helpful Sure Start Centres that were created to change the lives of young parents and their children. Sheer wilful vandalism and the LibDems allowed the Tories to do it.

Domestic abuse help, and refuges are being cut and closed down simultaneously. The Bedroom Tax 
has had a terrible effect on single parent women who are being forced to move continuously between tenancies.

From childcare to social care, from public sector to private sector-

Women have never had it so bad. 

The Labour Party are putting policies together but need to go further in their efforts to provide a just welfare state for women. We desperately need a social security system that understands, reflects and acts in women’s favoursparticularly when giving up work to have children, or take on a caring role. Women are frightened to take full maternity leave in case they are punished by employers on their return. Legal aid has been severed entirely for employment tribunals so it will cost a woman £1200 to take an employer to court when things go wrong. Even Camerons own lawyer brother went on strike against this! When a woman has to give up work to care for a child or relative she is financially viciously punished for doing so.

We need to campaign for a whole new look, a rethink and a restructure of a social security system that seeks to work for women; not against them. We need to mobilise in our communities and take on the politicians causing our pain.

An NHS free at the point of delivery and an end to privatisation by stealth will continue to slay the giant of disease and have a knock on effect to other parts of poverty too.

The worldwide envied British NHS is a patient under the Tories.

Underfunded, understaffed, overworked and undervalued staff struggle to cope with the vast increase in patient numbers, and the extra pressure on resources. People are turning up to A+E because it takes over a week to get a doctors appointment. Walk in centres have been shut by the Coalition. GP practices receive only 8% of the total health spending budget, yet they are on the frontline of providing medical aid.

Free at the point of delivery is a fundamental, non negotiable start for a future Labour government. We must put a stop to this under reported privatisation by stealth. Andy Burnham has said categorically with anger and passion he will repeal the NHS care bill on the first day of a Labour Government. Full stop. As comrades, activists, socialists, and people on the left we must also begin shouting louder and in unity in our efforts to save our public national health service from the pockets of privatisation.

Our NHS, SO PRECIOUS, SO ENVIED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. We must campaign to protect it. If the Tories get to privatise it totally and run it like the American health system we will have lost the battle, and Attlee and Bevan will never forgive us.

Nye Bevan said ‘ The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it’

I urge you to be one of Nye’s folk and campaign with all your might, passion and soul for our NHSA FREE PUBLIC NHS, where even rich men can be treated alongside the poor. We owe it to Nye.



One of the most fundamental things we must do and alter on Day 1 of a Labour government in 2015 is to actually seek to make a small part of the Welfare State no longer needed.

I am talking about a Living Wage and Living Hours for all workers. This will negate the need for in work tax credits. The two go hand in hand.

It seems absolutely incredulous to me that I am standing here today asking people to campaign for the right to a fair level of pay and a right to a full or part time job, clearly contracted, and directly 
employed by the company that hires you.

How have we fallen to this? How have we accepted this as normal working practice? How have we let this unmandated government get away with sinking so low and supporting companies who treat workers like animals? How is it I am asking people to campaign for a fair rate of pay and work hours that will pay  bills and put a roof over our heads?

Its because of greedy rich boys like Cameron and his ilk with Nigel Farage (I never call him Farage,, I’m working class and would never say garage either!) waiting in the wings to take Dave’s mantle to destroy workers rights, hard and long fought for by trades unions for the past century.

The ball has swung so deeply into the employers court that workers are being told Zero Hours contracts on minimum wage and agency employed is the norm now,

I am currently campaigning for supermarket workers whose bosses have cleverly circumnavigated accusations by people like me by employing workers on 3, 4, 7 hours a week contracts. I am demanding that alongside a Living Wage workers are directly employed by the company on proper contracts: 30+ hours if full time and a minimum of 16 hours if part time. I am also campaigning against age anomalies. Blair gave a sweetener to companies on the minimum wage deal by having pay increments at 16, 18 and 21. This has resulted in many companies racing to hire 16 and 17 year olds on the very basic minimum wage. A 16 year old supermarket workerdoes the same job as a 40 year old supermarket worker.

If we want a Living Wage then it is a Living Wage for all not those over 21!

In a recent interview with a chalet cleaner at a local holiday company on the coast the cleaner told me that she doesn’t care how well she does her job as the company doesn’t value her, she is employed on a zero hours contract and given 6 minutes to supposedly thoroughly clean the chalet.  The company 
receive thousands of complaints annually over the uncleanliness of the accommodation. However she said a Living Wage, Living Hours and time to do the job properly would change everything. She would have the stability of paying bills on time as she would know her working hours wouldn’t alter weekly and know she would do a better job for a better standard of living.

Get rid of the race to the bottom on wages and conditions.. Provide a Living Wage and Living Hours and you get a win win situation for both employer and employee. Simple isn’t it really?

We must campaign to outlaw companies taking on agency staff and force them by legislation to employ workers directly. If a company needs 100 staff, 50 Full time and 50 part time then they have contracts to reflect this.Currently workers on zero hours contracts are required to be available to work at short notice anytime over a 60 hour week in many cases thus making planning family and childcare responsibilities highly fretful and stressful.

A Living Wage and Living Hours is a basic requirement of a future socialist government with social justice at its heart.

 In a few minutes I will be asking you what a just welfare system means to you and ways we can campaign for it. As a features writer for The Morning Star often my pen is my social justice sword, but by speaking at public events such as here today my words are hopefully a useful tool to try to push for change too. Within our workplaces and certainly within our communities we are the ambassadors for change, Ordinary people. Working class people.

I am a member of Unite the Union – a community member. Unite were wise to see that by harnessing the traditional workplace members plus carers, the disabled, the self employed, the retired and unemployed in our communities they could seek to combine both into an incredible working class campaign group v austerity. From small acorns bigger trees are starting to grow of a mass union movement that can campaign on all levels to create the pressure for the change we seek.

So do yourself a favour – join a union today!

Unite also recognise there are now very few working class ordinary Labour MPS in Parliament. They are putting resources into place to attract ordinary people who may wish to stand as future candidates, sending them on training courses and the like, to allow working class people to compete on the same level playing field as rich privileged Etonians in the political arena. I recently attended a future candidates programme last week and hope I maybe invited to affect change at the highest level.

Until this Government see ordinary people fighting back in numbers in unity they will continue to demonise us; demoralised as many of us are by fear.

Movements like the Peoples Assembly against Austerity are demonstrating in London on June 21st. A mass peoples movement and a great way to get involved in campaigning against the pain inflicted on us by the ConDems.

On a personal level  tweeting, face booking and spreading the word is equally powerful tool to get the message out on austerity and a just welfare state. Even writing a good old fashioned letter to your 
local paper makes you a committed activist. This all raises awareness of what matters to working class people.

A few weeks ago I spoke to young Unite and Labour Party members and said it was sad they had no musical icons singing about austerity and this Government as I had in my youth with Billy Bragg and Paul Weller.

I left them with this quote from one of Mr Wellers hits:

You don’t have to take this crap. You don’t have to sit back and relax. You can actually try changing things. Governments crack and systems fall because unity is powerful’

Unity is indeed the most powerful campaign tool of all.

I urge you to campaign within your parties, campaign within your unions, your workplaces, your communities and use your vote – your precious vote in 2015 – not as a protest – but to defeat this out of touch, posh boy, banker loving government and seek to effect real change –

To restore our welfare state
Our social security system



To the bold jewel in the social justice crown Beveridge, Attlee and Bevan set up in triumph all those years ago!¬

Thank you.