Attacking benefits and telling lies/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013

Overall benefit cap

The overall benefit cap comes into force in July 2013: it sets the total benefits that a family can receive at £500 per week and £350 for a single person. The government’s argument is that benefit levels should not exceed the average wage. In reality, its purpose is to cleanse high-rent areas, particularly in London, of the poor. Initial government estimates were that 56,000 families would be hit; it has now reduced that number to 40,000. Yet the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has sent out letters to 88,840 families saying they will be affected. 47% live in London, and overall 46% live in social housing.

The government has calculated that such families will lose on average £93 per week and this will be through a cut in local housing allowance or housing benefit. These families will be unable to pay rent and will therefore rapidly build up arrears and face eviction. Even taking the lowest figures for affected households, the number of people facing eviction within a matter of months will be 100,000 in London alone, 70% of them children as it will be larger families who are hit hardest.

London councils, most of them Labour, will be demanding that such people follow those who have already been forced to move out of the city following the introduction of the local housing allowance caps last year. Worst hit is Brent with up to 3,000 households affected. In Camden, which is contacting 761 households, Labour leader Sarah Heywood says ‘It’s absolutely a form of cleansing. People in low-paid work will not be able to afford to live in Central London any more. That is economically illiterate.’ However, this will not stop the council from carrying out this social cleansing. When challenged as to whether Haringey’s Labour council would evict victims of the cap, local Labour MP David Lammy said ‘The answer is yes … let’s be brutally honest.’

The government argues that the overall benefit cap will save £270m a year – about 1.3% of benefit spending. In reality it will not: as evictions are stepped up, so councils will be under a legal obligation to pay for emergency accommodation for families. Westminster pays £12,000 a month to house just one evicted family in bed and breakfast accommodation. The overall benefit cap will see hundreds more families made homeless in London.

Bedroom tax

On 4 May, Stephanie Bottrill killed herself by walking in front of a lorry on the M6 near her home in Solihull. Her suicide note revealed her torment at the prospect of eviction because she could not afford to pay the bedroom tax. Hundreds of thousands of families in social housing are being hit and many are already in a desperate situation. Even before it came into effect, housing associations were sending out intimidating letters to tenants warning them of the penalties of non-payment. In their rush to implement the tax local councils have acted unlawfully: only one, Bristol, has taken into account the 1985 Housing Act which specifies that a bedroom cannot be less than 50 sq ft, and that retrospectively when the council realised it could face a legal challenge. In deciding liability for the bedroom tax, councils have accepted whatever housing associations or their own housing departments have told them about bedroom numbers. They have not sought to validate such information at all – this is also unlawful.

Labour-run councils have been as ruthless in implementing the tax as they have been in cutting services and jobs. At one stage, Liverpool went so far as to treat tenants’ demands for information on how the council determined their liability for the tax as Freedom of Information Act requests, thereby delaying their responses. Coventry’s Labour council has unlawfully said tenants have no right to appeal at all against bedroom tax decisions. Other councils are trying to prevent appeals by saying that they were time-limited even if they were initiated in April, that is, within a month of the regulations coming into force. The fact is that tenants had no access to independent legal advice because of the savage cuts in legal aid for benefit and housing issues that also came into effect in April. In Wirral, these cuts meant that all but two Citizens’ Advice Bureaux closed down.

By mid-May it was evident that a substantial proportion of those affected were not paying: an initial estimate from Riverside in Liverpool said 50% had made no payment and 25% had only made a part-payment. Council estimates nationally are that overall, 50% of the 120,000 households which are suffering a 25% cut in housing benefit because they are deemed to under-occupy by two or more rooms will not pay at all. Many councils are suggesting that tenants apply for discretionary housing payments to help out – but the budget for these represents just 6% of the cuts in housing benefit and council tax benefit. They are no more than sticking plaster.

Housing associations and councils fear they will be financially destabilised especially when direct payments of benefit to individuals comes into force in October 2013. They are responding aggressively to non-payment – standard letters include the threat of eviction if payments are missed. It is up to campaigners to face them down.

Universal credit

Universal credit is supposed to be a single benefit replacing all out-of-work benefits for those of working age. Its implementation will hit disabled people hardest: the aim is to replace disability living allowance with Personal Independence Payments (PIPs), and effectively remove the allowance from around 500,000 people, cutting such payments by £1.5bn. Applications have to be made online, and will be extremely complicated.

As it is, most of those affected can neither afford internet connections nor have the necessary computer skills. Universal credit was due to be piloted from April in four areas in the northwest: technical problems mean that the pilot is operational in only one (Tameside, Greater Manchester) and affects just a few hundred people. Despite this the government has said it does not intend to delay implementation beyond the scheduled date of October 2013.

Telling lies

Underpinning the ConDem coalition is a series of lies about the cost of state benefits which are repeated and amplified by the billionaire press. Chancellor George Osborne claims that benefit fraud costs £5bn a year; the true figure for 2012/13 was £1.2bn or 0.7% of all spending on benefits. This figure is about one-tenth of the benefits that go unclaimed each year because people do not know how to claim, or what they are entitled to. In 2009/10 there were 9,000 prosecutions for £1bn benefit fraud, but only 30 prosecutions for the £5.5bn estimated tax fraud.

DWP Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has claimed that ‘about 1.4 million people spent almost ten years on out-of-work benefits under the last government’, implying they were avoiding work. Only one in a thousand of decade-long claimants were unemployed. Most were on incapacity benefits (90.5%) and 6.5% were lone parents of young children.

Enlarging on a statement by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997 that ‘behind the statistics lie households where three generations have never had a job’, the current Justice Minister Chris Grayling has spoken about four generations of workless families. No one has ever found one of Blair’s families let alone one of Grayling’s. The best evidence is that 0.1% of 20 million working age families have two generations of being without work – but only if you count families whose second generation has just turned 16. In only 2% of workless households had someone never worked, mainly because the adults were under 25 – nearly one million under-25s are unemployed.

Iain Duncan Smith claims that the deficit was caused by the cost of chasing child poverty targets. Between 1993 and 2012 government spending as a whole rose by 42.3%. Spending on welfare rose by 34.9% over the same time. As a proportion of GDP it remained constant at about 11% from 1993-2007, and only rose to 14% in 2009/10 because of the economic crisis. The real cause of the deficit is the bailout of the banks.

The billionaire press plays a major part in this ideological onslaught, stigmatising groups of claimants in order to divide the so-called ‘strivers’ from the ‘shirkers’. They conveniently ignore the fact that 6.1 million people in families in work live in poverty compared to 5.1 million in poverty from workless households. Their hate figures include those who are on £100,000 a year benefits (five families in the whole of the country, with only 3% of claimants getting more than £10,000 pa); and ‘fake’ disabled people (eight out of ten claimants, according to the Daily Mail) who ‘are crippling our economy’ (Daily Telegraph). Yet who owns the press? Serial tax avoiders and evaders like the Barclay brothers (Daily Telegraph, living in the tax haven of Sark), Rupert Murdoch (The Sun, The Times), Richard Desmond who owns the virulent Daily Express and Daily Star and Lord Rothermere (Daily Mail).

Robert Clough

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013

Glasgow stands firm against ATOS/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013

On 27 April, Iain Hodge, an unemployed father of one, committed suicide in his flat in East Kilbride in South Lanarkshire. Despite suffering from a life threatening blood condition, and despite being signed off as unfit to work by his GP, he had not received any money from the Department of Work & Pensions for 10 weeks. He was one of the 73 people who die each week after ATOS finds them capable of work.

Glasgow Against ATOS has continued to take the streets, organising protests, pickets, direct actions and meetings to demand justice for the victims of ATOS and welfare cuts, and demonstrate that solidarity and organisation can provide an alternative to despair. On Friday 31 May, up to 40 activists, including FRFI supporters, held a vigil outside the ATOS testing centre on Cadogan Street, Glasgow, with the photographs and names of some of those who have lost their lives as a result of the cuts placed on the wall outside. In response, police waded in and demanded that they be removed as they were on private property and then in a display of contempt, proceeded to rip down the pictures of the dead.

A militant rolling picket was then held in the city centre, with the police engaging in further provocation and harassment, entering shops to request that staff made complaints against the protest, threatening arrests for use of the megaphone, and at one point standing and joking with a senior member of the British National Party.

Glasgow Against ATOS (GAA), already subject to intimidation and arrests, is determined to defend the right to protest. At a recent anti-bedroom tax public meeting in the East End of Glasgow, at which a GAA member had been invited to speak, two uniformed police installed themselves at the back of the hall. The previous evening they had approached one of the meeting’s organisers at their home to try and garner information. The officers stated they had been told to attend as ‘troublemakers’ were likely to be at the meeting. The GAA speaker demanded they leave, and as one member of the campaign commented: ‘The police are not your friends, they are the private army of the bosses and big business, their real function is to keep a lid on things and to maintain the status quo. Remember, if the cops are about – say nowt!’

Despite the harassment, GAA has continued to expand its influence. On 2 May, a successful fundraiser was held, with over 250 people attending a benefit gig explicitly against ATOS and raising money for the Glasgow Defence Campaign fund for arrested activists. GAA supporters stood with carers from the Accord centre and others on 13 May in opposing the brutal closure of three disability day care centres by Glasgow’s Labour council, cuts explicitly targeting the poorest and most vulnerable in the city. The protest soon evolved into a direct action against a press conference being held by deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, whose SNP government welcomed ATOS as lead sponsors of the Commonwealth Games and has consistently failed to halt the attacks on the sick and disabled, including the day centre closures. Further occupations of Cadogan Street have also taken place.

Two supporters of FRFI arrested on a GAA picket in March are due to appear in Glasgow Sheriff Court at 9.30am on Wednesday 19 June: we urge as many people as possible to attend.

Joey Simons

Fight library privatisation in Birmingham

On 3 September the new £188m Library of Birmingham is due to open. Its arrives in the wake of £2.1m worth of cuts to community libraries issued by Birmingham’s Labour council in 2012-13, which have seen opening hours shortened by 9.5% and a 37% cut to paid library staff - with volunteers expected to make up for the shortfall. Yet before its gates have even opened, the Labour city council has made plans to privatise the running of the new library.

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Wythenshawe opposes the bedroom tax /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013

Labour Manchester City Council has once again voted a multi-million pound Wythenshawe in Manchester was once the biggest council housing estate in Europe. Under Labour, those council houses remaining after ‘Right to buy’ were handed over to two housing associations, Parkway Green and Willow Park. Parkway Green has told tenants deemed to be ‘under-occupying’ their homes that ‘you will have to pay Parkway Green the difference to make up your rent or your home could be at risk.’ FRFI organised a Smash the Bedroom Tax meeting in the estate on 28 February out of which came Wythenshawe Smash the Cuts. Sam Knowles explains why she decided to get involved:

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Glasgow: Police ratchet up repression /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013

Glasgow Against Atos (GAA) has been stepping up its campaign for scrapping both the Work Capability Assessment and the Department of Work and Pensions’ contracts with Atos. Such has been its success that the Scottish Daily Mail has ‘exposed’ the GAA as a violent left-wing conspiracy! As the campaign has developed so the Strathclyde Police has increased its monitoring and harassment. On 22 February, over 50 cops were involved in trying to close down a protest against Atos, arresting two campaigners, both members of FRFI, one for using a megaphone, and the other for allegedly trying to liberate a prisoner from custody. Both were released following protest phone calls to the police station where they were being held and were given bail conditions banning them from protests in Glasgow city centre.

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  2. Newcastle: Labour attacks protesters /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013
  3. Camden: A London for the rich /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013
  4. Manchester: Labour cuts and growing resistance /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013
  5. Smash the Bedroom Tax - Cut the Bloated Bankers /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013
  6. Manchester: Taking on Labour and the SWP to smash the bedroom tax /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013
  7. National Health Service: catapulted into chaos /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013
  8. Campaigning with Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!/FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013
  9. Housing: haves and have-nots /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013
  10. Legal Aid cuts to match austerity
  11. War on the poor
  12. Social cleansing in Camden – Feb 2013
  13. Pissing on the poor: Labour cuts in Manchester /FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013
  14. Newcastle cuts: the fight is on/FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013
  15. Glasgow Against Atos campaign/FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013
  16. In all your decadence, people die.../FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013
  17. Hunt announces closure of services at Lewisham A&E. The fight goes on! - Jan 2013
  18. Fighting the Cuts in Newcastle - Arthur's Hill Day of Action 2 February 2013
  19. Can’t pay Won’t pay / FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013
  20. The Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign starts 2013 in fighting mood
  21. Save Newcastle Libraries occupy the council chamber – 5 December 2012
  22. Deepening poverty for the working class/FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013
  23. Defend Newcastle libraries – fight all cuts!/FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013
  24. Save Friern Barnet library!/FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013
  25. Glasgow Against Atos campaign established / FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013