Welfare Reform - an avalanche of misery

26th February 2014

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"We must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using foodbanks have been put in that situation by cutbacks to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions." These aren't the words of an opposition politician or an angry protester.

They come from 27 bishops in an open letter attacking the government's welfare attacks for creating a "national crisis".

'Welfare reform' is now well and truly underway, and people are struggling. But the Tories are ploughing on regardless.

In fact, David Cameron had the cheek to respond to the bishops by saying that the brutal benefit cuts are in fact offering people "a new hope".

The system is in such disarray that Atos, the private benefit assessor, is trying to pull out early of its contract with the government.

Doncaster advice worker Mary Jackson explains the reality of the situation.

The safety net of benefits has been eroded so fast under this unelected government that it has stunned people.

Lies and distortion about the benefit bill, the demonisation of disabled, sick and unemployed people, getting rid of Legal Aid, reduced funding for advice agencies, introduction of the bedroom tax - an avalanche of misery on the most vulnerable and isolated.

A few facts that are hidden by the government and their lackeys in the media need shouting from the rooftops.

The biggest part of the benefit bill is paid to pensioners who have worked and paid their taxes and National Insurance.

It's their deferred wages really. Next highest is low-waged workers, then sick and disabled. The smallest group is the unemployed.

The cost of living has increased 25% since the world economic crash and neither pay nor benefits have kept up with inflation, the vast majority of us have taken an effective pay cut.

13 million people are living in poverty, 3.5 million of them children, 1.5 million pensioners... in Britain, the seventh richest country in the world.

Low pay, zero-hour contracts, under-employment, slave labour workfare are a big cause of poverty in Britain but the government benefit sanctions coupled with the work capability assessment test and subsequent fitness for work decisions are causing the most misery.

Tales shared on the recent protest against Atos in Doncaster (see report below) included a sad story of a local man, suffering anxiety and depression who was found fit for work. He didn't know what to do - he killed himself. His friend was on the demo.

A very articulate woman in a wheelchair with severe breathing difficulties had been put on the work-related group.

She explained the mental torture she was subjected to by the private training that she had to attend.

She was struggling to breathe one day on her way in and one of the staff told her to get a move on, adding: "if you had learnt to read and add up at school you wouldn't be here!" Her answer was "well no one pointed that out to me when I got my degree".

Another told me of a workfare programme she was forced to attend, working in a warehouse. The place was infested with mice, health and safety non-existent.

A pile of boxes fell on her, knocking her down - she was bruised and shaken. Her boss shouted at her "get them all stacked up again before you return to your job" ...this for no pay.

She complained to her adviser and said she couldn't possibly go back there, she was crying and distraught.

She was told "you work to the end of the placement or lose your benefit". She had no option but to return or starve.

Claimants are getting organised, Unite the Union is recruiting sick people, pensioners and the unemployed to Unite Community.

But we need to unite the struggles of claimants to the firefighters, teachers, lecturers, civil servants and other workers and demand the TUC name the day for a 24-hour general strike as the first move to stop these attacks and the threat of more to follow.

This would show this government and any future Labour government that we are not prepared to pay for the financial crisis caused by the bankers.

Examples of recent job application figures:
  • 11,000 applied for 1,500 jobs at Centre Parcs
  • 600 applied for 15 jobs at a new Tesco in South Wales
  • In the year to September 2013 a record 897,690 people had their benefits sanctioned
  • A recent leaked DWP document showed that the government is considering charging benefit claimants for appealing against decisions to stop their benefits
  • 20% of mothers are "skipping meals to better feed their children"
  • 5,500 have been admitted to hospital with malnutrition in the last year
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