Earlier this week it was seen that Tesco were (apparently mistakenly) advertising for permanent slaves. Oops. In fact I believe the slavery contracts are supposed to be temp only. So, whatever, does anyone fancy going and working night shifts at Tesco for free? You know, learning really valuable skills that will look great on your CV? No? Well, I hope for you you’re not unemployed because you may actually not have the choice.
Anyway, there was justifiable outrage. There are calls to boycott Tesco. It’s a good reason to boycott them. Another good reason. If I lived in the UK I wouldn’t set foot in the place. For me it is the most despicable of the supermarkets, ruthlessly bullying farmers and small business owners in its quest for profit.
Other businesses are falling over each other to tell the world how they will not use Workfare. Tesco are mightily embarassed. They are working 24/7 furiously deleting critical posts on their Facebook page.
Tesco are not the only bullies outed by this furore. The world is finally opening its eyes to the government’s schemes to starve people back into work, to thieve back the benefits from those who need them most. The Department for Work and Pensions, led by Ian Duncan Smith are still churning out abhorrent policies which seem to be a deliberate attack on the most vulnerable.
What can you do? Not much actually. Write to your MPs, tell them how appalled you are at the government sponsored slavery and other initiatives aimed at stealing from the poor. Lend your support to the Boycott Workfare campaign. Boycott companies who are benefiting from the disgusting schemes.
And remember the Tories will not do anything to help you and me. It is all about helping the rich people. They may have squealed a little about the bonuses of the bankers a few weeks ago. But honestly? A few people’s bonuses aren’t going to change anything. Bonuses, despite what the press said, don’t create the recession. They may be pretty huge sums of money to you and me, but they are in fact peanuts in the whole scheme of things. Rich people are getting richer under the Tories. Which is fine. Nothing against rich people at all. It’s just when the government steals from the poor to enrich its friends that I feel very very very nauseous.
When I told my sister that I wanted to join a union, she laughed and said: “You can’t go on strike – what will you do, go to work?” She had a point.
I suffer from a severe mental illness, and so am unable to work. My husband works part time in a shop and we have two young children, so we don’t have much spare money. I am a member of the Labour party, and strongly feel that the only way to counter the imbalance of power is to work collectively. If we are to stand up for our rights, we need a bigger voice. Unions are a good way of getting that voice.
As soon as I heard that some unions accept unemployed members with a cheap subscription I decided to join. I might not be able to work, but I can do what I can by being counted. Hopefully I can help with campaigns and volunteering. Maybe my voice will make a difference, and I can prove that I’m worth listening to even if I don’t have paid employment. I have become a bit of an informal benefits adviser to friends and family – having had dealings with benefit forms I’ve started following changes with interest, and so I know how important it is to be able to get advice from others.
There are other aspects to being a member of a union that are particularly important to me as a mother, such as legal advice and cheap deals on insurance. Young children make you want a secure life – we need to know that if things go wrong, someone will help.
Until recently I felt secure that legal aid and the welfare state would be there if things went wrong – we are already very vulnerable, and so I will grab with both hands anything that might put a cushion between us and disaster. It isn’t our children’s fault that they have a mentally ill mother – the illness makes day-to-day life hard enough without extra worry.
I probably will never use a good proportion of a unions services, but plenty of people will, and by paying this very small amount we’re helping to spread the cost. Keeping unions viable makes employers act that bit more honestly. They have to do whatever makes the most profit, but if unions are still strong, that becomes a factor they have to consider when making their calculations, and hopefully that is a good thing overall for everyone. Even if I can’t strike.
Every time I want to, for example, post on Facebook about going to a cafe for a lovely brew, I get a wave of self doubt. What if somebody reads it and thinks I have too much money? What if they read it and think I am too happy and so can’t possibly be mentally ill?
Even if I look at my bank account and it isn’t at exactly zero, I start feeling guilty, as if me having that £250 savings for a rainy day means that I must somehow have money that I shouldn’t. So that is guilt if I spend the money, and guilt if I don’t.
Being on benefits seems to make you into public property. Suddenly, people feel that they are personally funding your every hot beverage and newspaper, and so resent you for having it. Every good day is marked down in thier heads as evidence that you must be swinging the lead. Every time they see you do anything productive, even leaving the house, they think you could be working.
Of course, I know it isn’t everyone (before this gets filed under “Alicia being mental again” 🙂 ) but I know that a significant amount of people feel like this. I have had so called friends tell me to my face that, if they were claiming benefits, they would be too ashmed to admit it. I have heard people slagging off thier aquaintances. I have even had direct abuse, from people who know me and my husband personally, about us having two children before we had some kind of magical guarantee that neither of us would ever get ill. This is all without the general background rumbling of various newspapers, websites and so on, and thier paranoia about scroungers on every corner.
Here’s my message to them all. Listen up world.
“SOME of your taxes go towards a safety net, so that the weakest in society can still have some quality of life. Tomorrow, any number of things could happen to you, and you will be glad that the welfare state is there.”
The majority of families who receive benefits have at least one member in paid work, it just happens that that person isn’t deemed “valuable” enough to an employer. Sometimes there either isn’t the work, or isn’t the work that the person could do, or they are just too ill for any work. Sometimes, the person needs friends, family and the wider world to just see them as a person, not as faceless “dole scum” and give them a chance.
Yes, there are fraudsters. But, you know what, there are many more people who cheat taxes. Just think of them next time you see your payslip – take off the cost of all those millions not paid in tax that you are taking the strain of. Leave me, and my brew, alone.
Employment and Support Allowance is the controversial replacement for Incapacity benefit, brought in by the Labour government in 2008 for new claimants, and gradually extended to all Incapacity Benefit claimants. After the first 13 weeks of the claim, the claimant is reassessed, usually involving a medical administered by an employee of ATOS, a private company that has won the government contract but is dogged by accusations of corruption and lack of care. The claimant is then put in one of three categories – fit for work (at which point they must find a job or migrate to jobseekers allowance), work related activity group (or WRA) and support group. Only 7% of claims are awarded support group status – ie judged completely incapable of work. This is an issue for another post, but all of these claimants started off with a sicknote from their own GP, yet an unfamiliar doctor or nurse has deemed the GPs opinion invalid. 36% of claims are abandoned before the 13 week point, mostly due to recovery from a short term illness, and 39% are judged fit for work. There is a high level of successful appeals to these decisions, but for now, let’s take the word of ATOS.
17% of ESA claimants are placed in the WRA group. This amounts to over 400,000 people who are judged to be fit for work if appropriate adjustments are made or in the near future. These people are required to attend work focused interviews where they will discuss how they will get back into work, and can have their benefits docked if they fail to attend. These are the people who were described as “workshy scroungers” in certain papers when the latest set of ESA claimant data was released. Yet they are not included in the latest unemployment statistics.
“Unemployed” people are jobless, have been actively seeking work in the past four weeks and are available to start work in the next two weeks; or they are out of work, have found a job, and are waiting to start it in the next two weeks. As ESA claimants in the work related activity group are not required to actively seek work, only prepare to seek work, they are not counted. Yet they are legally required to prepare for work. So, which are they? Are they incapable of work, and so not included in unemployment statistics, just the“economically inactive” group (more on which later), or are they able to prepare for work, as they are legally required to do? This may sound like a dry statistical question, but those 400,000 people in the WRA group are facing uncertainty about their lives – the status is causing confusion and anger amongst some of the most vulnerable sectors of society.
Economically inactive group is, by the most up to date statistics, 23% of the population. These are people who are without paid work, but are not classed as unemployed. They may be sick or disabled, carers or not seeking work for some other reason. This does not mean that they don’t wish to work, only that they are not counted as seeking work. They may in fact be looking for a job, but unable to start in the next two weeks due to other responsibilities. They may wish to work, but are prevented by disability or high costs of childcare. Or they may be stay at home parents or carers. Of course, some will be rich kids living off trust finds, but somehow I doubt that counts for 23% of the population.
Another group to consider is those who are in part time work, but are looking for full time work. This figure increased by 70,000 in three months to reach 1.28 million, the highest figure since comparable records began in 1992. Here are more people who are looking for work, but unable to find it, and are not included on the unemployment statistics. Workers on low wages are still entitled to many income related benefits, and can even sometimes receive more in welfare benefits than someone out of work. Many part time jobs are unreliable and low paid, yet the workers are not counted in the unemployment statistics. In many ways, these can be the most exposed to the twists and turns of the economy, as they face placing new or changed claims if they lose the jobs they do have, but are without the small security that having an established claim can provide. They find themselves without enough work, but not “unemployed enough” to become a target for the limited amount of work finding schemes that are available.
The unemployment statistics may be awful, but they hide an even more shocking truth. There are simply not enough jobs in this country, and the statistics show more than we are being led to believe.