Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

Posts Tagged ‘Benefits

Life on Benefits and Television Poverty Porn.

with 112 comments

Image result for poverty porn

Like many people here I watch serious documentaries (such as last night’s Channel Four documentary, Undercover: Britain’s Homeless Scandal: Channel 4 Dispatches).

I do not watch the endless series of entertainment programmes about people on the Dole.

Such as this one, The Great British Benefits Handout, described by the Mirror, “Channel 5 is still baiting the unemployed with yet another show about benefits. The show’s ‘experiment’, which gives three jobless families £26,000 to change their lives, is a smokescreen for inviting ridicule and vitriol”.

That is, from “the channel that brought us The Big Benefits Row Live , The Great Big Benefits Wedding Live, My Big Benefits Family, Celebs on Benefits: Fame to Claim, Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole, Benefits: The Millionaire Shoplifter and Benefits: Can’t Work, Won’t Work.”

So whatever goes on during their latest,  BENEFITS BRITAIN: LIFE ON THE DOLE, has passed me by.

Not that it’s only Channel Five.

The British television programme The Hardest Grafter illustrates this as it portrays 25 of Britain’s “poorest workers”, all having the shared ultimate objective of winning £15,000 through the completion of various tasks. In this case, the contestants’ poverty attracts a television audience, which was, before the show even started, contested as various petitions were made in order to stop what was believed to be a “perverted audience and profit making operation”. It is considered to not only be perverted, but also discriminatory as the contestants can only be poor.

BBC Two replied to these accusations by affirming that it would be a “serious social experiment to show just how hard those part of the low-wage economy work” as well as “tackling some of the most pressing issues of our time: why is British productivity low?”.

A spokesman from the show’s production company, Twenty Twenty stated that: “the show will challenge and shatter all sorts of myths surrounding the low-paid and unemployed sector”.

Broome, a reality TV show creator, states that it exposes the hardship of some families and their ability to keep on going through values, love and communication. He assures that he would much prefer create these shows rather than those like Jersey Shore which depicts “a group of strangers from New Jersey as they party throughout six seasons”.

Wikipedia. Poverty Porn. 

I sometimes wonder not just about the effect these gruesome shows have on people with well paid jobs, to bait and hate the poor, but on those on benefits.

In letter to the Guardian Ruth Patrick covers that angle.

Zoe Williams asks – somewhat rhetorically – what might be the impact of the endless growth of “poverty porn” on those who rely on benefits for all or most of their income (TV’s fixation with people on benefits breeds suspicion, 9 February). What my research with out-of-work benefit claimants shows – see policypress.co.uk/for-whose-benefit – is the ways in which the stereotypical, demeaning and one-dimensional characterisations that such shows so often feature contribute to a climate in which claimants feel that their behaviours and actions are being endlessly critiqued and found wanting.

The individuals I spoke to had often internalised negative descriptors – self-describing as a “scrounger” or “a bum” – even where they were hard at work caring for children, looking for employment or adapting to independent life after a childhood in care.

Living with poverty and benefits stigma had detrimental consequences for individuals’ self-esteem, mental health and citizenship status. “Poverty porn” and shows like The Moorside may be successfully recasting poverty as light entertainment, but their impact on those struggling to get by on benefits is anything but.
Dr Ruth Patrick
Postdoctoral researcher, School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool

Guardian

This is what Ruth Patrick wrote in 2015.

The realities of living on welfare are significantly different from government and media characterisations

What is often missing from these characterisations is the lived experiences of those who rely on benefits for all or most of their income. Admittedly, the explosion of ‘Poverty Porn’ does purport to provide such firsthand accounts. However, these are mediated by editing processes aimed at generating watchable, controversial content; processes which perhaps do not lend themselves to detailed pictures of the lived realities of ‘getting by’ on benefits during times of welfare reform.

Since 2010, I’ve been conducting small-scale research which has sought to explore these lived realities, with an explicit aim of considering the extent of (mis)match between Government and media rhetoric and lived experiences for those directly affected by welfare reform. By speaking to single parents and young jobseekers affected by the extended welfare conditionality and sanctions regime, as well as disabled people being moved off Incapacity Benefit and onto Employment and Support Allowance, I have been able to explore experiences of both welfare reform and the day-to-day realities of reliance on benefits in Britain today. Over a two year period, I interviewed participants three times, enabling me to explore both the absence and presence of change in people’s accounts as the welfare reforms took effect and individuals negotiated complex relationships with benefits and paid employment.

What this research has demonstrated is the very hard ‘work’ which ‘getting by’ on benefits entails, ‘work’ which is not represented in government and media characterisations of claimants as passive and inactive. This ‘work’ includes very tight budgeting practices, frequently having to make tough choices (such as to heat or eat), as well as creative ways of trying to eke out a little extra income, for example by scavenging for scrap in nearby streets. People repeatedly spoke of shopping daily so as to take advantage of the reduced shelves, and going to several shops in order to get the best deals. Parents often went without in order to ensure their children were well looked after. As single parent Chloe explained:

“I go without my meals sometimes.  I have to save meals for me kids. So I’ll have a slice of toast and they’ll have a full meal.”

There was also substantial evidence of participants engaging in other forms of socially valuable contribution such as volunteering and caring.  Adrian, a young Jobseeker, described why he valued the voluntary work he did at the homeless hostel where he used to live:

“I proper love it. You feel satisfaction as well if someone’s coming in really hungry. Give them some food, at least they’ve eaten for the night.”

With the Government’s endless emphasis on paid work as the primary responsibility of the dutiful citizen, these important forms of contribution often go unrecognised and under-valued. Importantly, too, the whole thrust of the Government’s welfare reform approach, like New Labour’s before it, places policy emphasis on moving people from ‘welfare dependency’ into paid employment, which can cause significant problems for those who want to prioritise these other forms of contribution.

The welfare reform policy agenda, with its sustained emphasis on welfare conditions and sanctions also suggests that people need the threat of sanctions to encourage – even compel them – to make the transition from benefits reliance to paid employment. The emphasis is placed firmly on the supply-side of the labour market, on the steps individual claimants need to be compelled to take to become employable, and to move into paid work. Repeatedly, a contrast is drawn between ‘hard working families’ and ‘welfare dependents’, with the latter needing these tough interventions to be ‘responsibilized’ into hard working citizens.

But, this research, like so much of the literature in this field (see, for example, recent articles on this blog) questioned the salience of such static groupings, instead finding participants with strong aspirations to work, where this was a realistic goal. It also found individuals who typically had worked in the past, with several moving in and out of work, during the time of the research, characteristic of the low-pay, no-pay cycle. Those who were not currently in paid employment had often internalised negative characterisations of claimants, with inevitable consequences for their self-confidence, self-esteem, and ironically future job prospects. Sam, a young jobseeker and recent care leaver explained why she wanted a job:

“I need a job; because I’m sick of scrounging. That’s how I think of it anyway, I’m sick of scrounging.”

When asked about the idea of benefits as a lifestyle choice, participants in this study were angry, even disbelieving, of the notion that they would ‘choose’ to rely on out-of-work benefits, instead emphasising the various factors, often linked to impairments, caring responsibilities and demand-side barriers to paid employment, which had led to their current situation. As single parent, Sophie put it:

“People don’t choose to live on benefits – it’s not our choice. It’s just the way that things have happened. We don’t choose to live on benefits, we don’t want to live on benefits.”

Young jobseeker James described why, for him, being on benefits would never be a choice

“[benefits] is enough for you to live off o’, but you haven’t got one bit of luxury left in your life. You’re not living, you’re existing. And that’s how it feels.”

Attending to the lived experiences of welfare reform is critical in helping us to understand the day-to-day realities of ‘getting by’ in contemporary Britain. These realities are significantly different from the government and media characterisations, with inevitable consequences for the likely success of the ongoing programme of welfare reforms. In particular, these realities undermine the logic for a pervasive emphasis on welfare conditionality, while also hinting at the very real financial hardship, and emotional and relational damage caused by welfare reform. If we want to understand more about benefits, and how processes of welfare reform are impacting on people, it is essential that we place far more emphasis on listening to what those directly affected have to say.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 14, 2017 at 11:15 am

Labour Shadow, Debbie Abrahams, urges the government to end its “shirker, scrounger rhetoric” but post-Brexit new Benefit shake up Looms.

with 120 comments

Image result for shirkers and scroungers

Hate Speech in Millionaires’ far-Right Press. 

Parliament today (BBC):

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams urges the government to end its “shirker, scrounger rhetoric”.

She calls for cuts to the Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group to be reversed, arguing that they target sick and disabled people.

She tells the House that the country is becoming “more and more unequal” and attacks the government for giving tax breaks to the “highest earners”.

 Followed by:

Work and Pensions Minister Penny Mordaunt tells MPs that government is helping people to get out of their jobless situation “not just to endure it”.

She says that new money from the Treasury will be used to extend a hardship fund and adds that the government will help jobseekers with “work related costs”.

The debate comes to an end and MPs vote on Labour’s motion.

The result is expected at approximately 4.20pm.

I think we know already what that will be…..

Debbie Adams MP has already written this:   No more “shirkers” or “scroungers” – let’s overhaul the culture of the benefits system (6th of October)

I’ve been campaigning to stop the Government’s punitive sanctions regime for nearly four years now, ever since the Coalition government introduced their new sanctions regime in 2012. I have quizzed the former secretary of state for work & pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, specifically on this issue, and have worked with people who have been affected by sanctions. These include Gill Thompson, whose brother, David Clapson, died after being sanctioned.

In January 2015, I managed to get the work and pensions select committee to agree to hold an inquiry on sanctions. The evidence was shocking. We heard of the sudden rise in sanctions, with 3.2m alone occurring between October 2012 and June 2014. Sanctions to people who were sick or disabled on Employment Support Allowance increased five-fold.

We heard from Jobcentre Plus advisers of sanction “targets” in order to get claimants “off-flow”, in benefits speak, which distorted the unemployment claimant count in the process. And we heard of the dramatic rise in foodbank use, with more than1m foodbank parcels in 2014, primarily as a result of sanctions. We heard in turn of the effects on the physical and mental health of claimants and their families.

The select committee made more than 20 recommendations, including stopping financial sanctions for people who were sick or disabled on ESA, or vulnerable in other ways, and setting up an independent body to investigate deaths associated with sanctions.

Unfortunately, the government refused to accept the select committee’s recommendations.

Since the inquiry, the government has been compelled to publish details of 49 claimants who died between 2012 and 2014, 10 of whom died following a sanction. It is still to publish reports on another nine claimant deaths since 2014. We have discovered that the government is watering down the guidance to jobcentre staff to identify and protect vulnerable claimants.

Meanwhile the following is worth thinking about.

Everything Theresa May planned for the benefits system needs to change because of what Brexit Britain will look like

 Reports Andrew Grice in the Independent this afternoon.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies calculates that 11.5 million families, who were originally due to lose an average of £260 a year, are now likely to lose £360 because of higher inflation. The Government will save £4.6bn instead of £3.6bn.

Damian Green, the One Nation Conservative appointed Work and Pensions Secretary by Theresa May, has started to smooth some of the rougher edges of what can be a tough benefits system – as anyone who has seen Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake knows.

People with the most severe health conditions on Employment and Support Allowance will no longer face reassessments. On Wednesday, Green announced that jobseekers who are homeless or have a mental health condition will have immediate access to hardship payments if they are hit by a benefit sanction.

(NOTE: this leaves everybody else still at risk from the arbitary “police of JobCentre Plus).

 While these are welcome steps, the big picture emerging under the May Government is less flattering. We will know more about its intentions towards those on benefits next week when Philip Hammond delivers his Autumn Statement, the first economic update since the Brexit vote.

May pressed the Chancellor to do something for the “just managing” classes she promised to champion on becoming Prime Minister. After some tense negotiations, measures such as a freeze in fuel duty, cuts to air passenger duty and more help with childcare costs seem to be on the agenda.

Green has promised no further welfare cuts before the next general election. But that is not as generous as it sounds because £12bn of cuts are already in the pipeline. They include almost £3bn from reducing work allowances under Universal Credit – the amount families can earn before their benefits are scaled back. About three million people will lose an average of £1,000 a year, reducing the incentive to work for those striving that May wants to help.

Regarding these people as “claimants” misses the point; about two in three children growing up in poverty have at least one parent in work. The biggest challenge on welfare is in-work poverty, not so-called scroungers.

Hammond should stop the cut to work allowances by switching some of the £8bn earmarked for income tax cuts for the middle classes, which are likely to go ahead because they were promised in last year’s Tory manifesto. By 2020, the threshold for the 40p higher rate will rise to £50,000 and the personal allowance to about £12,500.

Then this…

Written by Andrew Coates

November 16, 2016 at 4:29 pm

Inflation to Hit Benefit Claimants Hard.

with 58 comments

Higher inflation rise will cost poor families extra £100 a year, warns IFS.  Inflation rose to 1 per cent in September, the highest level in almost two years.  Zlata Rodionova The Independent.

The Guardian.

Poor families hit as UK inflation rises to 1% – as it happened

Government’s freeze on in-work benefits means many families will suffer as the cost of living rises.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) states,

In the July 2015 Budget the Government announced that, as part of its attempt to cut annual social security spending by £12 billion, most working-age benefit and tax credit rates would be frozen in cash terms until March 2020.

This policy represented a significant takeaway from a large number of working age households. But it also represented a shifting of risk from the Government to benefit recipients. Previously, higher inflation was a risk to the public finances, increasing cash spending on benefits. Now the risk is borne by low-income households: unless policy changes higher inflation will reduce their real incomes.

 

Huffington Post.

UK Inflation Rises To Two-Year High Of 1.0% As Sterling Turmoil Hits Britain’s Poor

Article 50 hasn’t even been triggered yet.

The rising cost of everyday goods is “just the start” of a sustained rise in inflationthat will hit Britain’s poor hardest, experts have warned.

New figures from the ONS show that inflation in prices is now at the highest point for two years amid the falling value of Sterling following the Brexit vote.

And rising inflation will not only affect prices in supermarkets and high streets, but reduce the income of Britain’s poorest families, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Left Foot Forward.

Brexit: Tory benefit cuts £100 worse for 11.5 million families thanks to pound dive.

Since the British people ‘took back control’ and stuck it to the elites on June 23, the pound has fallen to a 31 year low. While the Brexit press has tried to spin this as a good thing, the facts tell a different story.

As the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) finds today, a weak pound means rising prices, which would be bad enough for low-income people. But since we have a Tory government, this inflation comes amid a freeze on benefits and tax credits, as part a £12 billion cut to social security spending.

This means 11.5 million families will see an even greater real terms cut to their incomes as a result of sterling’s nose dive. Thanks Brexit!

We know what this will mean when we go to the supermarket and do our shopping.

Already we have to watch what we spend, what we buy, wait for the cheap bread at the end of the day, or look in the reduced sections.

And that’s without mentioning our bills.

This is going to get worse, a lot worse.

 

The benefits freeze should be ended now!

Written by Andrew Coates

October 19, 2016 at 3:16 pm

As Freeze on Benefits Looms is Iain Duncan Smith in Need of Behavioural Cognitive Therapy?

with 35 comments

A Plea for Help?

Iain Duncan Smith is showing signs of being the worse for wear.

Most of his time these days has been taken up defending Blighty from the foreign threat.

Iain Duncan Smith: UK risks Paris-style attacks by staying in the EU.

Staying in EU ‘exposes UK to terror risk’, says Iain Duncan Smith

Iain Duncan Smith’s claims about the EU make no sense, Ken Clarke says.

The Work and Pensions Secretary had argued that EU made terrorist attacks more likely.
Unkind people may suggest that these wild claims demonstrate signs of inner psychic turmoil.
The sort that should be treated with by a course of the DWP’s favourite NLP and CBT [Neuro-Linguistic Programming – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy].

Meanwhile in his part-time job at the DWP we learn that the Brexit campaigner has hatched this: Plans To Freeze Benefits For Four Years ‘Will Hit 7 Million Children’

Government freeze on tax credits and jobseekers’ allowance could cost families 12% of their benefits, says report.

More than 7 million children living in low-income families will be affected by a four-year freeze to their benefits that risks pushing many more into poverty, according to new research.

A report by the Children’s Society, published on Tuesday, says families could lose up to 12% from the real value of their benefits over the next four years as a result of government plans to freeze child tax credits, working tax credits and jobseekers’ allowance from April.

The charity is calling on ministers to reconsider the planned freeze and agree to a moratorium on any further cuts in support for low-income families. It says almost two thirds of those who will be adversely affected live in working households who receive benefits to top up low pay.

The research paper, called The Future of Family Incomes, was published ahead of a debate in parliament on Tuesday about the government’s welfare reform and work bill, which returns to the Commons to consider amendments from the Lords. Charities are also looking anxiously ahead to next month’s budget.

Matthew Reed, Children’s Society chief executive, said: “Families on low incomes are facing a barrage of cuts. If ministers are genuinely concerned about child poverty they must reconsider plans to freeze benefits over the next four years.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill could cause four-year benefits freeze for 130,000 families across Suffolk and North Essex.

EADT.

Almost 130,000 families in Suffolk and North Essex could face a four-year benefits freeze, new figures reveal.

Research by the Children’s Society warns that from April, a child and working tax credit freeze – which forms part of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill up for debate in the Commons today – will hit 127,000 low-income families across the two areas.

Young parents and families with disabled children claiming Universal Credit for the first time are particularly likely to lose out, the charity’s report finds.

“Families on low incomes across the East of England are facing a barrage of cuts. If ministers are genuinely concerned about child poverty they must reconsider plans to freeze benefits over the next four years,” said the charity’s chief executive Matthew Reed.

This Freeze affects us all.

It means that those on JSA and in low-paid work – that is, our likely employment – will suffer.

This is the kind of British ‘freedom’ Iain Duncan Smith wants to extend: the freedom to make the less well off suffer.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 23, 2016 at 11:52 am

Council Tax: New Threat for the Unemployed Looms.

with 44 comments

Council Tax is a burden for anybody on benefits.

A system in which we got full relief has been replaced by an unjust scheme which means that we pay (with no rise on benefits) widely different rates according to which council area we live in.

This has been the result:

Half a million more people summoned to court over unpaid council tax, after benefits scrapped

Half a million more people were summoned to court last year over unpaid council tax, after benefits protecting low-income families from paying it were scrapped.

Almost three million people in England were taken to court by local authorities in 2013-14 because they had not paid council tax. This was an increase of more than 25 per cent on the previous tax year, according to the figures obtained via Freedom of Information by False Economy, which is brought to you by local campaigners about the cuts and their effects.

Everybody on the dole who has to pay this particular tax knows it’s low on their priorities.

So non-payment, and court cases, are rife.

Many who do pay deeply resent having what is effectively a cut in the meage income imposed in the name of ‘localism’.

Now we learn  that this chancer, Eric OBE Ollerenshaw is in charge of a “review”.

An “independent” review is to examine how local Council Tax Support (LCTS) schemes are helping low-income families across the country, it has been announced today.

Reports Welfare Weekly.

The review will be led by Eric Ollerenshaw OBE, a former council leader and Member of Parliament, who has been tasked to examine the effectiveness, fairness and transparency of newly created Council Tax Reduction schemes.

Mr Ollenshaw served as the Conservative MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood between 2010 to 2015, before losing his seat to Cat Smith of the Labour Party in the last General Election.

Before moving into politics, Mr Ollerenshaw was a full-time teacher of History and spent 30 years teaching in three comprehensive schools.

The Tory-led coalition government scrapped Council Tax Benefit in April 2013, handing local authorities the power to develop and administer their own schemes for local residents.

It’s abolition was supported by Mr Ollenshaw, which may lead to some people questioning just how “independent” the review of Council Tax Support schemes can be.

He has also consistently voted in favour of other welfare cuts and changes, including ‘Bedroom Tax’ and the controversial benefit cap.

Indeed.

His Parliamentary record shows his hard right politics:

  • Consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices Show votes
  • Consistently voted for greater restrictions on campaigning by third parties, such as charities, during elections Show votes
  • Consistently voted for increasing the rate of VAT Show votes
  • Consistently voted for replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system Show votes
  • Consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits

We can only speculate that cuts in this benefit, reducing us further into poverty, will be on the agenda.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 2, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Council Tax Benefit Going as New Poll Tax Comes in.

with 35 comments

Last night on Channel Four news,

Here’s the good news: local authorities up and down the country are falling over themselves not to put up council tax this year.

Here’s the bad news – if you’re one of the 2.34 million low-income families who used to get council tax benefit, you will be paying on average £149 more in council tax this year than just over a year ago.

In some parts of the country, families once considered too poor to pay council tax face a bill of nearly £300 this year, according to a report by the New Policy Institute for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Last April the government scrapped council tax benefit which helped people on low incomes – either those working for low wages or because they were on benefit.

It was replaced by council tax support and devolved down to local authorities to administer – crucially, though, with a significantly reduced budget.

Initially some councils did try not to impact some of the poorest families. A year on, the figures show more councils than ever have started to insist all working-age adults – pensioners are exempt – must pay something, regardless of their income.

Channel Four illustrate what is fast becoming a new Poll Tax for the poor and unemployed.

No rise in benefits, big rise in council tax,  if not for all parts of the country, at least for scores of councils.

As we have posted before, this means lots of people hauled up before the courts for not paying, more misery and humiliation.

Apparently this is to make us more “responsible” and to end the ‘ something for nothing’ culture.

So we get a big nothing to help.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 2, 2014 at 10:50 am

Job Centres: Let’s Try a Test Case on Scum Sanctions.

with 78 comments

This article has not ceased creating waves.
 
Jobcentre staff have contacted the Guardian to say it is widespread practice for managers to set targets for removing benefits. PLabour responded to fresh evidence suggesting jobcentres around the country are being given targets to find reasons to take away jobseeker’s allowance from claimants by demanding that the government speed up and widen the remit of an independent review into the regime of benefit sanctions.

Liam Byrne, shadow work and pensions secretary, said his party would table amendments in the Lords on Monday to widen the terms of the proposed inquiry if ministers did not give an undertaking “to get to the bottom of every sanction issued by a jobcentre where targets were in operation”.

This bit stuck in me mind,

It was also reported that staff in a jobcentre in the West Midlands were this week told that the team who submitted the most Stricter Benefit Regime “Refusal of Employment” referrals would be rewarded with Easter eggs. The staff were told there was drive on this particular type of sanction.

 

To call the people doing this ‘bleedin’ filth’ is to be rude about filth.

We should be thinking about some serious legal – and why not more? – action.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 25, 2013 at 11:13 am