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Wednesday, 15 October 2008

UK Labour Government Deception !

In 1995 I wrote an article within the pages of the “Morning Star” later to be published in a book “What Strategy for the Left” entitled “The Benefits of Labour” outlining why Britain would be better of with a Labour Government in the forthcoming General Election of 1997. My first article back in 1995 expressed our hopes – this article exposes the Governments deception. In 1995 the Tories was preparing to bring us the Job Seekers Allowance, I was marching with the TUC March for Jobs in the Midlands which was part three of a three nations march for jobs converging onto Sheffield. Marchers came from the Scotland/North England & London/South & Wales area calling for the right to work, & calling for the scrapping of the “Job Seekers Allowance Act”.

Living in Scotland its clear to me that issues dominating Scotland's politics today is the Scottish Parliament's lack of powers: its inability to deal with crises of housing, unemployment, energy, transport & manufacturing, its continuing subordination to external neo-liberal policies, its lack of finance & constant pressure on public sector services, jobs & wages. To tackle unemployment within Scotland alone, powers need to be transferred from Whitehall (UK Parliament) to the Scottish Parliament - those extra powers must be seized.

Ahead of the General Election of 1997 Labour shadow ministers did give clear indications that, if elected, they would tackle some of the worse parts of JSA. They gave assurances that, while it would be difficult to find parliamentary time to significantly change the Jobseekers Act it was most certainly their intention to make “speedy and far reaching reforms to eliminate the worse excesses” arising from it.

Even after the Labour victory of 1997 strong indications were given that a report tackling these issues was to be ready for July 98. This was then deferred until the “major review of the benefits system.” Unemployed people continued to suffer the indignities as have prevailed, and massively increased, since October 1996 when the JSA Act became Law.

Not scrapping the "Job Seekers Allowance" is Labours’ Betrayal!

Exposure must be given to the way the unemployed are now forced onto a "Lie Detector" just to make claims for benefits even "Housing Benefit/Council Tax Benefit". Edinburgh was the first Council in Scotland to use the technology in December 2007. All first-time claimants will be subjected to controversial "voice stress analysis" technology in telephone claims to see if they were lying at the outset. The way the unemployed are being treated is contemptuous; potentially Trade Union Members will be facing the dole queue as the economy fails. Make no mistake; the Unemployed will be made to suffer as the economy / capitalist system fails!
Confronted by growing unemployment, France, Germany and Italy amongst others have experienced periods of massive social unrest over the last decade and as a result some gains have been made. Lessons that cannot be ignored as the innocent find themselves blamed.

Unemployment increased to 1.67 million between last April and June. This was the highest level in over 15 years. Unemployment increased to 1.79 million between June & August the unemployment rate shot up to 5.7%, which is the biggest rise for 17 years.
Within the next year the unemployment count will soar well over the two million mark towards three million as Britain enters recession / depression. The wider Labour & Trade Union Movement as a whole must wake up to this reality & act.
A total of 147,000 people were made redundant between June & August – an increase of 28,000 on the previous quarter. Just 29.4 Million had jobs out of a UK population of nearly 70 million – down by 122,000 in the last quarter. That is the biggest three-monthly fall since 1993. More people in London are out of a job than anywhere else according to the latest government figures. The capital recorded 304,000 jobless residents, while the North West region saw a 6.6% rise to 221,000 in the number of those unemployed. Manufacturing jobs have been hard hit with 46,000 losing their jobs so that just 2.87 million labourers were counted. Workers aged 18-24 were also badly affected, with 559,000 recorded as jobless in the three months to May. The number of unemployed men rose by 111,000 to just over a million between June & August. For women, the figures increased by 52,000 to 732,000 in the same time period. The figures also revealed 440,000 people had been out of work for more than a year – an increase of 35,000. In the past year, 104,900 people began claiming JSA the figures have reached 939,900 – the highest in two years.

In 2009 the Labour Government plans to drive thousands of people off benefits into ultra low paid work & "work for dole" schemes in a desperate effort to keep unemployment levels low. Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell unveiled his widely trailed package in 2008 to "make sure a life on benefits is not an option." The Labour Government wants to make life on the dole hell - well I've got news for New Labour life on the dole is already hell. Mr. Purnell said that one of the goals was to end the idea that there is a choice between claiming benefit and work. Unemployed Workers' have very little choice in becoming unemployed in the first place after being thrown onto the dole scrapheap. The Unemployed are not to blame.

This winter looks dire, as folks find it near impossible to make ends meet. The price of bread, milk and eggs has shot up by nearly 25 per cent, while gas and electricity bills are now higher than ever before. House repossessions have reached record levels. It’s an outrage that this Labour Government can manage to find – more than a total of Eight Hundred Billion Pounds to bail out City Spivs in the London Stock Markets. The Scottish capitalist within our banking sector have been bailed out by nationalising some part of Scotland’s Banks.
It’s criminal that people in my area are force to go without heating & electric as this Government cares more about helping bankers than ordinary folk. How come this government can find the money to help capitalist criminals but can’t find the money to Nationalise Gas & Electricity Companies who force ordinary people to live in fuel poverty. Scotland’s Parliament needs the powers to act in the best interest of its people.

Prior to JSA the Employment Service described the unemployed as clients; the Act imposes the expression jobseeker. Part of the underlying purpose of both the Act and the change of nomenclature is to suggest that the State has no role in job creation and that it is the individual who is responsible for his or her unemployment. Governments see no role in job creation responsibility. It cannot be denied that whatever method of counting is used there are more people seeking work than there are job opportunities.
On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10th December 2008 marked the 60th anniversary of the Declaration.

In many respects the Jobseekers Act, the consequent Regulations of 1996 and their application by Jobcentre Plus is contrary to both the spirit and the words of the declaration so solemnly signed by the British Government in 1948 and never rescinded.

As proclaimed by the United Nations, I draw your attention to section 21 which states: • Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment • Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.• Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary by other means of social protection.

To stop benefit under the Act if a claimant does not accept a job offer, no matter how ludicrous, is a clear denial of free choice of employment and does not address the issue of any unfavourable conditions of work. Equality of pay for equal work is an alien concept to many of the employers to which unemployed workers are directed under the Job Seeker Regulations.
To describe JSA as a punitive system is well founded by trade unionists, claimants & welfare rights teams up and down Britain who, every day, see trade unionists & claimants who have had their benefits slashed (euphemistically called sanctioned), feel pressured into jobs for which they are totally unsuited, told they cannot have a holiday, sent for futile job interviews, thrust into jobs at rates of pay significantly less than the minimum wage. Thatcherite rhetoric continues to be used to attack the unemployed / jobseekers as Labour courts the right-wing press with pledges to crack down on so-called scroungers. Labour already uses a range of 21st-century technologies, including lie detectors, to identify people who are allegedly claiming money fraudulently. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also use Data-matching with private credit reference agencies to provide comparisons between financial information which people give to the DWP and their dealings with companies and banks.

People's lifestyles are being matched with their stated financial circumstances by finding out if they have applied for large loans or enjoy luxuries such as satellite television & ordering from home catalogues. Checks will be made with DVLA to identify what kind of car you drive. Checks will also be made with passport agencies to identify how often your passport is used – this made all the more easier as new passports carry a micro chip of data. The DWP estimates that total benefit fraud currently stands at £700 million per year - equivalent to less than 1 per cent of total benefit expenditure. This pales into insignificance compared to corporate tax avoidance, which, according to figures from the Tax Justice Network, deprives the Exchequer of between £25 billion and £85 billion a year.

In 1999 the Labour Government made a political promise – to end child poverty. Progress had been made; the previous escalation of child poverty had been halted. The Government is way of target to meet the 2010 target of halving child poverty. At the same time it’s not hard to understand why targets have stalled because harassing parents on JSA contributes to increases in child poverty. 1 in 3 children live in families below the poverty line. As a result millions of children go without basic necessities such as adequate clothing, a healthy diet or a warm home. Hundreds of claimants in my area are having their claims for benefits deterred or delayed; this is of particularly concerned if, the use of voice stress technology “Lie Detectors” have caused this. Claimants are going to be suffering in poverty & prevented from claiming benefits that are rightfully theirs.
Stopping JSA payment under harsh rules creates poverty for all within the family. Unemployed Workers can now be sanctioned for failing to satisfy the punitive conditions attached to the receipt of JSA and of course they now have no right to Hardship Payments. In effect unemployed workers can be left with no income whatsoever. We need a major shift in ideas within the Labour Party in favour of ordinary people, many debates have taken place within the pages of the Morning Star & Communist Review but it’s the unemployed who are the forgotten victims & who seem to be demonised, patronised & blamed for unemployment within the wider media.

As unemployment levels grew throughout the 1920s and 1930s many turned to the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) the organisation came under the influence and control of the British Communist Party (CPGB). The less than supportive response of the Labour Party and the trade unions to the plight of the unemployed during the depression years has been cited to explain the attraction of the Communist Party for many who found themselves out of work. The Communist Party of Britain must give leadership & the forthcoming Unemployed Advisory Committee will be that start – up & Down Britain Branches, Districts/ Nations must identify Party Members who will be prepared to attend the Advisory & contribute to the debate & coordinate a plan of action to be forwarded to the EC for the Party to act upon.

The last TUC Congress in the UK & those delegates attending gave the unemployed a “minimum voice” in debates. Massive work needs to be done in re-building the TUC Network of Unemployed Centres of which many have fallen into the trap of just becoming Welfare Rights Advice Centres. The Centres were born out of a TUC Special Conference in 1980 & the Peoples March for Jobs. At a time when the voice of the unemployed is needed to be heard those doors are being slammed shut in their face.

In 1996 the International Labour Organisation approved Convention 177 on Homework. This Convention sets out international standards for the just treatment of Homeworkers, & outlines practical steps governments should take to ensure Homeworkers are protected. In 1997 the British Labour Government announced its intention to ratify the Convention. Eleven years on, it has still not done so. The year, 2008 marked 100th birthday of the state pension but after 100 years, 1 in 4 pensioners still live below the poverty line. Its worth pointing out that millions of workers will rely on the state pension when they retire. The state pension must be raised above the poverty line for all & the restoration of the link with earnings – the British Labour Government announced its intention to restore the link, eleven years on, it has still not done so.

Most people in Britain care little about personalities but care more about the vision of that government – this government has used deception to hold us down for to long, the UK’s “Government Welfare Green Paper” means unprecedented attacks on welfare delivery & the welfare state as we know it – demand to know from your Member of Parliament / Member Scottish Parliament / Welsh & North Ireland - Assembly Member, where they stand on the subject.

“Lets us at last realise our true power & win the battle of ideas”.

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