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Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Unemployment within the UK

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. My first article back in 1995 expressed our hopes – this article in 2008 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 East England & London/ South area calling for the right to work.
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 plolicies, its lack of finance & constant presure on public sector services, jobs & wages.
"To tackle unemployment within Scotland alone, powers need to be transfered from Whitehall (UK Parliament) to the Scottish Parliament. "
The response from Trade Unions & Trades Union Congress (TUC) Regarding Unemployment within the UK.
The Governments Position : 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.

Failing to Scrap the "Job Seekers Allowance" Labours’ Betrayal !

To describe JSA as a punitive system is well founded by welfare rights teams up and down Britain who, every day, see 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.

The number of people out of work in the UK rose by another 81,000 between May and July, to 1.72 million, according to government figures. That took the official unemployment rate up from 5.3% to 5.5%. The number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance also rose, by 32,500 to 904,900 in August, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. In a further sign of the economic slowdown, the number of people in work and the number of vacancies both fell.
"Today's figures show that unemployment is starting to accelerate and it now looks very likely that total unemployment will reach two million during 2009," said the TUC's general secretary Brendan Barber. "It is clear that deflation is a much more pressing threat than inflation, and interest rates should be cut," he added. Earlier on Wednesday, the TUC warned that the number of people out of work for a year or more could almost double by the end of 2009. Unemployment over past decadeThe rise in the headline rate of unemployment to 5.5% took it to its highest level since early 1999. "With unemployment rising, people are looking to the government for a response"

This New Labour Government with both the Prime Minister - Gordon Brown and the Chancellor have totally accepted that governments have no job creation responsibility.

The Question in many a mind in the UK is, are we seeing the End of the Governments Role in dealing with the long term Unemployed ?
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.

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.

All JSA claimants are required to ‘sign on’ at their nearest Job Centre of which hundreds have been closed down forcing claimants to travel far a field.

The Jobseekers Agreement sets out:
• The steps a claimant must take each week to show that s/he is actively seeking work; • It also states the hours which the claimant is prepared to work and where they are prepared to work; • The minimum wage which the claimant is prepared to accept.
During the first three months of their claim unemployed workers can refuse to accept jobs which are not in their usual trade or don’t pay a similar wage to that they have received. After three months claimants must broaden their job seeking and be prepared to accept others job within their capabilities whatever the wage. This is made clear to the claimant at a restart interview after “signing-on” for three months.Claimants then face a series of six monthly restart interviews where capability, availability and job seeking activity are checked. Claimants must continue to sign-on every two weeks and report any changes in personal circumstances. Job Seeking activity can also be scrutinised at fortnightly signing. If claimants do not conform to various rules, or refuse to sign the Agreement etc., then a system of sanctions will imposed.

Prior to the introduction of JSA unemployed workers could be penalised for not complying with the rules, for example a claimant adjudged to have left their employment voluntarily without good cause could lose their entitlement to unemployment benefit but automatically entitled to a reduced rate of Income Support if they had no other income. With the introduction of JSA a series of sanctions were also introduced. 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 & the wider media but it’s the unemployed who are the forgotten victims & who seem to be demonized, patronized & blamed for unemployment within the wider media. “

TUC Congress & delegates gave the unemployed a minimum voice in debates. Massive work needs to be done in re-building the TUC Network of Unemployed of which many have fallen into the trap of just becoming Welfare Rights Advise 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 there face.

This year marks the 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. We must demand that the state pension be raised above the poverty line for all & restore the link with earnings. 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 “Governments Welfare Green Paper means unprecedented attacks on welfare delivery & the welfare state as we know it – lets us at last realise our true power & win the battle of ideas.”

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.
The UK Economy is at a 60-year low, says Darling. And it will get worse !!Britain is facing "arguably the worst" economic downturn in 60 years which will be "more profound and long-lasting" than people had expected, Alistair Darling, the chancellor told us the British People.The Unemployed will be made to suffer as a result !!!

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this coming 10th December will mark 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 favourable 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 & 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.

What we have seen taking place within Britain over the last decade is a warning to other countries, take heed !

We need to expose the way the unemployed are now forced onto a "Lie Detector" just to make claims for benefits even "Housing Benefit/Council Tax Benefit". The way the unemployed are being treated is contemptuous; potentially Union Members will be facing the dole queue as the economy fails. Make no mistake; the Unemployed will be made to suffer as a result!
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 April and June. This is the highest level in over 15 years. Within the next year the unemployment count will soar.

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.

Join the Campaign against the Job Seekers allowance on Facebook !!

In 2008 the British Labour Government plans to drive thousands of people off benefits into ultra low paid work & "work for dole" schemes. The Tories fell into line with Labour's plans to drive thousands off benefits and into work. Shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling pledged opposition support if Labour backbenchers threatened to rebel over the proposals. Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell has unveiled his widely trailed package 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!TUC general secretary Brendan Barber warned: "This is a mistake. There are already sufficient sanctions to deal with benefit claimants who cheat the system and all the evidence shows that the vast majority of the jobless want to work. "With many commentators expecting unemployment to rise, now is not the time to start blaming the victim."People who lose their jobs want help in getting new skills and new paying jobs, not make-work schemes that provide no pay, no prospects and not even any time to search for a new job."

“Everyone has the right to a decent job – lets’ start highlighting the way the unemployed are being treated, of which is utter contempt!”

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