Posts Tagged ‘2018’

Universal Discredit

Monday, May 24th, 2021

T-shirts spell out StopUniversalCredit’ in Tate Modern Turbine Hall on the Unite Day of Action against Universal Credit, 24 May 2018

There were some positive ideas behind the introduction of Universal Credit, a new social security payment system first announced by the then Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, in 2010, claiming it would make the social security system fairer to claimants and taxpayers. It aimed to simplify the system by replacing six existing benefits for working-age people who have a low household income: income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. It would also taper off gradually as people moved into employment, removing the ‘cliff edge’ of losing benefits when going back into work.

But both Duncan Smith and Welfare Reform Minister David Freud, had failed to grasp the complexity of the varied and often varying circumstances of those in low paid and often insecure employment, particularly those on zero hours contracts or other sporadic or seasonal work, or with fluid family arrangements. Nor did they make clear that the main driver behind their changes was to simply cut the cost of benefits. And it now seems likely it will end up being more expensive than the benefits it replaced.

Outside Parliament

Following the Welfare Reform Act 2012, UC roll-out began to selected claimants at pilot job centres in 2013, and problems rapidly became apparent. There were entirely predictable problems with the IT system and the implementation costs were six times the initial forecast at £12 billion. The roll-out was intended to be more or less complete by 2017, but is now expected to take until 2024. Cuts were made to the initial system by George Osborne in 2015, making the transition to work less generous and removing some of the payments for child support, though these were partly restored in 2018 by Philip Hammond. And in 2020 there was a temporary £20 increase as a response to Covid.

What is clear is that the introduction of UC has caused a great deal of hardship to claimants, some temporary, some permanent. It has led to many being unable to keep up rent payments with a great increase in evictions and homelessness. UC has been the main driver of the huge increase in the need for foodbanks. It has forced some women into prostitution and made some claimants turn to crime to keep alive – while some have starved to death.

UC has had a particularly hard effect on families with children, particularly those with more than two children since 2017, and also on self-employed claimants and others with fluctuating incomes. Overall there have been both winners and losers, with around half losing out and a little over a third gaining compared to the replaced benefits.

Marching to the DWP

One of the major problems for everyone has been the long wait before any UC is paid, partly because of the change from a weekly to a monthly benefit. Even where the process works smoothly, the delay between making the claim and receiving money is six weeks, and around a fifth of claimants have had to wait around 5 months or more. There are now emergency loans available – but these mean that when people do get their payments they are reduced to repay these advances. There are also many whose benefit has been cut or stopped for largely trivial reasons through a savage system of benefit sanctions imposed by job centres.

Many other problems have also been caused by UC – you can read a long list of criticisms in the Wikipedia article. As well as evictions and homelessness it has resulted in an increase in domestic violence and a steep rise in mental-health problems. And, as the National Audit Office reported, there is no evidence Universal Credit has met its aim of helping people into work and they say it is in many ways unwieldy and inefficient and is unlikely to provide value for money.

It is clear that UC is in need of a complete replacement, and that it’s monumental failure should have led to the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith in 2015 after the DWP admitted publishing fake testimonies of claimants enjoying their benefits cuts and statistics showed 2,380 people died in a 3-year period shortly after a work capability assessment declared them fit for work, but instead he was knighted in 2020. Under the present government we are unlikely to get more than very minor tinkering that will quite likely create more problems that it solves. One of the proposals under debate is that of a Universal Basic Income, along with targeted welfare payments (some of which are still in existence) to cover those with additional needs. Earlier this month the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that this would be trialled in a pilot scheme in Wales.

Universal Credit rally & march
Universal Credit protest at Tate Modern


Save the NHS – 3 Feb 2018

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021


We didn’t have Covid in 2018, but the Tory Government was busy laying the groundwork that would lead to our current 100,000 deaths and counting as a part of their longer term intention to privatise the NHS. It looks likely that the total excess deaths due to the virus will rise to over 200,000 before the outbreak is tamed to a fairly small continuing trickle, mainly then killing those who refuse vaccination.

Tens of thousands marched in support of the NHS through London on 3 February to a rally at Downing St calling on the Government to stop blaming patients, nurses, doctors, immigrants, flu and the elderly for the crisis in the health service and to fund it properly and bring it back into public hands from the waste and demands of private profit.

Despite warnings from many in the health sector of the dangers which would arise from any major pandemic, the government ignored many of the warnings and recommendations of the 2016 Exercise Cygnus, which had simulated a flu pandemic causing as many as 400,000 excess deaths, as well as the experience from other countries around the world in dealing with epidemics.

Over a long period, under Tories and New Labour, the increasing outsourcing of services has damaged the efficiency of the NHS and created dangerously low standards of hygiene, while expensive PFI building contracts have left many hospital trusts with impossible long-term debt repayments. Cutting the number of beds was a way to ease the financial problems, but left hospitals unable to meet the extra demands of normal winters, let along Covid.

Cutting bursaries for nurse training exacerbated the shortage of nursing staff, and over the longer term we have failed to provide training places for sufficient doctors, relying increasingly on those trained abroad, both from the EU and also from countries with greater need of doctors than the UK. And changes to pay and conditions, particularly for junior doctors have led to more UK trained doctors and nurses finding work in other countries.

Back in 2018 I pointed out:

Many in the Conservative Party have financial interests in healthcare companies and their policies are clearly designed to carry out a creeping privatisation of the NHS, setting up various devices including STPs and ACSs (Sustainability and transformation partnerships and accountable care systems) which obligate the tendering of NHS services to private healthcare providers, and large areas of NHS services now provided by companies such as Virgin Healthcare.

Fix the NHS Crisis Now

The march on 3 Feb 2018 began in Gower St, which was packed with people making it hard to walk down as I arrived around an hour before it was due to start. I made my way to the front in time for the start and walked with it for a short way before stopping to photograph marchers as they walked past me on Shaftesbury Avenue. They were still filing past – an estimated 50,000 of them – when I had to rush away to Downing St to photograph the rally there. More were still arriving when I left.

Three years later the need to fix the NHS and to stop the increasing privatisation is even greater. Many of those now in government, including my own MP are advocated moving away from a system free at the point of use to a private insurance-based healthcare system similar to that in the USA – where many now are unable to afford insurance or find that more serious conditions are not covered by it. Were I now living in the USA, it is unlikely that the prescriptions that I now get free for my long-term condition would be covered by insurance and they would be costing me over £1000 per month. Many with Covid would also find they were not covered by insurance and would have no way of covering the huge costs of hospitalisation should there condition become serious. We need to keep our NHS and to stop privatisation – and if necessary increase our tax and national insurance payments to fund it.

More at Fix the NHS Crisis Now


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


1st December 2018

Tuesday, December 1st, 2020

Two years ago, the first day in December had been declared Stop Universal Credit day of action by Unite Community and small groups around the country were holding protests and handing out leaflets in busy town centres about the many failures and great hardship caused by this poorly though out and badly administered benefit. They called for an end to the long wait before claimants receive money, for applications to be allowed at job centres as well as online, for better help when the system fails people, for direct payments to landlords to avoid rent arrears and evictions and an end to benefit sanctions for all claimants.

Universal Credit was intended to simplify the benefits system, but it failed to take into account the huge range and complexity of situations ordinary people face, and assumed that claimants would have the same kind of support that the middle-class and wealthy take for granted from families, friends and resources. And its failures were compounded by making it a vehicle for cutting costs. As I commented in 2018:

“UC has created incredible hardship, pushing many into extreme poverty and destitution, making them reliant on food banks and street food distributions, greatly increasing the number of homeless and rough sleepers. Thanks to Tory policies, more than 120,000-plus homeless children in Britain will spend Christmas in hostels and B&Bs, many without the means or facilities to provide a Christmas meal.

Some have said that UC is a part of a “state euthanasia” system for the poor, with academic estimates that it and other benefit cuts and sanctions since the 2010 elections having caused 110,000 early deaths, including many suicides. A cross party committee has called for its rollout to be halted until improvements are made, but the government has dismissed virtually all criticism of the system, making only insignificant changes.”

http://mylondondiary.co.uk/2018/12/dec.htm#universal

I took a detour on my journey into London to photograph the protest outside Camden Town station, where protesters were also pointing out that Universal Credit “hands more financial power to male claimants making it a misogynist’s dream, forcing women in violent relationships into greater dependency on their violent male partners.”


The major protest taking place in London was a march and rally organised by the Campaign against Climate Change. Together for Climate Justice began with a rally outside the Polish Embassy, in advance of the following week’s UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland.

Despite the impending global disaster, little real action is being taken by countries around the world and we still seem committed to a course leading inevitably to mass extinction. Behind the failure to act is the intensive lobbying of companies exploiting fossil fuels who have spent many billions in sowing doubt about the scientific consensus of global warming, and continue to produce vast quantities of coal and oil and explore for further resources, increasingly in the more ecologically sensitive areas of the Earth.

At the rally a wide range of speakers expressed their concerns that the talks in Poland are being sponsored by leading firms in Poland’s fossil fuel industry. And at the rally opposite Downing St where Frack Free United were to hand in their petition at the end of the march, a speaker from the Global South reminded us of the urgency of the situation; people there are already dying because of climate change.

Before the march we were all taught to say a few slogans in Polish, including ‘Razem dla klimatu‘ (Together for the Climate) which appeared on a number of placards, and the rather less pronounceable Polish for ‘Time to limit to 1.5’, as well as for ‘Climate, jobs, justice!’.


Finally I made my way to Broadcasting House, where The Palestine Solidarity Campaign and others were calling on the BBC to withdraw from the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest hosted by Israel, to avoid being complicit in Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights.

Campaigners say the contest ‘artwashes’ Israel’s human rights record, including the killing of at least 205 Palestinians by Israeli forces in the besieged Gaza Strip since protests began at the end of March, and the passing of the Jewish nation state law which formalises an apartheid system in Israeli law.

A small group of Zionists had come to oppose the protest, but made it clear that they did not want me to photograph them. Some lifted the Israeli flags they were holding to hide their faces when I pointed my camera in their direct or turned away.


More at:

BBC Boycott Eurovision Israel 2019
Together for Climate Justice
Stop Universal Credit day of action


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


London Protests: 17 November 2018

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

Saturday November 17th 2018 saw the start of Extinction Rebellion’s beidge blocade in central London, bringing the city to a standstill by blocking Lambeth, Westminster, Waterloo, Blackfriars and Southwark bridges. I joined them for the first couple of hours on Westminster Bridge.

From there I went to pay brief visits to three of the other four bridges that XR had blocked, choosing those downstream which were relatively easy to reach on foot.

I didn’t go to Lambeth Bridge, upstream from Westminster, as I ran out of time before another event I wanted to cover. It would have meant too long a walk as the nearest tube station is some distance away and there were no buses able to run. Later I found that it was at Lambeth that the police had been more active in making arrests and attempting to clear the bridge.

I arrived too late for the start of the march organised by Stand Up To Racism, co-sponsored by Unite Against Fascism and Love Music Hate Racism, and supported by many other groups and individuals including Diane Abbott MP and John McDonnell MP against the against the rising threat of Islamophobia and Antisemitism by far-right groups in the UK.

It was a large march and had gathered outside the BBC in Portland Place because the organisers wanted to point to the failure of the BBC to recognise the threat of these extremist groups with a level of support for fascism not seen since the 1930s.

The BBC does appear to have a policy limiting reporting on issues such as this, and of ignoring or minimising protests in the UK against failures of government. When they have reported, they have often talked of ‘hundreds’ of protesters when a more objective view would have said ‘thousands’ or perhaps even ‘tens of thousands.’ They do a far better job in reporting protests in foreign cities than in London.

Half an hour after I began taking pictures the marchers were still walking past me, but I thought that it was nearing the end and I left, not to go to the rally in Whitehall but to return to Westminster Bridge for the Exctinction Rebellion protest where there were speakers from around the country and around the world, some of whom travelled to speak on several of the five blocked bridges. After the speeches there was a Citizen’s Assembly but by then I was tired and left to go home, edit and file my pictures – more hours of work.

Protests by XR have done a little to shake the complacency of our government and others around the world and move them to action to avoid the rapidly approaching climate disaster, but it remains a case of too little, too late. Certainly so for many countries in the global South already suffering dire consequences, but probably also for us in the wealthier countries. Covid-19 has shown that governments can take drastic actions, (if ours cost many thousands of lives by making decisions too late and avoiding basic precautions) but it will need a similar upending of priorities and changes in our way of life to avoid the worst effects of climate change – and there can be no vaccine to end climate change.

More about the events and more pictures on My London Diary:

Extinction Rebellion Bridge blockade starts
Extinction Rebellion: Southwark, Blackfriars, Waterloo
Unity Against Fascism and Racism
Extinction Rebellion form Citizens’ Assembly


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


More From May Days: 2018

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

My May Day in 2018 was rather more varied than usual, taking in several other events as well as the traditional May Day march and rally where I started as usual at Clerkenwell Green, along with the Kurdish and Turkish communists and others. Without our various migrant communities it would have been a very much smaller and less colourful event.

Rather than photograph the actual march I left a few minutes before it started to take the underground to Westminster, where the Chronic Lyme Disease Support Group UK was holding a protest to raise awareness of the hidden epidemic of the disease here. Carried by ticks, the disease is hard to diagnose and the NHS has failed to introduce proper tests and make doctors aware of its prevalence and proper treatment.

The general public need to know about the dangers and in particular to take precautions against tick bites and to be ready to remove ticks promptly and safely from their skin. I was fortunate to have met this group shortly before a holiday with friends a couple of years earlier so carried a small bent plastic tick remover for when we got bitten. If you ever walk through tall grass or woods you should have one ready.

From outside Parliament it was a short walk to the Home Office, where Movement for Justice were protesting against a planned charter flight later in the week for a mass deportation to Jamaica. This was in the middle of the Windrush scandal and the flight would include members of the Windrush generation. The Home Office, particularly under Theresa May, has been guilty of enforcing an unjust, scandalous and racist immigration policy which is still continuing.

I rushed away from the Home Office and up Whitehall to the Strand, where I was just in time to meet the May Day march from Clerkenwell Green. I was almost certainly more out of breath than the members of the Musician’s Union whose band were leading it.

The rally was, as I noted, a rather humdrum event dominated by trade union speakers which failed to represent the make-up of the march, dominated by our migrant communities.

It seemed rather curious that speakers apparently were supposed to be ‘non-political’ in their speeches because of the elections later in the week. If you can’t be political at a May Day Rally why bother?

May Day Rally

The rally was enlivened a little by the final contribution which was from a victimised union rep from the Brixton Ritzy, but by the time she spoke most had left either to go home or to the local pubs. Those left were getting ready to continue the day with a protest organised by the IWGB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain), United Voices of the World the union, staff from Picturehouse Cinemas, the Women’s Strike Assembly – UK, London Wobblies, Another Europe Is Possible, Plan C London, Labour Campaign for Free Movement and the Precarious Workers Brigade representing precarious workers, people on poverty pay and exploitative contracts whose largely unskilled work is essential to keeping society running.

They marched to protest outside a number of exploitative workplaces where disputes were currently taking place, demanding guaranteed hours of work, a living wage, the decriminalisation of sex work, an end to trade union victimisation and repeal of the anti-union laws.

After their first protest at the Ministry of Justice where cleaners are demanding a living wage, they went on to further protests at King’s College, where cleaners demand to be directly employed with proper terms of employment and a living wage.

I left the protest at King’s to join the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union CAIWU who had been celebratingd International Workers’ Day with an open-topped bus tour stopping to protest outside some of London’s most notorious employers. Their final protest of the day was at the Royal Opera House, where they were in dispute over the victimisation of five members for their trade union activities.

By now I was getting rather tired, but made a short detour on my way home taking the tube to Brixton, where an emergency demonstration outside Lambeth Town Hall before Thursday’s council elections was calling for a public inquiry into Lambeth Labour’s housing policy, an immediate halt to estate demolitions and a call to stop the privatisation via Homes for Lambeth which is leading to social cleansing.  

Lambeth Labour’s election manifesto had a proud claim that it was well on the way to “complete our ambitious programme of building 1,000 extra homes at council rent for local families“, while the actual number of council homes with with secure council tenancies built was – according to a Freedom of Information request – only 17. The protesters say that even than figure was around double the actual number.

Lambeth Housing Tell Us the Truth
CAIWU Mayday Mayhem at Royal Opera
Precarious Workers – King’s College
Precarious Workers – Ministry of Justice
May Day Rally
May Day March on the Strand
Against Deportation Charter Flights
Lyme Disease epidemic
London May Day March meets


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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