Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

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


Hunger, Housing and Injustice

Monday, March 29th, 2021

My work on Saturday 29th March 2019 began in north London at Bruce Castle Park in Tottenham, where the indefatigable Rev Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty had organised a march demanding living incomes and decent truly affordable homes, calling for an end to the bedroom tax, the housing benefit cap, unfair taxes, hunger and cold homes.

The Reverend Paul Nicolson who died peacefully on Thursday 5th March 2020 aged 87 had long campaigned on these issues, and had commissioned the work on poverty that helped groups such as London Citizens and Unison to persuade the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone to introduce the London Living Wage.

His Christian principles led Nicolson to found the Zacchaeus Trust, an anti-poverty charity providing frontline services on Social Security benefits, housing and homelessness as well as the campaigning organisation TAP, and he supported and spoke at many protests calling for justice for disabled and others on low wages and often inadequate benefits.

I left the march as it passed Tottenham Police Station on its way to a rally at Tottenham Green to make my way to Kilburn, where the Counihan Battlebus Housing For All campaign, along with the TUSC Against Cuts and Unite Community were holding a protest in Kilburn Square over child hunger and housing problems, calling for rents to be capped and for everyone to have a home.

Children played a large part in the protest and were having fun, but also making a serious point, with placards “Going to school hungry is not fair!” As I pointed out in my rather long article on the protest:

Children going to school hungry is a direct result of government policy and its inhumane (they call it ‘tough’ to make it sound positive) sanctions policy. What we need is not this kind of vindictive approach but more jobs and an end to poverty wages. And it would be far more productive to attack the huge sums involved in tax evasion and tightening up the rules on tax avoidance than the relatively small amounts of benefit fraud or the largely mythical workshy.

The journey from Kilburn to Parliament Square was fortunately a simple one on the tube and I arrived as students and staff from Oasis Academy Hadley came from Enfield to protest against the planned deportation of one of their students, 19-year-old Yashika Bageerathi. She had come to the UK with her family in 2011 to escape a dangerous situation in Mauritius and was in the final year of her A level course, in which she was expected to get high grades.

The Home Office decided that since she was 19 she could be deported without her family, and had already detained her in Yarl’s Wood ten days earlier. Two deportation attempts failed when both British Airways and Air Mauritius refused to fly her to Mauritius, possibly because of the huge public campaign to allow her to stay and complete her exams.

It was impossible to see why Home Office minister Theresa May was so keen on this deportation – other than wanting to seem to have a tough policy on immigration, and as I wrote, morally their position seemed indefensible. But deport her they finally did.

Despite spells in Yarl’s Wood which disrupted here education and the deportation which took place six weeks before her A Level exams, she was able to take the exams and passed with straight A grades. She then issued a statement thanking everyone – both in the UK and on her return in Mauritius for their support, and clearly stating “I have no desire for a life in the public eye any longer” and that she wished to begin a new chapter in her life.

More at:
Fellow Students Fight for Yashika
Kilburn Uniform Day
Mothers march for justice

Tottenham

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

Since I was going to photograph a protest in Tottenham, a part of north London I don’t often get to, I thought I’d take a look at the new stadium there. I’m not a Spurs fan, nor of any other team, though I do still occasionally read the reports on Brentford’s matches in one of our free local papers with a little amusement. Although I was keen on sports when young and played in my areas leading under-11 football team – two of whose members went on to play for Brentford and one for Chelsea – and continued to compete for my school and several teams at football and rugby while a student, I’ve always considered watching sport – either live or on TV – a waste of time.

The new stadium looks fine, though I didn’t have time to investigate it beyond a few quick snaps. But what really gets me annoyed is that the club want to change the name of nearby White Hart Lane station (in White Hart Lane) to Tottenham Hotspur, and that TfL are more than happy to oblige in this annoying piece of corporate branding and pocket £14.7m for doing so. TfL’s job is to run a transport system, not to provide publicity. I will also feel rather disappointed if Spurs fans accept the name change for the ground and stop calling it White Hart Lane.

The protest outside the Tottenham Job CentrePlus was a small one, taking place on a Thursday lunchtime, and organised by the Revolutionary Communist Group, a relatively small left-wing organisation, but about a major issue, Universal Credit. Although some of its aims to simplify the benefits system are laudable it has been clear from the start that there were huge problems in the implementation, and that the whole scheme has simply not been properly designed. Add to that some political interference to cut costs and the whole thing is a disaster.

Much of the problem is I think that the scheme was designed by well-off and well-connected people who have little or no appreciation of how those affected live. The kind of people who, if they are a little short of cash at some point can sell a few things (perhaps some of their investments or the second or third house), get a loan at a relatively low interest rate from a bank or ask friends or family to tide them over.

Waiting a five weeks (or rather longer) for their money would not be a problem for them, but for those who are dependent on benefits it can be a disaster. It is a public disgrace that we need food banks, but UC has been a major factor driving the huge increase in people who have to use them – or starve. The other major factor driving people to them has been benefit sanctions, with people losing benefits often for trivial or even made-up reasons so that DWP staff can meet the targets set for them, leaving people with no resources on which to survive for months or even years.

Many too have become homeless for the same reasons, evicted because they cannot pay the rent. And far too many have died. It’s a scandal and one that attempts to draw public attention to and organise opposition I think deserve support, whoever organises them. It’s a pity that the sectional nature of left-wing politics means that the RCG seldom gets much support from people outside its own group for protests such as these.

As a photographer, small protests such as these present something of a challenge to make them newsworthy. As much as possible I try to cover them in a way that brings out the issues, perhaps as reflected in posters and banners, and also to produce images with some visual interest.

Scrap Universal Credit Jobcentre protest
Tottenham and Spurs


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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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Global Women’s Strike

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

International Women’s Day began as a socialist festival in New York in 1909 and was adopted more widely by the socialist movement in the following years. In 1914 it moved from the last day of February to May 8th and has since been celebrated on that date.

Largely observed by communists in the early years, it was taken up more generally by feminists in the 1960s and 70s but remained a day of radical protests, calling for equal rights, equal pay and for women’s control of their own bodies in areas such as abortion, sexual preferences and consent.

In 1975 the UN celebrated the day as part of a year dedicated to women’s rights and two years later declared it as  UN Day for women’s rights and world peace. Although this gave it a much wider audience, it also extended the celebrations to include many less radical events and organisations, including some that seem to be more media beanfeasts than any real part of the fight for women. As Wikipedia comments:

In the twenty–first century, in the West, the day was increasingly sponsored by major corporations and used to promote feel–good messages, rather than radical social reforms.[30] In 2009, the British marketing firm, Aurora Ventures, set up a “International Women’s Day” website with corporate sponsorship.[31][32] The website began to promote hashtags as themes for the day, which became used internationally.[33] The day was commemorated by business breakfasts and social media communications that were reminiscent of Mother’s Day greetings.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Women%27s_Day

One organisation that has certainly kept its radical edge is Global Women’s Strike, who I first met on a protest march on International Women’s Day  back in 2002, protesting at the offices of the World Bank, the Defence Ministry and elsewhere.

This year they were at Royal Courts of Justice, outside the High Court to protest against destitution, detention, deportation, benefit cuts, sexism, racism and other discrimination, criminalisation, pollution and in particular the state use of Family Courts to take children from their mothers. And alongside them were others, including anti-fracking Nana from Nanshire Tina Louise Rothery, DPAC’s Paula Peters, a speaker from the English Collective of Prostitutes and two speakers from Extinction Rebellion.

It was a lively protest, and ended with a short road block on the pedestrian crossing in front of the courts. Many of those present were going on to meetings in the afternoon and another women’s protest in the evening which I was also intending to photograph.

More pictures at Global Women’s Strike.


There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

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.

To order prints or reproduce images