Posts Tagged ‘universal credit’

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


Tottenham, Hackney and The Times

Sunday, April 11th, 2021

I took the Underground to Seven Sisters, pausing while I waited for a bus to take a few pictures of the shops that would be lost with the redevelopment of the ‘Latin Village’ along with that thriving indoor market. For once I had a clear view from the bus and I took a few pictures as it made its way north to Tottenham job centre. I arrived earlier than expected and walked on the short distance to Tottenham’s new ground, officially opened the previous week, before walking back to photograph the protest I had come for.

The stadium did seem quite impressive from the outside, though like many others I was less impressed to hear that the football club are keen to pay TfL to change the name of the railway station in White Hart Lane to ‘Tottenham Hotspur’. I’m pleased to see that it still has its old name now, 149 years after it opened with it. Spurs wanted the change because it would increase the chances of finding a sponsor for the new stadium, but there was considerable opposition. And while there is precedent – Gillespie Road on the Picadilly line was renamed Arsenal in 1932 – since that team has now moved from their old ground it perhaps wasn’t a good idea.

The protest outside the Tottenham Jobcentre Plus was organised by the North London Revolutionary Communist Group and others and was one of many that have been taking place regularly outside job centres calling for Universal Credit to be scrapped. UC was badly thought out but even more poorly implemented, both thanks to Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions from 2010 to 2016. Designed both to rationalise and cut benefits, it incorporates a delay typically of five weeks between the old benefits ceasing and UC being paid, leaving many with nothing to live on. Some minor improvements have been made, including the availability of loans, but those on benefits are not really in any position to repay loans. Together with a harsh benefits sanction regime which had meant some claimants have lost benefits for long periods for relatively trivial reasons – such as being a few minutes late for an appointment – or having an accident on the way to one, this has resulted in a huge growth in reliance on food banks and even some deaths due to starvation and being unable to heat homes. Many have been forced into huge rent arrears – and in 2018 one in 38 of new claimants became homeless because of evictions.

The campaigners were still handing out leaflets and talking to clients going into the job centre and leaving when I caught the bus to make my way down to Bethnal Green. The weather, with sun, blue sky and some clouds was perfect for continuing my project making panoramic images of the Regent’s Canal in preparation for a show to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its opening in 1820.

As well as pictures showing the canal I took a few more on my way to Bethnal Green, as well as walking around the area, then along the canal west to Broadway Market.

It was then time to get on a bus again, to make my way to the offices of News Corp at London Bridge, where Transmission, a group supporting the rights of trans people, were protesting outside the offices of The Times newspaper against their publication of transphobic articles.

They say the paper has published an unfair article by Lucy Bannerman against the Tavistock Centre and medical services for trans children and has earlier targeted the trans charity Mermaids and ostracised trans athletes for competing in sports.

More on My London Diary:
Times end transphobic articles
Regent’s Canal
Scrap Universal Credit Jobcentre protest
Tottenham and Spurs

End Workfare & more – 3rd March 2012

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021

Workfare is a controversial policy first begun in the UK in the 1990s by the Conservative government of John Major, although it developed from earlier schemes which put active pressure on claimants to seek work. Under various different programmes and names workfare continued under New Labour, but it was under the Tory-led coalition in 2011-2 that it came into widespread use.

Workfare is used to describe schemes where in order to receive unemployment benefit people have to undertake unpaid work, either in the commercial or public sector or for charities. In 2011 the coalition government announced that those who had failed to find jobs after being unemployed for some time would have to work unpaid for 30 hours a week for six months, setting up a number of schemes to this end.

THe proponents of ‘workfare’ say that those forced to take part in these schemes benefit from the experience or working and that it will prepare them for paid work and that the experience will make it easier for them to find employment. They say it isn’t unfair to ask people to do something in exchange for the benefits they receive.

Academic studies by the DWP of international workfare schemes had shown that these claims were unsound. There was little evidence that workfare increased the chances of finding work, and that it might even reduce this, firstly because if people were on workfare they had less time to look for jobs, but also because workfare placements seldom provided the kind of skills and experience that potential employers were looking for.

Trade unions and others point out that every person on workfare actually cuts out a job that would otherwise be carried out by a paid employee – so there are fewer jobs for those seeking employment. Workfare is largely a subsidy to employers, supplying them with free labour – essentially a form of slave labour. Workfare schemes – whether in the private sector or public or charity work – fail to provide any of the employment status and protection that employees or workers receive.

Strong negative reactions to these schemes – such as those demonstrated by the Boycott Welfare protest in Oxford St, London I photographed on Saturday 3rd March 2012 – led to many companies withdrawing from the scheme, and others ending talks with the government about taking part in it. According to Wikipedia, the campaign group ‘Boycott Welfare’ ‘very successful in making companies and charities pull out of “workfare”.’ By August 2016, “more than 50 organisations have ended their involvement in workfare, because of negative publicity.”

But workfare still continues, and as Boycott Welfare write on their web site, “Workfare forms a key tool of ‘compliance’ with the regime of Universal Credit, and is enforced via sanctions.” As well as Universal Credit, workfare also continues under the government’s Sector-Based Work Academies, Work and Health Programme and Youth Obligation schemes.


Also on the same day I photographed other events. Firstly the Million Women Rise March, a women-only march through the centre of London against domestic abuse, rape and commercial sexual exploitation and for the prevention of abuse and support and protection for women. I was shocked to learn from a member of one of the more active women campaigning groups that has been the among the leaders in previous celebrations around International Women’s Day and had taken part in previous years that they had been told they were not welcome on the march, though I think they have taken part in more recent years.

I left that march as it went down Oxford St on its way to a rally at Trafalgar Square and took the tube to St Paul’s where Greeks were protesting in solidarity with students and workers in Greece against the austerity measures being imposed as a part of the Eurozone rescue package for the country. They had planned to protest at the Occupy London camp, but that had been cleared a few days previously, but some of the occupiers had returned to hold a general meeting on the St Paul’s Cathedral steps.

More on these events from Saturday 3rd March on My London Diary:
Greeks Protest At St Paul’s
Million Women Rise March
Boycott Workfare – Oxford St


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.


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


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


Busy Friday

Monday, June 10th, 2019

I didn’t expect Friday March 1st to be particularly busy in Westminster. Fridays generally aren’t a very busy day for protests not least because many MPs rush off back to their constituencies for the weekend. I’d gone up to take pictures largely because I knew that protesters from DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) were protesting against Universal Credit, which is causing widespread hardship and extreme poverty, particularly for disabled people.

They are a group I admire and the treatment of the sick and disabled by the current government has been calculatedly cruel; as a small gravestone they had brought recorded, over 12,980 people have died within six weeks of being found fit for work by a deliberately ill-designed biased scheme adminstered to make a huge proportion of incorrect decisions – which if people live long enough for their appears to be heard are overturn in over two thirds of cases – though often by the time this happens it it time for another fake assessment. It is all about cutting costs and academic studies point to around 120,000 early deaths from the Tory cuts since 2010.

That protest turned out to be rather smaller than I had hoped – and then those taking part had anticipated. In part the small number reflected the difficulties of travel for disabled people that I’ve also photographed protests about.

My own travel on that morning took me on a slightly unusual route. Usually I take the train to Waterloo and walk from there to Parliament Square, but I think I was feeling lazy, and instead got off the train at Vauxhall and took a bus from there, which took me past the Home Office, now also home to DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In front of their entrance was a giant plastic bottle, made up of single use plastic bottles, drawing attention to the need to take action against the huge amount of plastic waste that ends up in our oceans and in landfill.

Apart from the problem of disposing of this waste, there are also the problems caused by the extraction of the petroleum and the energy required to produce the plastic from this and fabricate it into bottles. I carry a plastic bottle of water in my bag when taking pictures, which I bought on a very hot day a couple of years ago, as a single-use bottle containing a fizzy lime and lemon drink. Since then I’ve refilled it several hundred times with water, rinsing it out every day when I get home, and it is still going strong.

The first person I met on getting off the bus at Parliament Square was a lone protester with sandwich boards and a placard with plastic bottles hanging from it calling for a ban on all disposable plastic trash. This was the first time I’d met him there though I’ve seen him several times since.

I’d known that there would be other protests taking place in the square, and one was by Climate Strike, one of many weekly #FridaysForFuture events taking place in many cities and towns across the world inspired by the action of 15-year old Greta Thunberg. The weekly protests here – like this one – have not really grown much since they started, but there have been several much larger and noisier protests Friday protests involving many school children.

Another that I hadn’t really been aware of before became apparent when a large number of London’s black cabs came to a halt around Parliament Square, one of a number of protests by them demanding to be allowed to use all roads and bus lanes in London. I think it’s time to look again at taxis in London, and to replace the outdated system of ‘plying for hire’ and ‘the knowlege’ with one based on smartphone apps and professional sat-nav systems. Black cabs cause too much pollution and congestion to keep running as they now do in London. But I was pleased when a group of them came to support the DPAC protest against Universal Credit.

The final group of protesters in Parliament Square were at the start of a march to the Japanese embassy against the barbaric annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji cove. I went with them as far as Downing St before returning to Parliament Square.

More at:
Scrap Universal Credit
End Japanese dolphin slaughter
Black Cab Drivers blockade
Weekly climate protest
Plastics protests in London


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