Posts Tagged ‘zero hours’

Fuel Poverty, NHS Staffing & Zero Hours – 2013

Friday, November 26th, 2021

Eight years ago there were protests about fuel poverty and NHS staffing which seem still very much in the news today, and zero hours contracts remain a problem, though unscrupulous employers have found another unfair way to screw their workers with ‘fire and rehire’, although legal actions brought by smaller and more active unions have begun to curb some of the more obviously illegal aspects of the gig economy.

Justice Not Jumpers at NPower HQ

But fuel costs are rising fast and putting many energy companies out of business. Not that they were really energy companies, simply middlemen gambling to make a quick profit, buying energy as cheaply as they could and attracting customers to deals which have become uneconomic to honour as fuel prices have risen. The scheme to rescue their customers, passing them on to those companies still in business makes life tougher for those who have to pick them up, and with the latest company to go under – or at least into administration – means that either taxpayers or possibly electricity customers – we await the details – will have to shoulder the bill.

It’s a crisis that has its roots in the privatisation of the industry and the absurd belief in competition that has created an overpopulated market in companies taking a cut out of our bills, with others profiting from persuading people to switch suppliers. Along of course with a government failure to provide proper support for insulation of homes – as Insulate Britain have been gluing themselves to the M25 and elsewhere to highlight, as well as ending the building of onshore wind farms, failing to put investment into other renewable sources such as tidal power and instead backing climate-destroying wood burning and expensive nuclear schemes. The recent half-hearted support for heat pumps is yet another failure by government. We should have schemes that ensures that new build properties are built with either air or ground source heat pumps and high levels of insulation and provides incentives for them to have solar panels.

On Tuesday 26th November I went with fuel poverty activists to march to the offices of NPower, one of the big six energy providers to protest against the profiteering by them that leads to people having to choose between eating and keeping warm, causing unnecessary deaths.

They included people from Fuel Poverty Action, UK Uncut, the Greater London Pensioners’ Association and Disabled People Against Cuts and were protesting against the huge increase in energy costs and against the deception of the energy companies who blame price rises on ‘green taxes’. The protests, in London and at British Gas’s new Oxford HQ, as well as in Lewes and Bristol were supported by other groups including No Dash for Gas, Campaign Against Climate Change, Climate Revolution, Young Friends of the Earth, Frack Off London, Power for the People, Barnet Alliance for Public Services, Lewes Against the Cuts, SOAS Energy & Climate Change Society and Southwest Against Nuclear.

They went to the NPower offices in Threadneedle Street in the centre of the City of London because NPower is the UK’s most complained about energy company with double the customer complaints of its nearest rival EDF and higher price rises in 2013 than any of the other Big Six companies. It had then paid zero corporation tax for the past 3 years despite a 34% profit rise of £413million and in the previous winter its price hikes were estimated to have pushed 300,000 people into fuel poverty.

Fuel poverty leads to premature deaths – and the figure for these announced that day for winter 2012-3 was a shock, with an increase of almost a third on the previous year, to 31,000 people. The protesters emphasized this by carrying a coffin to the offices, with several of the wearing masks with the faces of the prime minister and chancellor, David Cameron and George Osborne, and wearing jumpers with the logos of major energy companies.

Police protected the offices of NPower while the protesters held a peaceful rally outside, where many testimonies were read from people who were having to chose between heating and eating, already cold and dreading the coming winter. In a press statement, Susan Jarrett of UK Uncut said: ‘The fact that people are dying of fuel poverty as Npower and other energy companies rake in the money and avoid tax is a scandal. This Government is not only unnecessarily cutting our services in the name of austerity but are allowing these energy companies to literally get away with murder which is why we are fighting back today.’

This winter fuel costs are higher. Global warming means our weather is far less predictable, and its possible we may have an unusually cold snap. Or we may be lucky and avoid extremes of cold. But if we do get them, then there will be more deaths.

4:1 legal minimum NHS staffing

Back in 2013, the Dept of Health was still in Richmond House on Whitehall, and nurses were there to campaign for a manadatory staffing level of one nurse for every 4 patients in the NHS. They were joined by other groups protesting against closures and privatisation in the NHS. Its probably because of protests like this and many others that the department moved to obscure offices some way down Victoria St – which at least one protest I photographed marched past without noticing and got several hundred yards down the road before they realised they had missed it. Richmond House is now set to hold Parliament while the old building undergoes extensive and very expensive modernisation.

The protest was a response to various disastrous news stories about the problems of the NHS, including the RCN (Royal College of Nursing) revealing the NHS has over 20,000 nursing vacancies and the Department of Health’s decision to downgrade (effectively close) 100 A&E departments. Protesters also urged people to sign a petition calling for the NHS to be exempted from the provisions of the EU-US trade treaty then being negotiated in secret; and post-Breixt the government has made clear they will not protect the NHS in UK-US negotiations.

Cultural Workers against Zero Hours

Finally I went to photograph PCS members from national cultural institutions in London at Tate Modern and on the Millennium Bridge protesting against zero hour contracts which give them no guaranteed weekly hours or income, while stopping them taking on other work. Employers use zero-hour contracts to cut wages, avoid holiday pay, pensions, and ensure the maximum flexibility and profit for themselves. Workers are also unable to take on other part-time work, as they are obliged to be available for work at the whim of the employer.

There have been some minor changes in the law and in 2015 employers were banned from requiring workers to get permission before accepting other work but zero hours contracts continue to be a problem for many workers. Workers on them have no way of knowing their income week to week and although in theory they have the right to refuse any work offered, this still often leads to them being offered fewer hours in future. And while in theory zero hours workers have employment rights, these are often denied – and virtually impossible for individuals to enforce. All workers – particularly those suffering from zero hours contracts – need to join an effective union.


FlickrFacebookMy London DiaryHull PhotosLea ValleyParis

London’s Industrial HeritageLondon Photos

All photographs on this page are copyright © Peter Marshall. Contact me to buy prints or licence to reproduce.


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


Saturday 16th April 2016

Friday, April 16th, 2021

There was a lot happening in London on Saturday 16th April 2016, and I managed to catch some of it. The largest march was organised by the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity. It demanded an end to privatisation of the NHS, secure homes for all, rent control and an end to attacks on social housing, an end to insecure jobs and the scrapping of the Trade Union Bill, tuition fees and the marketisation of education.

It was a large march and by the time I arrived people were fairly tightly packed on around 500 metres of Gower St waiting for the march to start, and it took me some time to make my way through to the gazebo where speeches were being made before the start of the the march – though I found plenty to photograph as I moved through the crowd.

Finally I made my way to the front of the march and photographed some of the main banners lined up there, but police held up the start of the march and I had to leave before it moved off.

I was disappointed in Whitehall as there was no sign of an event I had been expecting to take place there – or perhaps I was too late. But in Parliament Square I met Ahwazi Arabs from the Ahwazi Arab People’s Democratic Popular Front and the Democratic Solidarity Party of Alahwaz who have demonstrated London in solidarity with anti-government protests in Iran every April since 2005, on the anniversary of the peaceful Ahwazi intifada in which many were killed and hundreds arrested by the Iranian regime.

The Ahwaz region, an autonomous Arab state, was occupied by Iran in 1925 iand they incorporated it into the country in 1935 largely to allow the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (BP since 1954) to exploit its rich oil reserves. Since then Iran has pursued a campaign to eliminate Ahwazi culture and change the ethnic makeup of the region by encouraging Persian settlers. BP dominated Iranian oil until Iran nationalised it in 1951, and again became an important force there after the CIA (and MI6) engineered coup in 1953 and the company is still the major partner supplied by the National Iranian Oil Company.

I walked back up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, by which time the Peoples Assembly marchers were arriving for a rally.

Things were visually rather more interesting on the North Terrace, where people were dancing to the ‘dig it sound system’, which carried a message from Tom Paine: “The World is my country – All people are my brethren – To do good is my religion”.

And in one corner the Palestine Prisoners Parade were attracting attention with juggling, hula hoops and speeches to the often arbitrary detention without proper trial suffered by many Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Many of them are on rolling detention orders, released and immediately re-arrested and put back in prison.

As the rally came to an end the United Voices of the World trade union began a protest a short distance away on the Strand, supported by Class War and others, demanding the reinstatement of 2 workers suspended by cleaning contractor Britannia for calling for the London Living Wage of £9.40 an hour for all those working at Topshop. The UVW say Brittania is systematically victimising, bullying and threatening cleaners and Topshop refuse to intervene.

The fairly small crowd held a noisy protest outside the shop entrance, with was blocked by security men, and a large group of police arrived and began to try to move the protesters, and began pushing them around. The protesters didn’t retaliate but simply moved back; some holding up placards in front of the police cameraman who was filming the event were threatened with arrest.

Eventually the protesters marched away, walking back along the North Terrace of Trafalgar Square where they picked up a few more supporters and then on to Top Shop at Oxford Circus for another protest and stand-off with the police.

After a fairly short protest there the protesters marched on to John Lewis, where the UVW have a long-standing dispute calling for the cleaners to be treated equally with others who work there. As they approached the store some police became more violent and one woman was thrown bodily to the ground several yards away.

Other police and protesters went to help her and the protesters called for – and eventually got – an apology for the inappropriate use of force. Things calmed down and the protest continued, but as it moved off after several speeches with many leaving for home the police picked on two individuals and began searching them and threatening arrest and the situation became more tense, with police threatening both protesters and press.

More on My London Diary
UVW Topshop & John Lewis Protest
UVW Topshop 2 protest – Strand
Palestine Prisoners Parade
Dancing for Homes, Health, Jobs, Education
Homes, Health, Jobs, Education Rally
Ahwazi protest against Iranian repression
March for Homes, Health, Jobs, Education