Tens of thousands of people receiving much needed social security benefits are destined for a meagre new year if the N.I. Assembly Executive has its way. It appears that the Executive will carry out the demands of the Condem Government’s Welfare Reform Bill by carving in excess of £500 million off its welfare bill without raising a finger in opposition.
This will be on top of savage cuts in welfare benefits that already have been imposed by the Assembly. To date cuts have seen support withdrawn for people on Jobseekers Allowance requiring help with late mortgage interest repayments, increasing the risk in homelessness through repossession and eviction.
The attacks on people who depend on much needed welfare benefits was illustrated on the 11th May 2011 when over 5,000 disabled people, family carers and their supporters taking part in “The Hardest Hit” protest marched past parliament and sent out a clear message to the ConDem coalition that they were fully opposed to ‘welfare reform’ and all cuts to welfare benefits and public services. Hundreds of carers from Northern Ireland marched alongside the organisations supporting The Hardest Hit Campaign against welfare reform and cuts; standing together with disabled people and carers from across the UK, fearful of the combined impact of cuts to health and social care services that threaten their rights, benefits, services and jobs.
In Northern Ireland local people brought their concerns to local political representatives following an initial rally in London. Hardest Hit meetings in Northern Ireland have already occurred with the ‘Big Debate’ at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Belfast on 19th October 2011.
A particularly moving point made by one member of the public commented that DLA helps blind people live independent lives. She added: “Benefits may not be permanent, but our disabilities are.”
One of the key proposals advocated by Westminster is the introduction of the Universal Credit which on paper promises a simpler benefits system. But in reality this will force on to the most vulnerable a system of compulsory workfare and caps on housing benefit and other payments. It will also be accompanied by much severer penalties with the loss of benefits for up to three years!
One of the most disgusting aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill tol be imposed by Stormont will be the replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which will cut entitlement by at least 20%. While the brutal Work Capability Assessment (WCA) will enforce thousands of disabled people with chronic illness onto Jobseekers Allowance exposing them to the demands of looking for work that does not exist. In Northern Ireland there was an average of 5,000 official jobs available in June 2011 advertised by the Department of Employment and Learning Jobs & Benefits offices.
With over 125,000 people on benefits, when these people are transferred to JSA it is obvious 125,000 into 5000 under the laws of capitalist demand and supply does not go. The main purpose for these changes to the benefit system is to use the financial crisis and fear of further recession to politically and ideologically dismantle the welfare system at the expense of the poor and most vulnerable.
A total of £11 billon was taken out of welfare UK-wide following last summer’s emergency budget and another £ 7 billon was removed in the Comprehensive Spending Review. A £450 million reduction applied to Northern Ireland but only if cuts are applied proportionately across all regions. But in areas like southern England with higher rents more cuts may be made. A scenario could also see those on benefits in private housing in Northern Ireland forced into cheaper areas where there may not be as much work, decreasing their chances of finding a job.
In Northern Ireland we have already seen many cuts in social services; Sure Start Maternity Grant payment for a second child has been abolished from March 2011 and families have been hit again and again with childcare support cut from 80% to 70% along with child benefit frozen since April 2011. While Job Seekers Allowance claimants will be losing entitlement to the support for mortgage interest scheme if they have been on benefits for two years, housing benefit to be reduced by a tenth from April 2013 if a claimant has been on the benefit; and a compulsory medical examination for all new and existing working age DLA claimants from 2013.
This is only few examples but there are many more! The prospect of people with learning disabilities and mental health conditions being unable to cope with a tougher regime and losing benefits through sanctions is a very real one. The combined cuts in housing, social care, health services and huge increases in the cost of utility bills and necessities; the future for disabled people, unemployed and their families looks harsh if we allow the N.I. Executive to impose the Welfare Reform Bill on local communities.
But these cuts do not have to be implemented, the Assembly Executive can veto at a word any cut demanded by Westminster. The political parties could mobilise thousands of people from across all communities through a united campaign involving disabled people and carers’ organisations, trade unions and the anti-cuts movement against the Welfare Reform Bill and demand Westminster to invest more money in to the North; but they refuse to do so. The local political parties have decided which side they are on; they would rather break the poor than break the law.
The Hardest Hit group should use the protests to launch a mass campaign of opposition to the Welfare Reform Bill; as this would reflect the feelings of many people in local communities across Britain and Northern Ireland. The WCA cannot be reformed it must be scrapped. A campaign to reform the WCA will not change the direction of the Condem or N.I. Assembly Governments in any way.
As a strategy of amending the Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords and Northern Ireland Assembly might win some concessions, but this will do little to limit its devastating impact in the coming years. Only a mass campaign to stop the Welfare Reform Bill becoming law will stop these cuts in their entirety.
This should begin immediately with disability campaigners, anti-cuts groups in local communities and trade unions calling public meetings for all people opposed to these cuts to discuss setting up democratic campaign groups in every village, town and city. It is critical that a strong message is sent now to Westminster and the N.I. Executive that the ‘welfare reform’ agenda will be opposed in every region across Northern Ireland.
Tax workers strike over privatisation and conditions
11 December 2011
Tax officials will be on strike on Monday 12 December against a plan to hand sensitive data over to private companies and put jobs at risk.
The walkout between 12pm and 3pm, involving 20,000 of the union’s 56,000 members in HM Revenue and Customs, is in opposition to a planned year-long trial using private staff in two contact centres in Bathgate, in Scotland, and Lillyhall, Cumbria.
In a separate dispute all the union’s members in HMRC’s offices across the UK will walk out between 12pm and 2pm on the same day in opposition to a punitive new sick absence system, which threatens staff with disciplinary action instead of supporting them back to work.
In the trial, the private staff will handle enquiries about tax credits and will have access to sensitive data about people entitled to claim them.
A recent plan to offshore a Department for Work and Pensions contract involving the records of millions of taxpayers was halted after the union raised serious concerns about data security.
HMRC has faced 30,000 job cuts since its formation in 2005 and this government plans to cut a further 10,000 posts in the next few years.
The union says that instead of cutting more jobs at a time of consistently high unemployment, and wasting public money on a private sector trial, the department should use existing staff to help out at peak times in the call centres.
The latest action over the new ‘attendance management’ policy follows a series of short walkouts over two days in June, which closed some tax enquiry centres and forced HMRC to put a recorded message on its call centre lines.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our members have very serious concerns about this creeping privatisation into HM Revenue and Customs and, as well as the threat to their jobs, they do not think such sensitive data should be handed over to private firms.
“This is also happening at a time when senior managers are trying to bring in an unnecessarily punitive and counter-productive sick policy that seeks to penalise people for being ill, rather than support them.”
Protest @ 1pm, Tues 1st Nov
Lisburn Rd Entrance, City Hospital
The protest will take place at 1pm on the day of the closure, meeting at the Lisburn Road entrance to the houspital and then marching to the A&E department. The Stop the Cuts Campaign is calling on all those opposed to the units closure to join the protest and help build the campaign.
The Foyle Stop the Cuts campaign will be meeting tomorrow:
FOYLE STOP THE CUTS CAMPAIGN MEETING
3PM, SATURDAY 29TH OCTOBER
AT SADINOS (WATER STREET, CLICK HERE FOR DIRECTIONS)
For more information call (028) 90 311 778 or (078) 411 029 68.