Exclusion and life below the poverty line. 

Hi folks, I’m writing an extra blog in response to feedback given to me on my Facebook page and Twitter account. I put out the question ‘Would anyone like an extra blog per week, something a bit different to the posts about the demos’. The response was unanimous. A big yes, if I have the time so here it is. 
One subject that I am constantly reminded about is exclusion.

 I know that this will also be familiar to my readers also, but at times it can be blatantly obvious, and at other times not so obvious. 

Before I start writing further, I should explain my position to anyone that isn’t aware. I have no magic money tree, I’m just like you, like millions of people living in the uk. 

I’m a single parent, I live way below the poverty line and have had first hand experience of the DWP system and illness. LIfe isn’t easy for most of us, but I’m not complaining even though I should complain more. I have a wonderful daughter and amazing friends. At times I must try their patience. 
Exclusion comes in many forms, and anyone living in poverty wether it be relative poverty or absolute poverty will experience this, although the severity of it does differ. To put it bluntly the less money that you have, the less you can do. 

I hear friends talk about trips out, I’m sure that you do too, it’s lovely to hear about their adventures, but a the same time it serves as a reminder that apart from local free days out in reality its not an option. 
The  other week I had to pay for a school trip for my daughter. Parents will be familiar with this scenario. The children are excited about the prospect of a day out with their friends, whilst we go into a state of dread and panic worrying about how we are going to pay for this. Many children don’t go, their parents keep them at home. And the school system punishes the child for having time off school. They won’t get their 100% attendance award, a punishment on top of their missed day out. 
As an adult being poor also excludes you from trips to the nearest biggest town, clothes shopping, doing what I call ‘big shops’ yes, Peter Kay is correct in stating that we say these things. I also say ‘big light’. I’m a northern lass and proud of it. Bus fare in my area is very expensive, so the only option is to walk unless you are lucky enough to have a bike. 
Trips to the Cinema, or ‘Pictures’ as I still call it are totally out of the question, going out for a drink is also and having a meal in a restaurant is the stuff of dreams. And yes we do dream about being able to do these things. 
A trip to the Supermarket, if it’s in walking distance becomes an obstacle course in itself. For many people, especially those living in rural areas, there isn’t any choice in where they shop. So they time it for when the yellow stickers go on the food. Believe me it can be a challenge trying to get the bargains that have been reduced, but when you do you hold onto them like they are gold, afterall they can keep a family from hunger for the week. 

It’s not just about material things though, although they do matter. Alongside this comes the loneliness, the isolation and the knowledge that you are ‘different’ than others around you. Taking part in something positive to do can stop a person from spiriling down into the depths of depression. But we just have to accept that we can’t do these things even though we would like to. And small things do matter. 
Friends become fewer, opportunities become fewer and health often becomes worse. 

With a poor diet, illness often accompanies it. It’s no surprise that there has been a return of victorian illnesses such as Rickets in children because children just don’t get access to a varied diet, and the sunlight that’s needed to prevent this. 

Adults and children have to deal with illnesses such as depression, anemia, insomnia, hypothermia, malnutrition, anxiety and many more besides. Whilst the government is busy selling off the NHS to the likes of Richard Branson, the demand is getting higher. We won’t be able to afford medical insurance it’s not an option. 


Why am I writing this you may ask? Everyone must know all this? The reality is, no not everyone does know this. The Tory Party is aware of this but choose for their selfish reasons to ignore it and make it purposely worse. There’s no use in asking for them to be sympathetic. They re created this cruelty in a very conscious way. 

I’m writing this to raise awareness, for people to be a little more understanding of each other. 

The next time a child’s parent’s can’t pay a school trip, don’t criticise and moan about it, instead understand the reasons why they can’t pay. No parent actually wants to exclude them from a school trip, and if a child gets a subsidised place, good on them, don’t hold it against that child or parent. It takes a lot to admit to a school that they can’t afford to pay for a school trip. 

If a child arrives at school in a less than pristine uniform show compassion instead of criticism. Ask the school if they can start a school uniform clothes bank. Some schools already have these. 

If a friend can’t join you for a night out, or a trip to the cinema, don’t show off about it in front of them, nor should you talk about them behind their backs. Instead ask them how they are feeling and be a good friend. 

If a person is hungry show them where the nearest food bank is, or offer compassion. Compassion costs nothing. If you can buy them a sandwich then that might just make them feel human again. Giving someone hope will also do this. 

People shouldn’t be tossed aside because they supposedly dont ‘fit in’. Everyone is important, and so are their right to a decent standard of living. 

More and more people are excluded from housing, vulnerable people left on the streets to beg whilst low funded organisations try and help them, try to keep them safe and feed them. The government has completely absolved themselves from any responsibility, nor do they care about how many people die as a result. 
People are made to feel worthless, subhuman and unimportant by the DWP system of sanctioning and failed medicals which are still being conducted by the likes of Atos. People are dying everyday as a result, but the government just shrug their shoulders and look the other way. 

A WASPI lady committed suicide after the general election because she felt stressed, unworthy and unwanted. Isolated at a time when she should have been enjoying her retirement. Once again the government don’t care. 
On Friday I had to travel to Manchester, something that I don’t do as regularly as I used to. I had to use the public loos and I started a conversation with two young homeless women. They were lovely women, bright, bubbly and friendly. They told me about their life on the streets, and the difficulties they face every day. Both told me that they had been begging all morning and hadn’t got any money, they needed a pound so I gave it to them. They also needed a hairbrush so I gave them mine. I got hugs from them, and smiles that I haven’t seen for a long time. I couldn’t change their situation, but a little bit of kindness gave them hope that people do care. And thats all it takes sometimes. 
In an ideal world we would have a society that wouldn’t exclude anyone, where everyone would have a home, money in their pocket, food and have the support that they need. It’s called socialism and this country is crying out for it. 

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Thursday’s weekly demo. The poor are not responsible for their own poverty.

As usual we held our weekly demo. It was well attended by people from the local area, all with the common belief that it is wrong to make people suffer in the way that the DWP do. The claimants are not to blame for their poverty, its very easy to fall upon hard times, but extremely hard to climb out of poverty. Every attempt is thwarted with yet another obstacle given to them by the DWP.

Its started to become cold now and therefore it gets harder for the claimants and ourselves. Heat or eat is a choice that has to be made and eat usually becomes the only option, that’s if they can afford to. I’m sure that many claimants and working poor claiming Universal Credit have sleepless nights worrying about how they are going to feed their families and themselves. I know that feeling well. It’s a horrible feeling and the government has no right whatsoever to punish the poor for their own poverty, whilst they languish in comfort, it’s a totally different world.

I spoke to a lady who was sent outside the Jobcentre for being ten minutes early. Now before anyone says that this happens all the time, I know it does, Ive been writing about it for two years now. But it always reminds me of the mind games that the DWP like to play. They like to keep control, a bit like an abusive partner. I know that there is room for the claimants to wait, but the G4S security guards turn them away. I inform claimants that they should wait in the lobby but most are too scared to do so. Claimants are terrified of the DWP and with good reason. The DWP in effect controls their life, where their next meal will come from and basically everything that they do.

I also noticed a few claimants runnning towards the Jobcentre, scared of being late. Your cannot be even five or ten minutes late. That will most likely result in a sanction which will take away most of their income. The DWP give no allowances at all, compassion is a quality that they are devoid of.

A woman rushed into the Jobcentre, she was very upset and panicking. “They’ve stopped my money, it wasn’t in the bank. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” She went on to say that she hadn’t received any notification either. This isn’t unusual, and I’m sure its not done by mistake. Call me a cynic but mistakes like this don’t continually occur fo three years. Everything is calculated carefully to ensure that a claimant remembers their place, so they are compliant, so they don’t argue back. A compliant society is very easy to manipulate and they count on that.

I would also like to say that claimants are not living the life of luxury. Anyone that believes this should spend a morning with us. They would be shocked.

We helped countless people. I say countless because I don’t keep a tally but maybe I should. We also spoke and gave advice to claimants whom we see on a regular basis. The Jobcentre staff tell them to ignore our advice, but our advice is correct and empowers people to fight back, to take a stand. And it works.

We handed out some warm coats, but we are needing to start stocking up for winter.

The campaign doesn’t end on a Thursday though. It’s a full time job, and anyone else campaigning like this will tell you the same. Its very hard work, both physically and emotionally. You’ve got to be very strong to undertake it and keep it up. Please donate if you can, it really helps. If you can’t then please share! Thank you!

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Next Thursday we will be holding a special I, Daniel Blake demonstration to coincide with the official release of the film. Its a fantastic, hard hitting film which touches on some of the issues that we deal with. Please come along if you can. Thursday 10-12. It’s going to be fab..

Also please support my Thunderclap timed to go out on the day that the film I, Daniel Blake is released. Let’s make it massive! That would be amazing! I\
If everyone who read this blog signed up it would take over Twitter for the day!
https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/47840-i-daniel-blake

I also apologise with the delay of writing my blog this week. My health hasn’t been brill and I’m now on antibiotics. I will be feeling bettter soon thanks to our precious NHS.

What is poverty? And does it define us?

This is a question that I get asked often. People ask me if I can define it. In reality  its very difficult to define. There are three definitions of poverty in common usage, those being absolute poverty, relative poverty and social exclusion.

Absolute poverty defined as having the lack of sufficient resources with which to meet basic needs. Relative poverty defines income or resources in relation to the average income. But how does poverty define us?

According to the Joseph Rowntree foundation there are more than a million people living in poverty in the UK. I’m sure that figure is lower than the actual figure due to the level of people finding themselves without work etc rising everyday. They say that 184,5000 households have experienced a level of poverty that has left them with no choice but to resort to charities for essential things and shelter. The Joseph Rowntree foundation also say that three quarters of people living in poverty go without meals and half cant afford to heat their homes. These are some very basic statistics, but how what does living in poverty mean to those living in poverty?

I live in poverty, I’m not ashamed to say it. I don’t think that it has ever left my side except for a very brief moment a long time ago. So I can say this out of experience. I live in an area that is one of the poorest in the country, and a lot of my neighbours live in some kind of poverty.

Poverty can be very restricting and isolating. It defines how you can travel and relate to others.   Socialisation is limited to mainly your local surroundings or your own home. Public transport is expensive and is often off limits. Walking distance is often as far as you can go. So you often only see your local area and your own home, and slowly you begin to isolate yourself. You might  stop talking to people because you feel ashamed that you are poor and you certainly don’t want to be reminded that you are. You avoid people and places, its easier that way because it numbs the pain. This very often starts a cycle of depression and illness, often from a very young age.

The media bombards the public with advertisements and television programmes promoting a richer, happier lifestyle. They also promote the scrounger rhetoric with programmes such as Benefit Street. Discrimination against the poorest in society has never been this bad. Names such as scrounger, fraudster, single parent, immigrant are thrown everywhere with such hatred and disgust. I see this a lot whist helping claimants, no one bothers to ask what their story is, they are given a label.

When you live in poverty debt becomes your worst enemy. High rents, the bedroom tax, council tax, sanctions, benefit delays, low wages all ensure this. Charity shops become your best friend that’s if you can afford them. Food and heating becomes a priority, often its a choice either heating or eating. Its a tough choice because both are equally important.

Poverty defines your every move, children grow up knowing no different but the gap becomes clearer the older they get. They will soon be growing up to accept name calling and discrimination, after all the media have done an extremely good job of turning neighbour against neighbour. People cant just snap out of it and find a job that doesn’t exist.

Everyday I’m reminded of the film Cathy come home. I have a daughter who lives with her partner and children in a privately rented house. The house is very damp, it floods all the time, but the landlord refuses to help. She cant move because she cant afford to pay the £1000 deposit upfront, she doesn’t have a guarantor and she owes rent from her previous sub standard flat which was a housing association flat. She manages, keeps the damp to a liveable level. She lives in relative poverty.  She says that she is lucky to have a home, and she is right, but no one should have to live like this. Sadly its not unusual, its commonplace but it shouldn’t be.

People are trying to get by, its not easy and the unemployed and the working are stuck in the same situation. I say that we will soon be back to the 1930s poverty levels, but I fear that it will be more like 19th century poverty levels. Poverty does indeed define us, we might try to deny this, but it has defined my life and it will continue to do so.

I urge the public to use compassion and kindness instead of hatred and discrimination. After all this can happen to anyone and everyone is three pay slips away from being in the same position.


 

 

 

G4S security guards taking personal information yet again! 

I really don’t know what sort of unofficial arrangement G4S has with the DWP, but they seem to have forgotten the rules regarding the data protection act. It comes as no surprise, maybe that’s why they had the Windows blocked at Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre so we could no longer see their unlawful actions. Nothing fails to surprise me though, and it seems that today they have excelled themselves in being rude and uncooperative. 

I was made aware of a post put on my personal page on Facebook. I have kept it anonymous to protect the identity of the claimant. This is important, because the DWP can be vindictive at times and I don’t wish to put anyone at risk of being possibly targeted by them. This is also in their own words, so please no criticism of grammar etc, as they obviously wrote it in anger and disbelief over the way they were treated. 

“G4 guard believe they are policing the job centre. Ashton job centre stories. “Can I use the toilet please” G4 guard (chubby, short dark hair basin cut) no can you cant, imagine the state they would be in if we let them lot use them looking at queue of people. Moving a chair to a table, to fill out form, ordered to put it back or police will be called. Chubby G4S guard asking what is your national insurance number! When asked why he wanted to know and him being told he did not work for the job centre (personal information) he responded saying he does. Ashton job centre in house joke.  Such lovely people. Its not just sanctions it about hating  the poor.”

There are several things that alarmed me with this. The G4S security guard should not be asking for personal details, once again this breaches the data protection act. If they ever ask this of you, refuse and state your legal rights. 

Secondly, there is no access to a toilet. Now I know that this is usual, but I do feel that there should be a toilet available for claimants to use, especially when more and more disabled claimants are being forced to use the Jobcentre. 

They also threatened to call the police because the claimant moved a chair to the table to sit on to enable them to fill a form in. A completely unnecessary possible use of police time. 

None of this is unusual though, this happens everyday, and I’m doing my very best to report and prevent this happening again. The G4S guard has obviously got some kind of agreement with the Jobcentre which they shouldn’t have. Personal information should only be dealt with by a trained DWP member of staff. Threatening a claimant with the police for wanting to move a chair whilst they fill a form in is totally ridiculous, and to be honest I’m not very happy with the treatment dished out to this claimant, who is a totally respectable, well mannered member of public. 

Oh and as for the G4S security guard criticising the claimants using the building, I can bet they have better manners and show more respect to the public that he does. Claimants might not wear designer clothes but most have the biggest hearts that you could ever find. I suggest that you take a lesson from them in common decency. 

And yes it’s a direct war against the poor, but we will fight back! 

My thoughts are with the families of the people killed by the Orlando gunman, and for those who were injured. Incidentally the gunman was employed by G4S since 2007. 

Keith Ordinary Guys latest letter. Please read. 

Vulnerable and refused help

Last weeks demonstration was eventful to say the least, there must have been an even bigger wave of negativity blowing through Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre, which it seemed was larger than the normal one circulating.
Within minutes of arriving we were alerted to a situation that was developing inside the doorway of the Jobcentre. A man, obviously distressed was shouting for help. He was very agitated, the DWP receptionists and the G4S security guard were not helping the situation at all. They were exacerbating it, making you man feel completely helpless. Their idea of “helping” was to stand there, one with arms folded, the other saying I’m on the phone to the police. They were not interested at all in what he was upset about. Get him out quick was their attitude.
He stormed out of the building and I ran after him, I was worried that he would put himself at risk in some way, and I also wanted to let him know if I could help.
He explained that he had been made homeless, he was on high rate ESA payments and he was anxious because he couldn’t access his money due to having no identification. To remedy this his bank suggested that if the Jobcentre would print off a very simple letter stating who is is then he could access his money.
Now I already know that the Jobcentres don’t as a rule print off letters, but there will be special circumstances where this could be allowed. Anyway, I’m not sure if there is an actual ruling about this, or they have just stopped doing this now. Either way it’s a terrible situation which could be easily prevented in the correct, polite manner.
I told him that I would go into the Jobcentre and ask the manager or supervisor if there was anyway that this gentleman could be helped. I walked into the building and was met by the same two men, both with arms crossed. They said ‘we aren’t dealing with you because you are part of the protest’. I explained that I was there in my personal capacity and was trying to diffuse a situation that really didn’t need to have happened, that this gentleman was vulnerable and therefore by denying him this simple request thry were preventing him from accessing food, heating and the basics needed to exist. Their answer was “we don’t care”.

This is not an unusual scenario by any means, however I felt compelled to inform readers that this happens everyday at Jobcentres up and down the country.
Denying a vulnerable man access to his money knowingly controvenes basic human rights acts. So arrogant are they, that they are beyond caring. I also wonder how once normal caring people can turn into heartless, uncaring drones. One thought is that they become indoctrinated by the whole system and their working environment that their humanity button gets turned off.

The gentleman returned later and came up to me and shook my hand. He said thank you for helping me, and he appreciated it. The police had caught up with him and asked him if he was ok. He said no, and they asked him if he was going to apologise to the Jobcentre staff. His reply was never, if they had listened it would never have happened, however he said he was going to go back and to thank that lady that helped him which he did.He’s been in my thoughts all week and I hope that he’s ok.

We are the real Daniel Brakes #IamDanielBlake

Dear Mr Crabb, regarding the real Daniel Blakes out there.

You may have seen the reviews for the new Ken Loach film Daniel Blake. It reduced hardened film critics in Cannes to tears with its story about the cruelty that Jobcentres and the DWP dish out to ordinary people throughout the country. 

What is very interesting to know that Ken Loach sent researchers to interview people working in the DWP, some at senior levels. Many of these anonymous whistleblowers told Ken Loch’s interviewers that policies implemented by the government and the DWP were deliberate, and indeed those high up within DWP circles stated that they intend them to be so. So much so, that Ken Loach himself felt confident enough to accuse the government of cruelty on a national scale. 

We now know that from hard to access DWP death files, that warnings were being repeatedly sent to the top, and ministers ignored this and chose to carry on. The fact that poor people would die was part of a cost saving plan and still is. We have said from the start that there is nothing unintended about anything that they implement, amid the fact that DWP staff themselves told Ken Loaches team proves it. 

Steven Crabb told the select committee last week that nobody should criticise DWP policies unless they had been to a Jobcentre and met claimants. Well unlike the ignorant collaborators on the select committee, we have been doing just that at Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre for nearly two years. We meet the real Daniel Blakes every week, and we spend a lot of the time trying to fix your ruthless policies and your predecessors also. 

Mr Crabb, take Liam, a young lad who was autistic. You didn’t need to have qualifications to see that he needed extra help, and any job coach should have noticed this. He had been sanctioned four times for reasons that he clearly didn’t understand. These sanctions occurred after both himself and his mother had informed the job coach that he was autistic.So by breaching both the equalities act and the 2010 autism act, Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre have broken two laws for the price of one! Quite an achievement in itself! 

We also met a young ex solider. He was an impressive young man, and very proud of his service in Afganistan. The Jobcentre had sanctioned him, and hadn’t informed him of his rights regarding his housing benefit. He was due to be evicted that afternoon. He told us that his only option would be to commit a crime such as criminal damage to get police station bed and breakfast later that day. 

Ken Loach said that his film should make everyone angry, and hopefully encourage people to take action. Well, if you are moved by his film Daniel Blake and want to do something then this is what you can do. You can tell your MP, appeal every sanction or come and join our group every Thursday or any other group in your local area. 

We are the UKs longest running Jobcentre campaign that has run constantly every week. And we have been doing this for nearly two years now. We are outside Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre every week between 10-12. Come and see the reality for yourselves. We would invite the entire DWP select committee, but we know that those cowardly collaborators wouldn’t bother to show up. But everyone is welcome. 

In work conditonality, the very worrying select committee report.

On Wednesday of this week, the government select committee reported its latest findings in a report which can be read here http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmworpen/549/54902.htm This report mainly concerned itself with Universal Credit and in work conditionallity.

Most people, when they find work think that they are safe, that they dont have to worry about the Jobcentre anymore. They, quite rightly, feel that they have achieved a great goal and have found a job. Wether that job is a part time job or full time job it is what both themselves and the DWP want. They think that they wont be monitored anymore, that they will be free to enjoy their life. All that will be changing once everyone is switched over to Universal Credit.

Universal Credit will be taking over the Working Tax Credit, and Child Tax Credit element and therefore if you either work part time hours, or earn a low wage and have to top up with Working Tax Credit, Child Tax credit and Housing Benefit you will be forced to comply with in work conditionality.This is already being trialed at my local Jobcentre which is Ashton under lyne and I have already written about this before. It is already being trialed at various other Jobcentres in the north of the country.
I am aware that other people have blogged about this but there are several areas in this report which are very worrying indeed.

According to the select committee report your employer will become a co-signer to your claimant commitment that you will be forced to sign, and adhere to once you are shifted over to Universal Credit. They will also be able to actually draw up your claimant commitment with the DWP advisor, therefore they will have equal access to as they will be deemed data sharers in delivering the work programme.
What happened to the data protection act I hear you ask? Last year there was a cross party campaign, including Labour politicions to allow third parties access to your claimant information. They thought that this would be a good thing, and they thought this because it would allow agencies such as housing associations access to to your claimant information so they could ‘help’ you.

Ian Duncan Smith was very co operative, and of course he would be. Enabling this would also enable the DWP to give any organisaton data sharing status to any organisation that it deems delivering the Universal Credit programme. This could very easily become an employer or Work Programme provider.
Politicians from other parties might have seen this as a good thing, but it has opened up a whole new tin of worms, and a nasty one at that. My advice to them would be to never trust a Tory Trojan gift horse in the mouth.

This will ensure that there will be no privacy for Universal Credit claimants.

Would you really want your employer to be involved in drawing up your Universal Credit claimant commitment? If your employer isnt the plesant or helpful type this could become a total nightmare. They would report back to the DWP on your in work development and your in work progression.
The DWP will also have the powers to harrass your employer into demanding that they give you more hours. (I have already written about this in a previous blog).
If your employer isnt the caring type, they could report anything that they want, even if it is lies. They could also dismiss you because of the DWP harrasment that they have been getting. Afterall, they are trying to run a buisness, and dont want to be answerable to the DWP. And for those saying that this won’t happen, it will happen, we have already seen the start of it here. (I have already written about this in a previous blog).

To make this very clear. Universal Credit claimants that are working have to be answerable to their ‘job coach’. They have to be seen to do adequate jobsearches and they have to prove that they are doing this, the same as unemployed Universal Credit claimants. The job searches on top of their working hours can range from 16-30 hours, depending on the hours that you have worked. The new powers will enable employers to become involved with this.

They already have plans to move this scheme to higher earning claimants and will implement in work progression to those earning up to 20k to level it off to the benefit cap. In their words “If in work progression is such a good thing for the 1 million poorer workers, why not benefit the better off workers to the same conditionality”

“We will treat working claimants with light touch conditionality” Tell that to the workers that have already been sanctioned and are suffering, many with children.

I have doubts that this will be stopped, or indeed halted because very sadly, Universal Credit has the wind in its sails because it has widespread political consencious. I can only think that Labour politicians agreeing to this were duped in some way, by the smooth talking spin doctors. They could not have spoken to the workers on this trial, because they would have told a very different story. I do feel that they just agreed with the DWP and it’s “findings” based upon a small trial. I know that we can never trust their “findings” because they are assessed by themselves for themselves and will always be in their favour.
Its a terrible state of affairs where decisions like this can be made without on foot research. And anything that Ian Duncan Smith had been enthusiastic about should have shone like a warning beacon to politicians from opposing parties.

 

 

http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/comment-long-awaited-peer-reviews-suggest-ministers-failed-to-act-after-deaths-of-vulnerable-claimants/

http://nr.news-republic.com/Web/ArticleWeb.aspx?regionid=4&articleid=64344845