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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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. 

Standing my ground. More G4S bullying at Thursday’s weekly demo. 

I arrived a little early for our demo on Thursday and as a result I thought that I would spend my extra time handing out our leaflets and giving advice if needed.

I got stopped by a very empowered lady. She is a claimant at Ashton Jobcentre and as a result of our standing outside the Jobcentre she has become empowered. She’s read her legal rights and she certainly uses them. She says when she’s inside the Jobcentre she hands leaflets out and doesn’t take any messing. She wanted me to tell the folk who read the blog to keep strong. She said that she would be joining us this Thursday. I can’t wait for her to join us.

It was a particularly cold day. I spoke to a woman who had not had any money since last August. They sanctioned her once and now keep adding sanction after sanction. We are trying to pursuade her to appeal, they had told her wrongfully that she couldn’t. Let’s hope that she follows our advice. But it’s hard when you are hungry and just can’t feel any hope at all.

As it was particularly cold I decided to stand at the front of the building out of the way of any doors, so not to cause an obstruction. I had found a little spot where it was a degree or two warmer. It was a blessing, my coat is very old now and it’s hard going out there.

Within 5 minutes of my standing there, a G4S security guard marched out demanding that I move. He couldn’t give me a reason why, but he had his usual grin on his face. Of course I didn’t move. I stood my ground very peacefully. No crime was committed and no harm was caused. After all I wasn’t causing an obstruction, I was polite and I’m sure the Job Centre is regarded as a public building. So there I stood, until I had to leave.


It’s becoming apparent that the DWP are showing as much compassion as previous years regarding the cold and allowing people to wait inside for their appointment. Claimants aren’t allowed to wait even if it’s for 10 minutes, and are sent outside in the freezing cold.
Now let’s get this right. Claimants do not want to enter a Jobcentre and they are hardly going to be abusing the “kindness” of the DWP by allowing them to stand inside whilst waiting for their appointment. So why are they being so petty? It’s all about control. Grind the claimants down as much as possible, so eventually they will do your bidding without question.

Regarding waiting inside the Jobcentre for your appointment. There is no official ruling stating that you can’t. They just like tell you that you can’t. So wait in the lobby of your local Jobcentre. Go and use one of their computers for 10 minutes or look at a few leaflets. It’s cold and you need to keep warm. Don’t let them bully you.

  

We will be back on Thursday between 1-3 to give our help and advice to those who need it. We will have hats and gloves with us to hand out. If you are cold grab one.
L

Sanctioned for a so called missed appointment and for another reason that they won’t declare. 

Nothing changes does it. Someone who attends Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre came to me for help. They turned up for their regular signing on date and were told that they were “possibly” going to be sanctioned for a missed appointment that they hadn’t received. Now this isn’t unusual so I set about trying to sort this out. 

No paperwork was given regarding this possible sanction and no right to appeal was given. They were just told that they had to wait for the decision. 

The first thing that I did was to email the Jobcentre manager. I stated DWP rulings in this email and that proper reason has to be given for a sanction to be applied. Also that it is DWP practice that you are given the right to appeal the sanction before it goes to the decision maker and once it gets to the decision maker. There is also a period of time given for this to happen. You are not supposed to be sanctioned straight away. 

Of course they ignored this and sanctioned them straight away (it’s a joint claim). 

To give the Jobcentre credit they did phone the people concerned upon receipt of the email. However the advisor phoning wasn’t the manager and they refused to give details of their position. They also gave different dates for the reason for the sanction. This isn’t unusual. But this is also wrong. They also refused to even conside dismissing the sanction. It would have to go to the decision maker. 

So we have several things that are wrong here. 

When you are informed of a possible sanction DWP legislation states that you should get this in writing with information included on how to appeal this decision. 

There should also be a period of time given to consider this. The decision was made in less than 2 days without a right to appeal. 

Three different dates were given. They don’t even know the actual date of the sanction! And once again no notification was given except a verbal “you might be sanctioned” 

The burden of proof goes to them to provide proof that an appointment was given and proof that they received it. This cannot be given because no appointment was received. 

Just to add this couple are completely fulfilling their job seekers agreement. Also they both have had job interviews and also have a work trial this weekend. But their advisor who had previously been nice to them suddenly and unexpectedly changed personality and said that they wernt doing enough to find a job! They have requested to change advisors but this has been refused. It is their right to do this! 
Also yet again G4S security staff are breaching the data protection act by taking clients details and national insurance numbers! They do know that they should not be doing this. They are employed as security staff only and not as advisors. 

I can also add that this is not the first time I have had to deal with a wrongful sanction case. I do this all the time. I just wanted to post a typical day (or two in this case) of just what myself and others do to try and help others. 

They have been given a hardship form to fill in which they have done. This had to be requested though. 

This case has also been referred to my local MP who has agreed to try and challenge this. Many thanks to Angela Reyners lovely secretary for agreeing to meet outside normal surgery hours. It’s very much appreciated. I do know Angela as we stood in the general elections together and our paths cross often. I’m hoping for a positive outcome on this. 

Here’s a comment made by a comrade who attends demonstrations outside Stockport Jobcentre. Terrible. 

This is happening in Stockport too. We had to arrange a foodbank voucher from the Solidarity Drop In when a young man with 3 children (one a baby) came to inform us of a situation where his JSA payment had been stopped pending an appointment at the Jobcentre to discuss a “potential sanction”. The reason for the potential sanction was that he had put a doctor’s appointment for one of his sick children ahead of a Jobcentre appointment at which the latest act in the nonsensical charade of a pretence that there are abundant jobs going-a-begging was to be acted out. At the meeting with the Jobcentre advisor (on a Monday), he had been told that the sanction was not to be proceeded with but that his payment due that day would nevertheless not be made until Friday. The DWP is acting unlawfully. This is quite simply a regime of the most gross bullying and arbitrary and inhuman treatment. I remain absolutely disgusted that the workforce carrying out these outrages is highly unionised – being members of the union, PCS, that I was a member of for 12 years and a branch secretary of, for 3 years!!Creative Commons License
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Another pregnant lady sanctioned and an altercation with a PCS union rep.

Im late in writing my blog this week due to unforeseen illness, but here it is.
Thursday was certainly an eventful day. The weather was lovely for a change and we were all in good spirits. That was blighted though for reasons that I will explain.
The first incident occurred when a lady who was heavily pregnant informed me that both herself and her boyfriend had been sanctioned on their joint claim. The reason why? Because Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre had refused to transfer their claim to a Jobcentre nearer their home in Bury.They couldn’t afford the Tram fare to Ashton so got sanctioned. They had lived in Ashton but had since moved. Thankfully the had applied for hardship payments but these go nowhere when you have a child to support as well. I advised her on what to do and to say and she went into the Jobcentre. A little while later she returned after speaking to an advisor who had agreed to transfer the claim and lift the sanction. They will receive a proper payment the week coming. She said I don’t know if its because you lot are stood outside but they seemed nicer today than they have ever been. She also said that she had seen a different advisor this time. I hope that all goes well for them, she’s had very tough time and this certainly shouldn’t be happening.

Our next incident occurred a little while later. We were all in good spirits. A friend had travelled to meet us and he was playing a little music. We are not a violent group of people and we are peace loving. We are at the Jobcentre to help people and have done so since August. We know that the Jobcentre staff are under enormous pressure and some are unhappy in their work. Whilst I don’t condone their actions at all I understand the culture of fear that runs through their offices. If indeed they wanted to join us on our protests we would welcome them. They know this and were told this at a previous meeting that was held in the Jobcentre last year between ourselves and them.
We were stood outside peacefully holding our placards and listening to the music when a lady burst through the Jobcentre doors with a G4S security guard. She made a beeline for me and she was very aggressive verbally and with her body language. She informed me that she was a PCS union rep and did not like a placard that we were using. The placard concerned has been used nearly every week since August and no one has ever taken offence to it. By then a crowd of 5 people had gathered round peacefully to hear what she was saying. She went on to say that she did not like the fact that a member of our group had recycled a PCS placard picked up on the anti austerity march in manchester in 2014. What is ridiculous is the fact the most of the PCS logo was covered by a stick and there was already notes on it stating that it was not being used as a PCS placard. The G4S security guard was stood behind her about 2 feet away smiling. He certainly didn’t feel threatened by the situation. She went on to say that we cannot use this placard. We pointed out to her that it had indeed been used since August at this Jobcentre and Stockport Jobcentre and no one had taken offence to it. The member concerned said that he would tackle this officially, but she then became abusive towards him.
I myself am a union member and I have never seen behaviour like this before. After many many months of peaceful protests she had taken it upon herself to try and disrupt the peaceful relationship that we now have with the Jobcentre, the police and the PCS union.
She then went on to phone the police which was uncalled for. A PCOS attended as we were packing up. He informed us that she had thought our behaviour was threatening and intimidating!! We informed him that it was actually not the case and it was the union rep who was threatening and intimidating. We advised the police officer to go inside and advise her about her behaviour because it was her uncalled for actions that started this whole chain of events.
What is quite ironic is that 40% of Jobcentre workers wages are so low that they themselves will qualify to claim universal credit. They might need our help one day. I think that the union rep should remember this. She should also remember the resolution that was made at their recent conference. A motion was passed to;
Raise the profile of the Governments war upon the poor,
Encourage campaign activity with local groups on this issue,
Support initiatives that seek to undermine and expose the draconian sanctions regime that exists in Jobcentres,
Actively support staff who are targeted with discipliners and reduced box markings for using their discretion when considering decision maker and sanction referrals.
Surely they should be supporting us and showing us some kind of comradeship rather than being abusive? Maybe she thought better or maybe she wasn’t aware of her unions own actions. We certainly are.
We all left shocked that this had indeed happened, but determined and resolved to attend again next week as usual. We are there to help and support people and come in peace. Is that so hard for people to understand?

Events coming up next week.
Tameside against the cuts strategy meeting, Tuesday 12 noon. Meet in Ikea Ashton Under lyne to discuss our strategies and actions for the coming year. Please attend.

Please if you can donate to keep this blog going. I would like to carry on blogging. My paypal add is seercharlotte@gmail.com

Can I state that this persons attitude is not representative of the whole of the PCS union. Many of which I know and who also think that her actions were uncalled for. In times of austerity we need to support each other and not become divided.

1,743 jobs applied for…. and still not good enough.

Yesterday was the day of our weekly demonstration outside the Jobcentre. We look forward to Thursdays because we know that it is the one day that we can make a difference. We have become quite well known now, and people pop along to say hello and to get advice.

We weren’t sure of how the atmosphere would be this week. We had the devastating election results and deep inside I thought that the people using the Jobcentre would be very downhearted. I was right. There was lots of frustration and anger yesterday, people holding their heads down as they walked in. They didn’t want to be noticed, and the atmosphere wasn’t brilliant. Their last hope of freedom from the tyranny that they are undergoing had gone. Knowing that we are going to have to undergo five more years of this is perhaps more than some can take.

One man stopped and spoke to us. He had applied for 1,743 jobs in a few months. The Jobcentre had told him that this wasn’t good enough.. why? Because only a few potential employers had emailed him back to tell him that he wasn’t successful. Of course this wasn’t his fault, but the Jobcentre in their infinite reason think that it is. The poor man was at the end of his teather. He said that all he wants is to get a job. He said that he remembered the old days when potential employers used to reply to your job application to tell you if you were successful or not. Though days are long gone. A few potential employers send out an email, but to most even sending out a standard acknowledgement email is much too much effort. People are far too disposable these days. A big thanks to the employers that do actually recognise their Job applicants.

A man stopped us and told us that what we need to get this government out of power is another Oliver Cromwell. Whilst I understood what he meant I know thats not possible. This government will try and get rid of any loophole that enables anyone to protest and campaign against them. I noticed that the snoopers charter is one of the first bills that they want to pass through parliament. Also the stopping of protests. I don’t think the public will let them get away with this. Well not lightly anyway, some of us will oppose this.

This got me thinking so I did a bit of research into the levels of benefit fraud. Just because Im sick of the demonising of the poor and immigrants. We get blamed for everything.

The total cost of benefits and pensions £180 billion.

New impact and benefit pensions £25 billion.

Tax fraud £15 billion

Unclaimed entitlements £17 billion

Benefit fraud £1 billion

Don’t you think that the tax fraud should be dealt with as a matter of great importance? i do but you can bet Cameron and co will not deal with it.

Lets put an end to this poverty prejudice that has taken over this country. Most people forget that whilst watching these terrible tv programmes and reading the gutter press that the could be next. Cameron has a list of his next targets and he’s ticking this list off one by one. He’s confident that he can demonise and punish the poor to such an extent that they won’t be able to fight back.

So lets challenge him. Stop watching these programmes, stop buying Murdoch empires newspapers. Stop funding and enabling this Tory party dictatorship to destroy the poorest and most vulnerable like never seen before.

Remember the people have the power, theres more of us than there is of them. Be kind and not judgement to those suffering.