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. 

http://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=K47PHPHS5XYRC” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow noopener noreferrer”>.

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.


 

 

 

Is the government running an enforced volunteering cartel? How does this effect small local charities and businesses? 

I remember the days when you were allowed to choose where you wanted to volunteer. The Jobcentre actively encouraged you to do this. They said that i
t would encourage you to learn new skills and to improve your c.v.

On the whole it worked. Of course there were times when it didn’t, but if it failed the Jobcentre would send you on a course, you would get an extra few quid on top of your social security payment and you really did benefit from this. Life was much better, there was less conflict and most places could find volunteers relatively easily.

All that changed when the Tory party won the general election in 2010 and along with the Liberal Democratic Party they formed a coalition government, but David Cameron was clearly in charge.

He set about to punish the poor. He wanted to change the whole system, and indeed he did. But he didn’t do it overnight. He did it by stealth, bit by bit. All aimed I’m sure to take any decent quality of life away from the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

He introduced a scheme called workfare, marketed as a “work for your dole” scheme. This scheme operates under various guises, but the end result is the same. If you want to be able to claim your benefit payment then you must undergo the work programme.

It was marketed as the best idea ever. The government cosied up to their friends in the right wing press and they launched a full on attack on the poor. Let’s shame them, let’s treat them like criminals, let’s turn neighbour against neighbour. It’s the best tool in the Tory party tool box and they used it well. Before long the poor were criminalised and criticised for almost everything they did. Television ran countless programmes that actively targeted vulnerable people. This is when David Cameron must have decided that it was time to exploit the poorest as much as possible, and why not? There was no opposition now.

Multi national buisnesses were quick to take up the offer of free workers. I mean why pay someone when they are forced to work for nothing? When their allotted time of enforced volunteering is over the are simply replaced with another victim. No hope of a job, nothing to look forward to except very hard work for no pay. And so modernised slavery was created.

Very strict rules were put in place. Don’t be late, always turn up and you must turn up for work whilst sanctioned. Not easy when you can’t afford to eat and often have to walk miles to get to your workfare provider.

Now this has caused lots of problems, probably too numerous to mention here. Workfare workers turning up to “volunteer” unable to complete their work properly because they are too hungry, weak and demoralised. Many have been forced off their sickness benefits and forced to undergo workfare, many forced to undergo enforced volunteering as a requirement of being placed in the work capability group. Their health suffering to such an extent that they become very sick indeed and many give up.

There is also another side effect of big buisness and multi national charities using enforced volunteers sent directly from the Jobcentre. Small charities are finding it extremely hard to find volunteers. Many refuse to use enforced volunteering due to the ethics of the scheme. They don’t agree with enforcing people to undergo an activity that they may not be capable of undergoing.

They try to advertise for volunteers, claimants ask the Jobcentre if they can volunteer at their shops, but the Jobcentre refuse. They say either you go where we send you or you will get sanctioned. So volunteers become very sparse. Local small charities become at risk of closing or close altogether. These charities are often essential organisations within local communities. But the government don’t care. In their eyes, you should take enforced volunteers. If you refuse, well they must think that it’s the price that you have to pay. And it’s a very big price indeed.

I speak to people who run small local charities and organisations. They are stretched to the limit. They don’t know what to do, they have given their life’s to making it work, to helping others in need. They want to do it honestly without exploitation of any kind. But the dilemma is there, accept enforced volunteering or shut down.

Yes the government are indeed running a cartel which involves people being used as free labour to be exploited. Slavery is not dead, it’s now been modernised under the guise of whatever name the DWP wants to use for enforced volunteering. And the public have accepted this .  A good days work deserves a good days pay. A local charity should be able to employ volunteers who actually want to volunteer for them without enforcement. They want their charity to succeed, we want their charity to succeed. Let’s campaign to make this possible.

 
http://www.boycottworkfare.org/

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Damning United Nations report. A national disgrace. 

Recently there was an extremely damning report published by the United Nations committee on economic and cultural rights. It confirmed  the Uk governments austerity measures are indeed in breach of their obligations to the human rights of citizens living in the uk. Although mentioned in the mainstream press, it hasn’t been given enough attention, however I do feel that it is time that we spoke about this, it’s am important issue that should not be swept under the carpet. 
The report considers a number of areas, all of which are drastically important to our everyday life, and the life of the poorest. It covers factors such as, foodbanks, unemployment rates, the housing crisis, mental health care and discrimination against migrants and the disabled. 
In its report the committee reminds the government of their obligations and actively calls upon them to make the changes required. Sadly I fear that this has fallen upon deaf ears, as no official acknowledgement has been made, nor of a rush to tackle these issues. 
The United Nations committee is “seriously concerned” about the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures forced upon the poorest in the uk are having to already disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups. To put it simply, people are suffering beyond what is necessary, I hold the strong belief that it is not necessary at all. These are people who already had a bad deal in life and therefore can see no way of getting out of the situation that they are in. Many are ill, disabled, people with children and single parents. These people are repeatedly being targeted time and time again, it’s an endless circle of suffering and poverty. 
It also emphasised problems with welfare reform. Their words are that they are “deeply concerned” about the various changes in the entitlements to, and cuts in social security benefits that are constantly being made. These include the reduction of the household benefit cap, the four year freeze on certain benefits and the reduction in child tax credits. They go on to say that this will deeply affect “women, children, persons with disabilities, low income families and families with two or more children. Despite the constant demonisation by the press, labelling these very people scroungers, they are suffering and children are suffering. So much so that schools are concerned. This used to be unheard of. 
It goes on to tackle other issues such as the unemployment rate, the high incidence of part time, zero hour contract work, people forced into precarious self employment, the “persistent discrimination” against migrant workers, the national minimum wage, the new trade union act, limited availability of affordable childcare, the increased risk of poverty for disabled people, ethnic people, single parents and families with children. The lack of affordable accessible housing, the significant rise in homelessness and the ever increasing university tuition fees. 
However I would like to focus on one issue, the issue of sanctions relating to benefits and the absence of due process and access to justice for those affected by a benefit sanction. Sanctions are handed out far too freely by the governments DWP workers, they are given to mostly innocent people who are trying their best and are quiet often not fit for work. Claimants aren’t given any due process and often don’t have an explanation for a sanction awarded. They will often go to their bank and see that their regular payment has not been paid. They will then not have any access to any justice, except for the over worked and under paid staff at their local citizens advice bureau, a welfare rights office or equivalent. Not everyone is so lucky and many don’t have access to the above, nor do they know how to challenge a sanction. The DWP do not inform them of how to do this and many just take themselves off the system. Some can’t take anymore and commit suicide, some are so hungry and cold that they die of related illnesses. 
The report is indeed damning and is a very sad indictment of how the government treats the most vulnerable in society. They have continued to punish the most vulnerable leaving those responsible able to continue to gain massive wealth at the cost of the poorest. 
It’s easy to become distracted by all the news about the referendum, the Tory party leadership and the in fighting in the Labour Party. But what I can say is this. We need to stand united as a country and continue to highlight the fact that these very issues exist, that they are bad enough to be condemned by the United Nations, a fact that we should be ashamed of. We need to educate others, share this report, lobby MPs, help those who are affected and who are suffering. Let’s show this government that we are all in this together and we will not support acts like this anymore. 

 

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

DWP workers please read. 

We’ve been working on this for a while now, this things aren’t quick to publicise because we have to ensure the legalities are correct.

For too long now DWP workers have been wrongfully implementing rules that aren’t set in stone, nor does the DWP care much for honesty, compassion and common sense. So we’ve outlined the rules, knowingly ignoring these could well end up with possible court action, with the DWP worker being taken to court. Before everyone starts laughing folk have had enough of being treated like rubbish, discriminated against. So take heed, read and learn.

Also for any DWP workers out there that want to do the right thing and feel unable to, this will empower you to be able to treat claimants fairly.

Please note we don’t sit around doing nothing. We work hard challenging and trying to end the barbaric sanctioning regime.

Print this out and share.


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The Salvation Army Ashton Under Lyne denying Workfare whilst recruiting a workfare “volunteer”.

When is Workfare not Workfare? Well it seems that The Salvation Army Ashton Under Lyne doesn’t like to use the word, but is very happy to use workfare “volunteers” sent over from the Jobcentre.

The Salvation Army is now becoming less known for its Christian acts of charity, but far more well known for their exploitation of the poor and the vulnerable. I’ve been keeping my eye on this charity shop in my local town, and have questioned quite a few of the workfare “volunteers”. Not one of the people employed there on a workfare placement are happy. They feel exploited, used. They have to work very long hours, one told me that they have to work 30 hours and in their words aren’t treated nice at all. They are treated differently than the few paid employees there, and the work is hard. On top of this they have to complete their job searches, which can be as much as 35 hours on top of their workfare hours. The 35 hour job search isn’t legal but this is what certain advisors tell their claimants.Its appalling that they are being treated in this manner, but they have been questioned last week about their actions by the unlikeliest of people, a “volunteer” sent over by the Jobcentre.

The person shall remain nameless for fear of repercussions from the DWP.

They quoted “I was told to go to the Salvation Army to volunteer as part of the Workfare programme. I didn’t want to go, because I deserve to be paid to work, rather than slave for nothing. When I arrived they said that I had to fill a form in. It was a regular form for volunteering. I questioned this as I had been sent over to complete a Workfare placement and there should be official paperwork to complete. I’ve had to  do workfare before so I know how it works. They said just fill this form in. I questioned this again, because I need absolute proof that this will provide evidence of myself taking part and attending. They then started getting agitated, and said that they don’t want to call it workfare so just fill the form in. I refused, I do not want to take part in the workfare programme here. I’ve been told its horrible there and I know that The Salvation Army have been exploiting many people in this way. They are supposed to be a caring Christian charity! I telephoned my Jobcentre advisor who also seemed confused as to why there wasn’t any correct forms. I also stated to them, that because I haven’t signed any official DWP workfare forms, then I cant be contracted to them. The manager then got angry, stating that they didn’t like me using the word Workfare in front of customers, and they asked me to leave. I’m now waiting for another placement.”

The Salvation Army are well known for being an exploiter of unpaid workers from the Jobcentre. Avoiding the usage of the word in their shop will not stop their reputation from being damaged, it already is. Their views about other issues are also terrible.

This charity shop doesn’t benefit the local community. No jobs are created, the goods for sale are expensive, and donations received in the shop are sent to other areas which is commonplace within the corporate charity shops way of doing things. I already have stopped shopping there, indeed I did many years ago.

What we need to do is to support small, local charity shops who do benefit the local community. Many of these don’t employ workfare volunteers, and the owners do not receive massive wages.

Please look at Boycott Workfares website they have a list of workfare employers to avoid. Remember, for each workfare employee employed, a paid employee potentially, and often does loose their paid job. Why pay someone when they can get someone to work for nothing, and get a nice sum of money from the DWP.

Workfare is wrong!

  
http://www.boycottworkfare.org/

To avoid confusion I can only act and write upon information given. If the claimant doesn’t know the name of the scheme they are forced on then I can’t state it. I don’t have an office and I write this blog alone. I can  state what is lawful and unlawful though. I’m also not responsible for the DWPs actions, nor can I answer for them. If I have a relevant link to share I will share it. But remember claimants allow me to share their experiences because I promise complete confidentiality. Being anonymous is very important to them. Sorry if you don’t find my blog good enough or not full of links. It’s a blog about first hand experiences and links are provided when necessary. 

 

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