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.


 

 

 

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

Please read a report of our actions in Al Jazeera. 

Hi. This is a piece that took a while to get together. I worked alongside a reporter who normally spends his time reporting from war zones all over the world. He had read my newspaper reports and this blog, and felt the need to report on our activities. 

As you can imagine this man has seen lots of bloodshed and fighting, as a result he isn’t easily shocked. However after spending a few days outside the Jobcentre with us he was moved to tears. He couldn’t believe the hardship and cruelty that is inflicted on the poorest in our country. He said it’s as bad as reporting from a war zone, instead of bullets they are starving people into submission. 

He said that he would never forget this. He’s an amazing man. 

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/03/britain-benefit-sanctions-human-160314093900607.html

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. 

 

  L
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Please watch this video.

My friends at DPAC have made a new video. It shows the reality of this governments evil attacks on the ill, disabled and poor. It is upsetting, but its meant to be.

This is the reason why we continue to campaign outside Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre. We don’t get any support from those that should support us. Those that do support our campaign we, and the claimants at Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre are very grateful.

Remember we are there to support those victimised by this evil government.

Many thanks DPAC.

Please watch and share.

 

 

L

Freezing cold and sanctioned yet again.

It was a very cold Thursday and my heart really goes out to the homeless and everyone suffering under the tyranical rule of this Tory government. Days are spent trying to keep warm and to get enough money together so that you can eat. It’s a massive struggle, the stress that is piled upon the shoulders of the poorest at times feels like a ton weight, most don’t live they exist.

I had only just arrived at the Jobcentre when a young man that I had previously spoken to stopped me. He had been sanctioned again, and he was understandably, very distressed. He couldn’t understand it as he had done everything right. Unfortunately once you have been sanctioned it becomes easier for the DWP to sanction you again. I say that it’s like being on a treadmill, it never ends. I signposted him to the right places and informed him of his right to appeal. Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre told him that he had no right to appeal, so he will be appealing.

I think it’s disgusting that they blatantly lie to the claimants like this. But because they are only answerable to themselves they can literally do whatever they want to do. We need to continue fighting to change this. I know that I will.

They even lie about the very basic things. A claimant who had seen us campaigning outside the Jobcentre, who also knows about our campaign spoke to her advisor. She asked them what the group of people standing outside the Jobcentre (meaning us). The advisor said to her that we were waiting for payments! It was clearly the case that we wernt.

Sometimes the severity of the situation gets to me, and this week was one of them. I’ve never seen such a massive gap between the rich and the poor as there is now. It’s heartbreaking and life is certainly becoming very hard now. I was reminded of this today when I visited a place that I hadn’t been to before. The people there were able to make choices. The choice to be able to buy an expensive cup of coffee or an expensive milkshake, and the choice to leave it as well. I know that I can’t afford to do that, and many of my friends and comrades can’t either. It made me realise just how restricted by poverty I am.

I do hope that one day I can help to change things. I feel useless at times, and the winter months serve only to highlight the suffering of others.

 L
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Bedroom Tax proven to be discriminatory.

This week an appeal court ruled that Bedroom Tax is indeed discriminatory in two cases. One being a victim of domestic violence, who had had her “spare” room converted into a safe room, after being stalked, harassed and victimised by a previous partner. The other case, the grandparents of a severely disabled grandson who needs overnight care in a specially adapted room. They were both faced with having to pay the Bedroom Tax, otherwise they would have lost their homes. As a result it would have been impossible for them to find suitably adapted new houses to live in. Paying this unfair tax would have put them in financial hardship, and they would also have the constant worry of not having the security of their tenancies, a security that they need.

I am a victim of the Bedroom Tax. An unfair and unjust tax that has been forced upon us. Some people say that we should just not pay it. That isn’t an option. The housing associations and councils would evict us, rendering us homeless with no home to go to. They would then be of the opinion that we have chosen to become homeless, so wouldn’t have a duty of care to house us. Leaving us with no choice but to live on the streets or in tents. The very thought of having to do that sends shivers down my spine.

So we pay, and it does leave us in hardship. Although I live a very frugal lifestyle, it can be difficult. My house wasn’t given to me with a spare room. All my bedrooms were occupied by my older children, and I had waited over 12 months to be rehoused, after living in a women’s refuge. I, like many others did not purposely choose  house that was too big. Myself, like others have tried moving to a smaller property, but there isn’t the availability. So I have to stay where I am and pay the unfair tax. Of course it’s discrimitory. The very way it was constructed makes it so. Even if the so called spare room is occupied you still have to pay the tax for the room. 

My friends in other countries cannot believe that we have to pay  tax for a bedroom. Comments have ranged from “Has your government gone mad?” to “Why is your government intent on making the poor and vulnerable suffer so much?” They just don’t understand it. The mentality behind the bedroom tax is very cruel. It harks back to the time of the window tax. When the window tax was introduced people blocked off their so called extra Windows. Pity we can’t brick off our so called spare bedrooms. Of course this wouldn’t be allowed. Fighting against the bedroom tax is also very hard. They system and their operatives make this very hard to do. 

It isn’t working either. Bigger properties are being left empty, people unable to occupy them. The government have brought in new rules stating that children have to share a bedroom with their parents in their bedroom for much longer, and siblings of different sexes have to share a bedroom until they are much older than is appropriate. This is resulting in unhealthy overcrowding, and empty larger properties, that would have previously been occupied by these families. At the same time we have a record amount of homeless living on the streets, sofa surfing or living in unsuitable temporary accommodation

We are seeing poverty levels now that we haven’t seen since the 1930s, alongside this is the return of illnesses that had long since disappeared. But the government will continue to push its war against the poor. Once again, I say its a war, because I do feel that it is a war. A bully always picks on the most vulnerable. And they are doing just that. I only have to take a short walk around the town that I live in to see this. Manchester has a massive amount of “visible” homeless people, many requiring specialist help that isn’t available anymore.

But the government will not give up on its attack on the poor. They are planning to appeal the above appeal decisions, and will do so with great gusto. They will not be seen to fail, not at any cost.

I hear people say to me that this government must live on a different planet… indeed they do, they have always lived a very privileged lifestyle, so we can never expect them to understand our plight, but neither do they want to understand it either. They aren’t interested. Like all bullies they will never admit to failure, and failing they are, at a massive rate.

The Tory Government are fulfilling one thing though, they are taking the GREAT out of Great Britain, and replacing it with something far more sinister.

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