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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Universal credit adverts.

You might have noticed these adverts on telephone boxes and bus stops in your local area. Infact the DWP have made sure that they are placed in as many places as possible. They strategically place them in areas where people on low paid work and unemployed people might be using. It’s no mistake. It’s their unofficial announcement that most people will be changed over to universal credit in the near future.
I’ve wrote before about the evils of universal credit, and if you scroll down you will see my previous posts.
In these adverts they state that whilst on universal credit going back to work “pays”. That is a blatant lie.
On the 1st of April this year the in work credit element of universal credit was taken away, therefore leaving people who are on universal credit in a terrible situation. They just won’t be able to survive without struggling a great deal.
So armed with evidence from the department of fiscal studies, child poverty action and the like, who all have proven that being on universal credit, working or not working does make you worse off, we intend to take a stand against these adverts. This is on the basis that the information given “universal credit… Making work pay” is indeed misleading and untrue.
We intend to try and get these adverts taken down by complaining to the advertising standards commission.
Here is the link, please can I ask as many people to fill the form in because they need as many signatures as possible to enable them to look at it and take notice.
https://www.asa.org.uk/Consumers/How-to-complain.aspx
Also tweet this blog #misleadinguniversalcreditads

Here is one of the offending adverts.
Interesting to note. Creative agency Mullen Lowe got paid £250k to produce these posters. There is an endless trickle of money to lie to and to humiliate the poor.

image

Universal credit does not help you when you are in work.
It’s a fact that your appointed work coach will hound you to the point of exhaustion. They will say that you are under employed, and therefore will still have to undergo a 20-38 hour job search as well as having to work your long hours.

Under universal credit work does not pay!

Today’s workfare demonstration outside The Salvation Army charity shop Ashton Under Lyne. 

It was decided that as a group we would take a stand against the immoral stance that the Salvation Army have taken regarding workfare. Since writing the last blog I have heard many first hand accounts of claimants experiences there, and none of their stories were nice. These claimants deserve representation, many are too scared to speak out about it but we don’t mind. This is a situation that needs to be highlighted.

As mentioned in my previous blog The Salvation Army have been working with the Jobcentre to recruit “volunteers”. These claimants are told that they have no choice, that they have to sign up to “volunteer” with The Salvation Army otherwise they will get sanctioned. Refusal to comply will ensure that your voluntary position becomes mandatory, therefore you will incur all the penalties that come with that. The Salvation Army are only too happy to oblige.

We arrived at our location and decided to stand in front of the shop. As soon as we were spotted by the manager we were told that we had to move because we were stood in front of the shop window. We made it clear, that it was our intention to do so, and we had every right to hold a peaceful protest in a public area. We also stated that we wernt moving. This did nothing to lighten her mood, so she went back inside the shop and called for security.

Security arrived. Having been a resident of Ashton Under Lyne for most of my life I know a lot of people, and I happened to know this chap. He was very pleasant, asked what we were doing, we explained and he didn’t take issue. However his employer did. He seemed to be of the mindset that you can’t protest about a moral issue, but you can only protest about a legal issue. We corrected him and informed him that we wernt moving. We were causing no harm, indeed we had a lot of support from the public. Some members of the public had actually been forced to “volunteer” there and not one had a good word to say about the place. The Salvation Army tried to send a member of staff outside to attempt to intimidate us by taking our photo and telling us to “move”. We stood our ground and had a good morning chatting to members of the public about workfare and why it is wrong. One person disagreed, as is their right, but they also stated that they were an ex DWP worker so what else could we expect?

As one member of the public stated “if you are forced to volunteer the organisation isn’t going to get the right sort of volunteer. They won’t want to be there, they won’t want to do the work. Volunteering should be voluntary because when it is people are happy and enthusiastic.”

Forcing someone to “volunteer” for up to 30 hours a week is enforced labour, no matter what name you decide to call it.

The definition of slavery as quoted in Collins Dictionary is;

1″ The state or condition of being a slave; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty and fortune.

2. The subjection of a person to another person esp in being forced to work

3. The condition of being subject to some influence or habit

4. Work done in harsh conditions for low pay”

Being faced with loosing all your income if you don’t “comply” falls exactly into that category.

We will be returning.

Jeremiah 22:13King James Version (KJV)

13 Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work;

 

  
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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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Why should a young person at the start of their life feel like they want to end it? 

Today was our usual Thursday afternoon outside the Jobcentre. The rain kept off and everyone was still in a fairly good mood. It had been a good weekend at the Manchester demonstrations and our visit from Natalie Bennett had given everyone a good morale boost. And quite rightly so, they deserved it. The team are amazing. 

Not long after most of our regular attendees had arrived I received a telephone call. It was from a claimant at Ashton Jobcentre. They were panicking and I could hear them crying. I asked what was wrong and they said that they had received a letter stating that they had to attend a work programme course in a different town too far away to walk and they didn’t have enough bus fare to get there. They didn’t know how to get there. 

I asked them if they could meet me outside the Jobcentre which they did because they were still in town. 

When they arrived they were clearly very distressed. The first thing I did was give them a hug and some kind words. Doesn’t cost anything but it means the world. Then we set to task. 

The first worry was that a job interview coincided with a work programme day. So I went into the Jobcentre with them and I explained the matter to them. They were shocked to see me but were curteous and did everything that I requested. After being told previously that I was banned it was nice to be able to go in and sort this out and communicate with them. 

Then we sorted out the bus route etc and maybe someone to go with them. And we had a collection for their bus fares. We won’t let anyone go without even if we have nothing ourselves. 

Everything changed then. The claimant sat down and said that they couldn’t do this anymore. They wanted to end their life. It was too hard. How many things are they going to be asked to do they said. Please understand that this train is very vulnerable with health issues. They were found fit by the gods of Atos and we’re now being put into situations that they are finding very difficult to deal with. 

Comrades took them to a safe place and provided the compassion that they needed. Made sure that they had enough food etc and a list of things to do. One of them being to be put back on ESA. The stress of the Jobcentre is literally killing them. 

This left us all saddened. A comrade who had spoken at the peoples assembly demonstration had attended and was very enlightened by the work that we do. We don’t just stand outside the Jobcentre and shout. We provide support and compassion. Things that society is lacking these days. 

We will be following this up and providing proper support and advice. 

The work that we do is the type of work that does start the changes that is needed to fight against this government. It’s not dissimilar to the anti poll tax campaigners back in Thatchers day. These little movements turn into big movements and they grow. 

Many thanks to the new groups that have started up after being involved in ours. One in Stockport and one in Glossop. There are also others starting up and if I have forgotten you I apologise. 

Thanks for your support we really do appreciate it. 

We are running low on leaflets so any donations would be more than gratefully received. My Paypal add is seercharlotte@gmail.com

Big shout out to The people’s assembly and Manchester trade union council for the amazing work that they have done organising the whole Tory party protest events and demonstrations. 

Many thanks to everyone who attended today. Creative Commons License
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