At the beginning of 2012, a young woman, Cait Reilly, stood up for human rights and natural justice as no one on the front bench of the Labour Party has done yet in this Parliament: she took the Department of Work and Pensions to court, demanding a judicial review to find if they had any legal right to force her to work for Poundland for free, or any other JSA claimant work for a major corporation without pay.
A case such as this cannot result in significant damages; from day one, my challenge has been about the principle, not the money. It is about social justice.
I posted early this morning on the ideology and economics of workfare, and through the day I kept adding bits and pieces to it as more came up. (I’m still mordantly amused at my initial presumption that when Tesco was getting an unemployed person to work for them for free, they’d at least provide a free meal. No, they don’t.)
Others asked on Twitter why the emphasis on campaigning against Tesco when this is the government’s policy – this is cheap-work conservatism, a roll-back to 1834 workhouse social policy, and completely the wrong thing to do for the economy in the middle of recession: it allows Tesco and other companies to avoid having to pay for work, which means less money circulating, less taxation – and these workfare schemes are being paid for by the government: we pay to have Tesco get free shelf-stackers and night-shift staff. Meanwhile, Tesco walks off with a billion profits each quarter.
Targeting Tesco and the other corporations is the right thing to do because unlike the current government, Tesco have to care what we think – if enough of us quit shopping there, Tesco can’t survive. When Tesco becomes permanently associated with slave labour, it damages the brand. The online demo happening at Tesco’s facebook page and on their Twitter feed is a part of that.
David Cameron is in power till April 2015. Unlike Nick Clegg and the LibDems, the Tories have a fair chance of at least maintaining their share of the vote at the next General Election, and as the Tories lost in 2010, they really can’t do worse in 2015. Certainly, as shown by Cameron’s determination to push through the NHS bill despite Tory opposition from within the Cabinet and throughout the NHS and from millions of voters, Cameron feels he does not have to care what any of us think. He doesn’t have to be liked; he just has to gain a working majority in the Commons in 2015. To this end, he’s even appointed an adviser to tell him what a woman voter wants. (He is unlikely to listen to her if she tells him poverty is a woman’s issue.)
But here’s the kind of thing David Cameron wants to do to the sick, the disabled, even the dying: put them to work. All of us – except for the very wealthy – will someday be among this number. When the Welfare Reform Bill passes, as pass it will though on 14th February the government got an almighty smackdown in the Lords, as in December the Scottish Government rejected the bill absolutely, still, the LibDems are about as likely to quit propping up a Tory government that keeps them alive as a political party in the Commons as a man in acute renal failure is to reject dialysis, so the Welfare Reform Bill will pass.
And when it does, if you are very ill but have been deemed to have ‘limited capability for work-related activity’, well, you’ll have to work.
The Wrag group includes those who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer but have more than six months to live; accident and stroke victims; and some of those with mental health issues.
In official notes from a meeting on 1 December last year, DWP advisers revealed they were not intending to put a time limit on the work experience placements.
You can get an exemption if you have less than six months to live, of course, but Atos are notoriously not good at being able to diagnose how sick someone actually is. To date 31 people have died after having been declared “fit to work”.
There are just over 300,000 claimants in the Wrag group, and as the cheap-work conservative reforms continue, more and more people are expected to be ruled to be fit to be in the ‘work-related activity’ group – this is not dependent on any medical assessment of their health simply on 1834 workhouse ideology that the last rag of effort should be screwed out of the poor until they are literally dying on their feet. 8,440 of these sick and disabled people have already incurred financial sanctions between September 2010 to August 2011 for offences such as missing interview with advisers “without good cause”.
And since being in a coma is not deemed to be a good enough cause for missing an interview with advisers, it’s difficult to see what would be good enough.
“Client’s husband is in hospital in a coma. He was sent ESA50. Client contacted DWP to explain situation and was asked to obtain letter from hospital confirming he is in a coma. Did so.
“Was told to send it to ATOS rather than local BDC. Did so. Husband has now received decision letter- yep, as he has failed to return the ESA50 without good cause and is therefore capable of work and no longer entitled to ESA.” (January 2012)
Are zombies expected to rise from their graves and stack shelves at Tescos? (Would that even be sanitary?)
Neil Coyle, director of policy and campaigns at Disability Rights UK, said:
“The idea that disabled people should work but receive no financial recognition for contributing is perhaps a level of abuse in and of itself.
When Conservative backbench MP Philip Davies suggested [last year that] disabled people should work for less than the national minimum wage, he was castigated, but it now appears to be government policy.”
The Welfare Reform Bill is designed for cheap-work conservatism. David Cameron has no electoral mandate for rolling up the welfare state and pushing it aside. But he has an ideology, and that is cheap-work conservativism.
The larger the supply of unemployed, the cheaper it is to hire workers. The more desperately you need a job, the cheaper you’ll work, and the more power the 1% have over you. If you are part of the wealthy elite – or are fool enough to imagine you might be someday – your wealth, power and privilege is enhanced by the vast majority forced to work cheap.
Iain Duncan Smith thinks Cait Reilly is “snooty” for wanting to be paid for stacking shelves.
David Cameron thinks the Big Society
How do we make this country a really brilliant place for setting up a new charity, a new social enterprise, for opening up the provision of public services?
Nor does it include the right to a day’s pay for a day’s work. Sign the petition
The Day of Action against workfare is Saturday 3rd March.
If freedom is to be saved and enlarged, poverty must be ended. There is no other solution. – Aneurin Bevan, In Place Of Fear, 1952
Update, 19th February:
DWP only mandates people for community work #workfare
— DWP Press Office (@dwppressoffice) February 19, 2012
Whilst it is true that on this scheme the DWP has stipulated that placements should have some community benefit, one of those benefits is astonishingly ‘working towards the profit of the host organisation’. – Chris Grayling is a Lying Bastard
Update: On 6th August, Mr Justice Foskett, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled it lawful for the DWP to require benefits claimants to work for 30 hours a week or have their benefits sanctioned.