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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Cutting Jobcentre staff is absurd - PCS

The madness continues.

Press releases and events PCS -
Cutting jobcentre staff while unemployment rises is `absurd`, union says

Monday, 28, Jun 2010 04:12

Cutting jobcentre staff while unemployment rises is 'absurd', union says

Plans announced by the Department for Work and Pensions today (28 June) to cut 8,000 jobs from jobcentres by March 2011 are "economically absurd", the Public and Commercial Services union says.

Job cuts on this scale are unprecedented at a time when unemployment is continuing to rise and the move will not just add to the jobless figures, it will further damage the economy and seriously hit help and support for the unemployed.

These are the first largescale job cuts announced by the new government, and the union says it proves the coalition's deficit reduction plan is being driven by ideology rather than ideas.

Instead of slashing public spending, and running the risk of plunging the country into another recession, the government should be investing in the public sector and creating jobs to increase tax revenues and reduce welfare payments.

The union also says that if the government was serious about tackling the debt, it would target the wealthy individuals and organisations whose tax avoidance and evasion measures contribute to an estimated £120 billion being lost to the UK economy every year; introduce a 'Robin Hood' tax on currency transactions; and cancel the replacement of the Trident nuclear missile system.

Shortly after last week's budget was announced, PCS described it as "one of the most regressive we have seen for many years", and this has since been confirmed by independent economic analysts. The planned rise in VAT from 17.5% to 20% next January will disproportionately affect people on low incomes. And plans to cut welfare spending by £11 billion included forcing more people off disability living allowance, a three-year freeze to child benefit and cuts to tax credits.

Now in a message to staff, DWP says it wants to cut posts in jobcentres from just over 84,000 to about 76,000 by March 2011. The cuts will be to fixed term appointments, hurriedly made 18 months ago to cope with rising unemployment when the first effects of the recession were felt. The appointments would not have had to be made if DWP had not cut 30,000 jobs between 2005 and 2008, and the union has said consistently that these staff should be made permanent.

PCS is seeking to work with other unions and campaign groups to form the widest possible alliances to defend communities across the UK from the devastating social impact of the government's cuts to the welfare state.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "When unemployment is still rising, it's economically absurd to drive even more people out of work and sever the lifeline for thousands and thousands of vulnerable people in our communities.

"While the millionaires in the cabinet repeat the PR mantra that 'we're all in this together', unemployed workers, pensioners, disabled people and low-paid public servants are forgiven for wondering why they are being made to shoulder all the burden.

"In just one month, this so-called 'progressive coalition' has set in train the most disastrous economic plan in living memory - the effects of which would be felt for decades to come if we don't do something about it. The time has come for unions, community groups, campaigners - and everyone who believes a better, more just, future is possible - to unite against this shameful attack on the public sector and the welfare state."



- The Public and Commercial Services union represents civil and public servants in central government. It has more than 300,000 members in over 200 departments and agencies. It also represents workers in parts of government transferred to the private sector. PCS is the UK's fifth largest union and is affiliated to the TUC. The general secretary is Mark Serwotka and the president is Janice Godrich

- Follow PCS on Twitter

Monday, 28 June 2010

Bristol visit

I had not been to Bristol for several years, the last time was when I attended a meeting of the Green Party Regional Council there which was held in the Youth Hostel with wonderful views over the waterfront. Last weekend I was back in Bristol for the very same reason - a meeting of the Regional Council - this time held i a building in one of the Georgian streets near the city centre and quite close to the university. I also had the opportunity to meet up with an old friend, Geoff Collard, a Bristol member who also served with me on the Regional Council, and with whom I stayed this Saturday night. Geoff has been a member of the Green Party for 33 years so he has been in for the long haul. Meeting Geoff and also Bristol members Katie and Nick Busie, I heard about how the local elections there had returned a councillor on May 6th, which is good news, as there was a Green councillor before then and there was always the danger of losing the seat.

Bristol is a beautiful city with some tremendous Georgian and Victorian architecture and looked resplendent in the sunshine this weekend. Closeted away for most of Saturday and half of Sunday, I was at least able to enjoy the nice weather on the Saturday evening when we went to a very pleasant beer garden where I had the opportunity of tasting some genuine West Country cider. As we finished somewhat early on Sunday (having also started earlier than usual) to allow the football afficionados to watch a certain World Cup game, I was able to enjoy the sunshine sitting down in the docks outside a very atmospheric old pub called 'The Ostrich Inn', complete with a dummy skeleton inside. We were somewhat intrigued about the history of this inn, but as Katie and Nick are fairly recent arrivals in Bristol (having lived there 3 years) they were unable to enlighten us despite Nick taking a Masters degree in local history.

The meeting itself went well and we had presentations from both the party's Elections Coordinator and the Local Party Support Coordinator. The Regional Council discussed the constitutional provision about setting up delegate conferences in 2012 and agreed to hold a series of workshops at autumn conference in Birmingham where this will be discussed in full. There was a full turnout of Regional Councillors from Newcastle in the north to Winchester in the south as well as the Welsh Regional Councillor. Thanks is due to Leon Quinn, the South West Regional Councillor and the members of Bristol Green Party for organising things for us so well there.

There was a lot of discussion about the national basis of the party and a call for more non-London and non-Southerners to stand for the party's Executive and other leading postions in the party. I strongly agree with this, despite being a London member and strongly suggested that the party reads Alan Thornett's article on the future of Respect and the dangers of becoming a party concentrating only on one MP and two constituencies, which is the mistake which Respect made over the last five years. Of course, the victory of Caroline Lucas in Brighton is historic and an incredible achievement but the party must remain a national party with national input. There are major differences between Respect's history in the last 5 years and that of the Greens now but there are also important parallels. For anyone interested Alan Thornett's article is here:

Friday, 25 June 2010

Budget Day Anti-War protest

On Budget Day I took part in the protest organised outside Parliament by CND and Stop the War Coalition. I read out Caroline Lucas's statement on the budget and also referred to the article in the Independent of that day calling the argument that British troops should stay in Afghanistan to protect civilians in New York and London a "fairytale". I also quoted from the US economist Joseph Steglitz, that the war in Afghanistan would cost the UK £10 billion this year alone.

Finally, I stated that there were three armies involved in this war - the army of unemployed youth in the UK who would be fed into the meat grinder, the army on the ground in Afghanistan, and the army of disabled, mentally ill and homeless people who would be cast on the scapheap, having served in the war, and whose benefits the ConDem government were slashing in the budget.

Photo of me speaking here and other photos from the demonstration including the Green Left banner.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

National Day of Action on 'Welfare Reform'

Today there is a guest posting from the Green Party National Spokesperson on Disability, Alan Wheatley. Following Budget Day when this government disgracefully decided to attack disabled people in its plans to force thousands off Disability Living Allowance and into penury or Mc Jobs, which will not employ disabled people anyway, Alan's comments are very timely. Alan has also provided some photos of the action day with Alan below.

National Day of Action Against 'Welfare Reform' Actions in Kentish Town

Consultant Dorothy Leeds wrote 'Secrets of Successful Interviews: How to get the job your really want'. The book never really helped me get paid work, but has helped me work more successfully as a campaigner.

As an example, she states that there are five very powerful reasons for job applicants to ask questions at an interview.

1. Questions give you information [to help guide decision making]

2. Questions make you think — eg, why has this post become available?

3. Questions demand answers

4. Questions put you in control

5. Questions show that you care

Thus as a veteran disabled jobseeker in 2001 I directed Lib Dem DWP Spokesperson Steve Webb to ask about retention and deployment of Disability Employment Advisers by Jobcentre Plus. (I had had three DEAs in the space of as many years. My latest DEA had been recruited with a Masters degree in Computer Science and succumbed to work-related stress within just a few weeks of starting, then been off sick for about six months. His stand-in replacement already had three other jobcentres to cover.)

The response to that Parliamentary Question was that JobCentre Plus keeps no centralised record of DEA recruitment and retention, but the national figure of about 650 DEAs for the whole of the JobCentre Plus network had been pretty consistent for the past ten years. So, when you read the smears against claimants of out of paid work disability benefits as scroungers etc, consider how little the State has supported genuine jobseekers and get a better picture of how disabled people have been set up for failure and are now considered ripe for the picking in the new, state-funded 'welfare reform' slavery legislated in the Welfare Reform Act 2009.

And so part of my real work has become campaigning as an expert witness against market-led 'welfare reform'. While parasitic exploiters of the vulnerable have latched onto the recession as a major opportunity, they have also had a few cabinet ministers or ex-cabinet ministers in their pocket as 'advisers'. One of my favourite tips from Leeds' book is, "Think like a boss." So while multi-millionairess Emma Harrison and her like have ex-Cabinet ministers at their beck and call, I decided to join the Green Party after not getting sufficient reaction from the Lib Dems. Now, as Green Party of England & Wales Spokesperson on Disability and on Social Care Services, I am not so isolated as I was when a Lib Dem in 1996-1998. As previously reported on Joseph Healy's blog, Caroline Lucas MP has put in commendable resistance to the Con-Dems' economic policies and really does believe that fair is worth fighting for.

Such has been the case with Emma Harrison, owner of A4e [Action for Employment] with a personal fortune estimated at £40m. That single parent lives in a stately home in Derbyshire, funded from the public purse as A4e is a 'global leader in public service delivery reform'. Rather than having a poorly trained and selected, over-stretched Disability Employment Adviser to support her cause, she has had ex-Secretary of State for Education & Employment David Blunkett to 'advise' her for about £30K pa on top of his parliamentary salary.

The national network known as No to Welfare Abolition set its Day of Action Against Welfare Reform for Wednesday 16 June, and in LB Camden the morning events were a demo outside the offices of A4e Insight in Holmes Road Kentish Town. A4e Insight is the lobbying wing of A4e, and one demonstrator from WinVisible [Women with Visible and Invisible Disabilities] pointed out that A4e is colluding with the Israeli Government's illegal occupation of Jerusalem.

The A4e Insight building in Kentish Town proclaims, "Your journey into work starts here," yet when I was sentenced under New Deal to attend an A4e centre in 2008, they did nothing to really help me. Adding insult to injury, I later discovered that they would have got a 'successful outcome' milestone payment of about £2K for the CV that I had created with professional help elsewhere before going to A4e. What a waste of taxpayers money!

We then moved on to demonstrate outside Kentish Town Jobcentre, and single parents present spoke very movingly about having been forced into badly paid work that they were over-qualified for, and how employers regarded single parents as more of a burden than an asset. So the jobs that they were pressured into taking on were short-lived, adding to greater frustration.

Later, as the Day of Action Against Welfare Reform activities moved on to Hackney, I moved on to an Enabling Haringey event called 'Out and About in Haringey'. That forum event helped outline just how ill-prepared transport infrastructures are for getting people with impaired mobility and other disabilities into the 'work-a-day' world. It also emphasised the urgency of greater bargaining power for disabled people who are all too frequently portrayed as parasites.

So I commend you to sign up to the petition Against DWP reforms for the genuinely sick and disabled.

Alan Wheatley

Green Party of England & Wales Spokesperson on Disability and on Social Care Services

Monday, 21 June 2010

Budget Day and Cuts - Greens speak out and demonstrate

Budget Day tomorrow and Osborne and his ConDem cronies are about to announce a massive attack on the welfare state and the loss of thousands of public sector jobs. For those of us who remember the 80s it all has a terrible sense of deja vous. Thatcher's argument was that Britain was not working and that the unions were too strong. She and her bright young things of the day also argued that manufacturing industry could be dispensed with and that financial and service industries would take its place - and look where that got us. Now Osborne wants to apply the same familiar remedy, learning nothing from the mistakes of his predecessors in the 1930s or indeed the 1980s.

Meanwhile the cost of the war continues to mount. I will be in Parliament Square tomorrow afternoon, together with other Greens taking part in the 'Cut the War' protest organised by Stop the War Coalition and other organisations. There is never enough money for health or welfare but always enough for war. As the German proverb says: "A great war leaves the country with three armies - an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves."  Below is the statement issued yesterday by Caroline Lucas the Green Party MP.

Cuts “destructive and unnecessary” says Green Party leader

New report proposes tax-based alternative to spending cuts – and calls for massive investment in job-creation

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP will this week tell the coalition government there is “no good reason for any cuts in public expenditure during the life of this parliament.”

On Monday 21 June Britain’s first Green MP is to issue a new report – Cuts: the callous con trick (1) – in which she will make the case that cuts are unnecessary “because the economy could instead be rebalanced using additional tax revenues.”

The report, written jointly with tax expert Richard Murphy and Colin Hines of Finance for the Future, condemns the government “for failing to put to the electorate the option of fair tax instead of cuts,” and accuses ministers of increasing the likelihood of a double-dip recession.

Cuts “are not an economic inevitability but an ideological choice”

Caroline Lucas said today:

“Cuts are not an economic inevitability. They are an ideological choice. Politicians of all parties are now sharpening their axes to slash public spending, forcing those on lower incomes, who depend on public services the most, to pay the highest price for the recent excesses of the bankers.

“There is a choice. We should ask those best able to pay to foot the bill through fairer taxation. That’s the challenge I’m issuing: for that political choice to be made. It must be clearly asserted that we are not all in this together: that some had more responsibility for this crisis than others, and some benefited more from the boom that preceded it. Those who enjoyed the largest benefits must pay up now. For that to happen, fair taxes, not cuts, must become the new big idea to replace today’s callous and uncaring cuts fanaticism.”

Tax avoidance and evasion “truly staggering” – could be as high as £100bn a year

The Brighton Pavilion MP continued:

“The UK is currently one of the most unequal societies in Europe. But the financial crisis offers us an opportunity to rebalance the tax system. We could do it, for example, by applying the 50% tax rate to incomes above £100,000, abolishing the upper limit for national insurance contributions, raising capital gains tax to the recipient’s highest income tax rate, and helping lower earners by reintroducing the 10% tax band.

“Moreover, the huge extent of tax avoidance, tax evasion and unpaid tax in the UK economy is truly staggering. HM Revenue & Customs themselves admit that tax evasion and avoidance together come to at least £40 billion a year, whilst in November 2009 they also admitted there was £28 billion of unpaid tax owing to them. Shocking as these numbers are, some experts have suggested that tax evasion – that’s deliberately breaking the law to not pay tax – might be as high as £70 billion a year, and tax avoidance – in other words, exploiting loopholes in tax law – might be £25 billion a year. That would take the total target for necessary action to collect tax due and owing to more than £100 billion a year”

Cut tax abuse, not tax-collectors’ jobs

Caroline Lucas continued:

“Whilst these appalling losses to the nation’s coffers are occurring, HM Revenue & Customs are pursuing a programme of job cuts which will ultimately reduce their own staff by 20,000 – close to one quarter of the total. This makes absolutely no sense. This programme should be reversed, staff re-employed, and local tax offices re-opened in order to tackle tax abuse. It has been calculated that at least £15 billion of extra tax could be collected each year as a result. That could prevent a massive range of cuts”.

Richard Murphy, tax expert, chartered accountant and co-author of the report said :

“Our report sets out a range of additional options for changing the tax rules for the UK so that more than £40 billion of additional taxes could be raised each year by the end of the life of this parliament. That, together with the tax collecting efficiency savings already noted, would together deliver more than £60 billion of tax revenues for the UK – so preventing the need for any cuts at all.”

Richard Murphy added:

“A government really can spend to save the economy when in a recession. During this one, borrowing has been smaller and unemployment lower than forecast because of the measures taken by the last government to stimulate the economy. This report argues that a Green New Deal involving public and private investment in a massive labour intensive UK wide energy saving programme and a rapid shift to renewables should be the basis for continuing that programme of support for our economy. This would ensure that we come out of the recession better equipped for the future we’re going to face.”

Caroline Lucas concluded:

“Fairer tax not cuts must become the real battleground of this new Parliament. It is the debate the Coalition and Labour alike must embrace. As the full ghastliness and unfairness of the cuts become ever clearer, the public clamour for fairer taxes rather than cuts can only grow.”


1. The report can be read at:

Friday, 18 June 2010

Green Left AGM

I was away in Romania for two weeks and so have not been blogging for the best part of 3 weeks as when I returned I found myself very busy preparing for the Green Left AGM which is tomorrow and also helping out in the unexpected Tulse Hill by election in Lambeth, which was called when I was away.

I intend to blog about my experience of Romania, a country which I visited for the first time, and which has left me with many deep impressions. But that will have to wait for the present.

The Green Left AGM is being held tomorrow at the Lucas Arms in Gray's Inn Road, London. It will be four years since Green Left was formed and I was one of the founder members. I am currently the male Co-Convenor and have held that post for the last two years but will not be standing for re-election at the AGM. Instead I will be standing for the position of Secretary and taking the poisoned chalice of ensuring that the minutes of all meetings are completed in good time and are accurate, and also correspondence with other bodies.

Green Left has gone from strength to strength over the last few years and has had influence way beyond its size in the Green Party. Its essential aims remain a commitment to ensuring that the Green Party remains a radical and Left party and also that links are developed with the wider Left in England and Wales. The fate of some of the sister Green parties in Europe is one that we are very aware of and want to ensure that nothing similar happens here.

As an Irish person I have been in regular contact with Greens in Ireland and have watched with dismay what has been happening to the Irish Green Party since they entered the coalition in 2007. Many of the best and most radical Greens have left the party and I recently met with some of them in Dublin, including the former MEP, Patricia Mc Kenna, and others who are now independent councillors. One of them is Pat Kavanagh, a councillor in County Wicklow and Pat will be addressing the AGM tomorrow about what has been happening in Ireland over the last few years. Pat resigned from the Green Party a few months ago and has now established an organisation called 'The Emerald Forum' which consists of many ex-Greens but also some current members of the party. They are holding a conference in Dublin next week and Derek Wall, also a member of Green Left and who is about to publish several books on Green politics and economics, will be going to address the conference.

We will also be discussing motions and fringe meetings at the Green Party autumn conference, as well as the organisation of a series of speaking engagements for Hugo Blanco, the well known activist and fighter for the rights of indigenous people from Peru, who will be touring the UK in September speaking about the situation in Peru and Latin America. There is also the possibility of Green Left participation in the next convoy which sails to Gaza to bring relief supplies to the Palestinians. We will also be discussing our involvement in the general Left campaign against the cuts agenda of the Coalition government.

Finally, we will be looking at organising a Green Left Summer Camp, which is likely to be held in Cambridge this year. I am looking forward to a good day of political discussion and to meeting Green Left comrades from around the country.