Benefits

PCS tells members: you have the right to refuse unsafe work

On 29 June, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that it was re-introducing benefit conditionality, or sanctions, from 1 July. Conditionality was suspended at the start of lockdown for all claimants as it wasn’t practical to look for work. This also meant that staff could be redeployed on processing the millions of new Universal Credit claims. Secretary of State (and arch right-winger) Therese Coffey announced her intention that 14 Jobcentres would open on 2 July. As it happens only one opened, Marylebone. That was going to open come what may so Coffey could get her photo op...

Back to "conditionality"

Some Jobcentre staff have spent the last couple of weeks calling the new Covid-19 claimants offering voluntary job support, work all staff are or were meant to be moved onto. But now we're being told that it's not voluntary for 18-24s, and that besides, "conditionality" — meaning regular phone appointments, mandatory work search activity and sanctions — is returning in July. Confusion and indecision reign. Meanwhile, existing vulnerable claimants from pre-March have been left to rot, in many cases with no contact or support in three months. They are the lowest priority in management's eyes...

A shorter working week with no pay cut!

Janet Burstall argues the case from an Australian perspective. The same basic ideas are applicable in Britain and elsewhere. The most optimistic assessment by the Reserve Bank is that it will take a “few years” to reverse “much” (i.e. not all) of the increase in unemployment from the Covid-19 lockdown. The wages vs jobs trade-off debate is back with a vengeance. Unionists are arguing that keeping up incomes will stimulate demand and economic growth, while employer voices argue that they cannot afford a 4% rise in the minimum wage, and many will cut employment or go out of business. The system...

Fallback pay for all

30 million workers in the USA have applied for unemployment benefit since March. 35 million workers are on government-funded furlough schemes in Europe (10 million in Germany, 11.3 million in France). 1.8 million have applied for Universal Credit in Britain, and 700,000 have got advance payments. Signals are also increasing of a new wave of job cuts as the lockdowns ease and creditors start chasing debts.

Time to be combative

A left member of the PCS civil service union’s national executive talked with Sacha Ismail. There’s going to be a vast amount of social turmoil created by this. The economic and social fallout is going to be enormous. The benefits system needs thoroughly transforming so it actually supports people. In the short term that might involve some form of a Basic Income to get money to people fast, but there are much wider issues of how the system works and treats people. Under a bit of pressure but fundamentally because they were worried about their system collapsing, the government has resorted to a...

Slump after the slump?

57% of US university chiefs say they will be cutting jobs in the coming months. Many US universities are expected to shut down altogether. In Britain, councils say they will face an unpayable £5 billion debt as they move out of the lockdown. Some are already planning cuts, and some are threatening to declare themselves bankrupt. Workers in some elderly care homes have been told that their jobs may disappear as the lockdown eases, since the homes will have fewer old people to look after. In Britain already, one and a half million people have claimed Universal Credit. Those who have lost jobs...

Australia in the pandemic

Australian unions first focussed on work health and safety in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In some workplaces unions won improved health and safety conditions, and teachers and parents have protested online against schools being kept open. Union attention quickly moved onto incomes and jobs, when Qantas stood down 20,000 workers on 18 March. The unemployment benefit was doubled on the spot, from $550 (£270) a fortnight to $1100 a fortnight, and the onerous work test was stopped. By 22 March thousands of workers who had lost their jobs were queuing for hours outside Centrelink [equivalent...

Jobcentres in the pandemic

The coronavirus crisis has radically changed the job roles and working environment in Jobcentres. Department for Work and Pensions policy on self-isolation for permanent staff is relatively good, sending anyone with a relevant underlying health condition home for 12 weeks on full pay, although there are arguments with management about staff who live with vulnerable people still being asked to come in. G4S staff are on full pay, despite significantly reduced hours because almost no security is needed now jobcentres have been closed to the public, and would be paid if they needed to self-isolate...

Work or full pay!

As of 1 April, 950,000 new people had applied for Universal Credit in just two weeks. Usually new applications run at about 100,000 a week. Hundreds of thousands, or millions, of people have lost their jobs because they were on casual contracts, and because they worked for businesses which have laid them off or simply shut down. Many small employers have laid off workers, but also big ones, like universities. Many who are self-employed — really self-employed, or formally self-employed while really being wage-workers — are not able to use the government’s scheme for aid to the self-employed, or...

Covid-19: public health, and workers' rights too!

1. Requisition (in other words, take into emergency public ownership): • private hospitals, so that all their resources are directly available to the NHS • the pharmaceutical and medical-supplies industries, so that production can be ramped up in a coordinated way to meet the crisis • manufacturing facilities which can be adapted to produce ventilators and other medical equipment • hotels and empty houses, to use them for the NHS, for the homeless, and for domestic violence victims • transport and logistics, so that essential deliveries and travel can be coordinated and planned • the big...

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