Reforms to disability living allowance risk widespread poverty

Cuts to the disability living allowance (DLA) will leave disabled people, their carers and their children in poverty, says the TUC today (Friday) in its submission to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) consultation on the benefit which closes today. Disabled people – and those living with and caring for them – are more likely than non-disabled people to face poverty and restricted chances in life, says the TUC. Its submission argues that the current failing of the allowance is not that it is paying too much, as the government believes, more that it is not generous enough to provide disabled people with a decent standard of living. The TUC believes that limiting the different rates of the allowance will mean many claimants could lose the benefit. The new allowance due to replace the DLA – the personal independence payment – is much less generous and will be available to far fewer people, and seems to have been designed primarily to cut government spending. DLA claimants are all too often portrayed as malingering benefit dependants, but fraud is rare. Recipients of the current benefit rely on it to pay for basic food and accommodation. Any cut in the allowance would reduce the living standards of disabled people, and risk leaving them and their children in permanent poverty, says the TUC. In addition, the TUC is concerned about changes to the mobility component of DLA, which could see older disabled people particularly hit by the loss of vital income, and left isolated in care homes and hospitals. Many younger people who rely on this money to access the community and live a fulfilled life will also be adversely affected, says the TUC submission. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “These proposals clearly show that the government is targeting some of society’s most vulnerable people to pick up the cost of the recession. “We are very definitely not all in this together – while the champagne corks pop in the City as yet another round of mega bonuses is announced, disabled people are facing harsh cuts to their already meagre support allowance. “Taking away this vital financial aid will consign thousands of disabled people and their families to a life of poverty. “As government slashes local authority budgets, councils will be forced to fall back to providing only the services they are bound to do by law, axing discretionary spending on support schemes and assistance for disabled people.” The TUC is calling on the DWP to carry out an urgent investigation into the impact of the proposed reforms to the DLA on carers. The submission says that not only will carers be affected by the whole family’s lower income if the person they care for loses entitlement to benefit, but these changes could also affect their eligibility for carer’s allowance, carer’s premium and other vital benefits.

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Centre organises anti poverty conference

Birmingham Centre for the Unemployed and Midlands TUC Anti-Poverty Conference

Birmingham Council House 11th March 9.30am to 2.30pm

Those of you following this blog will know that the funding for the Birmingham TUC Centre For The Unemployed and the valuable advice work we do on all fronts from welfare to employment was abruptly cut in January; and with no promise of any continuation thereafter or options in the future.

In response, with our West Mids TUC colleagues, we are organising a conference to raise awareness of our plight, and indeed that of others in the same boat, how it will affect vulnerable people and how we can go forward from here. I call upon trade unionists everywhere to join us and help us through our immediate crisis. So when your union or Branch gets the call – please make every effort to attend the conference and get involved, emotionally and financially.

The event itself will be an historic event – guest keynote speakers include Jack Dromey MP and Heather Wakefield of UNISON. There will be workshops looking at the effect of cuts and the changing regime of benefits; and the geography of poverty. This conference will not just be about raising the profile of our centre, but of the wider issues that all of us face – and how we may tackle them – a must for anyone involved in the Trade Union movement or the voluntary sector.

 25 Years Of Community Tradition And Service Could Be Lost

To give you an insight into where we are at with the centre – The centre management and staff have been working hard to assess what we can do and try and work out how we can go foward from here and survive in the future. The fact is, the Centre, the work the volunteers do, and the jobs of staff are under threat with redundancy notices having already gone out. This is breaking the hearts of the management committee and everyone involved in the Centre as there is a very real threat that after 25 years of a proud tradition serving our community, it will all come to an end. The sheer scale of cuts forced upon Local Govt by the Tory-led Govt and hence the knock on in our sector funding is unprecedented. It is being portrayed by both Govt and media as a ‘no alternative’ scenario. This is not true.

Governmentt has options, as do Local Authorities. On a Governmental level, they could do more to rein in tax collection to erase the deficit – like collecting on the the £120 billion worth of tax avoidance/evasion; or challenge corporations to play fair on tax rather than allowing them their offshore tax-havens; of course there are other routes I could ramble on about that make my blood boil on the priorities of Govt and focusing on the needs of vulnerable people rather than letting bankers get off scott free. And what of Local Authorities? Well, working with the voluntary sector rather than against us might be a start. We provide a valuable service to our communities and many charities will go to the wall between now and the summer as the cuts hit home and this will be a major loss to everyone – including David Cameron’s so called ‘big society’. We want some structure to the debate and constructive dialogue on a way forward to get interim and long term funding sorted – and that is the message to national Govt too.

Please Accept The Invite To Come To Our Conference

Ok, that’s my blog, or rather rant over – those of you who know me will know that it is mostly ranting I do, but hopefully within a constructive environment (that’s my view not necessarily yours). Anyway, I hope to see many of you from the West Midlands trade union movement and voluntary sector accept the invitation you will soon be getting to come to our historic conference.

In fraternity,

Steve Brown

Chairperson

BTUCCFTU

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THE CRISIS IN BIRMINGHAM’S COMMUNITY ADVICE SECTOR

A decision of Birmingham City Council to end the existing funding agreements with 13 community organisations who provide legal advice threatens to remove what is effectively a lifeline for many vulnerable people living in the poorest parts of the city. It is of even greater concern that the Council has decided there will be a six-month gap before new contracts will be available, for most of the organisations that currently hold contracts will struggle to survive during the break and may not be around to bid for a new deal.

Headline news about the decision has focussed almost exclusively on the effects on the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau, which will lose in the region of £0.5 million annual income, but in fact the CAB receives only around half of the total pot of money. Many of the other contracts are held by independent community organisations and the impact on these will be even more devastating.

Indeed, our own centre, Birmingham TUC Centre for the Unemployed in Sparkhill is one of those agencies affected by the decision to end funding of the contracts. Like almost every other agency we have delivered significantly above the contracted target figures throughout the last four years. An independent report commissioned by the Council concluded that the existing set-up “demonstrates excellent value for money.” In very basic terms, for an annual cost of approximately £60,000 the TUC Centre delivers more than £1 million in added income to local residents. At a time when many families are experiencing financial pressures, support such as this should be praised and promoted rather than subject to the treatment agencies have experienced.

There is no enthusiasm from our local councillors, whether they are in opposition with Labour or in the ruling group with the Lib Dems, to end the funding stream, and more importantly leave a 6-month gap when there will be no service available. One of the more bizarre rumours that is circulating about reasons for this gap (and which surely cannot be true) is that if the city were to recommission the same, or a similar, service immediately then they would be liable for the TUPE transfer costs of staff from agencies that are unsuccessful in gaining new contracts.

Services to local citizens which are now no longer funded include:

 Form filling

Responding to requests from both central government and local authority bodies for information

Assistance in making claims for everything from Blue Badge parking permits to Retirement Pension

Assistance in understanding and, where appropriate, challenging decisions on benefit overpayments

Arranging payment plans to enable clients to resolve short-term debt problems

Advocacy at welfare tribunals (Birmingham Tribunal Unit, the main provider of advocacy within the city, will lose over 60% of its funding)

Birmingham has a long tradition of providing legal advice services delivered by independent organisations in local communities. It makes sense. Birmingham is huge, the largest local authority in the UK, and as befits a city that expanded with the arrival of migrant workers from Wales, Ireland, the Caribbean, South Asia and more recently from both Eastern Europe and a range of troubled countries from throughout the world, it is diverse. One size certainly does not fit all in Birmingham.

Such diversity also means that Birmingham’s citizens often have different and greater needs for support to access their legal rights in areas such as welfare benefits, care needs, housing problems. To give just one example: most of the workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who came here in the 1960s to boost the labour force of factories such as Lucas and Rover and other large industrial firms within the city, long since gone, are now pensioners. They do not have the levels of literacy to access what is a complex benefits system and need help to fill in basic forms, contact the various government and council offices and to find out what their basic rights are. This is why many rely on the local independent advice centres, which provide support and help to enable them to achieve their legal rights. Without that help many will struggle even more than they do now.

This afternoon (Wednesday) the Labour MP Jack Dromey is to lead a debate at Westminster on the future of the CAB in Birmingham. Let us hope the wider issue of the fate of independent voluntary sector advice services within the city is also raised and a way is found to restore funding without leaving a gap.

One thing is for certain, without its network of independent advice centres Birmingham will be a poorer city in more ways than one.

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About the Centre

The Birmingham TUC Centre for the Unemployed is an independent advice centre established by the trade union movement in Birmingham in 1984. We are located in the centre of Sparkhill, at 448 Stratford Road, opposite Mushtaq’s Sweet Centre and Barclays Bank.

This is a summary of the services we currently provide. However, at the time of writing (31 January) we have no funding after 31 March, so our services are likely to be reduced and/or ended after this date. The funding reductions are a direct result of the government imposing substantial cuts to a range of funding streams that affect Voluntary Sector agencies that delivered frontline services to disadvantaged people. We hope to be able to continue after 1 April, and we are seeking donations from our supporters and clients to allow us to do so. Further details on this will be posted shortly or you can make contact with us on the details provided on this site. Our services are free of charge and we provide assistance to clients who are either unemployed or low waged. We have staff who speak Urdu, Mirpuri, Bengali, French and German, as well, of course, as English. We hold the Community Legal Services Charter Mark for General Help and Matrix Accreditation.

We currently provide services in three areas:

Welfare benefits & neighbourhood advice: drop-in advice (no appointment necessary) on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10.00 to 12.00. It is advisable to arrive before 9.45 to be certain of being seen as the service is very busy and clients often queue up for up to an hour before we open.

Back-to-work advice: By appointment only. Our funding is for residents of Hall Green Constituency. We can offer production of CVs, job search activities, advice on interview technique, etc.

Employment Law: We offer help up to tribunal level. We do not take on cases that are working with a trade union, although we will assist in cases where the legal department of a union has decided not to pursue a case (for example, where they have decided it is not financially viable to pursue it). The service is provided by volunteers who are either retired practitioners or recently qualified law students who are seeking to gain experience.

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Steve Brown, Chair of the BUWC

My name is Steve Brown and I am the Chair of Birmingham UWC. I am proud and happy to have this role and have held the post for the last 18 months or so. For my part, although I  now live just outside of Birmingham in Worcestershire, my family connections from Brum are strong and I spent the first 5 years of my life in Sparkbrook then the next 20 years in Northfield.

Since I left college I have moved around a bit – involved in the trade union movement as a CWU Branch Secretary, then a community worker and more latterly working for UNISON as a Development Officer for the last 6 years.

The times we face are unprecedented. This Government of millionaires is making decisions that will shape and for many, damage their lives for years to come. Wherever we look we see cuts in education, health, social services, welfare and the inevitable attacks on the poor as a means of creating scapegoats for the crisis the ‘few’ have caused. All this while the Banks escape, more or less to carry on as before without regulation or proper pay-back. Is that fair? No it is not.

I doubt very much whether this collection of centre-right marketeers and millionaires running our country who are intent on cutting public services, privatising and outsourcing them to their friends in the private sector, has ever/will ever/need ever the services they seem ideologically happy to chop.

And that is the real crisis – how can people who have no understanding of the problems the ordinary person faces when it comes to finding a job, accessing benefits, needing a public service or representation at work on an employment matter be capable of grasping what it means to be in that position?

Birmingham UWC is mainly funded through different projects supported via Birmingham City Council and in a smaller way the trade union movement of the West Midlands. That funding is being squeezed at a time when our services – provided by a lot of volunteers (yes Dave that’s YOUR Big Society) and a few paid workers who themselves worry about whether they will have a job come March 2011 – are coming under maximum strain from an ever growing number of people suffering from the Banking created recession who need help, advice and support from our Centre.

Over the next 18 months, I believe we will see a coming together of different organisations from anything like community groups to trade unions who will offer a resistance and challenge to the hatchet job this Government is wielding down on our country’s public services and people.

Birmingham UWC, with our partner in the Midlands TUC, hopes to play our part in that and is looking at ways we can achieve it. In the meantime, if you have a voice – use it to resist the cuts.

Steve Brown

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JOBLESS TOTAL HITS 2.5 MILLION

INDUSTRY Unemployment Dec 15, 2010 11:09:59 AM By Alan Jones, Press Association Industrial Correspondent

Jobcentreplus logo

The Government was given some grim pre-Christmas news on jobs today when unemployment increased by 35,000 and the number of young people out of work reached near-record levels.

The jobless total climbed to 2.5 million in the quarter to October, a rate of 7.9%, the highest since the start of the year.

There were 839,000 people unemployed for more than a year, up by 41,000 over the three months and the worst figure since 1997. The Office for National Statistics also reported that the number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work increased by 28,000 to 943,000, one of the highest figures since records began in 1992, giving a jobless rate of 19.8%.

Male unemployment increased by 11,000 to 1.46 million, while the number of women out of work rose by 24,000 to 1.04 million, the highest total since 1988. There was also a rise in the number of people classed as economically inactive, including people looking after a sick relative, students or those who have given up looking for a job, up by 22,000 to 9.29 million, a rate of 23.2%.

The category showing the biggest increase was those who have taken early retirement, which rose by 27,000 to 1.53 million. The number of people working part-time because they could not find a full-time job increased by 46,000 to 1.16 million, a record high. The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance fell by 1,200 last month to 1.46 million, although the number claiming for up to six months rose by 11,600 to 954,900.

There were 158,000 redundancies in the latest quarter, up by 15,000, the first rise since April. Employment fell by 33,000 to 29.13 million, giving the first quarterly fall in the rate since April – down by 0.1% to 70.6%. Average earnings increased by 2.2% in the year to October, up by 0.1% from the previous month.

Other figures showed that public sector employment has fallen by 33,000 to just over six million, including 18,000 in local government and 8,000 in the civil service.

Private firms employed 23.11 million workers, unchanged from the summer.

Unemployment in the regions between August and October was:

Region       Total unemployed   Change on quarter Unemployment rate

North East       124,000           plus 6,000      9.7%

North West       279,000           plus 2,000      8.1%

Yorkshire/Humber 244,000           plus 1,000      9.3%

East Midlands    188,000          plus 19,000      8.2%

West Midlands    238,000          plus 12,000      8.9%

East             202,000          minus 2,000      6.7%

London           376,000          minus 4,000      9.1%

South East       276,000           plus 3,000      6.2%

South West       154,000          minus 8,000      5.7%

Wales            125,000           plus 4,000      8.6%

Scotland         234,000          minus 5,000      8.7%

N Ireland         63,000           plus 6,000      7.6%

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: “These figures highlight the crucial importance of the action we are taking to keep the economy moving forward. It’s essential to create a stable environment where businesses can flourish and create jobs – with those on benefits at the front of the queue to take them up. “That’s why we are increasing the support available to people through both Jobcentre Plus and our new Work Programme which will revolutionise the way in which we help the long-term unemployed into sustained employment. Only with a successful economy will we be able to finally get Britain working again.”

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Unemployment increased by 55,000 in October – the sharpest monthly increase since May 2009. “The number of people out of work has passed the grim milestone of 2.5 million before the Government’s austerity measures have even started to take effect. The jobs outlook in the coming years looks increasingly bleak. “The big fall in full-time employment – partly hidden by rising involuntary part-time work – is particularly alarming as these are the kind of jobs we so desperately need to get our economy growing again. “Government support for the unemployed may have ended but our jobs crisis certainly hasn’t.”

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Welcome to Birmingham Unemployed Workers Centre Blog!

Welcome to our new blog!

We shall be posting items of interest to unemployed people around welfare rights and associated campaigns. We shall provide links to other bodies who we like or who may provide information of use to you.

This site is just starting up so bear with us while we get it populated with useful stuff. And do let us know what you think about our blog and what information would be helpful for you – because if it is of use to you, it will be of use to others!

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