Category: Campaigns

Giving claimants a voice – the Commission on Social Security

Last month saw the launch of the Commission on Social Security (CSS).

There are various much-needed reviews and consultations going on at the moment – including that being done by the Labour Party – asking people what they think a radical alternative to the current social security system should look like.

The key distinguishing feature of the CSS however is that it is claimant-led: all the commissioners (numbering around 20) have current or recent experience as claimants within the social security system.

This is reflected in the underlying principles the Commission has developed, and the resulting questions they are asking people to respond to.

For example, one of the key principles is to “make sure everyone has enough money to live – and support extra costs, e.g. to do with disability and children.”

Another states that the system should be “involving people who have actual experience of the issues, including from all impairment groups, in creating and running the system as a whole.”

Stemming from the principles, the Commission asks questions around core issues such as “What should be done about benefit sanctions?” and “how should the system work out who should get sickness or disability benefits?”

There are disturbing echoes here of the first major attempt in Britain to give unemployed workers an organised voice.
The second conference of the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) in November 1921 in Manchester set out some key aims including

• Full maintenance of the unemployed at trade-union rates
• The abolition of “test” or “task” work for those in receipt of relief through unemployment
• The free unconditional provision of halls to enable the unemployed to meet
• Representation of the unemployed organisation on all employment exchange committees

Closest possible links between the NUWM, the trades unions and the Labour Party, were encouraged, for example to ensure the unemployed were not used as a “reserve army of labour” to drive down wages.

We say “disturbing echoes” since, nearly a century later, many of the NUWM issues raised seem similar and as radical as those included in the Commission’s review (or Call for Solutions as we have called it). This suggests that the status and plight of unemployed, sick and disabled workers has improved little or not at all during that time.

It almost goes without saying – but still needs to be said – that actual rates of benefits for claimants remain woefully inadequate to meet their needs. Regarding the issue of “tests” or conditionality for claimants to get what they need, this has clearly got worse in recent years.

Sanctions rates, at a huge peak a few years ago, were driven down partly thanks to campaigning groups such as Unite Community, Disabled People Against Cuts and our own project London Unemployed Strategies (LUS). But they have started to rise again in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out. Meantime the dreaded Work Capability Assessments have served to make life a living hell for many sick and disabled claimants who previously would have had more sympathetic responses from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to their situations.

As for unemployed representation at Jobcentre Plus level upwards (the modern equivalent of the “employment exchange committees” referred to by the NUWM), this sticks out all the more as a pipe dream. While the NHS constitution provides some legal obligation for it to consult patients over service development and delivery, the DWP has no such obligation to consult claimants directly – just a vague remit to consult their “representatives” which are defined by the DWP not as claimants themselves but as professional agencies such as Citizens Advice, Law Centres and so on. The idea that claimants can and should represent themselves, and have their views fully taken into account by the DWP has been a strong and ongoing campaign of LUS, which has been built into the Commission’s principles.

We do not have time here to go in depth into the role that trade unions can or should play in organising the unemployed. Clearly the NUWM of the 1920s was of the view that they should be organised independently but with strong links to organised labour.

This principle was then reflected in the surge of TUC unemployed workers centres in the 1980s, which did provide albeit briefly the physical space for the unemployed to meet and organise – one of the NUWM demands, which has again become a barrier today, given the price of renting rooms even within community centres.

More recently Unite has made great strides in recruiting unemployed workers directly into its Community section – a move which has not as yet been reflected in the policies of other large trade unions. Whatever one’s point of view, champions of the claimants’ cause welcome any initiative that can help them to organise and get representation, which should advance to self-representation and peer group support.

LUS has been instrumental in developing Stand Up For Your Rights Groups around London to this end, similar to the Claimants Unions which sprang up alongside the TUC centres in the ’80s. LUS supports the groups in getting their concerns and complaints expressed directly to the DWP at local and national level.

LUS therefore welcomes the initiative of the Commission on Social Security and is one of its co-chairs (alongside Ellen Clifford of Disabled People Against Cuts and Inclusion London). We invite all claimants and their supporters to visit the website http://www.commissiononsocialsecurity.com and click on the link near the top of the first page to fill out the online Call for Solutions form. The deadline for submissions is July 31.

If you want more information and/or you are interested in setting up your own Stand Up For Your Rights group then contact LUS on nickplus007@gmail.com/ (020) 7467-1283/07530 001653. Support offered is mainly London-based due to the nature of our funding (principally from Trust for London and the TUC London East and South-East region), though Unite Community should be able to provide support in other regions.

Nick Phillips is coordinator, London Unemployed Strategies and co-chair, Commission on Social Security.

 

Unions and Claimants Demonstrate against Universal Credit

Trades unions, claimants groups and their supporters demonstrated outside Peckham Jobcentre last week (Friday) against Universal Credit.

The BBC are doing a series of  TV ‘specials’ in league with the DWP on the UC rollout. Peckham JCP is one of the few in the country (others in Liverpool and Manchester) that are being featured.

Nick Phillips, coordinator of London Unemployed Strategies, said: ‘It is important that the BBC does not do a whitewash job and ignores the voice of claimants. Trades unions, the voluntary sector and critically claimants themselves are here today in unison to say that Universal Credit is not fit for purpose. It needs to be scrapped or at the very least radically reformed to stop claimants further suffering.’

Launch of Commission on Social Security and CALL FOR SOLUTIONS

A breakthrough project – a Commission on Social Security aiming for radical change to the way the system works and led by the claimants themselves – was launched in London this week (click on heading below):

Call for help to design a social security system of dignity, respect and trust

If you click on the link below it should take you straight to the online Call for Solutions form – deadline for submissions 31st July.
PLEASE LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK – YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

CLAIMANTS SURVEY 2018: YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE !

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LUS is an organisation based at and supported by the regional TUC and funded through Trust For London. The aim of the organisation is to develop self-help support groups for claimants and to campaign for changes to the Social Security system so that it works more for the benefit of claimants.

The survey results will feed into high-level forums in which claimants reps and major voluntary sector organisations are participating. The aim is to develop a White Paper (or Bill) for Government on major pro-claimant improvements to the system.

Please download your preferred format below (Word or PDF) and fill it in. The survey can be returned by post or email as indicated ideally before the END OF SEPTEMBER. Your contact details will only be kept on file if you wish to take part in our focus groups and will be kept separate from your survey responses which will be anonymous. WE CAN AND DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

CLAIMANTS SURVEY 2018 revised #2 (2)

CLAIMANTS SURVEY 2018 revised #2 (2)

How to Complain to the Jobcentre or DWP

 

dole-queue(photo: Johnny Void)

As a jobseeker or if you are on ESA, claiming  benefits can often unfortunately be problematic. Problems claimants experience include delayed benefit payments, behavioural issues with Jobcentre staff and long waiting times to get through to the DWP’s helpline.

We encourage you to make a written complaint.  The ‘official’ DWP advice is explained in the link below:

http://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/about/complaints-procedure

It says that you can complain in person or on the phone to the Jobcentre. However, this often goes wrong, as you do not have your own written proof that you made the complaint.

So, we advise you to take the following easy steps:

  • Write down your complaint in an email
  • Include a sentence where you offer to verify this email i.e. show it is from a ‘real’ person. The DWP have a policy to ignore emails that cannot be verified. For this reason, we recommend that you state the following in your complaint email:
    “I am happy to verify this email in person with my ID.”  Don’t forget to add your National Insurance number and personal address to identify your claim.
  • Write ‘Complaint’ in the subject line of your email
  • Copy in a friend who you can trust in the email
  • Send the email to: correspondence@dwp.gsi.gov.uk
  • Allow 15-20 days for a response (15 days is the stated DWP waiting time for responses)
  • If you have no reply by then (or an unsatisfactory one), you can then write to: ministers@dwp.gsi.gov.uk
  • Wait another 15-20 days. If this  does not work for you, you can then complain to the Independent Case Examiner and after that through your MP to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. These stages are explained in the DWP ‘Complaints procedure’ weblink above

Tips for writing your complaint:

  • Don’t swear
  • Don’t make unfounded allegations (i.e. be sure to have something to back up what you are saying)
  • Describe what happened to you (calmly like a neutral witness)
  • Explain what should have happened
  • Explain what you think should happen now (to resolve the situation), or simply ask them to rectify the situation.

Why Complain?

Because it is important to inform the DWP about problems, so that they can understand that improvements are necessary. By doing so, and by copying in a friend or somebody who you can trust, you are creating a written record of your case and evidence of what you said and when, and it will be harder for the DWP to ignore your complaint or claim that they never received it. You CAN get results!

Further help: 

LUS is a campaigning organisation fighting for a quicker, more efficient complaints process for claimants.

Due to our limited resources we are unfortunately not able to do casework. But please contact your local Citizens Advice, Law Centre, trades union or other advice agency if you need further help with writing the complaint. Or if you live in these areas, join one of our local Stand Up For Your Rights groups in Southwark, Waltham Forest or Islington – or set up one of your own! Contact nickplus007@gmail.com for more information and guidance on this.

Relevant links:

http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/about-the-dwp-our-service-standards-leaflet

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/complaints_and_responses#incoming-802719

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/complaints_processing#incoming-803514

For other comments, such as compliments or feedback, the DWP gave these contacts:

Contact Centres ccscustomerfeedback.handlingteam@dwp.gsi.gov.uk
Helpline helpline.customerservices@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

Have you experienced issues with the DWP or Jobcentre as a jobseeker? Comment below or tweet us @LUSACTION and share your views.

STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS – Free Training for Claimants on 20 May

Nick Phillips of London Unemployed Strategies will be holding a training session for Lambeth and Southwark benefit claimants on Friday 20th May between 12-2pm at Stockwell Park Community Centre. Please come along to learn about the changes to the Universal Credit system, avoiding sanctions and details how the Housing Bill will impact you. The Lambeth and Southwark branches of Unite Community will kindly be supporting us. 20160309_104033 (2)

London Mayoral Elections and The Housing Crisis

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As Thursday 5 May rapidly approaches, it’s essential to understand the crux of the manifestos of the main candidates in the running for London Mayor and the direct impact they will have on you. The vital issue in this election is resolving the London housing crisis. How will the candidates protect and create homes for the vulnerable? So, let’s see how they all measure up and how your vote will count:

Zac Goldsmith – The Conservative Party

  • will tackle the housing crisis by ‘doubling home building to 50,000 a year by 2020’, giving Londoners the first chance to buy new homes built in the city.
  • Ensuring a large number of new homes built are for rent and not for sale.

For full manifesto, please see https://backzac2016.com/

Sadiq Aman Khan – Labour Party

  • will give Londoners ‘first dibs’ on affordable housing, promotes the fact he grew up on a council estate and therefore claims to understand the support needed in this area.
  • Ensuring renting becomes more reasonable and protecting the green belt.

For full manifesto, please see http://www.sadiq.london/

Caroline Pidgeon – London Liberal Democrats

  • Will ban ‘unfair letting agent fees’ and give tenants more rights.
  • Will build 200,000 new homes.

For full manifesto, please see http://www.londonlibdems.org.uk/plan

Sian Rebecca Berry – Green Party

  • Promises ‘truly affordable homes’ created by housing associations and local councils, claims to understand the needs of private tenants as a private tenant.
  • Providing London with more green, affordable energy for their homes.

For full manifesto, please see http://www.sianberry.london/

Thursday 5 May 2016 is for you to use your voice as you see fit. Please contact your local electoral office for further information on voting hours.

Let us have your views – Tweet us at @LUSACTION, comment below or follow us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/LUSACTION.

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