Recent Fight the cuts Articles

This is why we should fight against out-sourcing at universities

by Guest     October 1, 2013 at 4:50 pm

by Luke Martell

Sussex Uni’s 13,000 students started back last week. So did the campus’ formidable anti-outsourcing campaign.

Private company Chartwells have taken over the university’s catering. Sussex management said this was for a better consumer experience. But campus consumers have complained of a reduced service. That’s putting it mildly. And international consumer feedback for Chartwells, owned by Compass, looks very negative.

It’s rumoured that Interserve may take over Sussex’s estates and facilities. The company were fined £11.6m by the Office of Fair Trading for illegal bid-rigging. They had to cough up £50,000 for exposing MoD workers to asbestos.

The company’s chairman Lord Blackwell spoke in the House of Lords for the outsourcing of NHS services. The bill was passed. Guess who got a contract. Whether Interserve get the Sussex job or not; this is the kind of company that public bodies are outsourcing to.

It won’t end here. At Sussex, IT services, sports and the library could be opened up to for-profit companies. The university plans distance learning where profiteers will be sought to provide IT and student services.

The reason – it will be cheaper. How? Low wages and poorer pensions and conditions for the employees. The university is forging ahead despite widespread staff and student opposition, and no consultation with them about whether to outsource.

Outsourcing to for-profits is expanding to academic areas. The government are allowing in controversial for-profit universities. Last year we had none in Britain. Now we have two, and companies like Pearson finding a platform to gain access, not because of their educational values, but for a cut of the money to be made.

In the USA, for-profit colleges spend 24% of their revenue on marketing. That could be devoted to students and staff, but marketisation means it isn’t. At the University of Phoenix, the priority is to get fee-payers enrolled. What happens next is less well resourced. 16% of students graduate. 95% of its tutors are part-time, with little time to research on what they teach.

It’s what happens when higher education is outsourced.

The companies that usually take over, pay poverty wages. They’re accused of corruption and fraud, and a shocking record with consumers and students. The Sussex anti-outsourcing campaign is back. This is the reason why.

Luke Martell is Professor and Head of Sociology at Sussex University

A New Rural Manifesto for Labour: we call for your support

by Guest     September 10, 2013 at 9:01 am

by Jack Eddy

It is uncontroversial to say that Labour lacks rural appeal. Labour’s voice in the British countryside has been inadequate for decades, but has hit a low-ebb in recent years. Even in the suburban and rural areas where Labour was able to gain some traction from 1997 onwards, the last General Election saw a massive swing to the Tories.

And yet, the Labour Party in the past has successfully gone out to the British countryside to court the rural vote and build the foundations of support. Such accomplishments can come again, but we need renewed endeavour and new direction. If this does not change – and we do not instigate that change – some rural communities may not survive these difficult times.

This is why we at South Norfolk CLP call upon all rural CLPs, as well as other interested affiliates, to support us in our call for a new Rural Manifesto – as specified in the proposal officially endorsed by South Norfolk CLP; a Rural Manifesto made in rural Britain, for rural Britain.

Priority should be given to framing policy to reflect the impact on rural communities, on a number of different issues:

Public transport and other infrastructure improvements, as well as rural unemployment and businesses will be an important subject. In the entirety of Norfolk, the 3rd largest county, there is only one late evening bus service. This is not uncommon for rural areas, with negative consequences to regional economies and rural life in general.

Additional aid to the young and unemployed for the purpose of making them as geographically mobile as possible will be hugely helpful to finding employment. A possible solution could be found in providing travel cards to rural unemployed (allowing travel for free or at a reduced rate), who live at least 2 miles from the nearest major centre of employment – valid for use 1 month after finding permanent work.

The NHS is important to us all, but many rural communities are seeing their NHS services disappear as cuts and privatisation begin to take hold, and they are fighting to stop it. One solution to help meet increasing demand, and go some way to solving the unique issues around isolation from services in rural areas, could be to focus on increasing the number of smaller, satellite hospitals that are strategically located around existing central hubs in rural locations. ‘Satellite Hospitals’ would focus on anticipatory care, diagnostic services, as well as urgent accident and emergency admissions, leaving the central hospitals to focus on the more complex and specialised treatments. By dividing up local populations into different catchment areas, it would enhance the experience of patients by offering a smaller, community feel, as well as provide more jobs.

Naturally, properly dealing with Europe and immigration in rural policy is a must. We must explain how businesses, services and local economies in rural Britain depend on Europe and immigration. Many rural businesses rely on European immigrants and the EU enables farmers and horticultural businesses to trade easily with the mainland (in either goods, equipment or expertise). Many rural businesses could not survive without immigration or the EU in general. Labour needs to illustrate how jobs held by British workers would cease to exist if Britain exited the EU.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what needs to be covered in a Rural Manifesto – and it is up to us all to decide what must be covered.

To do this, we need you to get our Motion passed in your CLP and submitted for the upcoming Labour Party Conference by 12 noon on Thursday 12th September. We also invite you to contact all whom you feel will be interested, so that we can reach everybody that can help us succeed in this enterprise.

If you are interested and have the time, please contact me at and I will send you the proposal for the Rural Manifesto and South Norfolk’s Motion to the Conference.

How charities are trying to help the most vulnerable from the cuts

by Guest     August 20, 2013 at 5:24 pm

by Abigail Scott Paul

Empathy is the central value at homeless charity The Cyrenians.

And, without doubt, in the two days I have been here in Newcastle, I have witnessed first-hand just how compassionate their front-line workers are: each support worker, manager, receptionist or volunteer goes above and beyond to help the person who walks through the door. No job, however menial, annoying or petty, is too small. This individual and caring approach could not be thrown into more stark relief by the reality of navigating today’s welfare system.

The Cyrenians work with some of the most vulnerable people in society: homeless drug addicts, alcoholics, ex-offenders and people with severe mental health issues. Benefits are a lifeline. Without them they have absolutely nothing: no bed, no food and no prospect of moving forward. Yet the system, often described as a ‘safety net’, is complex, difficult and impractical to access and navigate for people with chaotic lives.

I saw numerous people telephoning call centres to find out if the money they had been expecting was in their bank accounts. Every time they call, they get a different person in a different call centre. And what about those who can’t read or write? Low literacy and numeracy skills are common. Or, what happens if people simply do not have the bus fare to go to the Job Centre? It’s at these points of crisis that The Cyrenians step in to help.

But there is one major new development that looms large over many people: sanctions. Help can now be withdrawn immediately if people do not comply with the conditions of their benefits. This week I have heard numerous stories about sanctions, but these stuck in my mind:

  • A woman in her sixties had her benefits stopped because she only looked for 10 jobs in a week, rather than the required 15.
  • A man had his benefits stopped for not attending an appointment at the Job Centre, because he was working in his job on the Work Programme (set up by the Job Centre).

As part of reforming welfare, sanctions have been put in place to encourage people get back into work. Yet these cases highlight how a breakdown in communication between the claimant and Job Centre Plus can lead to benefits being withdrawn. Clearly, more work needs to be done to improve communication about conditionality.

On the front line, it’s hard to see how such strict regimes and complicated access will help those who need it most. There is still very little evidence on the long-term impacts of sanctions and research shows that the imposition of sanctions can result in criminal behaviour. Certainly support workers are predicting a rise in crime as people are left with no other option to get what they need.

Against a backdrop of hardening attitudes towards people on benefits and a tougher welfare regime, there appears to be little empathy left for the most vulnerable in society. Thank goodness for organisations like The Cyrenians.

Abigail is working on a two-week secondment with The Cyrenians. Follow her tweets @abigailspaul

On social security, Labour should focus on ‘shared responsibility’ not ‘fairness’

by Guest     August 19, 2013 at 9:36 am

by Sam Fowles

We’re 21 months out from the General Election and thus far a potential Labour manifesto looks like Muller Lite to the Tories’ Deluxe Corner – a bit better for me but unlikely to rock my world.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the Welfare debate – a catalogue of Labour surrenders based on one fundamental misconception: That public policy can or should be based on “fairness”. In lackluster unison, the opponents of Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms mumble that it is unfair that families with severely disabled kids should have their welfare income limited to £500 per week. Meanwhile the Tories thunder that it’s not fair hardworking families should pay taxes so the unemployed can live on a higher income.

The trouble is; they’re both right. But only because our public debate has reduced individuals in society to the level of rats escaping a fire; each trying to make sure that someone else’s life is more unfair than ours. And Labour’s just accepted it.

But public policy isn’t about “fairness” or “unfairness”, it’s about responsibility.

The rightwing paradigm, where contributing to society is seen as an imposition which must be forced upon us, reduces people to Hobbesian savages and society to a series of punitive burdens imposed by government. In fact, the innate ability to live as a society is what makes us unique as a species. Society is not an imposition on humans, it is the essence of humanity.

It is also a responsibility to make the world better for the next generation, not because we will personally profit from it but because, if we don’t, what’s the point of us being here at all? We don’t ask why we should try to give our children a better life, we just accept that we should.

But limiting our responsibility to our blood relatives is a logical fallacy. The fact that someone shares my DNA will do nothing to protect them from winds of fortune of which I can neither conceive nor control. Thus our natural responsibility to our own children and innate responsibility to society become one and the same.

Government should be the expression of our collective responsibility. As the expression of our democratic will, government can facilitate us fulfilling our innate individual responsibility and leave us, as individuals, lots of time to indulge our irrational impulses as well.

Not for nothing did JFK urge Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. In the Labour party, social responsibility should be the bedrock of our creed. Ideas like patriotism, community and national purpose should be the spiritual home of the left, yet Labour seems afraid to claim them.

We support welfare, human rights, universal healthcare and free education because – fundamentally – we believe that society advances when it co operates. We believe that, as citizens and as humans, we have a responsibility to advance society.

While appeals to Aristotelian ethics may not play so well on the doorstep, perhaps a good start might be to suggest voters (and politicians) remember their humanity.

Sam Fowles is a researcher in International Law and Politics at Queen Mary, University of London. He tweets at @SamFowles

A curious tale from the Jobcentre

by Flying Rodent     June 11, 2013 at 11:19 am

So I’m in a bar, speaking to this friend of mine, who we’ll call Bill.

Bill’s a defence lawyer in Glasgow, deals with shoplifters, sticky-fingered junkies and pavement boxers, that kind of thing.  He’s telling me about Mr S, who he’s just finished defending against a charge of fraudulent benefits claims.

“Mr S is in his fifties”, Bill says.  “He’s an engineer, worked in the same factory since he was nineteen.  Two years ago, boom, firm goes into administration and lays off the entire workforce.  Suddenly, it’s unemployment.  Mr S gets Jobseeker’s Allowance, but it’s a shitty way to live. He’s still trying to pay off his mortgage, two kids to look after, and nobody anywhere wants to hire a fifty-four year old engineer…”

“Sucks to be him” I say.

“Sure does.  So one day, Mr S shows up at the Job Centre.  The guy behind the desk says, we’ve been looking at your case, and you’ve claimed six hundred and fifty quid that you aren’t entitled to”.

“Over two years?” I ask, doing a quick calculation.  “My God, he’s been ripping us all off for more than six quid a week”.

Bill nods.  “Yeah, the guy’s a regular Ronnie Biggs.  So Mr S says it was an accident, that he ticked the wrong box, says the form was long and confusing”.

“Did you believe him?” I ask, thinking back to my own fortnight on the dole.  I had to fill in a form the size of a novella and I got the princely sum of eight quid, and no job offers…  And that was in 1999, the salad days by comparison.

“Hell,” Bill says, “The sheriff believed him, not that it did him any good.  I’ve seen those forms.  You need a degree in fucking advanced mathematics to work those things out.  Mr S is all like I’ve worked for every penny I’ve ever earned and I’ve never stolen nothing from anyone and all that shit”.

“Is it true?”.

“Who knows?  Who cares?  Not me, not the clerks, especially not the sheriff.  Intentional, unintentional, it’s all the same.  So anyway, the DWP are having this big crackdown on benefit cheats, and they’re not interested in Mr S’s offer to pay them back.  Pay them with what, the money they’re giving him?”

“We couldn’t have that”.

“No, heaven forfend.  Doesn’t matter whether he meant it, doesn’t matter whether he ripped off five hundred quid or fifty thousand.   Here he is sitting in a room with a sheriff, some lawyers and a pack of twitchy junkies and wham, conviction, there you go.  Guy never had a chance of getting off with it, really”.

“Bad luck for Mr S”, I say.  “I hope he gets a job soon. Imagine having to go back to the Jobcentre to grovel for change to the same guys that poled you up the backside like that”.

“Well, if he was struggling to get a job before, he sure isn’t going to find it any easier now that he’s got a criminal conviction for dishonesty.  You have to declare that to potential employers, you know”.

I whistled.  “Man, that’s harsh.  Does the government know this kind of thing is going on?”

Bill gave me a funny look, like I’d asked where babies come from.  “Mate, I told you – the government is pushing this crackdown so hard it’s a wonder their arms don’t burst out of their sockets”.

I gave that some thought.  “I wonder what Iain Duncan Smith thinks about folk like Mr S”, I said.

“Hell, I bet he stays up all night long worrying about those motherfuckers”, Bill said, draining his pint.  “I bet their plight just breaks his heart”.

“Iain Duncan Smith has a heart?”

“I fucking hope so, or there’ll be nothing for the vampire hunters to drive a wooden stake through…   Same again?”

I finished my pint.  “Of course,” I said.

Why many unions welcomed Ed Miliband’s speech on social security

by Richard Exell     June 7, 2013 at 8:50 am

Yesterday’s speech by Ed Miliband on social security reform was positive.

First of all, there was the reference to child poverty. I was in the audience, and my key question for this speech was whether he was going to drop Labour’s historic commitment to ending child poverty as some have demanded.

He began by accepting the fact that this goal has become much more difficult and the target of ending child poverty may have to be put back from the original deadline of 2020. Denying this would rightly have been criticised, after all, the current government’s policies will increase the number of children in poverty by 400,000 by 2015/16.

But he didn’t use this as an excuse to walk away from the commitment:

But I still think we can make progress if everyone pulls their weight.

And there was a real commitment to tackling working poverty. Part of his strategy for bringing down the costs of social security to raise the incomes of low paid workers. He talked of “an economy that works for working people” – a phrase I think we’ll hear more of over the next two years.

That’s why the union response has been so positive, with Len McCluskey highlighting the commitment “to action on demeaning, insecure work and a drive to embed the living wage” and Paul Kenny picking up on “stopping abuse of zero hours contacts, preventing exploitation of temporary workers and outlawing recruitment only from abroad.”

And there was the commitment to a Job Guarantee for young people unemployed over a year and over-25s unemployed over two years. This is a real job, built on the lessons learned from the Future Jobs Fund. This is a long-standing TUC priority and it was great to see the re-affirmation of Labour’s plans to introduce and extend this embodiment of reciprocity.

And, talking of reciprocity and TUC priorities, there was the emphasis on revitalising the contributory principle. There were times in the last twenty years when it felt as if the trade union movement was the only institution that still felt that National Insurance was part of the solution, not part of the problem.

I know from talking to Labour politicians that Kate Bell and Declan Gaffney’s report on Making a Contribution, published as part of our series of Touchstone pamphlets, has helped in the development of Labour thinking on social security reform. Of course, there’s still a great deal of work to be done to take this from being a bright idea to a detailed plan for renewal, but the promise to look for ways to show that society values workers’ contribution is real.

And finally there was the language of the speech – this was a “One Nation Plan for Social Security Reform” and it was nice to hear the term “social security” being rehabilitated by a leading politician.

Ever since we imported the American habit of calling the benefit system “welfare” we seem to have moved closer and closer to American attitudes too. Mr Miliband made quite a few references to the “welfare state” or the “welfare system”, but the Labour leadership seems to have returned to talking about social security and benefits – I hope they keep it up!

Evidence shows Labour’s decision to means-test WFA will hit poorer pensioners too

by Paul Cotterill     June 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Sunny says that a key argument being deployed in favour of keeping universal winter fuel allowance, by the likes of Peter Hain is specious:

There is no evidence that offering universal pensioner benefits preserves support for universal benefits more broadly. Basically, people support benefits they get, but not other types of benefits such as for the unemployed or low paid.

Indeed, hurrah for evidence-based policy.

Here’s more evidence, from HMRC’s 2010-11 review of the take up of Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit ad Working Tax Credit:

The central estimate of the Child Benefit take-up rate in 2010-11 is 96 per cent.
The central estimate of the Child Tax Credit caseload take-up rate in 2010-11 is 83 per cent.
The central estimate of the Working Tax Credit caseload take-up rate in 2010-11 is 64 per cent.

That is, take up be families who are eligible for benefits are much lower when they are mean tested, and even lower when that means testing becomes complex.

Then there’s Free School Meals

More than a quarter of children entitled to free school meals take a packed lunch instead because they fear being stigmatised, according to a study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research.

The idea, then, that a means testing policy for winter fuel targeted at the richest pensioners will end up just affecting the richest pensioners is fanciful; the much greater effect will be on pensioners who, for whatever reason or set of reasons, don’t feel able to submit themselves to the means-testing process.

It is also reasonable to conjecture that there will be a negative correlation between vulnerability/poverty and take up.

Of course, in a more socially just we wouldn’t need winter fuel allowances at all, because fuel would be affordable to the poorest, but given where we are it is highly irresponsible for Labour to be signing up to policy which may result directly in cold, dead pensioners.

But cold, dead pensioners aside, the continuing distance in the Labour party between policymaking and the reality of policy implementation – of the type which brought us the Lord Freud Welfare to Work Narnia in 2008 – continues to be a disappointment.

This was the kind of thing that wasn’t supposed to happen after the Refounding Labour process, because policy was supposed to become grounded in the experience of those implementing that policy and those living with its consequences.

The political reason behind why it’s difficult to survive on benefits

by Richard Exell     April 29, 2013 at 11:10 am

Another sign of the times is the debate about how much people on benefits need to spend on food. The BBC says you can have “a healthy diet on £15 a week”.

Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke thinks the problem is they spend their money on fags and booze and the Daily Mail says you can ‘survive’ on a pound a day.

Of course, most of us could take a holiday to poverty and get by for a day or two or even a week or two. Polly Toynbee is spot on about this, it’s the grinding effect that makes poverty different – the longer it lasts, the fewer resources you have and the more difficult it is to cope with an emergency or unexpected bill.

Just as important, the longer it lasts, the greyer life becomes, the more depressing. No wonder many people in long-term poverty are desperate to hang on to whatever “luxuries” they still have; lectures about this from the comfortable are beneath contempt.

It was George Orwell who had the clearest insight about the politics of poverty in the 1930s. In The Road to Wigan Pier, he imagined what would happen if the millions on the dole did actually cut their spending in the way the Daily Mail and Conservative MPs would still like.

Orwell had experienced French food culture at first hand and thought that the English could learn lessons about making food go further. But in the end that was irrelevant: people on benefits don’t have a hard time because they lack the skills to make the most of their benefits, their benefits are deliberately set at a level where most people will find it hard to cope.

This isn’t a conscious policy of forcing malnutrition on millions of fellow-citizens, it’s the inevitable result of a political conversation dominated by the obsession that the poor may be putting one over on the rest of us.

As Orwell put it:

If the unemployed learned to be better managers they would be visibly better off, and I fancy it would not be long before the dole was docked correspondingly.

People aren’t hungry because they’re incompetent, they’re hungry because the rest of us think that the possibility they may be getting away with something is more important than hunger.

A longer version of this post is on the Touchstone blog

Government admits it did not consider impact of welfare changes to disabled people

by Guest     April 10, 2013 at 8:47 am

by Rick B

The community of sick and disabled people behind the WOW petition have now considered the official response given when you pass 10,000 signatures (we are now a third of the way to 100,000) from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Initially, we were shocked at the cursory nature and limited scope of the response. On reflection, we are disappointed and angry.

Our petition calls for a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of welfare reforms as they affect sick and disabled people. The government says, to paraphrase, that they did not, indeed could not, do a CIA because the changes involved were too numerous and too complex.

The DWP is saying that it embarked upon a programme of changes, which it acknowledges are the biggest changes to welfare in sixty years, without knowing what the effect would be on the most vulnerable people in society.

For a government department the size of the DWP to say that a CIA would have been too difficult is, frankly, risible. It has also been proved to be incorrect by the cross-party think tank Demos, which has carried out its own CIA. Demos has concluded that 3.7million sick and disabled people will be negatively affected by welfare reform, with a total loss of income up to 2018 of £28.3billion.

As Demos is comparatively a small organisation with limited resources, the fact that it was able to do this CIA makes the DWP’s failure to do so remarkable, to say the least.

The issue of a Cumulative Impact Assessment was addressed in the first sentence of the e-petition, but it is the only aspect of the petition that the government has responded to. There is no response to the request for an immediate halt to the Work Capability Assessment, as demanded by the British Medical Association in 2012 because it was harming patients.

Our call for an end to ‘forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits’ and various other measures, all of which are ignored in the government response.

The response makes clear the government’s total and reckless lack of regard for the health, safety, wellbeing, and human rights of sick and disabled people in the UK. Consequently the Human Rights of sick and disabled people in the UK will be on the agenda for discussion at the Annual General Meeting of Amnesty International on 13/14 April 2013.

For more information and to sign the WOW Petition please go to

Here’s what’s next in the battle against NHS privatisation

by Alice Hood     April 5, 2013 at 10:40 am

The most sweeping changes to our NHS since its inception were put in place on Monday.

But as the new system grinds into gear the fight continues, including an immediate battle over the competition regulations at the heart of the ‘reforms’. There’s a chance to defeat this core element of the Government’s plans in Parliament this month, and we’re asking supporters to contact MPs and members of the House of Lords to ensure that they act.

When the Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition Regulations under section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act were quietly published in February there was uproar from the public, medical professions and health unions.

They all believed the regulations broke promises Ministers made during the passage of the Act that decisions about whether, when and how to use competition would lie squarely with the new GP commissioners.

Instead they would force services out to competition. The outcry forced the Government to rewrite and a second version was laid in March, coming into effect on 1 April.

So what changed? Some warm words about integration and co-operation were added to the new regulations and some of the most explicit pro-competition wording was removed. But experts agree that the new wording has much the same effect as the previous version.

The key point is the ‘single provider test’ in regulation 5. To award a contract to provide health care services without a competition, commissioners will have to be satisfied that only that provider is capable of delivering that service.

There are lots of sensible reasons why commissioners might not want to put a service out to competition. For instance, they might think the contract is too small to justify the trouble and expense of a competition, or they might want to support a local NHS provider that is already delivering a good service for patients.

But if they can’t be certain there is only one possible provider, they will have to subject the service to competition. As this blog explains, there will often be more than one possible provider, for instance where a town has more than one hospital. Private and voluntary sector providers are likely to claim that they are potential providers too.

The bar is set so high that CCGs will end up feeling that the only way to ‘prove’ there is only one provider is to hold a competition. They are also likely to be nervous that they will face legal challenges from private providers who want to get into the NHS.

Not only will this increase the privatisation of the NHS, it will mean time and money wasted on complicated contracting processes. It will make money for lawyers and management consultants that could be better spent on providing care.

The medical professions are not convinced by the cosmetic changes. The BMA, RCN, RCGP and NHS Clinical Commissioners have all spoken out and 250 doctors have signed an open letter in the British Medical Journal.

Legal advice for 38 degrees by David Lock QC sets the risks out clearly.

A key Lords Committee examined the new regulations and their incisive report (see section C) was critical of the rushed, last-minute policy-making process and the confusion over what the revised regulations mean. The Committee sympathised with the view the regs should be revoked to allow more time for consultation, and have referred them for the ‘special attention’ of the House of Lords.

We’re asking people to contact peers and ask them to give the regulations the scrutiny they deserve by joining the debate on 24 April and supporting the ‘fatal motion’ laid by Labour’s health lead in the Lords, Phil Hunt.

If enough Liberal Democrat and Crossbench peers can be persuaded to support it the motion will scrap the regulations and force the government to think again.

MPs have a part to play too. The equivalent procedure to ‘pray against’ the regs in the Commons is an Early Day Motion signed by the leader of the Opposition. Make sure your MP has signed EDM 1188 to secure a debate there too.

There will be much more to do to protect our NHS from the worst of these reforms over the coming years. But at this point a defeat for these dangerous regulations is vital.

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