Monday, 9 July 2012

An End to Victorian Era Welfare Reform – Citizen’s Income a Progressive Alternative

As their economic policies continue to fail, the ConDem coalition governments demonising rhetoric against welfare claimants grows ever louder. Sanctions (removing Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)) are up sharply (almost doubled) when measured against the last Labour administration. Under Labour, it was far from the free for all as painted by the current government, with sanctions regularly applied to Jobseeker’s, and the harassment and transferral of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants to JSA commonplace.

I worked as a Jobcentre adviser over the period covering the end of the Labour administration and beginning of the ConDem one, and I can tell you that all the tools we had to help people back into work were systematically removed (not that they were that great anyway), and replaced with only a negative approach of applying sanctions.

The ConDem’s though have taken this to new level now, presumably encouraged by focus group feedback about ‘the something for nothing society’, it is probably the only popular policy they have introduced. The fact it is inhumane, unfair and doesn’t really save much money is no deterrent to this most odious of governments.

The Green party takes a very different view of welfare matters, which is embodied in our policy of a Citizen’s Income (CI). It is a progressive policy whereby all adults in the UK would receive a non-means tested payment set at no less than the current JSA, although I would argue that it needs to set at a considerably higher level, because JSA currently at £71.00 per week is not enough to live on, and needs to be over £100.00 per week, at least.

This would allow people to work part-time if they so wish, to supplement their income, with no reduction in CI, or do voluntary work with no hassle from the Jobcentre, have confidence to start up as self- employed or take up family caring responsibilities. At least in the 1980’s recession (mainly in the north of the country), the Thatcher government just left you alone on the dole, with no requirement to be ‘searching for work’. This led to an upsurge in creative musical talent, such as The Smiths, above in the video.

Citizens’ would need to attend fairly regular interviews to prove that they are still alive and resident in the UK, where they could get information on paid and unpaid work. Other ‘benefits’ such as Housing Benefit (HB), Child Benefit (CB), Council Tax Benefit (CTB) and old age pensions would also be available.

So, how would this be paid for? Well, there would huge savings in admin costs over current JSA arrangements and income tax personal allowances (tax free earnings) could be reduced or withdrawn, but ultimately CI payments would be covered by increases in income tax, meaning that the wealthiest would pay more, whilst lower income people would be better or no worse off. Allowing for CI, the total income tax take would not increase overall.

The present system of benefits, apart from being expensive to administer, often encourages people not to work, especially part-time work, for fear of losing benefits and the system often claws back most or all benefits from those who do find paid work. This is equivalent to a 100% tax rate for those people moving from benefits to work, and is hardly a fair state of affairs.

CI has the potential to revolutionise the benefit system in the UK, whilst costing no more overall than the current tax and benefit system, and crucially, put an end to the demeaning benefits routine and complicated form filling, that now prevails.      


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.

Before Green Party government is voted in and Green Party Citizen's Income is introduced, what can people sanctioned on JSA or the 'Work Related Activities Group' of Employment & Support Allowance do when they have been sanctioned? Often at jobcentres now, interviews are set for 08:30 while Jobcentre main entrances are closed - the ill-informed claimant's eventual non-attendance leads to sanctions.

Where is the nearest unemployed workers group to Haringey?

I'm a member of both Haringey Green Party and Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group. Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group weekly meetings regularly have 'casework' slots that seek to help resolve and even stop such sanctions before they happen.

We welcome members of various political parties and none. (No far-right parties, please.) We meet on Thursdays, 3-5pm at Kingsgate Community Centre, 107 Kingsgate Road, London NW6 2JH.

We also have a forthcoming public workshop at the same address, 6:30pm-8:30pm entitled 'Universal Credit?' that will look at Con-Dem replacement of the existing JSA, ESA, etc.


Anonymous said...

I have seen both sides of the "fence" when it comes to claiming benefits and working in a Job Centre.
It used to be possible to sign on for years and the money was paid. I used to go round and remove low-paid job cards from the boards because a government department should not advertise low paid work as this can lead into more poverty.
As an adviser in the job centre, I apply fairness. I will not ever leave people who sign on, uninformed or unaware of which legislation applies (Jobseeker's Act 1995, latest amendments made in 2009 resultant ever more right-leaning "New" Labour!, Social Security Act and Social Security Adminstration Act). Unfortunately, it is correct that not many advisers will inform but merely apply/comply with the "numbers game": statistics that purely look at numbers (quantity) than actual QUALITY.

With regards to doors not being open at 0830, this must be a local job centre failing. Our doors ARE open at 0830 and we do see people on early appointments. I would suggest to write a letter to the "CSOM" (Customer Service Operations Manager) as it is their responsibility to ensure access.
With regards to appeals against e.g. sanctions, the worst problem is that they can take up to 6 months to be considered, when loss of income is immediate.
The only option is to apply for a crisis loan, which then normally gets refused - ConDem policy was introduced to prevent payout of a crisis loan where a sanction is in place. The independent review for appeals can still be a useful tool, although independent review bodies are also being dismantled by the ConDem regime.

It is a very difficult one to solve and all I can say is that the jobcentre experience sadly still depends on local office arrangement and advisers. Statutory law gives only two options: to "comply" or not to (and sign off) and "compliance" as a jobseeker is still achievable, albeit admittedly much more difficult under the current regime.

Sadly, people in Britain, always "forget" and by the time the next general election comes in, the "divide and rule" tactics will have conditioned the electorate perfectly.