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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 October 2013

Tories condemn us to the breadline

TUC demo in Manchester: 50,000 march against Tories demanding action on NHS, photo Paul Mattsson

Link up the struggles: TUC demo in Manchester: 50,000 march against Tories demanding action on NHS, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

"Our economy, our society, welfare, schools all reformed, all rebuilt with one aim, one mission in mind - to make this country at long last, and for the first time ever, a land of opportunity for all."

Cameron's speech to Conservative Party conference confirms that he and the Tory Party faithful live in a parallel universe to the vast majority in society.

Britain may be a 'land of opportunity' for the super-rich but it has been on the basis of making an increasing number of people endure a living hell.

In reality the Tory conference was an attempt to whip up division and to escalate the impoverishment of working class people.

Under-25s are threatened with having their access to housing benefit and Jobseeker's Allowance completely removed.

People who've been unemployed for three years will have to do full time volunteer work, turn up daily to the jobcentre, or take part in a programme that 'tackles' the reason for their inability to work.

These vicious attacks ignore the fact that hundreds of thousands of jobs have been cut by the Con-Dem government of millionaires.

No amount of volunteer work, schemes or benefit sanctions will help people find jobs that just aren't there.

Here Socialist Party members look at the real situation facing working class people in Breadline Britain and what we do about it.


Government ignores hungry children

Nicki Downes

I have been teaching in the same primary school for 19 years. It is in one of the poorest wards in Britain, St Michaels in Coventry. Over time, I have seen the growing effect of child poverty on our school community.

My union, the NUT, in conjunction with the Daily Mirror and the Child Poverty Action Group, asked me to complete a survey on the issue.

The results should shame any government, but particularly one of a country that remains one of the richest in the world.

Teachers' views

1,700 teachers were surveyed and 85.5% have seen children coming to school hungry; 77% have seen parents unable to afford the school uniform and a shocking 91.7% believe benefit cuts will have a negative impact on children at their school.

You can tell when a child is hungry - their head drops onto the table by morning break and again shortly after lunch.

Hunger directly affects concentration and attainment. I've looked in children's lunch boxes on occasion and found one slice of buttered bread.

These are often children whose families are not entitled to free school meals. We regularly, as a school, refer families to the CAB and we know that a number of our families are regular users of food banks.

If a child goes without breakfast and we know about it, we will provide them with one. If they have no or little lunch, we provide them with one but who knows what they get for dinner.

Providing all Key Stage 1 children with a free school meal is a start but children do not stop being hungry at the age of seven. And what happens to them in the holidays?

We've just started a new school year. Most of our parents will have gone and bought new school jumpers, trousers and shoes, etc.

This year, more than any other, I have seen children arrive back in September in the same ripped and stained jumper which is now further up their arms. It's incredibly sad to see.

Whose fault?

None of this is because the parents lack parental skills or are poor managers of their household budget as Gove would have you think.

Their housing benefit is cut because they are hit by the bedroom tax, or their entitlement to benefits is non-existent or reduced, or they are working in incredibly low-paid jobs.

We make days at school happy. We take our students on subsidised trips and have a 'forest school' that enhances their outdoor learning but the expectation is for accelerated learning and rigorous target setting.

They are, in effect, expected to make more progress than kids eating regular meals with home access to the internet and support from tutors paid for by their parents.

Fundamentally, however, the government has and continues to make a choice to ignore hungry, undernourished children.

They choose to blame the poorest parents for the crisis instead of ensuring that every family has a roof over their head, food and warmth in the winter.


Link up the struggles to stop the government

Rob Williams, Socialist Party executive committee

On 29 September, the 60,000 who marched on the TUC demonstration at Tory conference - a massive turnout for Manchester - showed a small indication of the seething anger that exists.

It was wilfully ignored by the mainstream media but it should be the platform for the type of mass strike action that can rock this government.

The Socialist Party with the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) and others has tirelessly campaigned for the TUC to call a 24-hour general strike as the most potent form of civil disobedience - to mobilise millions of workers which we believe will enjoy huge support from all those suffering from the brutal Con-Dem cuts.

If those unions already in dispute and planning action were to strike together on one day this autumn, it would be a huge step towards this, while building confidence in our ability to resist and shaking Cameron and Co.

There was huge support for the firefighters on their recent strike and the new phase of rolling regional teachers' strikes has been a great success so far.

The Napo probation workers are starting their ballot against privatisation this Friday; Royal Mail workers are in the middle of theirs and higher education workers in UCU, Unison and Unite are voting to strike at the same time that PCS has been consulting branches on the next steps of their action.

There is a huge appetite among members in these unions and the wider labour movement to strike together in order to maximise our strength.

The teachers' unions have already announced that they intend to follow the regional action with a one-day national strike this autumn.

The trade union leaders must get around a table together, open the diaries and fix the date. They must also keep the pressure on the TUC to name the day for a 24-hour general strike. We marched together in Manchester, it's now time to strike together.


Grim reality behind benefit headlines

Mary Jackson

I am an adviser in a charity and want to put some reality into the headlines by citing just a few cases I have seen in recent weeks.

I met a 41 year old very vulnerable woman, frightened to face the world some days, didn't open her post for weeks, had been through a tribunal to prove she was too ill to work.

Some months later her Employment and Support Allowance had stopped. Her mother telephoned and was told she had missed an appointment (she hadn't opened the letter). She appealed against the decision.

Constant battle

A month later and still no money, her mother phoned again. The woman was sent a form to complete. A month later, still no money, sent the same form again.

A month later, phoned and was told she couldn't be paid unless she had a medical examination. Three months later she got a date for a medical. Two hours before the appointed time she got a phone call cancelling the medical.

A month later, she finally attended a medical. The assessor was so appalled, she got permission to contact her GP to ask for her to be seen immediately.

The assessor said she would file the report as soon as possible meaning the woman would finally be paid.

Three weeks later, still no money, so the mother made another phone call to the DWP and found the report had not been sent from Atos.

A call to Atos revealed that the report had been ready for three weeks but had not been forwarded to the right department. Finally a decision was made and given in a phone call - she was not fit for work.

This woman had been eight and a half months without a penny. She is one of the lucky ones with parents willing and able to help a bit so she did not starve, a very understanding landlord so she was not made homeless.

Traumatised

But she was very traumatised by the whole experience. She lived without heat or hot water because she knew her pensioner parents could not really afford to keep paying for her electric as well as her food.

She was distraught every time her mother had to phone on her behalf. She sobbed: "I'm a human being, how can they treat me like this?"

That should be the end of this sad story, but no! The day her money went into her bank was the day she got her next 'fitness for work' form to fill in to start on the treadmill again.

12,000 people have died within three months of being found fit for work by Atos. This woman could have been one of these - she threw herself in front of a car, but luckily only suffered bruises and grazes.

Children suffer

Another woman who had allowed her children to live with their father because she was ill had the children suddenly returned to her because he had changed his mind.

The system allows the father to keep child benefit for three months if he doesn't voluntarily give it up.

Within a short time she had no money to feed them or even soap powder to wash their clothes. Social services arranged a food parcel and allowed her 5 - but insisted on spending the money for her so it didn't go very far.

She was living on tiny amounts of food herself but still struggled to feed her children until the benefit system caught up with her new circumstances.

Jobseeker

A single man, very capable, claiming Jobseeker's Allowance in between agency work when he could get it, was sanctioned so many times that he was in danger of losing his home.

He was sanctioned once after a period of agency work for not attending a 'job-search interview' even though he went in and cancelled it because he was starting work that day.

He was sanctioned once for being ten minutes late for an appointment because his bus had been held up because of a major accident.

Another time it was for missing an appointment despite phoning an hour before to tell them his gran had died and his mum needed him at home. Each sanction lasted longer than the last.

These are real people. But in uncaring 21st century Britain they are simply statistics. Maybe the plan is to reduce the benefit bill one death at a time. Enough is enough!


Stop blaming victims of austerity

Versions of the following letter were published by the Guardian and the Metro:

David Cameron's announcement detailing Tory plans to remove housing benefit and Jobseeker's Allowance from young people is a chilling reminder of his party's cruelty.

Despite the bombastic rhetoric about "a land of opportunity", punitive and callous policies like these will not alter the fact that more than five jobseekers are chasing every vacancy.

Threatening us with homelessness and destitution will not create the two million jobs needed to deal with mass unemployment.

The Youth Fight for Jobs campaign was set up in 2009 to take up the issue of mass youth unemployment - to help organise the 'lost generation'.

Since then, our unemployment figures have continued to rise. We've had crackpot workfare scheme after workfare scheme, but no progress has been made as a result.

Our challenge to politicians is for them to stop blaming those who fall victim to an economic system in crisis and brutal austerity, and instead pledge to carry out a mass, publicly funded programme of job creation.

If they fail, it's safe to say the mass protests that have swept the world will surely come to Britain too.

Claire Laker-Mansfield, spokesperson, Youth Fight for Jobs

Zero tolerance for zero-hours: Youth Fight for Jobs day of action against zero-hour contracts on 5 November. See youthfightforjobs.com


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In The Socialist 9 October 2013:


Socialist Party news and analysis

Tories rob NHS workers

Tories condemn us to the breadline

Socialist ideas are the Mail's real target

Them & Us


Socialist Party review

TV review: Breaking Bad


International socialist news and analysis

US government: 'Sorry, we're closed'

The 1913 Dublin Lockout and its true legacy


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Workers and youth: Unite against the far right

Scotland anti-bedroom tax conference

Newport council destroys workers' mural

Hull students and workers agree: We need councils that fight all cuts!

London: Lessons of South Africa's Marikana Massacre

Socialist Party fighting fund

Build the fightback - sell the Socialist!


Socialist Party workplace news

No to Royal Mail privatisation

Future Directions: Ten-day strike lobbies council

Firefighters rally against cuts

Probation officers ballot for action

Workplace news in brief


 

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