Beyond Sanctions and Food Banks: Work and Welfare
Contributors include Carlo Morelli, Connor Beaton, Sarah Glynn (SUWN)
Background discussion points
Cuts highest in most deprived communities and are increasing inequality (see report by Joseph Rowntree Foundation ‘The Cost of the Cuts’; CPAG report that over 100 wards in the UK have over 50% of children growing up in poverty.)
This is about class. There is a need to redistribute income from rich to poor instead of from poor to rich. We have to tackle the problems of divide and rule (deserving and undeserving poor, people in work and not etc)
People are afraid that they will be targeted next, and the act of criminalising protest has meant that people scared to stand up for rights
Dr David Webster has described welfare sanctions as an unaccountable penal system, which provides a potent counter-argument to the inevitable “can’t we just improve sanctions?” question.
Roll out the sort of intensive street work that SUWN has been doing in Dundee and Arbroath to other areas. Activists have been acting as Welfare Rights sans Frontières, reaching the many claimants mistreated by the jobcentre but not making their way to office-based organisations such as CAB. We make sure people are aware of their rights and help them stand up for them. We accompany people to interviews, give basic advice and make sure they get detailed professional advice when needed. We also use the knowledge gained to inform our campaigning activities. (Many SUWN activists are themselves unemployed, but you
don’t have to have been unemployed to want to do something about these issues.) SUWN is currently working with RIC and other activists in Glasgow to get similar activity going there, and are happy to help and work with other groups wanting to do similar work. Petition the Scottish Government to reimburse money lost through benefit sanctions in the same way as is being done for bedroom tax. DAWS (Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions) has written a petition, which is supported by the SUWN. At the moment this only exists as paper versions but we will let people know when it is up on line. (Also need to follow through and
check people with bedroom tax are receiving Discretionary Housing Payments from local councils.)
Spread knowledge and information about what’s happening so that the general public is more aware of what is going on. Make more use of video stories on the internet. Encourage use of language that emphasises structural causes of unemployment and poverty and doesn’t stigmatise and blame individuals. A return to the idea that social security is a right and not a privilege. Austerity is responsible for a humanitarian crisis and a health crisis. Spread knowledge of rights through video advice (SUWN is working on this) and through a Know Your Rights leafleting day in April. [This could be timed to be part of the Boycott Workfare Week of Action, announced this week, that runs from 25 April to 2 May.]
Importance of linking together practical help and advice for people on benefits (which itself should be about empowerment and not just charity), with campaigning on both specific issues, such as sanctions, and on wider issues that these all link into. Encourage development of pockets of resistance networked together. Importance of different local groups linking for solidarity and advice and for tying individual issues into the bigger picture.
Use election campaign to raise issues and get candidates to commit to change. [SUWN has now drawn up a list of 6 basic demands].
Learn more about and promote the potential of Basic Income (or Citizens Income) as a long-term solution to the problems of benefits and means-testing. Glasgow West RIC had a recent meeting on this and the SUWN is currently planning one for Dundee.