Comment: social housing and the right to not be uprooted for others’ ‘safer investments’

The right to not be uprooted for others’ ‘safer investments’

Policy Exchange think tank Director Neil O’Brien told the BBC: “I don’t believe anybody has the right to live in the most expensive parts of town.”

Last week as a member of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group I attended the ‘paupers’ funeral’ of someone who had not lived in as expensive an area of London as that in which I have now lived as a social housing tenant since 1984. Former KUWG member Nygell Firminger had left the KUWG on getting a job a few years ago, then fallen on even harder times when he told the jobcentre what he was doing and they sanctioned him. And then his mum died after being assessed by Atos Healthcare as ‘not disabled enough’ to be eligible for disability benefits; he had been her main carer. He had reportedly attempted to resolve his rent arrears to Genesis Housing — an ‘Arms Length Management Organisation’ — through a voluminous file of correspondence, yet was evicted after an appeal in which his legal aid support capitulated. Then, in April, he broke back into the flat in which he had lived most of his life and apparently committed suicide. He would have been 45 on 16 September. His inquest will take place in November.Banner of Kilburn Unemployed Worker's Group

Nygell’s life and passing as a council tenant and artist without a sponsor might not have meant anything more to Policy Exchange Director Neil O’Brien or Housing Minister Grant Shapps than the creation of a vacant home. Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group draped Nygell’s coffin with a KUWG banner as a token of ‘state funereal’ respect.

Now Euro-currency-phobic investors from mainland Europe invest in London properties and Central Government has cut the funding to social landlords to the point that my own landlord started to ‘consider’ selling my home without consulting tenants. My pre-1989 Housing Act, ‘secure tenancy agreement’ prevents the sale of our poorly maintained, below ‘decent homes standard’ house ‘on the open market’. Now that I am a long-term ‘survivor’ of the UK benefits system, and as surely as my name means ‘noble protector’, I am more determined to ‘give back to society’ by helping to expose what blinkered lives are led by those who would rather deny poor people the amenities associated with ‘more expensive’ areas. Associating with other KUWG members has added considerably to the value of my life, and the struggle to maintain my existing tenancy has strengthened the links between my one-roomed-flat neighbours and myself.

Against a sharp rise in the number of ‘pauper’s funerals’ as cuts in UK Central Government-funding bite more and more at the economically vulnerable, I wonder, how many ‘pauper’s funerals’ have the Director of Policy Exchange or the Housing Minister attended lately?

The rhetoric of Shapps, O’Brien and the ‘free market’ is that poor people have fewer rights than those who have money. But KUWG members know better by knowing each other.

‘Raymondo of KUWG’

Comment: Claimants attacked, Workfare fraud hidden

Skewing the balance between reporting fraud by Work Programme companies and claimants gives the general public the skewed impression that fraud committed by benefit claimants is the general rule rather than the exception. That minimises the public outcry at the lack of regulation of the Work Programme companies into whose clutches are placed economically vulnerable Jobseekers Allowance and Employment & Support Allowance (Work Related Activities Group) claimants — at taxpayers’ expense! These claimants experience overcrowding and lack of vital jobsearch equipment on Work Programme company premises.

They are also in the firing line for benefit sanctions while Work Programme client advisers have reported caseloads as high as 250 per ‘adviser’!* In the case of ‘clients’ with mental health conditions regarded as ‘workshy’, say, is not this a vile human rights abuse, with 8.5% of Work Programme participants are in the ESA WRAG?**

‘Raymondo of KUWG’
Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group

Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
http://www.taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk
www.z2k.org

Dan Morton
Social Work Action Network
http://www.socialworkfuture.org/
and http://swanlondon.wordpress.com/

Notes
* Welfare to Work industry website forum entries report caseloads that high on account of the companies not having planned carefully to support jobseekers and ‘non-traditional jobseekers’.
Eg, http://indusdelta.co.uk/discussion/work_programme_case_loads/6453

** 8.5% of people on the Work Programme are in the ESA WRAG [PDF]

Work Programme Statistical Release may12

Adobe PDF
DWP WORK PROGRAMME STATISTICAL RELEASE This document contains official … Claimants in the ESA payment groups made up 48 thousand (8.5%) of all referrals to
research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd1/work_programme/wp_release

Bob Holman takes swipe at social services pay inequality with SWAN

Bob’s letter speaks for itself:

Social services pay disparities

Fifty years ago this month I started as a child care officer with a local authority.

Its outstanding chief officer earned no more than three times the salary of ordinary social workers.

David Crawford, head of Glasgow’s social work department, is leaving his £120,000 a year post with a lump sum of £130,000 and a huge pension (“Massive payoff for council’s social work boss”, The Herald, August 17).

He may well have been an excellent leader but the fact is that top social service posts are now the means of personal enrichment at a time when many front-line staff are on low incomes.

Given that he is really concerned about poverty and inequality, I hope he will attend the annual meeting, next April, of the Social Work Action Network (SWAN). This grassroots organisation will debate how social work and other social services can counter the huge cuts being imposed on them.

Like many voluntary bodies, SWAN struggles financially with an income not a fraction of David Crawford’s payoff.

Bob Holman,
76, Balgonie Road,
Glasgow.

SWAN thanks Bob for his solidarity and proof that a letter need not be long to say a great deal. Social work, in all its forms, needs to return to its radical roots: analysis and action on poverty and inequality.

SWAN extend their thanks to Bob and hope he will contribute to the next SWAN Conference which will be held from 12-13 April 2013 at London South Bank University. We stand against cuts and in favour of collective social work alternatives. Please email swanconf2013@gmail.com for more information about the conference, or keep your eyes on this website over the coming months.

Activist Research Workshop, July 14th 2012

 

On Saturday, July 14th, twenty people came along to Seomra Spraoi to participate in the provisional university workshop on activist research.   Many of the projects in Europe (and further and field) that we have been in contact with, for instance through the KLF network, have used activist research as part of political projects and autonomous education. Examples include the Critical Counter Cartographies project (North Carolina) or the Precarias a la deriva group (Madrid). This workshop was very much a hands on attempt to reflect on and analyze aspects of the social world which are most relevant from the point of view of radical social change.  

The workshop began with some discussion of how social change takes place, a question which is always relevant for research of this kind. Participants discussed the importance of lived experience, often experiences of material inequality, and the ideas that emerge from experience as important factors in social change. It was also noted that change often occurs through a wide array of everyday practices which are not linked to any explicit political discourse or organizing. The example of the rejection of Catholic Church in Ireland was given to indicate the way people can undermine forms of power and authority in their everyday lives without necessarily creating a political movement. It was also noted that while everyday experience is important, without some level of utopian vision our struggles will remain limited. As the facilitator, I introduced my understanding of social change by way of three quotes. The first one, Marx and Engels famous one from the German Ideology, goes like this:   “Communism is not an ideal to which reality must adjust itself, but the real movement that destroys the present state of things.”   I understand this in terms of two points. Firstly, radical social change does not begin from abstract visions of the future which we then impose on the world or convince others to go along with. Secondly, radical social change is rooted in forms of conflict, frustration and tension which are already happening around us and which give rise to everyday practices that point towards alternatives to ‘the present state of things’. What I think Marx and Engels are talking about here is that fact that, in their time, communism didn’t refer to the vision of a post-capitalist future society, but much more importantly to the actual everyday ways in which workers across Europe were doing things (dodging work, breaking factory machines, helping each other, forming unions) that, in the here and now, worked to undermine capitalism. The second quote comes from Raoul Vanneigem:   “People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth”.   This evocative statement attests to the fact that when political ideology becomes separated from everyday experience it becomes a dead language, it fails to resonate with us. In other words, political analysis or ideology must always relate to and feed off the everyday practices happening all around us. The final quote comes from the Zapatista slogan ‘caminamos preguntando’ – we walk forward questioning. This highlights that political struggle and analysis is not about having all the answers but about continually asking questions. In sum, I wanted to highlight the importance of everyday experience for social change, the importance of relating everyday experience to political analysis, and the importance of continual questioning in that process of analysis. These ideas underpinned the way the workshop was structured.  

Following this, the main part of the workshop  began. We focused on the issue of rented accommodation. Because the workshop would be based on collective reflection on our shared experience, it was useful to focus on an issue of which we all had experience. I introduced four ‘lenses’ through which we could reflect on an analysis our experiences. The lenses were:   Experience: experience simply brings us back to what it is actually like to live in rented accommodation, to the frustrations, the tensions, the difficulties but also the positives. It from these everyday experiences that change can ultimately come.   Strategies: this lens focuses on the things people already do to make living in rented accommodation more bearable or more sustainable. These include getting rent allowance, moving outside the city to get a cheaper/better place, moving in with friends to create community and so on. It is important to recognize that there are already practices taking place through which people actively shape the way they live and their housing situation.   Controls: this lens recognizes that while people organize themselves in order to improve their situation or survive in it, there are many factors which block or limit our capacity to do this. These include the deposit, the fact that you need references, contracts, the fact that landlords frequently operate outside the law, the absence of tenants’ rights legislation and so on.   Actors: this lens draws out attention to various groups or organizations that are involved in a situation, including the people who live in rented accommodation, the people who own it, the people who make money out of it and the people who make the rules.  

Having introduced these lenses we broke into groups of 5 and discussed each one. After about 25 minutes of discussion the groups came back together to share what they had discussed. Meanwhile, I wrote down what people were saying on the flipchart. The issues that arose included: the transience of rented accommodation; feelings of insecurity and the difficulty of creating a real ‘home’; the power imbalance between tenant and landlord; the joy of sharing a house with friends; the things we do to create community in shared accommodation; the possibility of negotiating with landlords; the legislation that exists; the control implied by references from previous landlords; the absences of alternatives and a long etc.   After only 25 minutes discussion it became clear that by collectively reflecting on our own experience we can draw a map of the experiences, dynamics and actors which operate in and shape a particular social situation. This is particularly important in social movements where, in my own experience, people rarely discuss their own experience. It is also important because engaging with the level of everyday experience can allow us to do a number of things. (a) It allows us to understand what is most important in rented accommodation for those of us who live in it; (b) it allows us to identify where some of the most important issues might lie, and this is essential to politically intervene in a situation; and (c), through talking about our experience together we can develop a way of talking about and understanding our situation which is based on our experiences – this is a kind of creation of a political language through which to critically reflect on the issue, a political language which is steeped in experience and which we actively create together.   Following a short break we returned for the second half of the workshop. At this stage we were running over time so this part of the workshop was a little bit rushed. In this part we took another look at what had come out of the previous discussion and identified what we would like to know more about. We focused on a couple of examples from each lens. For instance, for the experience lens we chose to focus on the experience of landlords themselves and the experiences of migrants – a group which were not heavily represented at the workshop but who form a significant part of people living in rented accommodation. Having identified what we wanted to know more about we broke into groups of 5 once more. Each group reflected on 1 of the lenses and developed research strategies and methods for ascertaining more information or greater understanding of their issue. After 10 minutes we came back together to see what the groups had come up with.   The strategies the groups came up with reflected most of the ways in which researchers go about doing research. They included interviews, focus groups and drawing on existing statistics (quantitative data) or research (by contacting university-based researchers or organizations that do research). Novel strategies for contacting hard-to-reach groups wee also suggested, including setting up facebook pages.   Importantly, most of the research strategies involved coming together with others who were affected in some way by rented accommodation. This is important for a number of reasons. First of all, as noted throughout the workshop, one of the difficulties of living in rented accommodation is the individualization it creates. If, through the research process we are constructing relationships with others, however, we can create moments or spaces which de-individualize rented accommodation and which create relations between people in this shared situation. Secondly, many of the research strategies suggested had a collective dimension – such as focus groups or community consultations. These strategies are both moments of research and moments of creating collectivity – or community – among those affected. In both these instances we see that researching for social change becomes a process of social change in itself. Thirdly, activists are typically concerned about failure to engage with people beyond the social movements or the ‘activist scene’. This relates to the question of difference, working and building relationships with people who are different from us. Often, if we take a very ideological stance on an issue the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are greater. However, by coming together around a shared question in a scenario in which participants can participate in the creation of analysis and a political language to analyze shared experience, boundaries can be weakened and relationships across difference can be established. Finally, through the research process we can create allies by contacting, meeting and listening to advocacy organizations, academics, trade unions and others who are involved in a given issue. These allies are very important in terms of the research but may prove useful in terms of wider campaign work or organizing as well.   At this point we were running 30 minutes over time and the workshop came to an abrupt end. There are lots of issues which could have been covered and addressed but were not due to time constraints. For instance, it would have been interesting to look at ways of recording and presenting the results of research (e.g. audio-visual media) as well as ways of opening up the research process to the public (e.g. if you are interested in a researcher’s work, instead of meeting for a coffee you can ask her to give a talk on the issues and so make your learning process open to all). It would also have been interesting to examine some examples of activist research. Perhaps some of these things can be addressed in a future workshop.   Mick O’Broin

The link to the article is here: http://provisionaluniversity.tumblr.com/post/27328416533/notes-on-activist-research-workshop-on-collective

 

Flyer for SWAN Conference 2013

We are waiting to hear back on a number of exciting, radical keynote speakers and we are developing workshops for the conference (which will include international social work and anti-racist social work sessions). As soon as we can confirm more we will update our promotional materials and let you all know.

In the meantime please download and use the flyer below.

Birkenhead Remploy Demonstration Monday 13th August

remployDear all,
As you may be aware, Remploy workers in Birkenhead are being made redundant as of next Thursday. This is a disgusting attack on disability working rights on the one hand, and part of a wider attack on disability rights which has seen benefits and adult social care being cut on the other. After a meeting of the Remploy workforce today the decision was made to hold a demonstration at the factory on Monday 13th August 4:30pm (Remploy, Unit 4, West Float Ind. Estate, off dock road, Birkenhead, CH41 1JH)). They are calling for the support of trade unions and campaign groups to come and make this a vibrant demonstration and to create awareness of the issues faced by disabled people as well as all those suffering attacks under the Con-Dem government.
Please come along with your trade union banners and show your solidarity.

Messages of support to go to gareth.rees@remploy.co.uk

Message from Remploy Workers below:
Dear brothers and sisters,
As you are probably aware we are facing imminent closure at Remploy Birkenhead Today a meeting of the workforce has decided upon holding a demonstration at the factory on Monday 13th August at 4:30pm. We are calling on all fellow trade unionists and supporters to join us sending a clear message to the government that we are fighting for our jobs. Yours Fraternally Garteh Rees (GMB shop steward, Remploy Birkenhead)

Birkenhead Remploy Demonstration 14th August

Dear all,
As you may be aware, Remploy workers in Birkenhead are being made redundant as of next Thursday. This is a disgusting attack on disability working rights on the one hand, and part of a wider attack on disability rights which has seen benefits and adult social care being cut on the other. After a meeting of the Remploy workforce today the decision was made to hold a demonstration at the factory on Monday 13th August 4:30pm (Remploy, Unit 4, West Float Ind. Estate, off dock road, Birkenhead, CH41 1JH)). They are calling for the support of trade unions and campaign groups to come and make this a vibrant demonstration and to create awareness of the issues faced by disabled people as well as all those suffering attacks under the Con-Dem government.
Please come along with your trade union banners and show your solidarity

Messages of support to go gareth.rees@remploy.co.uk

Message from Remploy Workers below:
Dear brothers and sisters,
As you are probably aware we are facing imminent closure at Remploy Birkenhead Today a meeting of the workforce has decided upon holding a demonstration at the factory on Monday 13th August at 4:30pm. We are calling on all fellow trade unionists and supporters to join us sending a clear message to the government that we are fighting for our jobs. Yours Fraternally Garteh Rees (GMB shop steward, Remploy Birkenhead)

SWAN North East inaugural conference – November 2012

Conference will run from 09:30 to 16:30 lunch will be provided. Entry fees are £20 for those waged, £10 for students and free for those who are unwaged.

An initial session will consider the Government’s assault on the English Northern regions in particular with a focus on regional vulnerabilities in terms of attacks on the regions with higher proportions of public sector employment. Michael Lavalette (National Convenor, Social Work Action Network), will be speaking.

There will be subsequent parallel sessions on:
– Local Authority social work
– Challenges for trade unionists (including a branch secretaries discussion forum for UNISON and other unions)
– Youth and community work challenges  
– Work with refugees and asylum seekers
– Teaching and learning radical practice

The conference will match academic speakers with trade union, practitioner and service user groups to keep a sense of direct involvement in participants’ lives and/or practice.

A further part of the conference will be a YouTube memorial project – ‘Destroying Big Societies’ – with facilitated input from service users and practitioners.  This will involve brief videos which examine the impact of specific projects being affected by government cuts, examining the impact of the changes and the local level fight backs against them.

This conference will have a strong Northern England focus in terms of practice, social policy and politics but all potential presentations of interest will not be excluded.

More details will follow in September.  

For further information email swannortheast@gmail.com

Join the Atos games! An invitation from DPAC

 
We are calling on disabled people, disabled activists, families, colleagues, friends and supporters to come together and fight back against Atos’s attacks. Atos represents as dangerous an opponent as any government, law or barrier the disability movement has faced in its long history. It’s not just welfare, but our very identity and our place within society that is under attack.

And we are asking the whole of the anti-cuts movement to join us in our opposition to the company most responsible for driving through the government’s brutal cuts agenda. Let’s make it Games over for Atos!
We’re not against the Paralympics or the people taking part in it. We’re highlighting the hypocrisy of Atos, a company that soon may be taking disability benefits from the people winning medals for Team GB.

Ever since George Osborne announced he was slashing £18 billion from the welfare budget, the government has paid Atos £100 million a year to test 11,000sick and disabled people every week, then decide whether they’re ‘fit for work’.

Atos uses an inhumane computer programme to do the testing, and trains its staff to push people off benefits. The government has admitted the tests are flawed, and the British Medical Association wants them to end immediately.

But Atos continues to devastate people’s lives. Many have committed suicide because of its testing programme, and over 1,000 people have died of their illnesses soon after being found ‘fit for work’.
We won’t let them get away with murder, so join in The Atos Games however you can – online, on the phone, or on the streets!

· Monday 27th: A coffin full of your messages about Atos will be delivered to its doorstep.
· Tuesday 28th: Pay a visit to your local Atos office – and maybe even take your protest inside!
· Wednesday 29th: We’ll hold a spoof Paralympic awards ceremony, hopefully with some very special guests…
· Thursday 30th: Phone jam! Let’s flood Atos with calls, and generate a Twitter-storm they can’t ignore!
· Then on Friday 31st, join us in London where we’re teaming up with UK Uncut for the Grand Finale – an audacious, daring and disruptive action. Last time we shut down Oxford Circus, this time we will be performing miracles…!
 
Over the next few weeks we’ll give more details about each day of action. We’ll make sure that DPAC members and disabled people who can’t travel will be able to take part in different and accessible ways.
We’d really like YOU to make this week of action a great success! Let’s come together and show this monstrous company that we’re stronger than them. They’re the vulnerable ones and they know it.
Atos has offices in most towns across the country, so start organising an action for August 28th at your local Atos now!

Let the Atos Games begin!