Wednesday 28th September
6pm CASE Central
Discussion of the Voluntary Charter with Mike Aiken
Synergy Centre update
B&HCC renewed Council Tax attack
Action against welfare deaths with DPAC
DAY OF ACTION: NO MORE WELFARE DEATHS!
Tuesday 6th September
12 noon Crown House Upper North Street
During its last term in office, the Labour government introduced the Work Capability Assessment, administered by infamous poverty pimps Atos. It was supposedly ‘a test of what you can do, not what you can’t’ … The result was that many disabled people were forced off the benefits which enabled them to live. Those who failed could be put through a stressful appeals process, and if successful, dragged back within months to be tested again.
In the years since, successive governments have overseen accelerating benefit cuts as part of the destruction of the welfare state and other public services. Cuts have caused increasing physical and mental ill health, and rocketing numbers of deaths and suicides among disabled claimants. At the same time the millionaires in parliament and in the media have determinedly scapegoated claimants to justify bullying them into hunger, homelessness, hopelessness and destitution, resulting in a rise in hate crime.
Join Brighton Benefits Campaign and Brighton Disabled People Against Cuts in saying ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! In work or out of work, disabled or not, we all have a right to live decent lives. Social security was intended to aid us in doing so when we can’t earn a living ourselves. It’s a right not a privilege or a reward.
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is the replacement for Disability Living Allowance (DLA). DLA was intended to provide support for the extra costs of being disabled, enabling disabled people to live a life on more even terms with non-disabled people. The DLA system worked well, but the entire PIP system is rotten to the core.
Just as the Work Capability Assessment was intended to throw disabled people off benefits and onto the dole queue, the whole purpose of making the change from DLA to PIP is to remove their entitlements to vital support.
This is not about saving public money. Private companies Atos and Capita are making a killing from conducting sham PIP assessments which are seeing thousands of claimants having their benefits refused, their incomes slashed and their motability cars removed. Reports of the shoddy nature of the assessments are growing every week. Although the success rate at appeal tribunals is high, it is taking up to six months or longer for cases to be heard, leaving those most in need struggling to survive.
Over the last eight years, increasing numbers of disabled people have been forced into destitution or worse, just to fulfil the aim of successive governments out to serve their wealthy friends by destroying the welfare state, slashing taxes and forcing millions of ordinary people into virtual slavery. The attack on the disabled is part of a mass assault which affects the rights of all of us.
Whether or not you are disabled, whether or not you are on benefits, we invite you to join Brighton Benefits Campaign & Brighton Disabled People Against Cuts in taking action against the poverty pimps who are doing the government’s dirty work for huge profits.
Saturday 11th June – meet at 10am Clock Tower
We are sorry that MAIS and the Free University are still going to be using the Synergy Centre for their event this Saturday. We understand they have had problems finding an alternative suitable venue.
However the Synergy Centre has only recently come into existence. Before it opened, groups and campaigns found venues to hold their events where deliberate use of unpaid labour was not an issue. Or where the issue was speedily resolved when it was brought to the attention of the venue management, as happened with the Brighthelm.
The Synergy Centre is unrepentent about its involvement with Seetec and the Community Work Placement scheme, and sticks by the anti-claimant rhetoric of its website. We will continue to encourage all other left and anti-austerity groups to boycott the Synergy Centre until this situation is resolved.
Wednesday 8th June
7pm Friends Meeting House Ship Street Brighton
Meeting for residents in Emergency Housing & Temporary Accommodation in Brighton & Hove
Emergency and Temporary Accomodation is a scandal, provided not by the council itself but by companies who can make many hundreds a month for each shabby damp room, far more than they would get in rent on the open market!
The council is failing to provide people in need with secure, supportive and habitable accommodation. There are bedbugs in Grand Parade, suicides and drug overdoses, families and people with mental illnesses living in unsuitable conditions with shit cooking facilities and sometimes no ability to wash clothes.
If you are fed up with your living situation then you need to come to this interesting meeting with like minded residents who want to reclaim our housing, improve conditions and put pressure on the council to rethink their policy on Emergency and Temporary Accommodation.
If you have any questions or want to clarify anything then please email email@example.com
It’s time to fight back! Together we can expose the wrongdoing that is happening and we need your voices and horror stories. See you there!
Following a meeting between its representatives and those of the Brighton Hove & District Trades Council, Brighton & Hove Green Party and the Brighton People’s Assembly, the Synergy Centre issued a statement BrightoningLivesMay2016 which has been seen by some as a commitment to withdraw from workfare.
Brighton Benefits Campaign has replied to the statement, questioning this supposed commitment (which would not have been forthcoming at all if various organisations had not threatened to boycott the Synergy Centre unless it withdrew).
The Synergy Centre is not simply an odd charity that uses workfare. By hosting and supporting the Brightoning Lives project and by its acceptance of Community Work Placements, it has chosen to be an integral part of the government’s workfare project and its ideology. The reasons are:
1. Workfare is part of the government’s campaign to demonise claimants and to mystify the real causes of unemployment. The Synergy Centre is happy to contribute to this propaganda, by stating on its website that the benefits system affects claimants’ ‘behaviour’ and makes them ‘stick with unemployment’, and in the statement that workfare is ‘helping people into employment’. The Synergy Centre’s involvement in workfare is entirely consistent with its stated ideological position.
2. The Synergy Centre makes misleading comparisons between the Community Work Programme and other workfare schemes. Previously introduced schemes involved the voluntary sector too. The Community Work Programme is also part of the ongoing government attempt to transform the voluntary sector into a compulsory sector that one day could replace jobs in public services. We are already aware that Jobcentre workers are being substituted by claimants on workfare, and organisations such as the NHS are increasingly relying on unpaid volunteers. By convincing the left that the Community Work Programme is acceptable, the Synergy Centre is helping the government’s project.
3. The Synergy Centre has rescued Seetec from its difficulty in placing claimants, by hosting a project whose aim was to receive claimants from Seetec. One of Seetec’s subcontractors, paid public money to find placements, set up and now runs the Brightoning Lives scheme. This is an alarming conflict of interests.
4. Seetec’s difficulties in placing claimants was the result of over six years of successful campaigning against workfare, which educated people about the implications of workfare, made the government retreat from placing claimants with businesses, and made a large number of charities withdraw from schemes – over 644 having already signed up to Keep Volunteering Voluntary. By convincing people that the Community Work Programme is acceptable, the Synergy Centre is undermining these gains, and sabotaging the ongoing campaign by Boycott Workfare which is specifically addressing the CWP.
5. The statement that Brightoning Lives does not replace jobs and does not make profits is misleading. Brightoning Lives asks clients to pay for their services and also competes with small businesses such as decorators, dog walkers and gardeners. Claimants decorated the Synergy Centre for free, increasing its value. All this would be pure profit because they are not paid for their labour. Also, by their own admission, Brightoning Lives has ‘financial ties to the CWP’.
6. The statement’s claim that claimants can return to Seetec sanction-free is questionable, and in fact is countered by stating that participants “are not forced against their will to attend – from the outset they are given a choice to either remain or return to Seetec to be placed elsewhere.” In other words claimants are given the choice to attend workfare at the Synergy Centre or to perform it somewhere else, or to sit in the Seetec office for 35 hours a week doing nothing. They are not given the choice to not attend at all, and by its involvement the Synergy Centre is helping to prolong this situation. We know that claimants attended the project in fear of sanctions. Some have complained that they have been forced to do mind-numbing and harmful activities eg. cutting brambles without gloves, without any health and safety considerations.
7. The termination of the scheme is not the same as a conscious withdrawal from it. When Brighton Benefits Campaign delegates talked to the Synergy Centre’s directors about ending their connection with workfare and signing up to ‘Keep Volunteering Voluntary’, this was treated with utter contempt. The Synergy Centre’s refusal to sign up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement means that they can ‘withdraw’ from this scheme and enter into another one later. The Synergy Centre is continuing to use workfare as long as the scheme lasts and the fact that this scheme terminates does not change their position in principle. It is absurd that the Synergy Centre is committing to a ‘transitional’ period that will end in September – why does it take four months to withdraw from a scheme they have only been involved in for two months to begin with?
From everything that they have said, it is clear that Brightoning Lives / Synergy Centre are not committed to opposing workfare, and have instead justified workfare schemes. They have refused to sign the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement, showing contempt for the campaign. They are undermining the war against workfare which Boycott Workfare, Brighton Benefits Campaign, SolFed and other groups have been successfully waging for the last six years. We will continue to work for a boycott of the Synergy Centre by radical and left wings groups.
Last month Brighton Benefits Campaign received information that the Synergy Centre in West Street was involved in workfare (working unpaid for your benefits under threat of sanction) having taken on claimants referred by Seetec – a private provider of the work programme infamous for the number of sanctions it hands out.
Representatives of the campaign therefore took a letter to the Synergy Centre asking them to confirm or deny whether this was the case, and explaining why workfare was destructive to both paid work and genuine volunteering. A long discussion followed, during which a very defensive manager and two directors of Synergy admitted that at least some of the ‘volunteers’ had been referred from Seetec, but indirectly via sub-contractors which they seemed to feel absolved Synergy from responsibility. During the discussion, they also revealed highly reactionary attitudes about unemployment and the unemployed, in stark contrast with the Synergy Centre’s claim to be a ‘progressive’ organisation, but ideologically consistent with their explicitly conservative statements online, such as this one:
‘In particular, Synergy will seek to develop ways of tackling the unemployment trap and poverty trap that constrain people living in deprived communities, particularly how to develop the necessary motivation and work ethics required to remain an active and productive member of society, even when access to paid employment may be limited by the recent economic downturn. In many modern welfare states, there are social payments, unemployment benefits or forms of social assistance which are close to alternatively achievable wages. This arrangement triggers a typical pattern of individual behaviour, because it represents an incentive structure where entering the labour market sometimes does not pay and as a result people stick with unemployment. Though this behaviour is rational in the short run, in the long run these people rob themselves of further possibilities for social mobility.’ (our emphasis)
A statement worthy of a Tory election address! It is not progressive to attribute unemployment to an individual’s failings, rather than the failure of capitalist society. It is not progressive to declare that in a welfare state, people choose a life on benefits over working, or that claimants develop particular patterns of behaviour (which is a frighteningly short step away from this pseudo-scientific nonsense). It is not progressive to distinguish between ‘idle’ unemployed and ‘productive’ workers. These are all right wing ideas which we have worked hard to oppose over the last six years!
Rather than replying to the letter, Synergy then passed the buck to the subcontractor who has been organising ‘volunteering’ as part of a project called Brightoning Lives, which is hosted at the Synergy Centre. We received an email from Peter J.B. confirming that the ‘volunteers’ are claimants who would in any case be forced to do workfare, but maintaining that what they are doing is preferable to – for example – working in a charity shop. While at times this may be true and some may find the work a positive experience, the fact remains that the people taken on by this project are not real volunteers but people in need who have been coerced into taking part. In addition some have been very unhappy at the kind of work they have been expected to perform.
According to its flyer, Brightoning Lives is offering ‘volunteers’ to work in people’s homes: DIY, dog walking, shopping. Anyone – even rich people – can phone and get free servants to tidy up their gardens or move their furniture. At a price… their leaflet states ‘pay as you can’. Their publicity fails to mention that these ‘volunteers’ are actually benefit claimants forced to work for nothing or be sanctioned, or that the person organising Brightoning Lives is a sub-contractor of the Community Work Placement scheme.
Pending requests from individual clients, Brightoning Lives has offered unpaid labour to various voluntary organisations, for example the Permaculture Trust (where some ‘volunteers’ have complained they were expected to pull brambles without gloves). We also have evidence that Brightoning Lives has used claimants on workfare to decorate the interior of the Synergy Centre. We are still waiting for a response regarding what other unpaid work claimants might be performing there.
Workfare is an attack on paid work and on real volunteering, and we are now seeing it creeping into the alternative, creative and environmental sector. We hope that many other groups will join us in putting pressure on the Synergy Centre – which has rapidly become a popular venue with radical and left organisations – to end its involvement with workfare.
There will be a demonstration and rally outside the Synergy Centre at 11am on Sunday 17th April, to coincide with the 99% Festival.
Although Brighton Benefits Campaign has decided not to take part in the festival, this is a demonstration against workfare, not against the festival which was organised by the Brighton People’s Assembly in good faith before the issue arose.
On Wednesday 9 March protests will be held outside job centres across the UK and Ireland, in the biggest demonstration against benefit sanctions ever.
Brighton Benefits Campaign will be joining with Unite Community in a picket of Brighton Jobcentre.
More and more people are facing benefit sanctions. Half a million people have had their benefits suddenly stopped by sanctions in the last 12 months alone. Many have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat. In some cases people have died as a direct result of sanctions.
These sanctions are cruel and handed out for trivial reasons such as:
This is not about getting people into employment but about starving them into submission.
Benefit sanctions must be fought against!
We say NO TO CONDITIONALITY! NO TO SANCTIONS!
On Friday 5th February we will be picketing the local office of poverty pimps Seetec
Meet outside Tower Point, 44 North Road Brighton BN1 1YR at 11.30am
Seetec is a private company which profits from workfare – the forcing of those in need into unpaid labour under threat of destitution. People are referred by Seetec for six-month full-time stints of workfare, in unsuitable places, some at long distances from home. Seetec is also noted for its excessive use of sanctions to punish the slightest perceived act of non-compliance.
Even those who believe that the unemployed should be made to work must see that none of this makes sense either socially or economically. It is clearly NOT about saving public money, seeing as the benefits, the travel, and the profits of the private providers of the discredited Work Programme all come out of public funds.
It is certainly NOT about finding people jobs or cutting unemployment. How can anyone even be expected to search for a job while being forced into six-months full-time unpaid and unskilled employment, plus up to three hours travel a day, all the while struggling financially on miniscule benefit and in terror of losing even that?
Join us in saying Enough is Enough!
Time to end workfare, to sack the poverty pimps, and to recognise that welfare is a human right.