The Welfare Reform Bill is back in the Lords today which may yet result in some more tinkering with this desperate piece of legislation. However the main thrust of the bill, enshrining as it does Universal Credit, benefits caps, mass health and disability testing programmes, workfare and the slashing of benefit for 20% of disabled people, is all firmly established and will become law.
That ermine clad toffs had no more understanding of the intricacies of the benefits system then Oxbridge MPs is of little surprise. Few, if any, would have any experience of signing on. That’s how, based largely on rumour, prejudice, Daily Mail headlines and bad arithmetic, this car crash of a bill came about. The very mechanisms it enshrines are already failing. The Atos system of computer based health to tests to establish benefit eligibility is in a shambles, running 80% behind target whilst the appeals system in in melt down. Major retailers, such as Sainsburys and Waterstones are pulling out of workfare, with more set to follow them. DWP sources have claimed the idea that Universal Credit will be ready to roll out on time next year is ‘pie in the sky’.
It is in the implementation that this Bill will come apart at the seams, and that is where it has always been most vulnerable. Eighteen months after the non-election of this government, the fight to save the Welfare State is just getting started New groups are springing up around the UK to resist the all out assault on the very poorest and after over a year of action claimants aren’t going anywhere just because Cameron has bullied this Bill through the Lords.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) was formed after the 2010 anti-austerity protests outside the Conservative Party Conference and has been at the forefront of the struggle against the Welfare Reform Bill since the beginning. Recently, along with UK Uncut and others, they helped bring traffic in the West End to a standstill for two hours after wheelchairs users chained themselves together and blocked Oxford Street. More action has been promised, you can visit their website at: http://www.dpac.uk.net/ or find them on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/DPAC2011/
Also increasingly active, are the Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights, who attended at Oxford Street and been involved in organising against welfare cuts in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool and Dundee. They are on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/blacktriangle11?sk=info
Benefits Claimants Fightback began as a facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/116432071735566/) back when the onslaught against claimants first began under Labour and aims to be a meeting place and online organising tool for all benefit claimants. A website of the same name attempts to keep track of action against benefit cuts at: http://benefitclaimantsfightback.wordpress.com/
Boycott Workfare has organised actions and protests and is maintaining a register of organisations who refuse to support the government’s forced labour scheme. The next action is on 3rd March which has been called as a National Day of Action Against Workfare, with other resistance already planned in Liverpool and Brighton. They have a new facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Boycott-Workfare/222201111204955
A Boycott Workfare group has also been established in Birmingham, whilst last weekend Brighton Benefits Campaign held a picket of Poundland in protest at their use of workfare, and the word on the street is that Brighton Poundland will no longer be accepting workfare placements. This shit works. Brighton also has a DPAC group on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/groups/BrightonDisabledPeopleAgainstCuts/
Other regional groups include the Crutch Collective in Glasgow who will be continuing their houding of the local Atos sharks with a picket outside their offices on Friday 17th February. The long established Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty have organised countless protests and actions and have a wealth of information on their website at: http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/
Winvisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities) and Single Mother’s Self-Defence have long been involved in supporting claimants and organised the recent series of lobbies and vigils outside the Lords where the debate was taking place, as well as helping co-ordinating the joint letter to the BMJ and RCN expressing disgust at the activities of Atos Healthcare.
The Spartacus Report was compiled by disabled activists and highlighted the shoddy consultation and inhumane changes implicit in the move to Personal Independence Payments. Several authors of the report blog at Diary of a Benefit Scrounger and they can be found on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/groups/wearespartacus/
Also on facebook is the busy Disability Defence page: http://www.facebook.com/groups/#!/groups/disabilitydefence/ whilst After Atos Alliance provides support and discussion for victims of the Atos testing regime at: http://www.facebook.com/groups/afteratos/
Other groups on facebook opposing the benefit cuts include the Social Welfare Advocacy page at: http://www.facebook.com/SocialWelfareAdvocacy and Respect for Unemployed and Benefit Claimants: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Respect-For-the-Unemployed-Benefit-Claimants/128136787240200
Elsewhere online, the Atos Register of Shame, DWP Examination, Work Programme and Watching A4e are just some websites keeping track of the assault on welfare and those, like A4e and Atos, who are making a fortune from the changes.
Sol Fed, UK Uncut, Anarchist Federation and Right To Work are other groups that have been supportive and helped organise action, whilst support has come in the political press from Freedom, Schnews and the enduring Morning Star. Union support has come from the PCS at national and branch level and the RMT.
It would be impossible to list all of the groups, websites and organisations involved in challenging the Welfare Reform Bill and vast apologies to all those that have been missed in this list. Please post links in the comments to any and all groups fighting to retain a system where losing your job, becoming sick or disabled, having children, or being low waged, does not mean a life of poverty, homelessness and state harassment.
Please also share groups on facebook, post links to organisations, tweet and help make sure that every last one of the millions of claimants set to be devastated by the upcoming benefit changes has access to local support, and more importantly the chance to organise and take action.
We will not stop, we will not die, escalation is called for, let’s watch them crumble.