By Cuts Cafe Guest Blogger
The government are cutting welfare with relish. The Tories used their recent party conference to celebrate taking away yet more from the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. The economic crisis is being used as an excuse to completely dismantle what remains of what was always a patchy and ineffective welfare safety net. Just take a look at David Cameron’s welfare cuts wish list which is pretty much a project of social engineering with poor people are kicked out of their housing and single parent mothers told not to have any more children. For now, this is a Tory dream, but the present isn’t much better, with anyone not earning £25,000 likely to be hit hard by the current welfare ‘reforms’.
But perhaps dismantle is the wrong word to describe this process, as it suggests that the infrastructure of the welfare state is disappearing. Whilst this may be true with regards to monetary entitlements for claimants who are seeing their subsistence benefits cut, the infrastructure of welfare is actually growing in the form of ‘welfare to work’ companies, such as A4e and G4S, making millions of pounds from our misery. As we struggle to survive on less and less our daily existence is further impoverished through the intensification of control that is exerted on us.
One example of this is workfare – forced unpaid work for benefits. This is not anything that new (the Labour party introduced it back in the 1990s) but it is being rolled out on a massive scale to act as a punishment and as a way of making cuts to the welfare budget on top of those outlined in Cameron’s wish list. Other covert means of cutting the welfare budget and leaving people destitute include the use of sanctions and the refusal of crisis loans, with Job Centres instead sending people to food banks rather than give them the money they should be entitled to.
Being forced to work for your benefits is exploitative and degrading. The workfare project also represents the transformation of the welfare state into the workfare state; rather than providing support and a form of remuneration for our activities outside of the labour market, it acts to force everybody into the labour market, without a wage. Finally, workfare undermines the wages and working conditions of those in work and is being used as a way to fill the gaps created by the cuts to public services (workfare in the NHS for example). It is clear that like the other cuts to welfare, this effects the unwaged and the waged alike.
Another deeply concerning reality of welfare today is the rise of food banks across the UK and the Tories’ excitement that this could become the future for welfare – charities attempting to provide people with food staples with a good chunk of judgement and moralism thrown in. The rise of food banks is partly in response to the welfare cuts that have been made, but they are also driving further cuts as the state uses them as an excuse to retreat from providing welfare. This is happening right now in Lambeth. Instead of prioritising the provision of crisis loans for its constituents, the council have been in talks with local food banks about sending people here instead. On the shelf of a food bank I visited in Lambeth there sat a tub of Fortnum and Mason Organic Goose Fat, left over from someone’s Christmas hamper. A reminder, as if we needed it, that this is class war.
This is the state of ‘welfare’ today.
Every visit to the Job Centre is a struggle. A struggle to enter the place that fills me with dread. A struggle to stand up for myself to bullying advisors. A struggle to ensure that I receive the subsistence benefits that I am entitled to. We mustn’t go through this alone – we must create our own welfare system of solidarity. As claimants we must look after each other and support each other and take collective action against those denying us our rights – and to go beyond this, for ‘rights’ within the current system gives us very little.
There are loads of examples where groups have successfully taken action - Hackney Housing Group gained such a reputation that when they once went along to pay the housing office a visit, the housing office brought down its shutters and closed. Boycott Workfare have pressured dozens of high street stores and charities to pull out of the government’s workfare schemes. Sharing our experiences, ideas, and tactics is important and Cuts Cafe will provide a space for us to come together to do this.
Welfare discussions at Cuts Cafe
Sunday 14th October 2pm-4pm- Able to Fight: Welfare Reform, Disability and Resistance
Red Pepper presents a panel with Michael Calderbank, Kate Bell (co-author, Red Pepper welfare reform mythbuster), Phillip Connolly (RNIB), and Merry Cross (DPAC)
Wednesday 17th October 6pm-London Coalition Against Poverty
Fighting for our rights to housing and welfare: Mutual support and direct action work!