It’s been more than six months since the last update to this page, as the membership has been preoccupied with a number of key activities aimed at providing help and support for those still living under the shadow of Tory austerity. These include Durham Unite Community’s highly successful campaign to provide support to local people subsisting below the poverty line through the County Durham Socialist Clothing Bank; as well as its on going Welfare Support at appeals and tribunals with those currently contesting benefit decisions made by the DWP.
In addition to this, some of the membership have been conducting their own independent research into the full impact of the sanctions regime locally. According to a recent report published on the Welfare Weekly website previous proposals from the DWP that were agreed last October, in which it was envisaged that a ‘less aggressive approach to sanctions’ was scheduled for preliminary trials, now appear to have been sidelined by Ministers. The proposals, which are said to have included the issuing of warnings in place of the immediate implementation of a benefit sanction, when ‘a claimant breaches the conditions imposed on them for the first time’, now appear to have been ‘quietly’ dropped ‘in response to sustained criticism that sanctions are often applied unfairly’, according to Welfare Weekly.
Although the reasons why the new proposals appear to have been systematically sidelined are still unclear, some sources appear to be pointing the finger at Esther McVey, who took over from David Gauke at the DWP earlier in the year. Research into the impact of sanctions at local level between May 2010 and September 2016 suggests that in the Sunderland area alone there were 39,150 referrals for benefit sanctions. Nationally, a report published earlier in February on the Guardian website suggests that in excess of a million sanctions appear to have been applied to disabled people alone since the Tories came to power. The publication of this report comes directly after a damning assessment from the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which found that Iain Duncan Smith’s much championed ‘welfare reforms’ ‘systematically violate’ the rights of the sick and disabled.
Other issues that the membership have been looking into include matters relating to social housing in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, with particular reference to possible breaches of government guidelines and tenants rights outside the Greater London area; where the subject of what has been referred to by tenants as ‘social cleansing’ has been widely discussed by activists. According to a number of recent postings on the Community Voice Carlisle website, some of the issues raised since the Grenfell Tragedy about the general treatment of tenants by senior management within the social housing sector appear to be common place over the Pennines in the North West. In the light of these revelations CSC activists have been carrying out detailed research within County Durham as a means of assessing as to whether or not tenants here in the North Eaast have similar grounds for complaint. More in detail about that in a future post.
With the continued roll out of Universal Credit taking place at more jobcentres throughout County Durham, and yet more suffering being engendered as a result, we hope to be able to bring you continual updates about how this is impacting the most vulnerable in our society as Tory Austerity continues to reap its harvest of death and destruction across our region. We also plan to be focusing on some of the issues that have been raised locally in relation to the influence of private sector involvement in public sector contracts in the light of the collapse of Carillion. In the Unite Community North East, Yorkshire and Humberside regional sector Leeds has been particularly badly hit, and we shall be endeavouring to assess the overall effect of this on the local economy and services over the coming months. So, bookmark this page and we’ll keep you posted!
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons