Sanctions In the News

MPs have called for a full independent review to be established in the new Parliament to to investigate whether benefit sanctions are being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately, across the Jobcentre Plus (JCP) network, says the Work and Pensions Committee in a Report published Tuesday 24 March 2015

You can read more here

Is the word finally getting out that the current system is administered unfairly and on a seemingly ad hoc basis?

In addition The Independent has been reporting on the story. Some of the examples cited show a callous disregard for job seekers and, in any other arena, would be described as bullying.

Six alarming revelations

Finally again from The Independent there is this- falling firmly into the category of you could not make it up


Easter Clothing Bank

County Durham Socialist Clothing Bank opened for Easter yesterday. We had a raffle, free Easter eggs for families with children and brand new smart clothes, suitable for interview, paid for by a donation from the Northern TUC. Thank you to all who contributed to the Clothing Bank.CB12

The Northern Echo came to visit us and took photographs. Keep a look out in the paper over the next few days.


It was busy, really  busy -which is good for us but also dreadful that people are in such dire straits..  We were able to help two very pregnant ladies by giving them a buggy each, some baby clothes, a car seat, baby wipes and nappies. We were also able to help some of our homeless friends  with clothes and toiletries. As we keep saying, the gratitude of those we help is humbling for all our volunteers- but also makes us so sad.


The raffle raised £134- thank you to all who bought tickets or donated prizes. We could not do it without you. We will let you know what we decide to use the money for.


And to finish with a quote from Oscar Wilde which our fat cat politicians may want to take note of:  “To recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less”.

Tax avoidance ‘at the very core’ of firms bidding for major NHS contracts, Unite reveals

Many of the major private health companies bidding for NHS services have tax avoidance measures ‘at the core of their activities’, research from Unite the Union has revealed.

The shocking report exposes ten major health companies including the four biggest private hospital chains in the UK, and Virgin Care and United Healthcare both currently bidding for major clinical contracts.

Tax expert Richard Murphy analysed ten private health firms actively bidding for and running privatised sections of the NHS. The research revealed that all ten make use of tax havens and extremely complex corporate structures to lessen their potential tax bill, while only two pay any significant tax in the UK at all.

Key Findings:
The companies analysed by the research are: Care UK, Circle, General Healthcare Group, HCA, Bio Products Laboratory Holdings, Ramsay Healthcare, Spire Healthcare, The Practice, Optum (United Health) and Virgin Care.

Only two of the 10 companies (HCA and Ramsay) pay any significant tax in the UK because most of the others have structures that involve the payment of significant interest, much of it to offshore companies.

However, all ten companies have links to offshore tax havens, including the Channel Islands, British Virgin Islands and Luxembourg, and all but one employ extremely complex corporate structures to potentially lower their tax bill.

To make matters even worse many of these companies are US companies, or have strong US investment links, which means that the Government could be prevented from taking their NHS contracts back into the public sector unless the NHS is exempted from the trade deal TTIP.

Virgin Care, a subsidiary of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group Holdings Ltd is revealed to have paid no tax on its last reported profits. Virgin uses 13 intermediate holding companies to distance the firm’s healthcare division from its parent company, based in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.

Despite this arrangement Virgin Care provides 30 primary care services across England including GP practices, GP out of hours services, walk-in centres, urgent care centres (UCCs) and minor injury units (MIUs). Virgin is allowed to bid for a contract worth £280 million in East Staffordshire to treat patients with long term ailments such as diabetes and heart disease.

Similarly Optum UK, a subsidiary of US giant United Healthcare, is bidding for a Staffordshire-based NHS cancer and palliative care contract worth £1.2 billion. Optum has paid zero tax on its reported profits and is linked to tax havens including the Cayman Islands though its parent company.

Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said:

“it’s a national scandal that firms can bid for cancer treatment contracts while scheming how to siphon their profits out of the country into far flung tax havens.

“To make matters even worse many of these companies are US companies, or have strong US investment links, which means that the Government could be prevented from taking their NHS contracts back into the public sector unless the NHS is exempted from the trade deal TTIP.”

“Good government should do everything possible to protect taxpayer funded public services like the NHS from companies with links to tax havens. But the Tory government’s warped health and social care act has opened up the door to private companies with dubious tax arrangements.

“Despite the NHS being under huge financial strain the Coalition government is behaving like an accomplice to private companies with tax avoidance structures in place.

Richard Murphy said:

“What the structure of many of these businesses shows is that tax planning is at the very core of their activities. This is the wrong priority for companies working in the state funded NHS where the tax contribution everyone makes, including from those who supply NHS services, is vital to the continuing health of the nation.”

Spire Healthcare and General Healthcare Group, both registered in tax havens, received tax credits from HMRC wiping out payments they had made over the previous three years.

Despite these arrangements, none of the companies surveyed have been excluded from bidding for NHS contracts. Since the Health and Social Care Act passed in 2012 billions of pounds worth of NHS services have fallen into private hands. Of the total contracts awarded since April 2013, more than half have gone to non-NHS providers according to the NHS Support Federation.

A new EU-US trade deal, known as TTIP, could prevent the government from cracking down on these practises. Seven of the firms including Virgin and General Healthcare Group have US subsidiaries or investors, potentially allowing them to use the deal to prevent the government blocking their future bids or terminating existing contracts.

Closure Of Sure Start Centres

The latest round of cuts have recently been announced,which will mean among other things, the closure of 28 Sure Start children’s centres in County Durham. (Please see this recent local newspaper report for more details).

Therefore, we will be meeting on Thursday, 26th March, 6pm, at the People’s Bookshop, Durham to discuss how we can respond to this.

Secondly, the People’s Assembly ‘End Austerity’ national demonstration is taking place in London on Saturday, 20th June 2015. It’s vital that we get as many people there as possible to send a clear message to whichever government is in place after the general election in May, that austerity – which is devastating communities across the country – must be abandoned. So we will also discuss how we can plan for this.

Len McCluskey Statement

Len McCluskey speech: We are preparing for Tory attacks – they will force unions outside the law
Len 1 
The country’s biggest union is preparing for a future Tory government to destroy the remaining freedoms of UK workers, the leader of the country’s biggest union warned tonight (Thursday 20 March).
In a major speech to the leading professional body for the country’s lawyers, the Industrial Law Society, Len McCluskey says that decades of attacks on workers and their unions have allowed power and wealth to be accrued by a few like never before. But, he warns, the Tory party has not finished yet – further attacks are planned to silence opposition to attacks on jobs and public services.
Such are Unite’s concerns, the union’s executive is recommending to members that the words “so far as may be lawful” are removed from the rules governing the union’s actions in recognition that a Tory government will introduce laws to prevent working people mounting a decent defence against employer abuse.
In a far reaching speech covering the journey from the Margaret Thatcher’s assaults on unions to the present day, whereby a single judge can deny hundreds of workers the ability to take lawful industrial action mandated by legal ballots, Len McCluskey warned that the fundamental human right to strike is “hanging by a thread”.
Emphasising that Unite is committed to operating effectively within the law, he says that the time has come to ask “can unions stay within the law any longer?”
Delivering the Bill Wedderburn lecture, Len McCluskey said:
“This proposed change in the constitution of the biggest union on these isles marks the sorry place we have reached in our national democracy.
“These words will go not because we are anarchists, not because we are suddenly planning a bank robbery – but because we have to ask ourselves the question, can we any longer make that commitment to, under any and all circumstances, stick within the law as it stands?
“Unite remains determined to operate ever more effectively within the law, even when that law is an ass and ill-serves our people. But restricting the right to strike, attacking the capacity for trade unions to organise and conduct our own business in line with our own rules, belong to last century’s consensus.  They fail working people today.
“Other aspects of that ‘consensus’ – a deregulated financial sector, a flexible labour market, being intensely relaxed about the filthy rich – have been discredited since the global crash. Yet trade union law remains untouched and politically untouchable; the great unmentionable of British politics.
“The ugly reality is that widening inequality, wealth concentrated at the top, a shrinking percentage of GDP going into the pockets of workers, and governments unable or unwilling to confront the vested interests necessary to bring about change is the world in which trade unions now operate.  It is not by chance that these trends have accelerated at the same time as the role and function of trade unions have been restricted and diminished.
“It is not trade unions who need a change in the law – society as a whole needs a change in trade union law, or little else can change for the better.
“Labour’s victory in 1997 was one of the happiest days of my life, but that first Labour government, with its huge parliamentary majority, did nothing to alter the legal superstructure that allows the skewed accrual of wealth and power in our society. Tony Blair even boasted to business audiences that Britain’s labour laws were the most restrictive in Europe.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the right to strike in this – the first country of free trade unionism – was and is hanging by a thread. But should there be a Conservative majority in May, there will be a new attack on trade union rights and democracy.
“The bar for a strike ballot will be raised to a level which hardly any MPs would get over in their own constituencies, by a government which has refused our requests to use modern, more effective balloting methods.
“Agency labour scabs will be licensed to break strikes. Restrictions imposed on our campaigning role in the Lobbying Act will be followed by laws to make picketing nigh on impossible too.
“Further Tory attacks on unions will come because they can only get away their desired assault on our national fabric if they neuter any potential opposition, reducing us to the role of concerned spectators while they tear to bits every advance working people have secured, every protection we have built up, over the years.
“People have intrinsic rights but sometimes these are violated even by democratically elected legislatures – the right of working people to combine, to organise, is one of those rights. So if partisan legislation is driven through parliament, designed to push the legitimate democratic work of trade unions outside of the law, then we in Unite will not go gently into the night.  We will rage against the dying of the light.
“A union’s job is to fight for working people’s rights. If in the year we mark the anniversary of Magna Carta, the government wants to challenge fundamental rights of the citizen, then I believe they will be facing not just the trade union movement, but a huge section of our civil society too.
“When the law is misguided, when it oppresses the people and removes their freedoms, can we respect it? I am not really posing the question. I’m giving you the answer. It ain’t going to happen.”
Unite activists will decide on the change of wording to union’s rules at a conference later in the year.
You can read more in the Guardian today