Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2121

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell (Pic:» Jess Hurd/ )

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell (Pic: » Jess Hurd/

The real benefits scam

Gordon Brown’s attitude to the desperate housing crisis faced by the poor became clear this week.

New Labour plans to limit backdating of housing and council tax benefits to a maximum of six months from October and then three months at the end of next year.

This is a disgrace. As a welfare rights adviser I see firsthand the importance of being able to make backdated claims for these benefits – which is currently allowed for up to a year. Many vulnerable people are on the verge of being evicted for rent arrears when I see them. Backdating is a vital tool in preventing this.

The government will save £70 million a year from the changes and argues that it is “simplifying” the system, fostering a greater sense of responsibility people have for their financial affairs.

But many of the people I see have “good cause” – which you need to prove – for being awarded backdated benefit.

Often people have mental health problems or have experienced some traumatic life event and not dealing with benefit claims – even though they are entitled – is a symptom of these problems.

It is bad enough that backdating for most benefits is already limited to three months. At least the current one year rule for housing benefit can help a person stay in their home.

The Citizens Advice Bureau has called the planned rule change a “harsh and heartless” policy and even parliament’s own social security advisory committee has strongly opposed it. It noted that the economic costs of increased house possession proceedings and rehousing have not been factored into the savings calculations.

It was only representations from an unprecedented number of individuals and organisations that prevented the government from immediately cutting the backdating time limit to three months.

These changes and a host of others, for example the abolition of incapacity benefit, show that New Labour is intent on dismantling the benefits system.

Jon Laidler, Whitley Bay

Pensioners are already struggling with soaring food and fuel bills. But all the government seems to do is think up ways of making it worse.

It is abolishing the 12-month period pensioners currently have to claim backdated pension tax credits. There will be a new limit of just three months from Monday of next week.

How cruel can this government get? If they wanted to raise cash fast there are lots of ways to do it – taxing the energy companies or refusing to spend billions bailing out Northern Rock are just two of them.

Instead they make poor people’s lives more miserable.

It doesn’t matter why pensioners may claim their benefits late – the credits are theirs.

How can anyone still think that the Labour Party can be a vehicle for social change or justice?

Debra Barton, Sheffield

Save Whitstable job centre

On Whitstable High Street sits the local job centre. It’s a small office but a vital one.

With over 200 people regularly using the centre every two weeks the office plays a vital role not only in helping the unemployed to collect their benefits but also in supporting them in their search for employment.

Yet management plans to shut the office.

It seems that the two inch step on the front door contravenes disability access legislation as wheelchair users are unable, so we are told, to access the job centre.

But hang on, close the whole office because of a step? And send the users of the centre where? The nearest job centre is in Herne Bay – a 15 minute and £3 bus ride away.

And don’t interviews at Herne Bay job centre take place upstairs where there is no lift and so no disabled access?

It seems fairly obvious that this is just a ridiculous excuse for closure.

This centre is well used, well run and with the current economic situation it is probably going to be used even more in the future.

The continual cutting of public services in Whitstable is now reaching breaking point. The town has already lost its Citizens Advice Bureau and half its local post offices.

The “public consultation” over the closure took place with barely any publicity during the summer recess of both the local council and parliament.

If it wasn’t for Left Alternative and PCS union activists the first people would have known about the closure was when the shutters went up.

This closure has been proposed before but 1,000 people signed a petition against it and management backed down.

This time it seems that they are more determined.

So far we have collected over 800 signatures against the closure and it is growing quickly.

We have also asked people to send postcards directly to the management at the job centre protesting the closure – so far he has received over 100.

Dan Allen, Whitstable, Kent

Giving a voice to working class people

Across the country Socialist Worker sellers are out week in week out, come rain or shine, at train stations, shopping centres and workplaces countering the ideas of the bosses and arguing for a fightback.

Sellers in Waltham Forest, east London recently sent off petitions to Gordon Brown signed by hundreds of local people opposing the continuing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the public sector pay freeze.

We received replies from the Ministry of Defence, attempting to justify the continuing occupations in detail, and the treasury, explaining why public sector pay rises “cause inflation”.

The MOD’s arguments in particular would have been laughable if the consequences for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the squaddies sent to carry out their dirty work, were not so tragic.

The treasury argued that low paid workers carrying out vital jobs should pay for stagflation – not the commodity market spivs who caused it.

Socialists believe that mass movements, not petitions, force governments to change. But collecting signatures on the street is a small but important part of the process of giving working people a voice, holding the government to account for its criminal policies and exposing its lies.

Tony Phillips, East London

Student solidarity with strikers

being firmly of the opinion that the capitalist system is highly detrimental to the majority of us, I decided to join the Socialist Worker Party at Freshers’ Fair at Glasgow university earlier this month.

On Wednesday I visited a local government picket line at Nye Bevan House in Glasgow.

The strikers were really pleased that we had come to show our support and it was good to be able to be involved in supporting workplace struggle. The general vibe was one of optimism.

In a time where the rate of inflation outstrips so called pay “increases” solidarity is fundamental for a successful retaliation.

This is why I’d urge all student readers to join your Socialist Worker Student Society (or create one!), visit a picket line and show your support.

Chances are many of you, like me, have to work in part time jobs for paltry sums during your studies.

Things must improve and we all have a role to play. Frankly, enough is enough – a sustained, united effort is needed to make an impact in this grossly unfair system and the time is now.

Claire Harkins, Glasgow

We’re fighting for education

Anyone who thinks that teaching is a wonderful job should look at the reported rise in teaching vacancies this week.

Vacancies in primary schools rose by a third and in secondaries by a fifth in just one year.

Government attacks on teachers’ pay and conditions are pushing more and more people out of the profession and putting off potential new recruits.

That’s why our current pay fight is about so much more than just pay – we are fighting for the future of education.

Sarah West, Bristol

Shame on Paul McCartney

I was dismayed at the sight of Paul McCartney’s concert in Israel last week.

While he claimed that he was there to demand peace for both the Israelis and Palestinians, the fact that he only played a concert in Israel speaks volumes about his true views.

In 1972 McCartney wrote “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” following the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry committed by British soldiers.

The Palestinians face, if anything, an even worse situation under Israeli occupation.

Simone Murray, Carlisle

Our leaders are infantile

So Lord Neil Kinnock, the working class hero from our South Wales Valleys, thinks that any person opposing Gordon Brown is infantile!

Kinnock and Gordon Brown have much in common – neither of them has ever won an election.

Brown has yet to lose one but he will get there with the help of the likes of Kinnock.

We can see through Kinnock and Brown – and we see hollow little men lost in a big world with only spin and words holding them together.

Derek Hanlin, Porth, Cardiff

Brown has not shifted left

Some commentators have said that Labour’s conference last week heralded the Party’s shift to the left.

Even Guardian columnist Seumas Milne has described Gordon Brown’s speech at Labour Party conference as the most “unashamedly left-wing” speeches by a Labour prime minister since the 1970s.

But Brown praised business and made it clear that we’re in for more of the same attacks as the recession bites.

Putting hope in New Labour is hopeless.

Terri Dyer, Lancaster

Recyclers are polluting globe

Research last week showed that people who recycle and try to cut down on their energy use in the home tend to have the highest carbon footprints.

This is mainly because they tend to take more long-haul flights.

Recycling without looking at the rest of your lifestyle will never make a difference to climate change.

The recycling brigade should stop being so hypocritical.

Cathy Wilcox, Brighton

A real investment opportunity?

Dear American,

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am ministry of the treasury of the republic of America. My country needs a transfer of $700 billion.

If you could assist me in this transfer it would be most profitable to you. This transaction is 100 percent safe.

We need a blank cheque. Please reply with your bank account details and those of your children and grandchildren to [email protected]

Yours faithfully,

Minister of treasury Paulson, Washington, US

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Article information

Tue 30 Sep 2008, 17:58 BST
Issue No. 2121
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