Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2148

Labour’s budget won’t improve life on the dole

Will Alistair Darling offer anything for the soaring numbers of people thrown on the dole in the budget this week? I doubt it.

Jobseekers allowance has gone up this month – to a pathetic £50.94 a week for under 25 years olds and £64.30 for everyone else.

Being on the dole is tough, and getting tougher – with no money and no hope.

But speak to the folk outside your local job centre and you’ll meet some of the most caring and considerate people. I should know – I’m one of them.

I’m on benefits at the moment. We are constantly under attack by a government that sees us as scroungers. The way that work and pensions secretary James Purnell speaks about benefit claimants seems to suggest we should be in work camps or sent up chimneys.

The first time I went into the job centre I had an advisor listening in to my phone interview, to help me with technique.

In a week I was employed – but this was through an employment agency whose only interest was making money out of me and charging the employer double what I was paid.

Other agencies also gave me jobs. But they were always non-union and low paid. They knew they could replace you on the spot if you even thought of wanting better rights.

When you do this kind of work you find yourself back in the job centre depressingly often. Today’s job centres have brightly coloured chairs and a fake cheerful decor but no decent jobs.

Lots of unemployed people help the community. I help at an arts centre and friend of mine who is a single mum is litter picking to make sure her estate is a better place to live.

Yet the politicians and the media treat us like scum. We get nothing but a slap in the face from ministers who wouldn’t know an honest day’s work if it bit them on the arse.

Chris West, Luton

I am sickened by New Labour’s punitive approach to people in need.

James Purnell is now threatening to “help” alcoholics by taking their benefits off them if they don’t do as they are told. This is totally the wrong approach.

Of course, people with addictions should be offered help and long term support.

And that’s why it is a scandal that the services that do exist are underfunded and take place over far too short a period. But forcing people to access help under threat of losing their benefits is authoritarian and counter-productive.

People with addictions need help to regain control of their lives – not a state body taking it away from them on threat of financial sanction.

And surely taking meagre benefits off someone who is an alcoholic can only lead to a further deterioration in that person’s life and health.

This is yet another disgraceful attempt to scapegoat some of the poorest people in society.

Sylvia Elgrib, Sidcup, Kent

Demand justice for the 96

I was glad to see my fellow Liverpool fans give the Labour minister for culture, media and sport Andy Burnham a hard time at the Hillsborough memorial service at Anfield on Wednesday of last week.

Burnham had the nerve to say that the 96 dead fans “will never be forgotten”.

This Labour government, and the Tories before them, did not just forget the dead but did their best to continue with a shameful cover-up, as your excellent article on Hillsborough shows (» Twenty years after the Hillsborough disaster, 18 April).

All true football fans will make sure that the 96 will never be forgotten.

David Fagan, Belfast

We attended the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster event at Anfield last week. We could not believe our eyes when we saw the headline on the following day’s front page of the Sun, or should we say Scum, newspaper.

It read, “96 Tears” as the paper attempted to identify with the sorrow felt at the deaths of 96 fans.

This is the same newspaper that allowed its then editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, to run a front page a few days after the disaster that attacked Liverpool fans.

It read, “The Truth. Some fans picked pockets of victims. Some fans urinated on the brave cops. Some fans beat up PC giving the kiss of life.”

MacKenzie has not apologised properly for the insult, hurt and pain caused by his fabricated front page to this day.

The Sun tried to hide and smear the real truth of what happened at Hillsborough.

And now, after 20 long years of the families fighting for justice, the Scum thinks that printing its “heartfelt condolences” can change the meaning of the word hypocrisy.

They are as dreadfully wrong now as they were twenty years ago in April 1989.

Long may we search for the truth. Justice for the 96.

Stevie Rae and Kevin Dudley, Upton, Merseyside

We need to make all our schools special

I am concerned by the call at the NASUWT teaching union conference to end the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools.

I work in an inclusive school in inner London.

In my experience, students with statements for special educational needs (SEN) can thrive and develop in school, often at a faster rate than so-called “normal” students. Their presence also enhances the experience of other students.

I teach a number of SEN students who participate in lessons and are valued by other students as equal members of the class. This makes the school a richer place in which to both teach and learn.

There is more to education than tests and attainment levels. The social aspect of learning about ourselves and each other is just as important.

Education is meant to be the great leveller – and our job as teachers is to support all students and inspire them to enjoy education to the full.

It is a mistake to view this as a burden on teachers, as some have suggested.

We must fight for better funding to provide support for all our students. We also need a curriculum that is interesting and inspiring.

If we get this right, then there is a place for all members of our communities in our local schools.

Teacher, East London

Nuclear is nothing to be grateful for

So the government’s latest cure-all is to build new nuclear power stations – apparently they will create jobs, they’re cheap and they’re green.

Local councils have been falling over themselves to prove that they are the most enthusiastic about the nuclear plans and should have the plants in their areas.

The act of constantly arguing against this is repetitive and a bit wearing, but necessary.

Nuclear power is not the solution – to either the financial crisis or the environmental one. More jobs could be created with an actual green alternative to our carbon heavy energy production.

Nuclear power is not cheap – remove the government subsides, and take into account the long-term clean up – and the costs begin to spiral.

As for being green, it’s not. Quite the opposite.

And to add insult to injury a number of the proposed sites are in nature reserves – and if you want to campaign against this you had better be quick.

A new faster streamlined “consultation” process has been unveiled. We need to both sharpen our arguments and step up the fight.

Kelly Hilditch, South London

Our pension is still a pittance

Just in case anyone believes that the scandalous pension awarded to former Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin represents any sort of reality for the bank’s pensioners, let me dispel that myth.

In the same week that current RBS bosses announced the massacre of another 9,000 jobs, it also announced the annual rise for its pensioners – of just 0.1 percent.

My own RBS pension is being increased by the princely sum of 19 pence per week.

I worked for RBS for 38 years for my pittance – but at least I can say my service did some good. Bank bosses have just brought despair and loathing.

RBS pensioner, by email

MPs are all a sorry bunch

I find this New Labour email scandal nauseating (» Does smear scandal trail lead back to Unite union?, 18 April).

It deflects away from the corruption that is parliament as a whole.

The latest reports about MPs claiming for food is obscene.

If £63,000 is not enough for them to live on then it’s about time their jobs were readvertised.

The present work and pensions secretary James Purnell claims £400 a month for food.

According to the rules of parliament, he does nothing wrong.

There are children on this planet that don’t have a bean – living on rubbish tips or dying of curable diseases.

Yet we still don’t have the common sense to bring parliament to book.

Trevor Smith, by email

Stand up for this nurse

It is disgraceful that Margaret Haywood, a nurse for more than 20 years, has been struck off for her role in exposing the neglect of elderly NHS patients.

Haywood said that she had reported her concerns through official channels but nothing had been done.

She said that she felt she owed it to the people on the ward to go public.

This nurse is a tribute to her profession – she has stood up to defend the quality of the NHS.

She should be supported and thanked, not treated in this appalling manner.

Sabiha Ghani, Manchester

Stop council’s academy plan

As we fight to stop the government’s creeping privatisation of the NHS and education, we have to make sure we keep an eye on what is happening locally.

Here in Barrow, the council is pushing through plans for an academy – and losing three perfectly good schools in the process.

Not one council meeting has been held in the town to discuss this. Meanwhile all the capitalist firms are getting ready to make big bucks from our kids’ education.

K Collins, Barrow-in-Furness

Thank you for support

I just wanted to thank you for the support and organisation you have given to the Visteon/Ford workers.

My husband is one of the workers treated like a commodity by Visteon/Ford in Belfast and thrown away when deemed no longer of any use.

It is uplifting to see genuine care in comparison to the ugliness of corporate greed.

Kate Gray, Belfast

Help me with my essay

I am an undergraduate fine art student, currently researching the Situationist International of 1957 to 1972.

I would be very grateful to hear from anyone who had any contact with – or critique – of them around these times, or anyone who has a contemporary critique of them or their legacy.

Please email me at »

D Rosier, South East London

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Article information

Tue 21 Apr 2009, 18:29 BST
Issue No. 2148
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