Socialist Worker

Welfare denied to the poorest

Issue No. 1807

I WORK as a welfare rights adviser in Scarborough. In recent months I have seen an increase in the amount of people being found fit for work after undergoing the government's assessments. Their benefit is immediately stopped and they are forced to be available for work.

Rather than consult a person's own GP, the government chooses to employ a private company, SchlumbergerSema, to carry out medicals. A report by the Public Accounts Committee estimates that 25,000 claimants are examined unnecessarily every year. Medical evidence from previous examinations is routinely ignored. The stress of completing a questionnaire and attending these medicals often worsens the condition of claimants with mental health problems.

Many claimants find it very difficult to emphasise the negative aspects of a condition. They often overestimate their abilities to perform everyday activities in an attempt to please the medical examiner. Medical evidence at a tribunal is absolutely crucial. However, claimants are expected to obtain this evidence themselves. GPs can charge for supplying medical evidence.

The vast majority of cases end up at tribunal, with claimants waiting on average eight months for a hearing. Some 63 percent of appeals are successful, and benefit is reinstated.

After 12 months of sending in sick notes a single person with no other income or savings receives £76.95 per week Income Support. This government is continuing to attack and scapegoat the poorest in our society-in this case people whose only crime is that they are unable to work because of sickness or disability.
RACHEL BOYES, Scarborough

Estelle Morris is condemning schools to fail

EDUCATION secretary Estelle Morris's comments about some comprehensives that she 'wouldn't touch with a bargepole' will only add to the problems of thousands of schools around Britain. Teaching inspectorate Ofsted's verdict of failure, always followed by lurid stories in the press, usually starts a process which pushes schools into a cycle of decline.

Parents start to remove their children. The yearly intake from local primary schools declines sharply. Experienced teachers leave, and schools find it incredibly hard to recruit new teachers. Since schools are funded according to the numbers of pupils, a falling roll means falling income.

Teachers, the people inevitably 'blamed' for the failure, suddenly find their working conditions deteriorate sharply as their non-contact time is cut. The amount of cover and their workload increase. More time has to be found for the additional meetings required to prepare for the inspectors.

Lesson plans have to be churned out on a weekly basis, as inspections of teachers' planning schedules is no longer enough. Stress levels go up, sickness goes up and relations between staff and students often suffer.

Being labelled a failure doesn't help anyone. It only makes it harder to improve the education of working class children.
TEACHER, East London

Stick your partnerships

I WAS a trustee of my local community trust. Having sat at endless meetings listening to councillors and consultants continually spouting about all the wonderful work they were going to be doing, I resigned. I personally didn't see real community spirit.

We are living on the edge of Devonport nuclear dockyard. At a recent meeting a man expressed concern about the dangers that entails. He was told that he has nothing to worry about, because if there is a nuclear accident in the dockyard none of us would know about it as we would be fried in an instant.

The new community worker has come up with a great idea-yoga classes. Perhaps the plan is to teach us how to sit cross-legged concentrating on our navels while we are all fried. Partnerships-you can keep them.
Alice Walters, Plymouth

I am not a 'Blairite'

IT HAS been brought to my attention that in your edition dated 22 June, referring to an internal election in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), I was described as 'the Blairite candidate'. I know that you retracted the allegation in the following edition, but the damage had been done.

I have been described as various things in various publications in the past, usually along the lines of 'left wing activist'. This is the first time that I have been described as a 'Blairite'. Perhaps I should consult the FBU's solicitors, as being described as a 'Blairite' is unlikely to advance my standing as an FBU official.

I don't know what it will do to my reputation on the Anti Nazi League steering committee, where I represent the FBU, either. The next time that I want to read some accurate reporting on trade union elections I will look elsewhere, because it would appear that Socialist Worker is no longer bothered with such bourgeois concepts as the truth.
Mick Shaw, FBU executive council member for London
Socialist Worker unreservedly apologises to Mick Shaw for this wholly inaccurate description and for the offence it caused.

England has a different history

PAUL McGARR'S article about nationalism (Socialist Worker, 22 June) makes some good points. Ordinary people in different countries have more in common with each other than with their own ruling class.

However, there is something particular about English political development. In spite of the existence of the hierarchy of royalty and church, there has always been an egalitarian and democratic spirit among significant numbers of working people. This is clear from the Peasants' Revolt, the Reformation, the Civil War, and of course the Chartists and the Suffragettes.

For many centuries English society has been tolerant of refugees from Europe. I do not think the same can be said about Scotland, Wales or Ireland. Centuries ago it was English rule which despoiled these places, but now the connection with England is to their benefit.
Denis Garne, Labour councillor, Southend

Anti-capitalism hits Norway

THE RECENT demonstration against the World Bank in Oslo was a breakthrough for anti-capitalism in Norway. Trying to escape from protesters, the World Bank had moved their conference from Barcelona to Oslo. They failed! Some 12,500 lively, young and colourful demonstrators met the World Bank.

The demonstration was supported by nearly 60 organisations, including the TUC in Oslo. The police tried to divert attention away from the cause of the protests by whipping up fear of violence and chaos. On the day the demonstration passed by without trouble. The reason for this was because the police were nowhere to be seen.

The International Socialists (Socialist Worker's sister organisation) section, which we organised together with two Palestinian groups and an Iraqi organisation, was the largest. Our placards shouted out 'Shut down the World Bank! Shut down capitalism!'
Vegard Velle, International Socialists, Norway

Portugal feels Seville spirit

A BIG anti-globalisation march was held in Seville in Spain on 22 June to protest at the European Council meeting, and its agenda of racism and privatisation. In Portugal several left wing and anti-racist groups organised buses to attend the march.

A caravan of eight buses met in the south of Portugal and drove together to the border. On arrival at the border, one MP and one leader of the Left Block tried to speak to the Spanish police. The cops beat them up badly and rushed into the bus. The police escorted the caravan back to the border.

Further north, two buses organised by the Communist Party were stopped, and almost exactly the same happened. Although we could not get to Seville and be part of the 100,000-strong march, the events have only stiffened our determination in fighting capitalism.
Rui Pedro Borges, Portugal

Postal points

AS A printer in Fleet Street in the mid-1980s, I can't believe you're giving it large for the AEEU. How dare you support a union that helped to break a strike? Or does time heal in your student protest world?
BOB, London

IT IS great to see the people of Peru fighting back against their government, who want to privatise two of the state-owned electricity companies. An alliance of workers, teachers, peasants and students organised a general strike. This spread across the country after several days of protests in the southern city of Arequipa.

The interior minister resigned and the vice-president read out an open letter of apology from the president. This is a great step forward for the people of Peru. There will be more battles ahead in combating the disastrous neo-liberal policies that their president, Toledo, is committed to.
Dave Fagan, Suffolk

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Article information

Sat 6 Jul 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1807
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