Stand Up For Your Rights Groups:
LUS continues to support and develop community groups around London. Since the last LESE meeting we have delivered training on the latest Universal Credit updates for Waltham Forest Stand Up For Your Rights, Barnet Unite Community and Clapham Foodbank.
We continue to support the development of an Islington SUFYR group and maintain intensive work with the Southwark Know Your Rights group where we recently ran a film event at the BFI for group members plus Southwark and Lambeth Unite Community. The topic was council housing and social cleansing as brilliantly portrayed in the film ‘Dispossession’. There followed a Q and A and some OF those watching were inspired to go on straight afterwards to a lobby of MPS at the House of Commons on this very topic.
Just as important for our groups is the great advocacy and representation work that volunteers do for each other in between meetings. In a recent period of three to four weeks we had a string of successes, including those below (names changed to protect the innocent):
Sara – Won PIP Appeal (backdated at enhanced rates)
Kevin – Won ESA Appeal (from first assessment nil points – awarded Support Group status)
Errol – Won ESA Appeal (from WRAG Group to Support Group backdated with no review for 2 years)
Nick T – Second Work Capability Assessment – maintained status in ESA Support Group
Nick J – Won PIP Appeal
Alan – Won ESA Appeal (from first assessment nil points to Support Group with no review for 2 years)
This is a testimony to the quality of training LUS provides and the efforts of members who are growing in confidence and expertise through their participation in our groups and by hands-on experience.
Strengthening claimants’ participation
Over the last few months, LUS has involved claimants directly in a number of forums aimed at making systemic changes to the Welfare State. They have participated alongside senior officers from major voluntary sector organisations, including Child Poverty Action Group, Disability Rights UK, Refugee Council, The Children’s Society, and Women’s Aid. In July some of our members accompanied me to a seminar on ‘ Strengthening the voice of people with lived experience in campaigns for social change’ where they all made significant contributions. Incidentally this has also led to an encounter with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation who were sufficiently impressed with our work to arrange a day’s visit in September to explore how they might be able to support our claimant-led projects in the future.
The other forums include ‘The Future of Social Security’ which will shortly finalise its guiding principles underpinning what a more humane benefits system would look like (possibly with the aim of a media release in time for the November Budget); and the White Paper committee (to be launched in October) which will develop a Bill for Parliament, taking the guiding principles as the starting point and therefrom developing legislative detail.
From the LUS perspective, one of our key contributions to this process will be recommendations about maximising proper channels of communication, consultation and complaint for claimants in relation to Jobcentre Plus and the DWP in general. This is as ever in line with points 4 and 5 of the Welfare Charter and indeed our own 5-point statement of ‘What We Stand For’:
We have now drawn up a new Claimants Survey on these issues which is aimed primarily at people on Jobseekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and/or Universal Credit. This will be circulated to you separately via the TUC LESE mailing system. Therefore if you know of any eligible people please pass it onto them with a request that it be completed and returned as soon as possible. The collected responses will be collated, analysed and published as per the previous Claimants Survey of 2014. Also importantly the results will feed into the above-mentioned forums and so will add further weight to their campaigns for major change to the benefit (and benefits) of claimants.
Relations with Unite Community and PCS
Inevitably as with the last Survey, when claimants are asked to be open and honest about their experiences of their local Jobcentre and the DWP in general, many will voice strong opinions that in part will include criticisms of local staff. This is why LUS continues to strive to develop links between claimants and the major trades unions that work with or for them – notably Unite Community and PCS. Starting from the standpoint that the pressures upon both claimants and staff have a common cause which we should all unite to fight against, this means that claimants complaints can be dealt with in a way that channels them through a united front against the bureaucracies and politicians that are the root cause of the problem. The recent campaigns connecting PCS staff, claimants and community organisations against Jobcentre closures in Leytonstone and Southall are great examples.
To this end, LUS is keen to continue to provide various forms of training and support to Unite Community branches in London through liaison with the new Regional Coordinator (current incumbent David Condliffe is leaving at the end of August). We have also had confirmation of our attendance at the next All-London PCS/DWP stewards meeting in September where we shall have further discussions about how to build upon the links already established.
NICK PHILLIPS – PROJECT COORDINATOR