On 12 November, it became legal to force unemployed people to work for their benefits – to do 40-hour-weeks for under a third of the minimum wage. The Government's Welfare Reform Act introduced 'Work for your Benefit' pilot schemes, which once completed can be rolled out without any further debate. It also attacked single parents – who face sanctions if they fail to prepare for work as soon as their child turns one – and people with impairments or severe and enduring illnesses.
Two days later, members of twenty-four different groups from around the UK met to share information and plan resistance to these pernicious attacks, which will take their toll on working-class and low-income communities.
Groups present included Unemployed Workers Unions from six cities aross the UK, the Disabled People's Direct Action Network, Southwark Mind, Winvisible (Women with visible and invisible disabilities), Single Mothers' Self-Defence and members of the union in the Department of Work and Pensions – PCS. They were joined by feminist and other groups (all listed below).
The strength to be gained from meeting in solidarity with each other was immense and created a real sense that a movement is building: a movement which will not only fight the immediate attacks of the Welfare Abolition Act, but connect our struggles in a way that challenges the ideology driving them.
The Act seeks to make our worth dependent on work; work defined in the really narrow terms of waged work for someone else's profit. By making us compete with those in waged work for non-existent jobs, it helps drive down wages and conditions. We all take the brunt as the rich make even more money out of us.
• We want solidarity with and from people in low-income, temporary and insecure work. These are the jobs that 'work-for-your-benefit' would replace.
• We want caring to be recognised as important work in society. Single parents are already working and benefits are their entitlement to a social wage.
• We want justice for people with severe or enduring illnesses. The drive to get people off Incapacity Benefit and into work is making people more ill with stress. Only we know what we are capable of and it is wrong for conditions and sanctions to be imposed on us to force us into unsuitable work.
• We want the right not to work. People not in waged work contribute loads to their communities. We do not want to be forced into mind-numbing, insecure work instead and definitely not at £1.27 an hour!
• We want high-quality, public services to support people with impairments. People should not have to become employers in order to access the care they need.
• We want to stand in solidarity with migrant workers. Just as unemployed people are pitted against people in work, so migrant workers are pitted against us. We believe that we should stand together and demand all of our rights.
• We want to fight privatisation of the Department for Work and Pensions. Attacks on DWP and Jobcentre Plus workers are attacks on our rights to access welfare. We will support the PCS' fight against cuts.
After a day of info-sharing, outrage and scheming, we formed a few working groups. If you're able to help out with any of the projects, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Media working group – monitor and respond to hostile articles in the media.
2. Our propaganda – creating posters, newsletters etc to get our messages out
3. Website – put together a website as a space to share resources, feedback and comment, get the word out about our campaign and publicise local and national action.
4. Our welfare rights – compiling information to help us access our rights now and creating 'Know your rights' leaflets.
5. Defeating the Work for your Benefits pilots – research to support the network to take action against the pilots
And put the next national meeting in your diary now.... 17 April in Manchester!
The meeting had people in attendance from: South Manchester Community Union, London Anarcha-Feminist Kollektiv, London Coalition Against Poverty, Feminist Action, Defend Welfare Newcastle, Manchester Unemployed Workers Union, Cambridge Unemployed Workers' Union, PCS, Hackney Unemployed Workers, Single Mothers' Self Defence, Winvisible, Alliance for Workers' Liberty, Haringey Solidarity Group, Disabled People's Direct Action Network, Southwark Mind, Women's Office Manchester Student Union, Riveters feminist group in Manchester, Feminist Fightback, Industrial Workers of the World, No Borders, Stop Deportations, Anarchist Federation, Communist Students, Salford Unemployed Workers' Union.