MEMBERS of the public and union activists lobbied MPs on Tuesday to protest against the Government’s reactionary welfare reform bill organised by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, the biggest civil service union in the country, and backed by the TUC and a number of other unions and pressure groups.
At the same time PCS has released a damning report that shows that public opinion is overwhelming opposed the Government’s plans that will lead to the privatisation of employment services and the social fund; introduce “work for welfare” schemes; abolish income support; cut benefits for single parents and those on long –term illness and require all parents of young children to seek work.
Speaking at the lobby at the House of Commons on Tuesday TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady stated that the Welfare Reform Bill is “the wrong Bill for the wrong time”, and that it will be resisted by unions.
“It’s clear that aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill now going through Parliament are not fit for purpose. This is the wrong Bill for the wrong time: conceived in a boom, about to be implemented in a bust,” he declared.
“The Government’s ideas would be flawed at the best of times; but with Britain deep in recession, these are emphatically not the best of times.
“Just think about the implications. A new regime for jobseekers, limiting the time for job search and retraining.
“Tougher rules for parents, undermining the Government’s pledge to halve and then end child poverty.
“The introduction of sanctions, stigmatising the most vulnerable as villains, not victims, and driving working people into poverty.
“And the privatisation and break up of a world-class public service, with private contractors profiting from joblessness.
“This is the reality confronting us. Why, after the near collapse of free-market capitalism, does the Government press ahead with an agenda of privatisation, marketisation and competition? Why, during the worst economic crisis for generations, is there seemingly one rule for the rich and another one for the rest?
“The contrast could not be starker. Bailouts for the bankers, punishments for the poor - welfare for Wall Sreet, workfare for working people. That is unacceptable; and we will resist it.
“So what are the answers? How do we create a welfare system that delivers in this downturn? The TUC is campaigning for a change of direction: for policies that give ordinary working people the help they need when they need it. We have already secured some important concessions - not least the welcome scrapping of plans to make disabled people look for jobs or risk losing benefits.
“But we need to go further. That means more generous benefits to stop people falling into poverty, and the TUC has been proud to lead the call for an immediate increase of £15 a week in Jobseekers Allowance.
“That means helping unemployed workers into proper retraining schemes and jobs that pay the going rate.
“And that means giving Jobcentre Plus and the dedicated staff who work in it the resources and the support they need to make a difference where it is needed most.
“Make no mistake: our welfare state has never been more needed than now. It is one of Britain’s greatest achievements. A genuine safety net for everyone: won through the campaigning of generations of socialists, trade unionists and progressive reformers. And we are not about to give up on that legacy now.
“So today let our message go out clearly. We will resist any changes that diminish our welfare system. We will stand up for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. And that we will continue to fight for what we believe in.”
Seventy nine per cent of people are not confident of surviving on the current rate of jobseekers allowance (£60.50) according to an ICM poll for PCS. The poll also shows that just six per cent of respondents feel ‘very confident’ about the ability of private sector companies to take over some of the work of Jobcentres.
Coming against a backdrop of rising unemployment and government plans to privatise some of the work of Jobcentre Plus, the poll also shows that just one in three think there are enough jobcentres or that there are enough staff in jobcentres to deal with the current economic crisis.
Over the past five years the government has closed over 500 jobcentres and benefit offices.
Commenting, Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “There is little appetite for the government’s plans to privatise some of the work of jobcentres, with the poll showing a lack of confidence in the private sector’s ability to take over this work.
“The public sector has consistently outperformed the private sector in getting people back into work with jobcentres working flat out and doing a fantastic job in helping the rising numbers of unemployed.
“This poll should be a wake up call to the government which needs to raise benefit levels to alleviate the threat of poverty, ditch its plans for privatisation and start opening Jobcentres to deal with rising numbers of unemployed.”