Tag Archives: action

Workfare at the British Heart Foundation

5 Sep

Forget second hand furniture – the British Heart Foundation is the place to go if you want to understand the reality of workfare. I popped along to my local store this afternoon in the hope of speaking with someone about their experience of workfare. The policy director of the BHF had announced that every store had people on work placements from the government’s various schemes and so this seemed like a good place to start. Speaking with the manager, she looked around the room and counted those on Mandatory Work Activity, ‘1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 today’ she informed me, adding ‘we do have pure volunteers as well’. I certainly had come to the right place to witness workfare at work. Three men were at the back of the room hammering at a wardrobe, a young woman was answering the phone and arranging for donations to be collected by the van, another woman was sticking price tags on sofas – all of these people were here because, as one of them put it, ‘there is no choice’, if they refused they would lose their benefits.

Before I could even ask a question, the young woman at the desk hearing why I was there, said quietly and emphatically ‘it’s not nice here, it’s not nice here’. She went on to tell me that she had a qualification in retail and so ‘it’s not benefiting me at all’. She wanted to work with animals but had been told by her job centre advisor that they would not help her in pursing this interest, instead she’s found herself stuck here for a month. I mentioned to her that Boycott Workfare were protesting against BHF’s involvement in workfare this weekend and she became very excited ‘come here and protest when we’re here! That would be so fun!’

I went over to the three men who were fixing a broken wardrobe. ‘It’s a punishment’ one of the men told me as he hammered a nail into the wardrobe ‘it’s nothing to do with work experience, if you miss a day your benefits are stopped, it’s about stopping people from claiming benefits…Yes, I really appreciate this work experience, the 13 years of work I’ve done managing clubs in London really wasn’t enough’ he says good naturedly. ‘It’s a punishment because you are in the same boat as a probation person’, he turns to the man who is hammering the wardrobe with him who is there on probation ‘no offence’ he says. ‘I’m unemployed and he’s a criminal’.

I speak with a black woman who tells me workfare makes her feel ‘mad…it’s absolutely slave labour – absolutely – it’s the 21st century. They took me out of slavery and put me back in slavery.’

Charities are the new face of workfare with politicians stressing the words ‘community benefit’ in order to make workfare seem more acceptable and friendly as they attempt to expand it on an incredible scale. But as is clear from the people I spoke with whoever workfare is for, it is a punitive, degrading, and exploitative practice.

 This Saturday join Boycott Workfare’s UK-wide day of action against charity involvement in workfare. The London action will be meeting at 11.30am outside Nat West which is opposite Camden town station and will take a tour taking in the charities involved in workfare on the high street.

It’s up to us to save the NHS

15 Mar

I’ve been thinking and worrying obsessively about the NHS for the last week – I thought I’d get out some of my thoughts and highlight the action we can take.

The stark reality – which the mainstream media are doing a terrible job of conveying to the public – is that our NHS will soon become privatised under Langsley’s Health and Social Care Bill. Our much loved and world class health care system which is free to all who need it will become a greatly diminished service which will charge and exclude people. In fact, the privatization ‘reforms’ are already being snuck through by the government – something which is completely unconstitutional. Just because little chip and pin machines aren’t emerging on the desk of your GP or beside hospital beds doesn’t mean that significant changes are not already underway. The government are being deliberately sly – they are determined to serve up our NHS to the corporate vultures flocking overheard (watch this video here to see the close proximity that private health companies have with politicians http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/03/10/libdems-approve-obliteration-of-the-nhs/) – but they are clearly scared of the public reaction to this.

There has been huge opposition to this bill. I lost count long ago of the number of medical bodies who have voted against and spoken out against the bill. The general public too have been incredibly vocal and active. There have been numerous petitions. There has been lobbying of MPs and Lords. There was the wonderful Block the Bridge action by UK Uncut last year in which thousands gathered in an act of mass civil disobedience to stop the bill. And yet the government ploughs ahead, showing their utter contempt for democracy – and our health.

Now the situation feels incredibly urgent. The Bill goes for its third and final reading – a final chance to amend the bill (not good enough, we want it dropped) – on Monday 19th March after which there will be ‘consideration of amendments’. After this it will receive Royal Assent. There is the slim possibility that in her busy Jubilee year, the Queen simply will not have the time to give it her royal stamp, or whatever she does – however we should not count on this. Many people are aware that we need to do more to stop the bill, but we’re not sure what. I don’t claim to have any answers, but from reviewing the present landscape, there are things that are becoming strikingly obvious that may help us in our task. The main point is is that it is up to us to save the NHS. This sounds like a daunting task, but it’s the reality and it is possible. No other large bodies or groups (apart from Keep Our NHS Public) are up to the task – it’s all about people power now.

The politicians are more interested in the money of private healthcare providers than our appeals to them. Unless we really scare them by taking to the streets and looking really angry.

The unions have done nothing. Apparently they are worried that if they were to speak out to save the NHS the public will think they are only acting in the interests of their members. Well, they’re unions, of course they should be protecting their members, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t also speak out when a wonderful public asset is being destroyed. The unions should get some guts.

38 degrees is an incredibly popular campaign group that promises ‘people.power.change’  (and an excessive use of full stops) however, their idea of people.power.change seems to involve raising lots of money from their members in a short space of time to put up big posters and then ignore their members when they call for 38 degrees to call for a march. I just received an email from them in which they lie that ‘we’ve tried pretty much everything’. They are actively disempowering their members by suggesting that the only ways to achieve change are through online petitions, and if these don’t work, oh well. Disenchanted 38 degrees members, you can still take to the streets – we’ve arranged our own demonstration this Saturday 17th March. It is your time, energy, and money that basically runs 38 degrees, so just channel this into actions up and down the country instead of the 38 degrees website.

Ben Goldacre tweeted that we should do everything to stop the NHS bill, suggesting we even defecate on our MPs lawns. Yet, despite this helpful suggestion, when someone tweeted him about the Saturday NHS demo – he simply tweeted back asking who had arranged it, and promptly ignored other tweets from his numerous followers requesting a retweet for the demo. What’s his issue? Why call for action and then ignore the actions when they’re there? *Cough* hypocrite.

So basically, that leaves us, the public to organise and take action ourselves. Perhaps singling out the groups and people above who have failed to act seems a bit brutal, but it’s just to save us time from appealing to them and to encourage us to work together which will be much more fruitful.

There are loads of thing that we can do together to bring about the end of the bill – taking action on the streets all over the country to make the issue visible and to cause disruption for those private health companies seems a good place to start. There is the demonstration outside the Department of Health this Saturday which we can make huge – tell everyone you know about it http://www.facebook.com/events/107457682717979/. If you can’t make it down, why not find some people in your area and take action locally being sure to get the local news along too. Use social media to report your own news.

After the demo on Saturday, we will move to a secret location that is looking to profit from the sale of our NHS. This action will send the message to them and to politicians that we will not allow them to make mega profits from our health service. Check out the awesome blockthebillbuilders website http://block-the-bill-builders.posterous.com/ for targets and get planning further actions so that we can highlight what exactly is happening to our NHS under this bill.

We have a short amount of time but many many actions planned. Get involved in whatever way you can. The NHS is a great common project which testifies what wonderful things we can achieve when we work together. Drawing from this spirit of togetherness, let’s organise to stop this bill.

(There’s a wonderful book called ‘Hope in the Dark: The Untold History of People Power’ by Rebecca Solnit – I’m sure there’s some beautiful quotation in here somewhere that I should include, but can’t find it at the moment – I’ll get back to you on this one.)