Tag Archives: work

Articles I loved reading this year

26 Dec

I really like reading lists. Verso have made one for 2013 and there’s the greatly anticipated Novara reading list. I thought I’d bring together some of the best things I’ve read, and tweeted out excitedly, this year. There’s quite a lot on housing just cos I’ve been reading and doing stuff a lot on this recently. And there’s a massive and appalling absence of feminism/queer writings which I need to sort out – although women and gender issues do feature strongly in many welfare and housing articles. Also, my memory is pretty bad, so I’m sure I’ve missed loads of good stuff I read in the first half of the year. Hopefully you’ll find something to enjoy below and feel free to make suggestions of other articles.

Housing

Victims no longer: Spain’s anti-eviction movement

Housing and gentrification in Berlin; some thoughts and ideas

Social cleansing in Tower Hamlets: Interview with Balfron Tower Evictee

Housing, Homelessness and Austerity

This property is ConDemned

The housing crisis is a war – squatting is our (not so secret) weapon

Despite the state’s violence, our fight to escape the mud and fire of South Africa’s slums will continue

Welfare, work, anti-work

Werqin’ 9 to 5: cursory notes on antiwork politics from Dolly Parton to Shangela Laquifa

“The revolution starts in the ATOS smoking area” – on welfare, addiction, and dependency

Postfordism and mental health

Workers Against Work Working Group Introductory Statement 

Crisis in the cleaning sector

Sport

An overview of Italy’s anti-fascist gyms and boxing clubs

Economy stuff

Post-China and the Spatial Fix

Migration

Meet the Somalis: The illustrated stories of Somalis in seven cities in Europe

And this from earlier in the week was really cool – Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear: Heavy Clashes in Hamburg

Lambeth council’s ‘welfare’ – cutting benefits, fighting for police

24 May

This has turned into quite a rant – it’s quite long and incoherent, but I wanted to talk about the welfare cuts in Lambeth, mental health, the police, and what scum Lambeth council are. I just got really sick of all of the propaganda they’ve been putting around. I hope some of it makes sense and is interesting.

Lambeth council benefit cuts campaign

Woman: “Hello, I was calling to get advice on the latest benefit cuts”

Benefits helpline: “It’s not us you want to speak to, I’ll put you through to Lambeth Living”

Gets redirected to Lambeth Living

Woman: “I saw some posters up with scissors cutting across a pound sign. I was calling for advice. My benefits have been cut because of the bedroom tax and council tax benefit cut. I work in the public sector so my pay has been frozen for the last couple of years. My pay check doesn’t get me to the end of the month any more and this was before the most recent cuts. I wondered if you had advice on income maximisation?”

Lambeth Living: “We haven’t heard about that [the benefits advice campaign that Lambeth are running, which advertised the first phone number as a place to get advice]. We don’t know about that…the cuts have come in, they’re happening”

Boy does my friend know that they’re happening. Before the crisis my friend had figured out a way to just about survive on low wages and low status at work both of which compound her already severe mental health issues. With the cascade of cuts things have got significantly worse for her.

Now all she has money for is food. She walks everywhere as public transport is too expensive – this means that she is then even more exhausted during the time free from work, making survival even more difficult and deepening her depression. Important time and energy is taken up fighting for the benefits she needs. I attended the housing office to support her with her claim and witnessed the suspicion you are treated with as you go through an exercise of humiliation proving how little you have.

Life at work has only got worse with the cuts. Whilst struggling to deliver a decent library service in the face of long-term underinvestment and the more recent cuts, library staff have been under increased pressure as well as surveillance and bullying from management. Council staff are not allowed to speak out against the council, but anyone who visits a library can see the diminishing welfare of the staff as well a witness a service that is only just functioning. Now the staff have been told that they will be providing welfare advice as well as the library service (which always doubled up as social services anyway as vulnerable people sought assistance here).

Supporting welfare cuts

“The cuts are happening” so goes the Lambeth benefit cuts campaign. Lambeth argue that this is the doing of central government, which indeed it is. But Lambeth council are implicated in it too. They are supporting these brutal cuts. Their posters, depicting scissors cutting through the pound sign, state what everyone on low incomes knew already. The posters encourage acceptance and acquiescence. The council could have written anything on these posters, how about “Lambeth let’s organise/loot – luxury for all” but instead they informed us that benefit cuts were happening and that is that. We can get some patronising advice about how to cope with deepening poverty apparently – although the phone call above suggests that the council has failed to tell its staff of this service/campaign. I resented seeing these posters in my neighbourhood which were effectively adverts for welfare cuts. Them enforcing their reality onto us as if their could be no struggle. The absence of any kind of opposition and outrage on what is being inflicted on our communities is complicity with the cuts. Lambeth have not spoken out against these brutal and violent welfare cuts and this is why they are scum – there’s (lots) more to come to support this.

Councillor Edward Davie shows his support for so-called ‘welfare reform’ in his article for the Guardian in which he expresses contempt and suspicion of those on benefits, repeating the myth that benefit fraud is actually a thing. The council’s Emergency Support Scheme (which replaces central government’s social fund which was cut this April) facilitates the role out of another disastrous aspect of ‘welfare reform’ – Universal Credit: “ The council wishes to encourage people to take up Credit Union membership so that they have access to mainstream support and a proper bank account in the run up to the implementation of Universal Credit. Making Crisis Loands conditional on membership achieves this, reducing the likelihood of people getting into difficulty in the future. Charging a small amount of interest allows money to be ploughed back into the pot to help more people.” http://www.lambeth.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s51837/05%20Cabinet%20report%20171212%20-%20Emergency%20Support%20Scheme%20-%20FINAL.pdf

Of course, in this document about the Emergency Support Scheme, those vindictive words ‘personal responsibility’ appear as a stated aim of the scheme.

More Lambeth council propaganda

Letter from Lambeth Welfare Reform Team

The Work Programme can help you LOL

Lies and misinformation

Another round of Lambeth propaganda posters informed residents that their council tax had been frozen for another year. Lambeth here are again smug and self-congratulatory. However, this is simply not true for 20,758 residents who have seen their council tax benefit scrapped and an increase in the amount they must now pay. On average, they will have to pay £2.12 extra a week, with the greatest amount being £7.68. This may not sound like a lot, but when your pay or JSA already struggles to get you to the end of the month, suddenly losing £2 a week is a big deal. Whilst other local authorities decided to maintain council tax benefit for those who need it, deciding it would be more costly to administer and collect from those who simply do not have it, Lambeth council decided to pass it on to some of its poorest residents (pensioners, disabled people, carers, those affected by the benefit cap will still receive council tax benefit). They are most definitely not on our side.

Lambeth council had apparently consulted on what scheme should replace the centrally administered Council Tax Benefit, however a friend who had responded to this ‘consultation’ told me how the consultation form had been guiding to what Lambeth wanted to hear. She had wanted to propose collecting council tax from second homes in the borough in order to keep council tax benefit but this was not presented as an option by Lambeth and there was nowhere for her to write this suggestion.

Letters from Lambeth Welfare Reform Team partnered with the homelessness charity Broadway have been sent to the 658 families who will be affected by the benefit cap, these letters have also appeared in my local library. A colourful scene of a residential street mocks the reader who is informed that they will be unlikely to remain in their home. “Work is an option that will have to be considered” we’re informed patronisingly by people who clearly have no understanding of the current crisis, one of the consequences being 1,700 people applying for 8 jobs at a local Costa cafe, meaning that waged work is simply not an option. Nor do they seem to know that many housing benefit claimants are already in paid work (over 90% of new claims made between 2010-2011 were made by those in paid work); or that those not in paid work do spend their days working but do not receive a wage. In order to ‘help’ people into waged work, Broadway claim to be working in partnership with the local Work Programme providers. These Work Programme providers sanction claimants with relish, taking away their only means of subsistence. You stand a better chance of getting paid work if you’re not on the Work Programme than if you are. Yet, as the letter acknowledges itself, people are mandated onto the Work Programme – if they do not participate they will lose their benefits. Lambeth Council and Broadway charity are working in partnership with providers who can further impoverish claimants.

Whilst Lambeth council claim to be powerless to act against central government cuts – which we know is false, seeing as they are happily enough driving them through – in areas where it does have significantly more power, Lambeth has consistently acted against its residents and on behalf of large developers and gentrifiers. The council have allowed developers to ditch their commitments to social housing on the Brixton Square development. The developers of Vauxhall Sky Gardens have also applied to ditch their commitment of 31% ‘affordable’ housing to 0%. Whilst the social housing that had been promised would have only been a tiny fraction of what is needed (in a borough which has severe overcrowding, an ever increasing housing waiting list, and hundreds of families being forced from their homes with the forthcoming benefit cap) it would have been at least some kind of tokenistic gesture that the council acknowledge the urgent housing needs of its residents. Instead, the ‘needs’ of developers gentrifiers are of greater interest to the council.

100 more ACAB

Social day cut

Rage

The most infuriating, sickening, and insulting part of all of this is that whilst Lambeth council fail to take an active stance against these brutal welfare cuts, they suddenly do speak out and campaign when it comes to police cuts. At my local GPs I was met with a pile of postcards depicting two cheery looking police hats perched upon the figure 100 demanding ‘100 more police’. Demanding 100 more police in a borough where communities are terrorised and targeted by the police, where the police bully and beat up and kill those with mental health issues shows Lambeth’s disturbing vision of ‘welfare’. Welfare provision has morphed into the policeman’s boot. Of course, welfare has always been a form of domination and control, but now the boot, which had previously nudged at us, is now kicking us in our stomachs and pushing our faces into the concrete.

100 more police will apparently ‘make Lambeth safer for women’ – says the council which is closing one o’clock clubs (one mother told me how important these places were for women, she identified domestic violence as being linked with women having nowhere outside the house to go to), drastically cutting their incomes, and taking away autonomy through their promotion of the Work Programme.

The disgusting and abusive treatment by the police of those with mental health issues (last year, a video went around on Twitter showing police men attacking a mentally ill man outside Brixton library. A protest was held outside the police station that evening against their violence to our communities) parallels the contempt that the council shows. In a borough which has a proportion of people with mental health issues in Lambeth is 12 times the national average, the council has taken away bus passes from mental health patients, ended a weekly social session (see photo above), and outsourced some mental health services to a charity which sees work as conducive to good mental health (rather than thinking more critically about the role of work and acknowledging its role in compromising mental health). No doubt there have been other cuts to mental health services which have been unreported. In the face of these cuts, it seems the police will be left to ‘deal’ with those affected by the cuts, as more police is what the council deemed important to campaign for over other, less violent, forms of welfare. This is the ‘welfare’ that Lambeth are promoting for our increasingly impoverished communities.

Isolation feeds sadness

Isolation feeds sadness

The letters dropping through people’s doors, telling them they may have to work, or ‘manage their money better’ or whatever other crap Lambeth have come up with, are part of individualising the welfare cuts. That they are a personal problem, that must be dealt with on this level, whether it means you are forced from your home, end up needing a food bank to feed your family, or walk yourself everywhere to exhaustion. As the 1968 graffiti declared, “isolation feeds sadness”. To combat this feeling of isolation, helplessness, and self-blame, local residents are organising together to deal with their issues collectively, to challenge the disrespect experienced by people trying to access housing and benefits” as London Coalition Against Poverty eloquently puts it. Residents have been coming together as South London Welfare Action and Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth where, based upon and inspired by the models of LCAP and ECAP, they discuss the problems they are facing, provide support for each other, and collectively decide what direct action to take. These groups allow people to see that it is not an individual issue or failing to be struggling with benefits or housing, but one that is common to us all. Through leafletting and holding meeting for these groups, we’ve met our neighbours and talked with each other. It was inspiring to listen to people talk about their situation and be so enthusiastic about the groups and taking action together. As one woman said to me when we were discussing housing problems: “Everything is going up, but my wages are the same, my social rent has gone up again this year. Gas, electric, food are all going up as well. I would definitely like to be involved.” In the face of our communities literally being torn apart by welfare cuts, this coming together seems like the most important thing that we can do.

Lambeth have created an interesting ‘profiler tool’ which allows you to view the benefit cuts ward by ward. Worth taking a look at here to try and get an idea of what is happening to our communities. Does not come near to speaking with people about the cuts and crisis though.

from boycott workfare to boycott work – some ramblings

5 Jul

Post work politics is creeping into debate on the left – Nina Power has written and spoken about it, but stated that perhaps at this time of high unemployment, it seems perverse to do so. Owen Hatherley laments that we do not seem to have the will anymore to abolish work. But surely, with millions unemployed, millions labouring for free (in internships and workfare), and millions working under rapidly worsening terms and conditions – the myth of work-as-saviour will no longer hold. Now is the time to talk about work and how we can move beyond it.

Alongside the increasing unemployment statistics there is the intensified attack being led by politicians and the media on those who find themselves out of waged work. Young people cannot dress themselves and ‘sit at home…glued to the TV’, disabled people are ‘languishing on benefits’, ‘benefit scroungers’ are everywhere. With European unemployment at 25 million, for politicians and the media that translates to 25 million people doing absolutely nothing.

Anyone who does not conform to the ‘ideal’ of the waged worker is vilified – they are seen as unproductive and valueless. (This sadly is often true of some of the left as well as the right with so-called ‘radicals’ looking to the ‘workers’ to lead us to the promised land). Yet, as the feminists of the 1970s pointed out with the ‘Wages for Housework’ movement women in the home work too, often in caring duties for children or the elderly, and deserve financial remuneration for their labour. As we shouted outside Parliament at the Welfare Reform Bill protests – ‘every mother is a working mother’.

Their argument encourages us to see the other forms of work that are hidden and unrecognised such as that done by disabled people in caring for themselves in a society that is organised without them in mind, and by those people who simply cannot find a job. These people conduct daily activities that are immensely valuable to society however they find themselves demonised for apparently not working. Importantly, Wages for Housework’s argument was not just about recognition of hidden work but was a direct challenge to the nature of work under capitalism.

Yet, decades later these forms of work, that are based around living, are not only still unrecognised but are under intensified attack – the government is set on forcing the poor and vulnerable, regardless of their mental or physical health and of whether they have dependants, and regardless of the actual state of the labour market, into what is often low paid waged work. When there is no low paid waged work to be found, the government has workfare schemes with which to force people to work for free.

However, the government’s enforcement of work within the labour market, when there is so little paid work to be found, has begun to look quite pathetic and defensive – take the image of Chris Grayling re-opening the burnt down Job Centre in Tottenham recently. Or of Ed Miliband trying to outdo the Tories on sanctions if someone refuses his ‘Job Guarantee’. What sort of ‘guarantee’ is it when you have to back it up with the threat of destitution. What are they so scared of? That we may discover an existence that doesn’t involve sitting in front of excel spreadsheets or cleaning up other people’s shit for exploitative wages.

The feminists of the 70s – and the contemporary twitter account Dole Cat Adventures @wrongtowork – raise an important point; one which is even more significant for our present time as those outside the labour market are coerced inside and as conditions for those already inside the market are being rapidly eroded. What is all this fuss about work? As a ‘job-seeker’, a title/mission given to me by the state which I resent more and more each day, I can’t see what all the hype is about. The job adverts are hardly inspiring, I mostly flick through for lulz and to see what I’m not missing out on. I recently saw a job advertised that seemed to take capitalism’s preoccupation with ‘efficiency’ to new levels by requiring the applicant to have an ‘efficient face’. There was one unpaid internship that was looking at suicide statistics for 6 months. Even a job with the thoughtful and inspiring online blog ‘Our Kingdom’ fatuously declared that ‘It is not so much a job as a creative, entrepreneurial role’.

Work is viewed as a natural state – but there is nothing natural about it whatsoever; this is adequately proved by an experience of my childhood. When I was 16 we all went off on work experience for two weeks. After the first morning of filing I rushed to the nearest phone box at lunchtime and cried down the phone to my mum. When it was time to return to school I told my peers excitedly how much I loved and appreciated school; a teacher overheard my eulogy and warned us to make the most of it.

As we challenge the idea of work, we can start to articulate and imagine ways of organising our society in which we do not exploit and devalue ourselves and each other. Post work politics takes us beyond the fetishisation of the ‘workers’ and values everyone in its attempts to re-think and re-make our present situation.

It may seem difficult to imagine what a post-work society would look like, but there are many moments in our daily lives in which we do rebel against and live beyond work – these seem like a useful starting point. Located outside the job market I am able to enjoy some of the aspects that a post-work society might include – a real sense of freedom, the ability to decide what I want to do with my days, variety, no boss – yet within the confines and limitations of our work-based society which means that the unwaged must also deal with pitiful benefits and the related money worries and stress, stigma, bullying at the job centre, and threats of workfare.

Work is so valorised by our society, yet most people are willing to admit to pulling sickies, counting down to the weekend and holidays, feeling brain numbed – surely there are better ways for us to live our lives…With waged work being so difficult to come by, now seems to be the perfect time to re-think work and debate and imagine post work politics. This seems much more appealing to me than wasting time filling out yet another job application form.