Monday, 24 June 2013

Benefits cuts based on prejudice and dogma must be challenged

Lilian Macer
#undc13 This government’s welfare policy is based, not on evidence but on prejudice and dogma, “drip fed through friendly right wing media to make sure that facts don’t get in the way,” and UNISON will challenge it at every turn.

Working with relevant allies the union will build an alternative vision of welfare provision for the 21st Century, including building affordable housing, decent wages to end in work poverty, and an economic policy that prioritises jobs and growth.

Scottish NEC member Jane Carolan, moving the composite, told delegates that we have practically the least generous benefits system amongst the industrialised nations, despite being the fifth largest economy in the world.

“So who suffers from benefits cuts,” asked Jane.

“The 300,000 children condemned to poverty. Those forced to take a weekly trip to a food bank to ensure they can feed their families. The thousands evicted in the name of housing benefit changes. And the disabled cut off from all support by a multinational operating to guidelines that have seen even the dying declared fit for work.”

Far from being simplified the new system is so complex that the civil servants designing it have confessed they don’t know what they are doing.

Jane slammed as “vindictive” the bedroom tax, removing housing benefit for a so-called spare room. Something which tenants have no control over. And the benefit cap which ignores entitlement in favour of an arbitrary limit.

“The new system is not about providing a safety net but about making cuts - £22 billion a year. Plunging the poor into greater poverty should be a matter of shame,” slammed Jane, “And so should attempts to stigmatise benefits claimants into the deserving and undeserving poor – a Victorian value that deserved to be left there,” she added, calling for a growth in real jobs which really makes work pay.

Lilian Macer, Scotland’s Regional Delegate developed this theme telling conference that this is about what kind of society we want to live in. She added that this government’s ideological attacks will have a significant impact on our members since two thirds of those who will lose as a result of these welfare reforms will be in work, in predominantly low paid jobs delivering vital public services.

“It is vital to recognise that the stress and deprivation caused by reducing income is likely to lead to a deterioration in mental and physical health, further increasing the health inequalities gap and levels of child poverty and deprivation currently experienced within our communities.

Renfrewshire’s Brenda Aitchison condemned Osborne’s “ill informed rubbish” response to arguments from trade unions, charities and campaigners against welfare reform. “That Tory arrogance shines through,” slammed Brenda, “These changes happen to someone else, their families, their communities, no compassion, no empathy.

“How much wealth has been made for private property investors on the back of income received from housing benefit - £21 billion. I don’t see that report in the Daily Mail!”

Brenda ended with a quote from Patti Smith’s song, “People have the Power” “Let us use our power to vigorously defend our people and end austerity.”

Aberdeen City’s Peter Smyth, a welfare rights worker himself, added his voice to the condemnation of welfare reform which will take £62 million out of the economy, “from local shops and businesses, food out of children’s mouths and shoes off their feet.”

Peter said, “I am proud that every day our members in Aberdeen and across the country fight to protect the most vulnerable in society,” calling on the Labour Party to do the same.

“The next time I meet a client who thinks they are worthless or useless I will be able to say, you are not alone, UNISON is with you.”

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