Saturday, 22 March 2008

GPTU/DWP and Remploy: a response from Alan Wheatley, BA, (London Federation of GPs' Disability Spokesperson).

Government makes disabled people subjects in welfare state for the ultra-rich.

I was amused by the DWP respondent's comment about Remploy in relation to the Government's more wide-ranging plans for getting disabled people into work:
"Without modernisation, Remploy deficits would financially undermine our other programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work. With no change, in five years’ time Remploy. Would require £171 million a year on current trends. That would be £60 million over the £111 million funding envelope, which represents the entire annual current WORKSTEP budget. The trade unions and the company are both in agreement on the overall funding envelope £555 [million?] over five years. Remploy’s new five-year funding will begin on 1 April this year. "

First off, there is that word 'modernisation'. As the writer of a recent Community Care magazine print copy letter of the week noted, 'modernisation' is one of the words put about by managerialist government. Its usage in implies that anyone who disagrees with what government — along with, in this context, its PriceWaterhouseCooper accountants, National Audit Office and private sector workfare companies — declares to be 'modernisation' belongs to the age of the dinosaurs. I wonder whether Pwc and the NAO have had proper Disability Equality Training? How 'low cost' must 'reasonable adjustments' in the workplace be? Is the current Chinese factory society — with its attendant pollution and human rights implications — their image of a 'modern workplace'?

In that recent Community Care magazine print copy 'letter of the week', the writer's main focus for attacking the use of government-led 'managerialist' language in social care was the use of the term 'delivering social care'. The writer noted appropriately that social care is a two-way process. Recipients of social care are not passive objects, and neither are highly skilled Remploy workers and ex-Remploy workers whose livelihoods and workplace communities have been destroyed by 'modernisation'.

'Getting disabled jobseekers into work'?

Bringing modern equalities legislation into the accountancy processes, would not real progress modernisation involve government taking more of a lead from disabled workers and disabled jobseekers themselves/ourselves? The DWP respondent is concerned that, unchanged,
"... Remploy deficits would financially undermine our other programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work. "

Obviously, the focus of the government's "other [existing and proposed] programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work" focus on getting disabled people off Incapacity Benefit and into jobseeking. What of existing government programmes for getting disabled Jobseekers Allowance claimants into paid work? As a disabled jobseeker on JSA and competent Web Design Teaching Assistant, I currently volunteer on a Permitted Work Placement [PWP] because it is less hassle for me to claim expenses and a training allowance. In my 4 hours per week PWP role, I could earn £5 per hour — with only a £5 earnings disregard as a JSA claimant. Thus I would need JSA top-up on £20 PWP earnings; and my experience of JSA melt-down screw-up on part-time earnings, I prefer to claim expenses and focus more on a training allowance. (In my time as a 'bank' Support Worker to adults with learning difficulties in 2005-2006 — and the immediate months following my resignation — the repercussions of JSA melt-down screw-ups were my main stressors.)

As a Web Design Teaching Assistant, I make excellent use of my own experience as a slower learner with considerable self-management skills and 'endless patience for slower learners'. My students have mental health problems that can impinge on their ability to take in new skills in whole class tuition — especially if they are under medication. They benefit from my sitting with them responsively and demonstrating keystroke sequences, etc. in slow motion action replay mode. My main 'pay-off' is observing how the learner — however slow initially — benefits from observation and a two-way process. The charity with which I do this focuses on trainee needs more than New Deal or Pathways to Work bonuses for getting disabled jobseekers into paid work.

I am also on a part-time Certificate in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector training course toward becoming a paid and professionally accredited teacher. The accreditation process has a large focus on promoting Equality & Diversity, including reasonable adjustments to lesson planning that incorporate the involvement of people with learning difficulties and different learning styles. By contrast, in a recent [mandatory] New Deal 'Individual Action Planning' session with workfare broker A4e, I was horrified to note that there was no space on the registration form regarding disabilities! When I objected to this omission, the 'interviewer' — who noted my mention of disability in relation to my cumulative experience of decades of jobseeker benefits status — advised me to apply for Incapacity Benefit toward entering "a different programme." As I told him in response, a benefits adviser from Disability in Camden has advised me already regarding a claim for IB, that the amount of volunteering that I have done competently as a volunteer — which currently includes one-and-a-half days per week — would operate as evidence against an IB claim.

So, despite the progress that I have made through mainly self-directed learning in the last 30 years, I have hardly been rewarded for the progress I have made since the Social Worker of a Manpower Services run 'Employment Rehabilitation Centre' [sic] told my parents in April 1978, "Yes, Alan's got an academic brain, but he's too slow to benefit from any government-funded education or training. He's too slow; it just would not be worth it. He'll just have to learn to lower his sights."

Clearly, the policy of companies like A4e to discount disability equality issues in its paperwork indicates that the government awards contracts to companies that disregard equalities legislation. And while New Deal is now mandatory [since 1 June 2007] and New Deal franchises are awarded by Jobcentres, I have little 'consumer choice'. My initial involvement in the Web Design course with SJH Web Designs arose from my being a service user of Jobs in Mind <> — thus a "mental health service user." Although I have never discussed my mental health issues with my GP, Jobs in Mind agreed with me that my mental health problems were a natural reaction to a statutory lack of genuine support in my jobseeking since leaving compulsory education. Surely, do not companies like A4e need 'modernisation' in their recruitment processes to bring them into line with current equalities legislation. And what does my experience of A4e's adherence to equalities processes say of its corporate suitability to provide legal advice paid for by the government purse?

The Remploy company's refocusing into the Pathways to Work programme needs to be mentioned in relation to whether Remploy management — as an intermediary between Remploy workers and government — were more attentive to the 'Pathways to Work' agenda than disabled workers' needs?

The government's figures for expenditure of Remploy factories fade into near insignificance compared to the prospective financial outlay of bonuses to private sector companies for getting disabled people into [however poorly] paid work at a time of deepening global recession:
Using [Pathways to Work architect David] Freud's calculation that the state could pay £62,000 for each of the two million plus people on incapacity benefit they put into work, it would amount to anything up to £120bn going from public funds and into the private sector in the space of three years.

As incapacity benefit costs the country £12bn a year, and claimants who move into low-paid work may still qualify for working tax credit and housing and council tax benefit, Freud's sums do not appear to add up. All of which is rather worrying for someone with a background in merchant banking. But it certainly explains why he believes private sector firms can make their fortune from this kind of contract.

Community Care blog writer Keith Sellick has written: " I want to be a citizen not a subject" Citizenship should be about liberty, fraternity and equality but the government wants to turn it into its opposite: an idea about lack of freedoms, state dominance and reinforcing inequality and deference all wrapped up in a national flag." — Community Care [print copy], 20-26 March 2008, p 14

Clearly, the Government's Welfare Reform agenda is really about creating a welfare state for the workfare brokers in which disabled people are subjects. (For more on Pathways to Work deliverer WorkDirections background, see "Thérèse Rein is an Australian businesswoman and the wife of the 26th Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd. She is the founder of the Australian employment agency Ingeus. She will be the first Australian Prime Minister's wife to keep working while her husband is in office.")

Your comrade
Alan Wheatley, BA

PS: At this time of writing, I await delivery of a stamped Student Loan Repayment Deferment form from the DWP office in Glasgow. On receipt of that, I shall slip it into the Student Loans Company envelope for delivery to Glasgow. Is this humiliating ritual of waiting how government rewards me for getting my BA eleven years ago? Last year, I could get the stamp direct from my local Jobcentre with less anxiety about meeting the Student Loans Company's deadline.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Anti War march London 15/3/2008

Green militants and militant sandwich eater in Trafalgar Square

Waiting for the march to arrive, Parliament Square

Setting up the Green Party stall in Parliament Square

The march arriving in Parliament Square

The Establishment looks on

Cambridgeshire NUT banner

Leeds Uni UCU banner

Bristol Uni UCU banner

'Turning their backs on progress??': Greens in Parliament Sq

UCL UCU & Islington Trades Council Banners

Islington Trades Council banner

Political Analysis on a placard

REMPLOY: Correspondence between GPTU & DWP

At the request of GPTU a letter was written to Peter Hain re Remploy factory closures, read it and the DWP reply below.

To Peter Hain MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Dear Mr Hain

The Green Party, the Green Party Trade Union Group amongst many others have supported the campaign against closure of Remploy factories by their workers and Unions

Councillor Becka Thackeray, a speaker from GPTU and other GP members supported the Remploy demonstration at the Brixton factory earlier this year and after we heard reports from the Labour Party conference we told our London Federation of Green Parties’ AGM that we had some cautious optimism that the Brixton factory at least was saved.

We now are very saddened to learn that this is not so and that Unions have expressed concerned to ministers that no assessment has been made to whether disabled employees in 28 factories to be closed can be placed into mainstream employment contrary to assurances given at the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth.

GPTU supports the Unions demand that the officials discuss the way the company is being managed, as the workforce have lost all confidence in the existing management. We also fully support the Remploy workers who “stand to lose not only their jobs but their dignity and future security”.

Yours sincerely

Peter Murry ( Secretary GPTU)


DWP: Department for Work and Pensions


Ministerial Correspondence Unit, Adelphi, 1-11 John Adam St, London WC2N 6HT

Mr P Murry
Secretary, Green Party Trade Union Group
18 a Oxgate Gardens,
Your reference

Our reference: TO/08/00050

Date: 22 February 2008

Dear Mr Murry

Thank you for your letter of 20 December 2007 to Peter Hain concerning Remploy. As you can appreciate, the minister receives many enquiries a day and it is not possible for him to answer them all individually. I have been asked to reply and apologise for the lengthy delay that has occurred.

It may help if I first explain the background to the Secretary of State’s announcement to the House on 29 November, concerning the future of Remploy. Following the National Audit Office’s report in 2005 and the independent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Dr Stephen Duckworth of Disability Matters last summer, Ministers asked Remploy to develop a new five-year restructuring plan. This was to modernize the business, avoid compulsory redundancy for Remploy’s disabled workers, support substantially larger numbers of disabled people into mainstream work, and stay within a funding envelope of a £555 million taxpayer subsidy over five years, to ensure that escalating costs do not put at risk funding other Department for Work and Pensions programmes for disabled people.

Without modernisation, Remploy deficits would financially undermine our other programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work. With no change, in five years’ time Remploy. Would require £171 million a year on current trends. That would be £60 million over the £111 million funding envelope, which represents the entire annual current WORKSTEP budget. The trade unions and the company are both in agreement on the overall funding envelope £555 over five years. Remploy’s new five-year funding will begin on 1 April this year.

In his speech to the Labour Party Conference25 September, the Secretary of State highlighted the lack of progress that had been made during the consultations between Remploy and their trade unions for this reason he asked Roger Poole, a former Assistant secretary of Unison to help find a solution.

The Secretary of State also advised Conference that no factory closures would take place without the agreement of government ministers and gave a categorical assurance that there would be no compulsory redundancies for Remploy’s disabled workers and that they would retain the protection of Remploy’s terms and conditions, including, uniquely for workers facing plant closures or transfers, their salaries and pensions. All of these commitments have been met.

Substantial progress was made during the course of negotiations between Remploy and their trade unions under the chairmanship of Roger Poole. Although the negotiations concluded on 22 October with a formal failure to agree, they nonetheless represent a significant step forward since Roger was appointed in august. In particular, the talks identified common ground on the following points:

· agreement on the funding envelope £555 over five years ;
· the need for both employment services and factory provision;
· fewer factory closures;
· the importance of gaining more public sector contracts;
· the importance of local initiatives in securing the future of Remploy factories by winning more public and private contracts, led by factory managers, trade unions, constituency MPs and other local stakeholders.
· the need to reduce management and other overhead costs;
· the need to improve working practices, saving £10 million over five years;
· the need to dramatically improve industrial relations.

The Secretary of State considered both the company’s final modernisation plan and those from the trade unions. The final proposals announced represent the best package for Remploy’s disabled employees in difficult circumstances. Three will be 17 factory closures and 11 mergers with other factories, down from the 32 closures proposed in May.

The sales target for public procurement will increase to £461 million over five years, up from £298 million since the company’s proposals in May. That is a huge and challenging 130m per cent increase over the current rate of sales of £200 million. There will be a total cost saving of £59 million from around 25 per cent, fewer managers, changes in current working practices and reductions in on-wage costs.

It will be up to everyone with an interest Remploy, that is the government, national and local management, trade unions, Local MPs and other political representatives, to pull together to ensure that those factories meet their ambitious targets, otherwise they too, could be put at risk.

In his announcement, the Secretary of State made clear that there would be a top-to-bottom restructuring and re-skilling within the company. Already, they have agreed to a structure for a local public/private procurement business for most of the saved sites.

The plan announced will deliver a new beginning for Remploy requiring a radically new approach across the entire operation that must include better management and better union relations.

The Secretary of State advise the House that if management, trade unions, MPs or other local stakeholders can come up with a credible option for a trade unions take-over or transfer to a third party at an affected site, then Remploy would do their best to help facilitate this.

The Remploy Board’s plans to modernise Remploy includes 15 fewer factory closures than originally propose d by the company on 22may and that continuation of 55 Remploy factories, subject to satisfactory progress towards achieving an acceptable cost per disabled employee. The company will also quadruple the number of disabled people it supports into mainstream work through its Employment Services business. It will be placing 20,000 disabled people into work by year five of its modernisation plan.

I know people are disappointed that we are unable to keep even more factories open, but the reality is that it is simply not viable. The sooner the process of modernisation begins, the greater the opportunity to maximize the number of additional factories that can be kept open.

Yours sincerely

Mrs H Payne

Saturday, 8 March 2008

SHELTER DISPUTE Derek Wall's statement for GP

Dr. Wall said

"Workers at Shelter are taking industrial action because they have been told by the homeless charity that their wages must be cut. The Green Party of England and Wales supports the strikers, and calls on Shelter to reject pay cuts for its hard working staff."The tendering of services via the market is a way of cutting wage costs and increasing poverty rather than increasing efficiency. It simply widens the gap between rich and poor in Britain."It is richly ironic that a charity that seeks to deal with one symptom of poverty in the form of homelessness, has become part of a New Labour approach that will increase poverty."

Notes to editors1- more information, contactMatthew HanleyGreen Party Press Office020 7561 0282

The next strike day is this coming Monday, 10th. Its even more important that we have a good showing, as the Senior Management Team are meeting at 88 Old St all afternoon, followed by a meeting of the Shelter Board. We also know that lots of non union members at Old St didn't get to work because of the picket line, so we need to make sure that's solid. We'll be at 88 Old St all day from 7.30 am, and hoping to have a rally at lunch time in the park opposite.

The lobby of the board will be from 4pm at Shelter's other offices at City Forum - 5 mins walk from 88 Old St - which we'll walk over together for, and if there's enough of us there, we will carry on till they finish at 6.30.

This is the leaflet we're using and the petition.Please encourage anyone you can to come on Monday, at any point is great - if they're coming after work and can lobby the board they can call to check where we are.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Campaign Against Climate Change Planning Meeting 1 March 2008

Minutes from planning meeting for campaign against climate change trade union group March 1st 2008 at ULU
Present: Pete Ainsley, Tim Baster, Clare Brown, Brian Collier, Richard Chute, Martin Empson, Matt Gordon, Kathy Grant, Marion Hersh, Sian Jones, Suzanne Jeffery, Joy McKnight, Phelim Maccaferty, Liam Mcquade, Peter Murry , Majeed Neky, Romaine Phoenix, Fliss Premru, Andy Stone, Robin Sivapalan, Phil Thorhill, Nicholas Van Lebeke, Helen Ward, Roy Wilkes

Apologies: Jonathan Neale, Umjum Mercer, Sadie Robinson, Paul Hampton, Andy Parsons, Lisa Defontaine, Matthew Crighton, Vince Maple, Bob Whitehouse, Aveen McHugh, Julie Roberts, Tony Kearns

Procedure for electing officers group
Discussion focused on maintaining an open way of working to involve as many people as possible in a way which had helped to organise the initial conference. Was suggested and agreed that a steering group should be elected by a show of hands and a decision about which positions needed was to be taken at the end of the meeting after discussion about how to take things forward.
2. Conference Feedback (including press reports and feedback forms)
Overwhelmingly positive feedback to the conference. Was some comment on ways in which workshops could focus more clearly on outcomes, and emphasise the working part of the workshop. It was also suggested that if resolution were being put that there should be a clearer outline in advance of the procedures for submission and amendments.
3. Finances
All bills outstanding from the conference had been paid. £250 owed to the Campaign against Climate Change account, which is the affiliation fee for Connect that was included in cheque for the conference. Currently £2308.50 in the trade union account. The money will be used for expenses connected with the work of the Campaign against Climate Change trade union group eg room bookings for meetings, future activities etc. Suggestion that there be an unemployed/low wage rate for future conferences.
4. Where next for the campaign
The coming activities of the campaign against climate change were outlined by Phil T including the International demonstration in December and more immediately the No 3rd runway at Heathrow demonstration on 31st May, the protest at Downing Street on Biofuels on April 15th and activities around the planned new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent.
General agreement that we were at the beginning of the process of debate about climate change within the trade union movement. Aim would be to encourage the kind of debate which would encourage unions to adopt and act on policies to help solve the problem. We should accordingly encourage greater involvement of trade unions and trade unionist in the Campaign against Climate Change, to try to win union affiliation to the campaign and to organise a series of fringe meetings at trade union conferences, some of which had already been organised. Also decided to encourage as much trade union support for the Heathrow demonstration on 31st May.
There was a brief discussion about ensuring the platform speakers at Trade Union fringe meetings embraced a wide range of backgrounds from both the traditional environmental movement, NGOs and the traditional trade union movement.
The Tolpuddle Green Camp on 6th July was also identified as something we should be involved with.
Also suggested and agreed that we should organise a workshop at the Campaign against Climate change forum in June. Martin E agreed to pursue this.
The following fringe meetings were discussed and the following people agreed to organise them
NUT – Andy, Roy and Romaine. Andy reported that Christine Blower and Roy Wilkes had agreed to speak, had invited George Monbiot and Mark Lynas both of whom were sympathetic but had previous engagements. Andy was going to pursue another speaker possibly from Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth in order to ensure a broad platform.
UNISON – Matt G, Pete A, Kathy Knight and Majid N agreed to organise.
NUJ – Joy M had already organised the fringe meeting in Belfast, and a room had been booked by the Union. Jeremy Dear (General Secretary of NUJ) had agreed to speak and an invitation had been sent to the local Greenpeace group, there was also to be a speaker from Campaign against Climate Change
UCU – Brian C, Marrion H and Pete B
UNITE – It was agreed that Matt G would approach Ian Allinson (A Unite Exec member) to see if he would be willing to help. Richard C said he would help.
CWU – Meeting already being organised By Chris T and Tony K
RMT – Fliss P will try to sort. Suzanne J to approach Umjum Mercer to see if he will help and also James Woodcoack
TSSA – Already been organised by Fliss for Sunday 11th May
ASLEF – Fliss to organise
GMB – Phelan to organise
CONNECT – Martin E to make enquiries
UCATT – Martin E to make enquiries
FBU – Roy W already in contact with Matt Wrack (Gen Sec)
NASUWT – Andy S will try
PCS – already being organised Jonathan Neale invited to speak
PROSPECT – Phelan to make enquiries
USDAW – Martin E to make enquiries
EIS – Marion to make enquiries
5. It was agreed that those organising the fringe meetings would get the email list of those from the appropriate union in order to network with them regarding fringe meetings and other events. There was also agreement that those people should investigate and disseminate information about current union policy on climate change. It was also agreed to approach trade councils.

6. Continuing the discussion – including setting up a website: recall conference.
It was proposed by Roy W to adopt the example website that had been set up by Liam Mc. Discussion about whether we needed a separate website or whether more appropriate to use the trade union page on the Campaign against Climate Change website. It was suggested that there was a need for more debate and an opportunity for people to share ideas, and that a separate website would help that process. It was proposed by Sian J that Roy’s initial proposal be amended that the Campaign against Climate Change website trade union page was the main site for advertising the activities of the trade union group but another website was established for a wider debate with a link from the main site. It was also suggested that the new website be shown to the steering group of Campaign against climate change before a link from main website set up. It was also proposed by Brian C that in order to avoid confusion and in line with standard procedure a disclaimer was added that the discussion on the new website did not reflect the views of the CCC. The above-amended proposal was agreed by the meeting.
It was agreed to postpone discussion of a future conference to the next meeting to enable a fuller discussion. It was raised that the conference should not be called a "recall" conference, which has a particular meaning. It was felt that did not accurately reflect the purpose of second conference.

7. Election of Officers
The following people were elected to a steering group for the trade union group of the Campaign against Climate Change.
Secretary – Roy Wilkes
Treasurer – Martin Empson
Chair – Sian Jones
Vice Chair – Jonathan Neale
Website – Liam Mcquabe
Press and publicity – Roamine Phoenix
The next planning meeting will be held on 17th May in London at 11am. A pooled fare of £5 for those who could afford it was agreed for the meeting.