Strike week, Council Tax Support Consultation and next HOOH meeting

Strike week
Members of HOOH were on the picket lines with health workers yesterday (Monday), hearing about how staff on the lowest grades especially are being left further and further behind in terms of pay – and how working conditions and vital parts of the service are being wrecked by contracting out. They were all very supportive of our work in challenging benefits cuts, as they see first hand the distress caused by the bedroom tax, work capability assessments, sanctions-backed workfare etc – and many of them need benefits themselves as their pay is so low.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) we will be joining the PCS union at picket lines outside Leeds job-centres, and we’d like you to join us at Park Place at 8am, and/or at Eastgate at 9am. If time permits we’ll also go on to York Road job-centre. We’ll be taking a No Workfare banner and flyers, and be joined by other groups who support their pay claims but also believe the conversation need to go wider and include the issues affecting people who are unwaged for whatever reason – as well as all the unpaid work many of us do “behind the scenes”. We know that many of you have had bad experiences with job-centre staff – and we condemn this completely – but we also see a wider picture where the struggles of waged and unwaged are connected and need us to stand in solidarity if we are to turn back the tide of austerity policies spearheaded by attacks on the unwaged, low-waged, and those who are sick or disabled.
If anyone wants to join the TUC rally in London on Wednesday there should still be time to get free coach tickets by calling UNISON on 0113 2458442.
Council Tax Support Consultation – really important!!
The council is currently running a consultation about how to implement further cuts to Council Tax Support (previously Council Tax Benefit). The consultation will close on 14th November, and it has not been well advertised – which is not surprising as they will not want to know what we think of it! The online version is here – please respond urgently. As usual, the questions are weighted to give the impression that there is no alternative, but there are boxes you can use to express your opinions more fully. We suggest you also call, email or visit all your local councillors – all contact details and times of councillor surgeries are here .
You will all be aware that the government has cut the amount available to local councils for this benefit, and left it to councils to decide how to “share out” these cuts. At present, the situation is that most people on benefits have to pay a minimum of 26% of their Council Tax themselves (the main exception being single parents of children under 5, and people on severe or enhanced disability premiums). You won’t need us to tell you that this is affecting many of the same people who are affected by the bedroom tax, cuts on Local Housing Allowance, and other benefits cuts – let alone sanctions doled out by the DWP.
The new proposals are to increase the lowest amount you have to pay to 30%. As if this wasn’t enough, if anyone is unemployed for more than 6 months (or 12 months for people already claiming by April 2015), they can have their Council tax Support stopped altogether unless they agree to take part in something which the council is calling a “support package”. What this really means is yet more conditionality: being forced to take part in work-related activities including workfare (compulsory unpaid work) to get your benefits. This is on top of all the conditions and workfare schemes which are already imposed on people claiming JSA.. They give no information about who will be providing(ie getting paid for) these so-called “support packages”, or what protection people will have against being forced to do things which they know will make their problems worse.
 The only reason we can see for the council to do this is that they want to be seen to buy in to the government’s demonising of claimants, falsely dividing people into the “deserving” and the “undeserving,” blaming the unemployed for the failings of the economic system and using this to get public support for more welfare cuts and more contracts for workfare providers. The council even make the laughable statement that the new scheme will ultimately save money by getting more people back into work – as if it is going to create more jobs, or higher pay for the many workers who still need benefits to make ends meet. Spreading false ideas about claimants and about the amounts spent on welfare is a big election strategy for all the parties, and we need to make sure it doesn’t work.
Watch this space for more ideas.  Please note that the next Hands Off Our Homes meeting is on Wednesday 22nd October at the UNISON offices at  160A  Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 9EN. All welcome, fares paid for those on low incomes. Call/text 07930 966205 for more details, or just turn up.
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