On 15th of January a meeting was held to launch an intense campaign against sanctions within the benefits system. The new group will now be meeting regularly, and will next be meeting at 6.30pm on Tuesday 27th January, at Ebor Court, Skinner Street, LS1 4ND. This is in the area between Westgate and Wellington Street, not far from Park Place job centre. On the agenda will be plans for the street demonstration set for Saturday 28th February – now planned to start at 12 noon on Briggate, close to the Body Shop. We’ll need as many people as possible to help with organising, preparing resources and publicity, including stalls and leafleting. Please come along to this meeting if you possibly can – or if not, get in touch with us at leedsagainstsanctions @gmail.com or on 07930 966205.
We’re also making plans for two further dates: on Thursday 19th March there is a national day of action against sanctions, called by Unite Community. Groups all around the country will be organising actions in their own towns, and again we need people to come with ideas and energy. Unite Community exists to give a voice within the union movement to those not in waged work, and you can join for 50p per week. Branch meetings are held at 1pm every first Friday of the month (next meeting 6th February). Please come along to branch meetings if you can, or bring your ideas to the meeting of the anti-sanctions campaign on Tuesday.
Also, Monday March 2nd is a national day of action against the murderous Work Capability Assessments (WCAs), called by DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts). Last year there were demonstrations outside many WCA centres around the country, which helped to force out Atos as the corporation with the contract for these assessments. This year Atos is to be replaced by Maximus – and the fight against unfair assessments goes on. Hopefully we can link this day in with our programme of actions against sanctions, and make it even more effective than the last one.
Other ideas to discuss include how we can use the opportunities provided in the run-up to the general election to get our demands into the mainstream and challenge electoral candidates, making it harder for them to get away with campaigning on a platform of scapegoating claimants, or pretending to be on our side by promising to abolish the bedroom tax whilst continuing to pursue welfare policies which are every bit as vicious and will eventually make all our lives more difficult.
The movement against sanctions and benefits conditionality is building nationally, and we are forging links with other groups in the Yorkshire and North East region to coordinate our efforts. We encourage people from other towns and cities to attend our meetings or get in touch to share their plans and ideas.
Over the last couple of years, as we know, the number of claimants left without any income for periods of weeks or months has soared, leading to increased risks of homelessness (especially for those renting in the private sector), a huge rise in households dependent on food banks, and intolerable levels of stress for people claiming JSA and ESA. We have seen conditionality creeping into the system of Discretionary Housing Payments for those affected by the bedroom tax – soon to be extended to people claiming Council Tax Support. Under Universal Credit, workers earning less than the equivalent of 30 hours on the minimum wage will also be subject to worksearch conditions in order to claim in-work benefits which they depend on for survival. Such policies exist to make it harder to challenge exploitative working conditions, and to create division by encouraging the scapegoating and negative stereotyping of claimants who are at the sharp end of an unjust economic system.
We need to resist these attacks, and build a movement for a new kind of welfare which guarantees a decent quality of life for everyone regardless of their circumstances. We also need to develop practical ways of supporting each other, and Unite Community is soon to launch its new community centres in Leeds, where benefits advice and support will be provided by volunteers. Anyone interested in helping is encouraged to join Unite Community – contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call Joe on 07711 375536. Again, you are also encouraged to attend branch meetings on the first Friday of the month.