Yesterday’s Brexit Vote

For those who have the tiniest bit of interest or will concerning the leaving the EU farce, here are details of our MP’s  vote last night.

Business of the House (Today) – European Union (Withdrawal) Act (12 Mar 2019)
Voted (aye) to approve, for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the
European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the negotiated withdrawal
agreement; the framework for the future relationship; the legally
binding joint instrument, which reduces the risk the UK could be
deliberately held in the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely and
commits the UK and the EU to work to replace the backstop with
alternative arrangements by December 2020; the unilateral declaration by
the UK, setting out the sovereign action the UK would take to provide
assurance that the backstop would only be applied temporarily; and the
supplement to the framework for the future relationship, setting out
commitments by the UK and the EU to expedite the negotiation and
bringing into force of their future relationship.

(division #354; result was 242 aye, 391 no)

speaker:Kevin Barron : 1 vote

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Lord Ahmed & Child Sex Abuse

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The Labour Party …

Nothing changes with the Labour Party, local or national. In fact it could hardly get worse :

Press release from Jonathan Arnott MEP

Plans by Labour for a second referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU have been slated by local MEP Jonathan Arnott.

“We’ve already voted four times on Brexit  – European elections 2014, General Election 2015, EU referendum 2016, General Election 2017 – and to have yet another vote would be a betrayal. “

And he pointed out, “To have another referendum would require further European elections – three years after we voted to Leave – and a six month-plus extension of Article 50.

“We’ve already waited long enough.

“In my view if the British people were offered a choice between a soft Brexit and no-Brexit, a generation would lose faith in democracy, such a referendum would be farcical.”

Mr Arnott, Independent MEP for the North East,  continued, “Jeremy Corbyn’s position on IRA terrorism, Palestinian terrorism, antisemitism, Venezuela, etc. have made him the most appalling leader of the opposition ever.

“His one redeeming feature has been to say that he would deliver Brexit. He’s now betrayed even that.

“This is a cynical move by Corbyn. He has split his own Party, lost the confidence of his backbenchers, failed to deal with anti-semitism and risked the destruction of his own party.

“This plan is clearly designed to shore up his own support within the Party and has nothing to do with what’s right for the country.

“The Labour Party has just disavowed its own Manifesto. Their MPs were therefore, effectively, elected under false pretences,” he said.

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DWP officers fail to turn up at four out of five benefit appeal hearings

Govt Newspeak

EXCLUSIVE: Just 1,790 out of 9,010 ESA and PIP tribunal hearings in September had a DWP “presenting officer”

Labour MP Justin Madders said: “The system needs a radical overhaul”

Government officials failed to turn up at four out of five welfare appeal hearings in a single month, according to shock figures seen by the Mirror. A “presenting officer” represented the Department of Work and Pensions at just 1,790 out of 9,010 “first-tier tribunal” hearings against decisions over on employment support allowance and personal independence payments in September – some 19.8%.

That was a drop from a third in January 2018, according to stats revealed to MPs. Figures from other months show a continuing plunge in the number of appeals where the Government is represented in person throughout last year.

Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders said: “It is a disgrace that in the majority of cases the DWP cannot even be bothered to…

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What the DWP doesn’t want you to know …

Former jobcentre adviser Angela Neville has written a play to expose the harsh reality of the benefits sanctions regime.

Angela Neville, 48, is describing events she witnessed as a special adviser in a jobcentre that prompted her to write a play about her experiences.

“We were given lists of customers to call immediately and get them on to the Work Programme,” she recalls. “I said, ‘I’m sorry this can’t happen, this man is in hospital.’ I was told [by my boss]: ‘No, you’ve got to phone him and you’ve got to put this to him and he may be sanctioned.’ I said I’m not doing it.”

Neville worked as an adviser in Braintree jobcentre, Essex, for four years and has written a play with two collaborators, her friends Angela Howard and Jackie Howard, both of whom have helped advocate for unemployed people who were threatened with benefit sanctions by jobcentre staff.

The title of the play, Can This be England? is an allusion to the disbelief that she and the others feel at how people on benefits are being treated, she says. And she unashamedly describes the play, in which she also acts, as a “dramatic consciousness-raising exercise”.

Can This be England? deals with the quagmire that awaits people caught in the welfare system. Scenes are set in jobcentres and in characters’ homes addressing some of what Neville calls the “everyday absurdity” of what occurs, such as when people with disabilities and fluctuating health conditions are wrongly declared “fit for work” inflicting additional suffering in the process. It also examines the dilemmas faced by staff in jobcentres, many of whom Neville believes feel stripped of any power to do good and are crumbling under the strain as managers enforce new rules.

“You’re not doing the job, you’re firefighting,” she says. “From my own experience, staff are subjected to constant and aggressive pressure to meet and exceed targets. Colleagues would leave team meetings crying. Things were changing all the time. The pressure was incredible. Advisers were actively encouraged to impose sanctions (along the lines of “sanction of the month”) to contribute to the points system that ranks jobcentre offices. It was often for stupid reasons,” she adds.

“And it was happening all the time. A customer maybe would be a little bit late or would phone in and the message wasn’t passed on. It was very distressing to have customers literally without food, without heat, without resources and these are unwell [and] disabled customers. If it hadn’t been for the fact that most of my colleagues were dedicated and compassionate people I wouldn’t have lasted more than a few months.”

A demonstrable shift took place once the coalition settled in, says Neville. Along with “relentless” targets, huge caseloads, and less time to spend with individual claimants, she lists the increasing complexity of the system including the many and very complicated forms that needed to be filled in and problems with the fitness to work test administered by Atos. “It used to feel like we were doing something for clients, now it was [doing something] to them,” she says.

Things were made all the more difficult, she adds, when staff were given far fewer opportunities to assist claimants with things like accessing grants previously available for interview preparation, such as getting a haircut. “These small things can mean a lot. Over time, though, this fund was chipped away until requests were routinely turned down,” she says. “Initially I felt that I had the resources to genuinely support customers. Sadly, this changed once the coalition came in – to the extent that the work almost became the persecution of some of the most vulnerable people in society.”

A central motivation behind the play was how “morally compromising” the job had become, says Neville. In one scene an adviser tells her mum that it’s like “getting brownie points” for cruelty. When Neville herself became redundant in 2013, she was warned about being sanctioned for supposedly being five minutes late to a jobcentre interview.

There was also a strong feeling among the playwrights that the tendencies in wider society and the media to stigmatise and vilify benefits claimants needed to be refuted. The play opens with a scene where nosey neighbours spot someone on sickness benefit in the street and assume they must be skiving instead of working. “This play is about getting people to bloody think about stuff. Use their brains. Sometimes I think, crikey, we are turning into a really mean, spying on our neighbour, type of society,” says Neville.

She is one of many former jobcentre workers speaking out with revelations about a “culture” of targets and accelerating pressure on staff to shift people off benefits, (repeatedly denied by the Department for Work and Pensions) often by the overuse of arbitrary and harsh sanctions that mean people’s benefits can be stopped for weeks and sometimes months. Like others, Neville says the new regime rolled out by the government as part of its “back-to-work” drives and budget cuts has caused enormous stress for claimants but also for the staff expected to implement them. Some advisers’ stories have been officially documented, such as that of John Longden, a former jobcentre official who gave written evidence to the ongoing parliamentary committee investigation into sanctions of “hit squads” setting claimants up to fail.

Neville acknowledges that she has worked in just one jobcentre but argues that as the evidence from other frontline workers comes out it is clear that poor practices are commonplace.

She insists she isn’t normally a political person. “I don’t have a particular axe to grind … but it does always seem to happen under the Conservatives,” she adds.

Can this be England? has only had a couple of performances in Quaker meeting houses, but more are planned in the coming months. As for what lies ahead, Neville is adapting the stage play for radio and says the script is freely available to other performers who want to put the play on. One reason for doing so is to gain a wider audience but it is primarily because she and her co-writers worry about serious problems down the road with social security reform. “I’m really scared that these next [welfare spending] cuts are going to come along and that people are going to get used to it and say: ‘that’s just the way it is’. It’s the acceptance of it I can’t bear to think about”.

“The Society Interview : The Guardian

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Doing the job of the police

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