TUC calls for a worker-friendly new year

TUC new year message

In his new year message to trade union members published today (Tuesday), TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

‘2009 has to mark a decisive turning point, away from the neo-liberal market-always-knows-best conventional wisdom that brought our economy to the brink of a catastrophic collapse, towards a fairer, more balanced economy delivering sustainable prosperity.

‘This is going to be a grim year. Unemployment will increase every month. Some predict it will hit three million, but in truth no-one knows.

‘First because we have little experience of a recession driven by a financial collapse, and secondly because we do not know how bold our Government – and as importantly, other governments meeting together as the G20 in April in London – will be.

‘Government therefore has three priorities in the year ahead:

* it must take every action necessary to make the recession as short and as shallow as possible;
* it must develop the proper policy response to mass unemployment;
* it must use these and other policies not just to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes that led to the financial collapse, but also to ensure that we emerge from recession as a fairer, greener and more sustainable economy.

Action to tackle the recession

‘The Government must be prepared to take further bold action to counter the recession and to save jobs.

‘The roots of this recession lie in the failure of the finance and banking sectors, and while the Government deserves praise for setting the international pace on the bail-out of banks, we do not yet have a banking system that is truly serving the interests of business or household borrowers. Banks are putting building up their own balance sheets and paying back government loans as their top priorities. But they also still hold high levels of ‘toxic’ debts which prevent them from dealing with other banks in a normal way. The Government and the Bank of England must therefore consider injecting even more support into the financial system to get credit flowing again.

‘The Government cannot be expected to come to the aid of every company that faces difficulties but it must be prepared to look at providing short term assistance to strategic companies in sectors vital to the future of Britain.

‘The Government should consider a further stimulus package in the Budget. Barack Obama’s team are already talking of a big package to boost the US economy. The UK should follow suit – and also use the April G20 summit in London to create a coalition of the willing to wage war on unemployment, poverty and recession.

‘As well as bringing forward planned infrastructure projects, ministers should be fast tracking new projects to ensure that further work can start when these finish. The UK is still suffering from a lack of investment in the key infrastructure a modern low-carbon economy requires.

Action to help the unemployed

‘Too much government policy towards the unemployed still tends to be trapped in the idea that there are enough jobs to go round, and that the unemployed either lack the skills or the motivation to get work. While of course with rights come responsibilities, the thousands of people losing their jobs every week throughout 2009 should not be treated as potential scroungers but victims of economic forces well beyond their control. They will need help through benefits and support through training and job search.

‘Despite its tough presentation and some objectionable policies such as workfare, there were some good proposals in the welfare reform Green Paper to make Job Centre Plus services better tailored to individual needs. Mass unemployment will make it even harder for those who normally find it more difficult to get work such as disabled people and those juggling child care and work. There needs to be specific help for such groups – such as an increase in child care, which in turn creates jobs.

‘The TUC has already called for better benefits, higher statutory redundancy pay and a bigger tax allowance for redundancy pay to provide more help for the newly unemployed. We now look for action in the Budget on these issues.

Action to create a fairer, greener and more sustainable economy

‘2009 is going to be tough, but it can still be made positive if it becomes a turning point – the year in which we set out to build a deliberately different kind of economy.

‘That first means recognising the mistakes of the past – made not just by this Government, but by governments and the economic and political establishment almost everywhere.

‘We have given far too much weight to the interests of the finance sector, and began to believe it could create wealth simply by moving it around, rather than through long-term investment in the goods and services that people want and need.

‘The challenges we face are clear. Even before the recession we were scarred by poverty, particularly child poverty. Our society was coming under increasing strain from growing inequality as a new class of the super-rich escaped their responsibilities to pay a fair share of tax. We had neglected important sectors of the economy as we gave preference to financial services. We have failed to do enough to meet the environmental imperative.

‘This challenges us all to put the measures we will need to beat the recession to a longer term purpose of building a better greener and fairer economy that can emerge the other side of the downturn.

‘This will require:

* a new kind of industrial strategy – not a return to picking winners and easy hand-outs, but strategic support to the sectors where we are already strong but could do better. Some will be in manufacturing, but others will be in services and parts of the economy often neglected in such discussions such as the creative sectors.
* A green industrial revolution that recognises that many industries will have to adapt to survive, but that also that the environmental challenge can generate thousands of productive worthwhile jobs, and build on the strength of our science base.
* An intensification of efforts to make society fairer – the recession should encourage the government to speed up efforts to eliminate child poverty.
* A fairer tax system. The government is right to increase borrowing to maintain the strength of the economy. But this borrowing and decent public services will have to be paid for, and 2009 must see a real debate on how to make the tax system fairer. There is a real demand for the super-rich to pay a fairer share. President Elect Obama has been a long-time supporter of a crack down on the tax havens used by multi-nationals and the mobile super-rich to avoid tax.
* A new kind of banking system that no longer threatens international economic stability and instead serves the rest of the economy and society. Britain’s banks already look very different. Some are now state-owned, some have large public stakes and all have received substantial help from the Bank of England and the taxpayer. At the very least we will need new regulatory structures to enforce stability but also to protect the consumer in a sector with less competition.

‘2009 will not be easy year, but it could be the turning point that will make 2010 not just the start of recovery, but the first steps in building a new economy.’

New Labour’s welfare plans will add to unemployment misery

Of the government’s welfare reform proposals, John McInally, vice president of the Public and Commercial Services Union writes on CiF:

Promoting private-sector interests are at the centre of these policies which aim to privatise core welfare and benefit services. This act of social vandalism was first championed by adviser David Freud, whose report described Jobcentre Plus as a “model of public-sector delivery”, yet still recommended privatisation. The retired merchant banker tells us why: the “scale of the potential market is huge … an annual multi-billion market”.


Evidence from home and abroad shows the private sector cannot be trusted to run welfare services. To maximise profits unscrupulous employers cherry-pick the most job-ready while those who require more intensive assistance are parked on benefits. What else can be expected when profit is the main motivator? On top of this, when companies fail, as is increasingly the case, or when they back out when profit margins drop, Jobcentre Plus is expected to clean up the mess. Proceeding with these proposals, which were drawn up before the recession took hold, is a risk too far.

If there is to be a genuine debate about welfare provision it cannot be on the basis of government spin. Neither can it be on the basis of so-called “independent” advice from merchant bankers nor against the backdrop of “work-shy scrounger” rants in the press. We need to listen to the experts – Jobcentre workers themselves, anti-poverty campaigners and the voluntary and community specialist sector, not those the Confederation of British Industry describe as the “weapon of choice” to privatise welfare and other public services.

The TUC’s Brendan Barber comments:

‘This approach to welfare assumes a utopian world of unrestricted childcare and widely available jobs where only the lazy opt for life on the dole.

‘The reality is very different. Thousands of people are joining the dole queue every day through no fault of their own.

‘The TUC has long supported the case for responsibilities and rights going together in our benefits system but draconian workfare policies are not the answer.

‘The Government should instead put employment services on an emergency footing and ratchet up its efforts to stimulate the economy.’

Compass have started a campaign against the draconian workfare plans. I urge you to sign the petition at Welfare for All:

As the Observer reported on November 2nd the governments own adviser, the Social Security Advisory Committee has raised concerned about the latest welfare reform proposals. The welfare state is one of the UK’s greatest achievements and supports us all especially vulnerable and unemployed people and their families.

In July the government published the green paper ‘No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility’ announcing plans to change the current provision of support.

Many of the plans were unacceptable when they were first published and the worsening economic situation should lead to a fundamental rethink. However the government is pressing ahead despite the current global economic downturn which is leading to increasing levels of unemployment. As a result we have come together.

The government’s proposals remove entitlements and fail to value the important work of parents and carers. Parents with young children, carers, sick, disabled, people with mental health problems and other vulnerable groups face tougher tests to qualify for benefits. If they fail they could be cut off with no support.

We are opposed to the abolition of Income Support which ends the principle that those in need deserve help. We are opposed to compulsory work for benefits. People should be paid the rate for the job or at the very least be paid the national minimum wage.

Jobseekers Allowance is shockingly low at less than £10 a day, if it had increased in line with earnings over the past 30 years the rate for a single person over the age of 25 would be more than £100 a week.

The government wants more of the welfare state to be handed over to the private sector. It is wrong to profit from the sick and unemployed. There is also the intention to share information with the police which raises real concerns about civil liberties.

We want voluntary skills training and life long learning opportunities for unemployed people. The government should focus on ensuring that there is more support to access jobs that have fair pay and decent conditions with a guarantee that when people cannot seek work they will not face poverty.

The government should introduce positive measures to challenge discriminatory attitudes held by employers, encourage flexible working practices and expand the provision of affordable childcare.

We want the government to rethink its plans. Support our campaign to help create a better welfare state and society.

Baby P and the failure of the business model

From the Workers’ Liberty site, an account of how the business model imported from the private sector harmed the quality of a vital public service:

Until 2006 Pauline Bradley worked as a social worker for Haringey council, whose social work department has been in the news over the death of “Baby P”.

During her time at Haringey Pauline saw the tragic death of Victoria Climbie, the inquiry into her death by Lord Laming, and the subsequent reforms made by the government. Here Pauline, who now works in Dumbarton, explains why she thinks the social work system can fail children like “Baby P”.

The Lord Laming Inquiry made 108 recommendations, to do with tightening up procedures and communication in child protection. Updated computer systems were introduced which made it easier for social workers, occupational therapists and other professionals to record visits and communicate with each other. These systems varied in places and had teething problems too.

Not all Laming’s recommendations were implemented by central government, particularly the ones regarding how social work departments communicate with politicians and other agencies. Initial assessments, core assessments and other practices were implemented and should have been standardised throughout England and the UK.

The government was closely watching Haringey, so they pushed the changes through with vigour there to try to prove that all was different and better. The council changed their logo to “Better Haringey” to show a change from the bad old past.

The press had called the social worker involved with Victoria Climbie “incompetent”. Haringey Council wanted to prove they’d got rid of all the “incompetent, bad” social workers who were employed at the time of Victoria Climbie’s death.

But the new management regime were not qualified social workers! Anne Bristow, the new Director of Social Services, had many qualifications in management and marketing. David Derbyshire, the Children’s Director wasn’t a qualified social worker either. But the politicians seemed to think that was what was needed.

Our union, Unison, had for years complained that the social workers in Haringey were the second lowest paid in London. Overnight the new management regime (who came in after existing mangers had suddenly left, before the Victoria Climbie story hit the press) put up the pay of children’s social workers by as much as £8,000. (But not learning disability, older people’s or physical disability social workers). They introduced bonuses and enhancements such as the “golden handcuffs” (£500 for staying for two years), or a fast track up the spinal column pay scale.

They advertised for people to work in Haringey straight from college. They wanted people they could mould, not experienced social workers like me who might disagree with management decisions on cases. They got a full complement of staff very quickly, draining social workers from other boroughs.

Haringey was a special case after Laming. Other councils could discuss, debate and decide how best to implement changes without the same pressure

It may be that some councils didn’t implement them all — as long as they met their performance and inspection targets, they could be flexible elsewhere.

The problem with the regime at Haringey was that it deprioritised the human element to social work, which cannot be measured and which you only get through life and social work experience. For instance the skill and confidence to challenge a parent who you think is lying — to say “you look as though you have taken a drug, have you?”. Or in the case of Baby P: “Wash his face, I want to see his face clean”.

Parents will react, get angry, etc., but you have to stand your ground, because that’s what saves children’s lives. And the system, your manager, etc. have to back you up. If you know they won’t back you then you’ll be reluctant to say what your guts are telling you.

On reports I heard that a legal team had said there was “not enough evidence” to take baby P into care ten days before he died. If the social worker dealing with the case knew that, she’d be less confident about challenging his mother.

It is very basic to social work to assess the truth and veracity of an adult’s claims. But Haringey had become a borough where the management and politicians did not base themselves on social workers’ abilities but on the idea of a process for everything. If you followed all the procedures everything would be okay. Haringey had a business model of targets and form-filling. That does not protect children. We need a welfare model.

There is starting to be a debate about whether it is better to leave children with their parents or take children into care. At least in care they survive and don’t die (usually). Every case is different and must be seen for its own merits.

In Scotland, where we see a child at risk or in need, we try to engage the parents/carers as much as we can. We literally throw resources at them if it will improve their and their children’s lives, e.g. nurseries, after school clubs, counselling, parenting classes, money for heating or food (but not drugs, we have to be vigilant with that one; supervised shopping may be needed), drugs rehabilitation, addiction services etc. If the parents engage, then there’s a chance to keep the family together with these supports. These resources are crucial.

If they don’t engage, if they lie and avoid us, then we’re more concerned. We may need to take the case to a child protection case conference for more vigilant measures, or to the Scottish Children’s Reporter’s System for a hearing and a legal order.

The Scottish Children’s Reporter’s System is outside of social services and is a welcome check and balance on the local authority. It was inspired by Lord Kilbrandon in 1968, who wanted to focus on young criminals and their “needs not deeds”.

Any child who comes to the attention of authorities, e.g. police, schools, youth clubs, nurseries, etc., can be referred to the SCRA. The SCRA is run by lawyers who have specialised in children’s law. An SCRA reporter then writes to all agencies in that child’s network and asks them for a report. They write to social services and we go out and meet the child, family, etc., and write our report for the SCRA with our recommendation.

When the SCRA have received all the reports, they decide if a children’s hearing is needed. If it is, they call one and the child, parents, social services , school etc are invited to attend.

There are three panel members (not all of the same sex) who are members of the community and trained up to be SCRA panel members. They talk to the child and everyone else present, then decide on whether a legal order is needed. They are advised legally by a SCRA Children’s Reporter.

When they make a decision, in my experience they usually go with the social workers’ recommendation. If a supervision order is ordered, it is the social worker’s job to visit the child and family every month without fail and more often if necessary. The case gets reviewed at intervals, decided at that hearing; it may be one month, three months, six months, eight months, a year, etc.

Social work managers meet SCRA reporters regularly for “case progression meetings”. I feel that their being outside of local politics and local spending decisions makes them a welcome check on social work departments. They will kick up if they’re told “Child A can’t go to this resource as the local authority can’t afford it.”

There should be no limit on the amount of money that can be spent on children’s welfare. Remember Gordon Brown’s unlimited war chest? How about an unlimited child welfare budget? A welfare system should be implemented with no illusions that the market place or businesses can help us in that.

There should be no witch hunts of social workers (the Sun is running a nasty campaign to sack all social workers in the Baby P case).

It is complicated for the labour movement to have an effective campaign in the area, as all the cases are different. The media loves heads to roll, but I don’t feel that helps us; we need to get to the truth and prevent it from happening again.

There were mistakes made with baby P by individuals, just as the man who threw his cigarette down led to the Kings Cross fire, and the man who didn’t close the bow doors on the Herald of Free Enterprise led to that ship sinking. We have to look at the whole story and improve things from for the future. The social worker involved is said to be suicidal, and I know Lisa Arthurworry is still suffering eight years after Victoria Climbie’s death.

But there might be a few slogans for us: no witch hunts of social workers; unlimited spending on child welfare services; a nursery place for all children; no waiting lists for support services; pupil support services in every school; a Guidance Teacher for every child

And how about this: a welfare system for children based on the Children’s Act? “The welfare of the child is paramount.”

Sign the petition against women’s no pay day

Will Peter Mandelson pay any heed? I mean, this is an issue of workers’ rights…

Perhaps his replacement will be more sympathetic (yes, I am betting he’ll not last ’til the new year…)

From the Fawcett Society:

It’s No Pay Day! The day that women receive their last payslip of the year and start working for free is here, so let’s do something about it.

Here’s our quick FAQ to No Pay Day 2008:

What’s the significance of October 30th?

We’ve labelled October 30th Women’s No Pay Day because it signifies the day that women start working for free while men get paid year-round – if you apply the 17% gender pay gap for full-time work to the average salary, it’s the equivalent of women working the last two months of the year for free.

What’s the cause of the pay gap?

Discrimination: it’s estimated by up to 40% of the pay gap is due to straightforward discrimination – so, women being paid less to do work of an equal value or skill level to their male colleagues.

Jobs traditionally done by women are paid less: Society has put a low value of women’s work, even when it’s a skilled job. For instance, we pay people more to look after cars than to care for our children or elderly people.

Few senior or skilled jobs offer flexible working: Mothers often work below their skill level because lower skilled jobs are more likely to give them the flexibility to balance work and home. We need more highly skilled and senior jobs to be available with flexible hours.

Isn’t it just because women work part-time?

No – the pay gap figures are broken down into full-time and part time:

  • Women working full-time earn on average 17% less per hour than men working full-time


  • Ethnic minority women working full-time earn on average 20% less per hour than men working full-time


  • Women working part-time earn on average 36% less per hour than men working full-time


  • …and women working part-time in London earn on average 45% less per hour than men working full-time.

What’s the solution?

Our Women’s No Pay Day campaign is calling for two main things:

Health checks for companies: Mandatory pay audits which would require all organisations to compare the earnings of women and men doing similar work to see if there is a gap

Help for women challenging their pay: Changes to the law to make it much easier for women to take cases to court, and to allow women to take such cases as a group, with the support of unions.

What can I do?

Sign our letter to Peter Mandelson! We’re almost at 1000 signatures – please add your voice to our letter asking for bold reforms to prevent pay inequality taking place. Follow the link below to add your name.

Fawcett supporters across the UK will be holding events to raise awareness of the pay gap today. Watch this space for photos and updates!

For more information about our equal pay campaign, please use the links on the right of this page.


England’s poor childcare

No, not a story reviving the spectre of the single mother, the stereotypical young mum blamed for everything by the tabloid press and the Tories in days gone by… it’s an article on the costs and inequities of childcare services.

From the Morning Star, a quality tabloid:

Poorer families denied decent child care
(Wednesday 27 August 2008)

TRADE unions demanded a major expansion of childcare provision on Wednesday after school inspectors raised concerns that families in poorer areas of England lacked access to quality care facilities.

The quality of childcare differs dramatically between areas, with provision worse in places with the most poverty and social deprivation, according to a three-year study by school regulator Ofsted.

In the 30 most deprived local authorities, nearly half of childcare facilities were described as “not good enough,” compared with 40 per cent nationally.

In Hackney, east London, just 29 per cent of childminders were judged to be good or better, compared to the leafy suburb of Wokingham in Berkshire where the proportion is 81 per cent.

“Children and families living in areas already experiencing relative deprivation therefore face further inequity because they have less access to high-quality childcare provision,” the report warned.

Despite improvements over the past three years, four out of 10 childminders and daycare groups still rank as “satisfactory” or “inadequate,” categories that inspectors said signal the need to improve.

Only 3 per cent of England’s daycare nurseries were judged to be outstanding.

The most serious problems identified by the report, which covered 90,000 inspections, included staff shortages, lack of proper training and nurseries with no first-aid kits.

A spokeswoman for public-sector union UNISON said: “Once again, children from deprived areas are losing out.

“UNISON is campaigning for major expansion of childcare provision. We need quality care, delivered by properly trained and fairly paid childcare workers.”

Fellow union GMB equality and inclusion officer Kamaljeet Jandu branded the figures “frightening,” adding: “This should be a wake-up call to government to improve standards and provide training for people working with children in this sector. ”

Childcare charity Daycare Trust official Maxine Hill said: “Even one childminder providing poor care is one too many.

“Disadvantaged children have much to gain from receiving high-quality childcare and every effort should be made to improve quality.”

The Daycare Trust warned that childcare costs for pre-school children in England continued to rise above the rate of inflation, with most parents complaining about lack of affordable childcare in their area.