Firms that used benefit claimants for unpaid work are revealed

It has been a hidden secret for years, but the firms that used benefit claimants for free labour have finally been forced to reveal their true identities, as they were named and shamed in the media last week. Firms that were linked to Mandatory Work Activity were included on a vast list for everyone to see as they were accused of exploiting benefit claimants with free work. The list includes a shocking 500 companies and amongst them were well-known supermarket giants Tesco, Asda and Morrisons as well as budget chain store pound-stretcher. The list was created in 2011 and the shameless firms have now been revealed. As well as retail firms, there was also cash company cash converters, popular chicken restaurant Nando’s and high street drug store Superdrug. Benefit claimants in supermarket

The Workfare Scheme

The notoriously hated workfare scheme affected 10, 000 job seekers as they were forced to work 30 hours of unpaid labour in exchange for their benefits per month. The scheme represented itself as voluntary – if claimants wanted to work or to gain experience, but there were reports that if a claimant had joined the scheme they would risk being sanctioned (benefits cut) if they left the scheme or didn’t show up for a shift they were due to work. The organisations (in this case some considerably big firms) were responsible for reporting back on the progress of thee workers on the scheme. In this case, workers were forced into Mandatory Work Activity, and understandably there was huge backlash surrounding the scheme. Until now, it has been kept a secret which firms were involved in such an unfair process, protected by a lengthy and costly legal battle, conducted by the DWP. The notion behind keeping the firm’s identities a secret was to protect their commercial interest. In other words, there were fears that they would be boycotted by protests if it became known they were involved in workfare. The DWP was in fact overruled by Watchdog back in 2014 to reveal the names, but fought a strong battle to stand its ground. Last Wednesday the DWP was finally overthrown, and chaos and anger has ensued. Contender for labour leadership Owen Smith has said that this is just one of many cover ups by the Tories for the DWP, which needs to change. He goes onto mention other controversial Tory movements such as cuts to the much anticipated Universal Credit, as well as the bedroom tax that has undeniably left many in a state of devastation. To add insult to injury, it was of course the tax payer that funded the massive cover up of the workfare scheme users. Whilst there was no official spending figure released, it is thought the DWP could have easily racked up tens of thousands of pounds in the process.

Job centre handing out benefitsThe Dangers of Workfare

It is kind of a given that this kind of scheme will cause upset purely for the fact that it screams exploitation of the most vulnerable. However, there are also a number of other reasons why the Workfare scheme is disliked. Firstly, it undermines the actual responsibility of volunteering, which many people do all over the UK. It is important that the UK has genuine volunteers, and that they are rewarded for this exact reason. People that also already volunteer were being forced to give up their current position and go and volunteer somewhere else in order to claim their benefits – which doesn’t seem necessary. It also undermines the need to create real jobs, and in turn actively increases unemployment. If companies are able to get their workers for free, they are less likely to create paid jobs, which means less jobs and further unemployment. In one particularly severe case, a pizza company in Leicester sacked 350 workers and re-located to Nottingham, where they were able to take on over one hundred benefit claimants for no pay. Although they claimed it was to give these ‘volunteers’ ‘experience’, the real reason behind the company’s decision is probably rather obvious. the workfare scheme was also once described by the Trade union Congress as a ‘failed policy.’ There has also never been any actual evidence to suggest that the Workfare scheme helps and encourages people to find jobs, this fact was even concluded by the DWP themselves. Some people are asked to work full time on Workfare placements, which averages out at an earning of £2 per hour. Working full time leaves little time to spend searching for jobs that will take them out of the Workfare scheme and place them in genuine employment.

They have been described as having a ‘skewed view of the world’ and it seems that the Tories made a huge mistake in forcing people into unpaid work – and are more than likely going to have to pay for it. The Mandatory work Activity mostly took place within a six month period, between July 2011 and January 2012, and overall there were 534 companies to exploit workers, including charities. Places on the list include Hartlepool, Thurrock and Leicester.

Despite many of the companies unsurprisingly refusing to comment, The Independent managed to get word from a spokesperson from Tesco, who defended the supermarket giant by saying that they had realised that adopting the scheme wasn’t right for them, after they had agreed to pay into the scheme, they also say that despite this, they remain committed to finding employment for the long term unemployed. After coming under such fire, the DWP did comment, but didn’t refer to the scandal unfolding and instead continued to preach the benefits of employment programmes, by saying that each year they help thousands of people to find work, as well as providing very useful new skills.

Students Loans after Brexit – How will you be affected?

Students Loans after Brexit Student loans are given to students are who starting undergraduate or postgraduate study at University. It is designed to help student afford tuition and living costs since leaving public education. The loan is also intended to pay for books and living expenses, as many students will live away whilst studying their chosen subject. Since the vote for a Brexit from the EU was announced last month, the Guardian has received thousands of questions from worried students and parents asking about the fees and whether anything will change once we eventually leave the EU.

Many are worried that it will affect their chances of finding a decent job with their degree. Others are concerned about fees when studying abroad, and if they will be asked to leave their country of study. Many experts have suggested that the economy will decline once we decide to officially leave the European Union. Some have even stated that there may even be a recession. These are speculative statements, however, it is certain that since the vote to leave was called, that the economy has already slipped into a downward spiral, despite stabilizing.

Up until we officially leave the European Union, which could be in two years from now, fees will remain the same for UK and EU universities for UK students. Once we have left, however, these fees are subject to change, depending on individual countries and universities. Maastricht University has stated recently that fees may rise from £1600 to upwards of £7000 in the coming years. They have also stated that they will be monitoring a number of British pupils who come to study with them, as their numbers have quadrupled in the past five years.

Fees are also likely to change in Germany once Brexit has been completed, as a study in Universities in the country have been free for all students who study there – domestic and international.

Theresa May has also addressed the questions raised by international students already studying in the UK. They are still to receive their student loans until the end of their course. However, loans and bursaries may change for international students down the line. NUS has advised that students worried about changes to their circumstances should contact their universities directly. Erasmus has also stated this and has reassured any worried student, stating that there are to be no immediate changes.

It’s also unsure whether UK Universities will receive any more funding for research initiatives. Russel Group Universities received half a billion in the last year alone, so it’s completely unsure whether any more funding will reach them once we officially leave the EU.

Many universities in England want to assure any EU nationals who are worried about continuing their course that nothing will change.

This all comes after a call by the new Tory government to backtrack on original plans to pay back student loans. Students and parents are being urged to write to their local MP’s about the issue, which means that student from 2012 and 2013 will have to pay back more money than they originally loaned from student finance. For now the threshold in which you need to pass to start paying back your student loan is frozen at £21 000. If students reach a job with that salary, they will have to pay, on average, £6000 more than they originally paid. If they’re on a salary of £30k or more, they only have to pay £400 more of what they owed.

One thing is for certain, the future is uncertain for all aspects of British culture once we officially leave the EU. However, there are things you can do if you have questions about future study. Universities will try and answer your questions as truthfully as they can. You can also ring student finance with any queries you may have.

 

 

UK VAT cut looking likely before 2020

UK VAT cutNew chancellor Phillip Hammond has announced this week that he will cut corporation VAT in the UK if it means that it will help the economy. Hammond also stated that if he goes ahead with the plans, that it might instill some faith back into the British people.

It’s believed by some experts that the British economy will crash soon in the wake of the vote for the UK to leave the EU. Hammond stated in his speech this week that the Brexit vote has dented the British confidence in the government, despite the rise in jobs since the Eu Referendum. He intends to fix it and regain the trust of the British public.

He also stated that he will be monitoring economic data very closely and will act accordingly with help from the new Prime Minister Theresa May. Since Brexit, there has been a significant drop in sales throughout the UK, as noted by Manufacturers with large factories in England and Wales.It’s believed that cutting VAT from 20% to 15% will have a better impact on the economy if paired with the prediction that the Bank of England will lower its interest rate from 0.5 to 0.25% in the next month of so to boost the economy.

Hammond also hinted at some more radical changes to the economy once we officially leave the EU. He laid out plans to clampdown on overseas sellers not paying their tax. It’s thought this was aimed at companies such as Amazon, eBay, and Starbucks, who have notoriously avoided tax in the past.

This news has been met with mixed reviews from the public who believe the supply chain of products in the UK will be affected by the decisions made by Hammond and May. Critics also believe that this clampdown on bigger companies will make small time tax evaders take advantage of the heat being taken off them.

Michael Martins from the Institute of Directors, things that Hammond is making the right decision towards helping the economy in the wake of Brexit, saying that”VAT is regressive in nature: It hits poorer households harder because consumption makes up a much larger share of their disposable income”. He went on to say that “a cut in VAT would seem unlikely at a time when the new chancellor is likely to pursue an accelerated reduction in corporation tax and increased fiscal stimulus on things like infrastructure projects”.

UK VAT tax cutVAT is one of the largest tax in the UK, and it is an EU concept designed to bring in more money for the government. Cutting the amount of corporation tax would see the economy stabilise in the event of a crash following leaving the EU.

It’s unsure what will happen once we formally leave the EU, however, if Hammond does decide to cut VAT – he can only legally cut it to 15% under EU law

Job Boom for the Self Employed

Job Boom for the Self Employed

In the last year, 9/10 jobs in the UK were for self-employed people and freelance workers alone. 1 in 6 workers in the UK are registered as self-employed, that’s a lot of people in terms of numbers. A recent survey has found that the people registering as self-employed may only be doing so out of need, not want.

Unemployment is the lowest that it’s ever been in the self-employed sector in the UK. The Trades Union Congress has said that this increase is due to low pay employment rates throughout the UK. Uber and Hermes’s drivers are classed as self-employed and are not entitled to the National Living Wage, Pensions contributions or holiday and sick pay. However drivers are registering as self-employed just to get the jobs advertised by the companies.

This raises questions about the state of self-employment and whether self-employed jobs are being taken out of necessity instead of wanting them.  It comes after a call for more jobs in the UK with the National Living Wage, introduced by George Osbourne back in April this year. Companies such as IKEA have taken to the scheme straight away and believe it has enhanced the work ethic of their staff throughout the UK.

Despite the questions raised about self-employment and the reasons why those types of jobs are being taken, a freelance group has hit back. Director Simon McVicker stated that there is “little evidence to suggest that the rapid growth in self-employment has been driven by people forced into this way of working. As the number of self-employed workers continues to grow, it’s essential we don’t cast this entire group as vulnerable and instead focus on ways to help the self-employed to thrive.”

It’s thought that the economy reliance on the self-employed could contribute to its downfall once we leave the EU. However, McVicker disagrees with this, saying that now is the time to support growing businesses in the face of an economic downfall – not on large companies and industries.

He also stated that the self-employed of the UK are going to save the economy post-Brexit. This will be because if the British public buys UK products, there will be no export or import tax, thus meaning that UK money will stay in the UK, creating a stronger social and economic state.

One thing for sure is that following the UK when it eventually leaves the EU, will be a cloud of uncertainty on the economy.

HMRC Merseyside Cleaners on Strike

Cleaners in Merseyside have gone on strike this week in order to bring attention to their pay. Despite the National Living Wage coming into effect this past April, those employed by ISS do not receive it – despite cleaning HMRC buildings.

HMRC governs the National Living Wage, which was introduced by George Osbourne this year to battle low payments to those in employment. There are 30 workers who clean the HMRC buildings in Liverpool, and will be joining in with Strike, which is the take place throughout the week. Most cleaners who work for ISS are on a “poverty” wage, which means that although they work, they are still eligible for working tax credits on the government. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) have released a statement about the issue, saying that the workers should not have to qualify for benefits, and should be placed on a National Living Wage.

ISS is a multi- national company which makes hundreds of millions in profit each year. It employs over 500 000 people in 71 countries around the world last year alone made £250m in profits. They have refused to comment on the issue of underpaying their staff.

A spokesperson for the PCS has stated that this in unacceptable and should not be tolerated. They have also stated that they think HMRC should no longer work along ISS in protest.

A spokesperson for the HMRC has stated that the payment of their cleaners is not governed by them, and therefore they cannot comment on the situation. However, they did state that they appreciated everything their cleaners did for them. This backhanded complimented has not been taken well by the cleaners from their building. Ann, 46, commented on the situation to us – stating that the whole payment system is “unjust and untrustworthy. If I have to claim benefits alongside my work, it’s not a good job to have – but I have a family to support and need all the money I can get”. Ann has been working with ISS for 4 years now and has told us how disgusted she is that they haven’t upgraded their payment schemes to coincide with the National Living Wage.

Since it was only implemented in April this year, it’s too early to say that the company will never change its ways, however their workers are mad and have every right to be. Only time will tell if ISS will change its ways to match companies such as IKEA, who implemented the new pay on April 8th.