Saturday, February 21, 2015

Advocacy is NOT a crime

Scottish Unemployed Workers' Network logo

The so-called Welfare Reforms, started by New Labour and ramped up by the ConDem Coaltion, are nothing less than major cuts that undermine the very idea of social security.

They have led to a blizzard of attacks on the rights of people who find themselves caught within the web of an increasingly ‘Orwellian’ benefit system, which measures its success by how many ‘claimants’ it is able to push ‘off benefits’. A target-driven punitive system of administration has come into being that withdraws the means of livelihood from some of the poorest and most vulnerable for minor misdemeanours such as turning up to an appointment a few minutes late.

This increasingly punitive welfare regime is also having an impact on the right of the unemployed to be represented at DWP meetings, and also on the rights of ordinary people and welfare rights activists to represent the unemployed, despite these rights being enshrined in law.

The gathering attack on the right of the unemployed to representation is underlined by the case of Tony Cox, a Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network (SUWN) activist, who was arrested on charges of threatening behaviour, refusing to give his name and address and resisting arrest, whilst representing a highly vulnerable woman in a meeting at Arbroath Jobcentre on the 29th January. The meeting had been arranged specifically to renegotiate what the woman felt was a highly punishing claimant commitment agreement, but when Tony attempted to help negotiate more suitable terms, the Jobcentre manager responded by telling him to leave the building and calling the police.

By the time the police came, Tony and the unemployed woman had left (with the promise of a further meeting), but he was still arrested and charged. This case has serious implications for Tony personally and also for welfare activists everywhere.

This example of harassment of welfare activists is far from an isolated incident, and must by challenged in the most determined fashion. We demand that welfare activists are not prevented from conducting their work and nothing be put in the way of benefit claimants’ fundamental right to advice and representation.

We call on activists and welfare rights groups to organise protests at their local job centres to coincide with the national day of protest on February 25th (when Tony will be appearing at Forfar Sheriff Court) called by Boycott Workfare.

Please also sign our petition:

If you want to get a bit of help and advice, to find out more about what we do, or to join
the struggle, please give us a ring on 0789 9798979 or 07803 052239, or find us online: