Claimants and supporters turned up at A4e Newcastle on Monday 24th January. We had two aims:
- to protest against benefit cuts, workfare, and the companies (such as A4e) that profit from our poverty.
- to leaflet, chat to and share solidarity and a picnic with the New Deal detainees forced to attend A4e.
Around 15 protesters gathered outside A4e, on a soulless business park in Newcastle. We hung up banners saying “Benefit cuts hurt all of us“, “End A4e misery – Stop the poverty pimps“, and “Defend welfare rights” from nearby trees, set up a stall, and played music. This attracted the attention of several of the people inside the building who shouted out from the windows “nice one, are you here for long?”. It also attracted the attention of A4e security and managers who had a hissy fit about a banner being tied to a tree and called the police on us.
A4e is one of the places in Newcastle that unemployed people get sent to once they have been signing on for a certain length of time, as part of “New Deal” (soon to be replaced by “the Work Programme”). They offer “courses” (often no more than “peer job-search” i.e. sitting at a computer shared between 3 people looking for jobs on the internet) and force people onto “work placements” (dole slavery). The company has a reputation for its bullying and disrespectful attitude to unemployed people.
The protest at A4e was part of the National Day of Protest Against Benefit Cuts. Protesters are angry about benefit cuts and “the Work Programme”, which will force more of us to work for our benefits (i.e. for as little as £1.27 an hour) while companies like A4e profit. This will effectively undermine the minimum wage and increase unemployment as low paid jobs are replaced by this free labour. The government wants to push 91% of the disabled people currently receiving ESA or Incapacity benefit into “the Work Programme” and the hands of companies like A4e, as well as single parents (and both people in couples) who have children as young as 5. Benefit cuts are going to force millions of people into a cycle of poverty, debt, stress, and homelessness. In contrast to this A4e, whose owner, Emma Harrison, already has a £40million fortune, is set to make record profits.
Lots of people came out during their lunch-break and we chatted with them, some were wary of us, some pleased to see us. Some of the people attending A4e said they had been told not to talk to us by A4e employees, and had been threatened with “being chucked off the course and losing your money” if they did. Most people said how bored they were on the “courses” that A4e provides. Some people said that they weren’t getting the help with literacy and IT that they needed. Other people had been told by A4e staff what boxes to tick on a form asking “what do you need extra support in”, meaning that they had asked for “support” for things they were already highly qualified in, while having their real needs ignored.
We shared biscuits and crisps and gave out the following leaflet:
STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS!
This has been written by claimants involved in Tyneside Claimants Union. Today we are telling A4e to stop denying unemployed people their basic rights.
Claimants have the right to have a person of their choice come with them to meetings about their benefits and back them up or take notes – this applies to meetings at New Deal providers like A4e, to Jobcentre interviews, to ATOS medical exams, to fraud interviews, to appeals tribunals, and to enquiries at the Council, etc.
We encourage everyone sent here to support each other and stand up for yourselves. For example, with the solidarity of groups similar to Tyneside Claimants Union, some claimants attending A4e in other parts of the country have won the right to change their A4e adviser. This should be everyone’s right.
If A4e try and get your benefit stopped, you can fight it, some claimants have done this successfully. If you are sent on a work placement, then you should have a say in where you are sent.
We are against the whole system of compulsory work for benefits – why should the unemployed be used as slave labour? We want to help build up a movement to defeat workfare and all the other cuts the government are making – why should we pay for the greedy rich?
Today is a Britain-wide Day of Action against the cuts in welfare. Join us in fighting back! Contact us to find out more or if you need support or advice with a benefits problem.