DWP ignored coroner’s call to take action to save claimants from suicide

By John Pring for Disability News Service

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rejected a coroner’s call to act to prevent benefit claimants taking their own lives, following the suicide of a young woman who had told her work coach that she intended to kill herself.

Documents released this week under the Freedom of Information Act show that DWP dismissed both the coroner’s plea to take action, and the findings of an inquest jury which had concluded that a jobcentre’s failings had contributed to the death of 31-year-old Faiza Ahmed (pictured), from Limehouse, east London.

But the documents have also led to fresh allegations of institutional racism and have again exposed the cruelty and harshness of DWP’s benefit sanctions regime.

They were released as the Green party’s co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, wrote to the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, asking it to reconsider its decision not to hold its own inquiry this year into the deaths of claimants that have been linked to DWP.

This week, Faiza’s brother, Mohammed, told Disability News Service (DNS) that DWP had shown no remorse after his sister’s death.

He has backed growing calls for a judge-led inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of claimants.

The eight-day inquest led to a narrative verdict by the jury, which concluded that failures by DWP, London Ambulance Service and the Metropolitan police all contributed to his sister’s death on 7 November 2014.

The coroner, Mary Hassell, produced a prevention of future deaths (PFD) report – a step taken by coroners when they think individuals or organisations can take action to prevent further deaths – and sent it to the police, ambulance service and DWP.

Their responses have only been released for the first time this week following a series of freedom of information requests by DNS.

The Judicial Office said this week that the PFD report into Ahmed’s death was not previously published on the website of the chief coroner due to an “administrative oversight”.

The report was written in January 2016, just a few months after DNS had revealed the existence of another PFD, also written by Mary Hassell, following the suicide of Michael O’Sullivan, from north London.

That PFD, which concluded that O’Sullivan’s death was triggered by the decision to wrongly find him fit for work, had led to the prime minister twice being questioned over DWP’s failings in the House of Commons.

Years of further revelations have followed, linking DWP with further deaths of claimants and exposing its repeated efforts to cover up those links, amid growing calls for an independent inquiry, and even calls for criminal prosecutions of ministers and senior civil servants for misconduct in public office.

Now, with the documents released this week, that pressure on DWP should increase again.

The documents show that, when responding to the PFD report written by Mary Hassell at the end of Faiza Ahmed’s inquest, DWP dismissed both the jury’s findings and the coroner’s call for action.

The inquest in January 2016 had lasted eight days.

It heard that Faiza had a history of mental distress and became suicidal during two days in November 2014, after reporting an attempted rape in her home.

The inquest heard of failings by the police officers who visited her after she reported the attempted rape early on 6 November, and further failings of the force and the ambulance service after she called for an ambulance the next afternoon and said she wanted to kill herself.

She took her own life shortly after the emergency services left her flat that afternoon.

But earlier that day – as described by the Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone, who covered the inquest in January 2016 – she had visited Poplar jobcentre to explain why she was three days late to sign on for jobseeker’s allowance.

A statement from her brother, read out at the inquest, described how Faiza had previously been sanctioned by the jobcentre for turning up late and missing appointments, and lived with the constant fear of being sanctioned, and the understanding that DWP did not believe her when she said she had depression.

Mohammed told DNS this week that Faiza had been sanctioned at least once and was “regularly threatened” with further sanctions.

He said this had a “horrible” impact on her. “Whenever we saw her, she was absolutely broken from it,” he said. “She was scared, worried and upset.

“She was a strong, independent person but she knew that if she was sanctioned, she would have nothing.

“As much as we were there to help her, both financially and emotionally, she wanted to do things for herself, so she was too proud to ask for anything.”

He said DWP’s sanctions regime was “horrific” and was based on “threats and intimidation”.

When Faiza arrived at the jobcentre on 7 November, she was given a form by the work coach to explain her failure to sign on for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) on time.

She wrote on the form that, between 4 and 7 November, she had been “busy trying to kill myself, drinking non-stop”. She left the moment she handed over the form.

After she had gone, the work coach discussed what she had written with a manager, but they decided not to contact the emergency services.

DWP’s “six-point plan” says its staff should summon emergency help if a claimant declares an attempt to kill themselves and is “distressed, at serious risk or in immediate danger”.

But that action was not taken. Instead, the inquest heard, someone at the jobcentre made an urgent referral to the community mental health team, but not until five days later. By that time, Faiza had been dead for nearly five days.

In its response to the PFD, DWP said: “In this case, based on the information he had, the Work Coach made a judgement that there was no immediate risk to her safety.”

DWP said this information was the form she had completed and her attendance at the jobcentre so she could continue receiving her JSA.

DWP claimed that its processes “were followed both diligently and correctly”, and that its staff “took the necessary steps to invoke the agreed processes that would manage the risk appropriately”, which was “based on the evidence that staff were presented with”.

It added: “It is not our view that any opportunity to engage with any other organisations was missed.”

It said its approach was “under continual review and development”, and the only action it would take would be to issue a reminder to all DWP staff about its existing guidance on suicidal ideation, the same guidance which had failed to save Faiza Ahmed from taking her own life.

It is not known whether, or in what form, this reminder was issued.

Faiza’s brother, Mohammed, an officer with London Fire Brigade, told DNS this week that he had been very close to his sister, and remembering how she was treated still makes him angry, nearly six years after she died.

He said: “There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t think of my sister.”

It was only through the family’s efforts, and the support of campaigners and lawyers, that they secured a longer inquest to examine in front of a jury whether any public body had contributed to Faiza’s death.

Otherwise, there would have been a shorter inquest and the failings of DWP would probably never have been exposed.

Mohammed said he remembered DWP’s attitude as “blasé” and that its refusal to accept the criticism and the call for action from the coroner’s PFD and the jury “was no surprise” as the department had been “very defensive, very guarded, not looking to help” and had shown “no remorse”.

He is certain that racism lay at the heart of the way his sister was treated by DWP, even if it was “indirect” and not immediately obvious.

This was because the harshness of austerity and DWP’s welfare reforms had a disproportionate impact on people of colour, he said.

He said: “You can’t separate it. It definitely, definitely had an impact; 100 per cent it was there.”

He believes the jobcentre would have called the emergency services if his sister had been a white woman.

He added: “The class thing doubles it up. Would it have happened to a young white woman in Hampstead Heath? No, not in my opinion.”

To this day, he cannot understand how the jobcentre could have failed to act after seeing the state his sister was in and what she had written on the form. Instead, he said, they just “waved it off”.

Now he believes DWP has “got away with it”.

He has backed growing calls for an independent inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of benefit claimants.

He said: “A judge-led inquiry on its own would be some justice. It would at least have some weight and would get justice for those families.”

Even better, he says, would be for former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who was in charge of DWP when his sister died, to be brought to justice.

DNS has previously laid out a case for Duncan Smith and other senior DWP figures to face criminal charges of misconduct in public office.

Mohammed said: “For a lot of people who have lost their loved ones and certainly for me, Iain Duncan Smith being brought to bear in some way would be one of the most wonderful days ever in history.

“But an inquiry which highlighted what they did was wrong and should never have happened would go a long way for me towards some kind of closure for me for my sister, 100 per cent.”

Following his sister’s death and through the inquest, their family were supported by the grassroots women’s group Women Against Rape.

Lisa Longstaff, from Women Against Rape, said: “Faiza’s tragic suicide exposed the racism and uncaring cruelty of the DWP’s sanction regime.

“We’ve worked with many women up against similar brutality when trying to get basic benefits or compensation to recover after rape.

“Often it’s been women in the movement who’ve challenged these appalling injustices and campaigned for everyone’s rights, but that work goes mostly unacknowledged.”

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office said the PFD report had not been published until this week because of an “administrative oversight” by the chief coroner’s office.

A DWP spokesperson said its position was laid out in the response to the coroner’s PFD, and declined to comment further.

The department refused to say how it justified its failure to take any action in response to the PFD report, other than reminding staff of existing guidance.

It also refused to say when its response was sent to the coroner, and whether it had asked the chief coroner not to publish the PFD.

It refused to say whether its actions demonstrated a continuing culture that was putting the safety and lives of benefit claimants at risk, and which the department was refusing to address.

And it refused to say why it had made a referral to Faiza Ahmed’s community mental health team five days after she had killed herself.

DOMESTIC ABUSE BILL in Parliament today

MUST PROTECT MOTHERS and TACKLE WOMEN’S POVERTY


The Domestic Abuse Bill is debated in Parliament again today – it must help protect women’s and children’s lives.
 
The Bill introduces new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, which should offer more protection in an emergency.  But it must go further to tackle women’s poverty and the appalling sexism mothers and children face in family courts.   

Mothers face an impossible struggle.  If we report domestic violence or if we don’t, we are blamed for harming our children by having a violent partner, even though we are victims.  Our children are taken from us, put in care or even given to the violent father.  

The family courts have allowed themselves to be used by violent fathers to continue their abuse and control.  The presumed “rights” of fathers to see their children, regardless of a history of violence, are generally prioritised over the safety and wishes of children and the efforts of mothers to protect them from harm.  

As part of the Support Not Separation Coalition which defends women and children facing the family court, we know that between 70 and 90% of cases involve domestic violence, yet only 1% of fathers are denied access to children.  Over 70% of the cases brought to us involve domestic violence, including rape.

We demand: immediate changes to family courts so women who report violence do not risk having their children taken away or given to the perpetrators.  (See our amendments to the Domestic Violence Bill.)  Implementation of Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act to keep children safe with their mothers.  Judges who refuse to apply the law must be removed – we won’t go back to the 1970s when rape in marriage was considered legal!  

Court judgements have repeated flouted the rights of children and mothers to safety and welfare, and court professionals often display shocking disregard for the basic legal protections victims have won.  Many of the mothers and children struggling against injustice are women of colour or immigrant, and/or have a disability.

    One judge repeatedly insisted a violent father, convicted for attacking the mother, be brought from prison to the family court, breaking an exclusion order from the mother’s and children’s town. No protection was available in or around the court, and the judge called her ‘pedantic’ when she asked about it. We succeeded in getting the judge removed from the case.  

Another judge ruled that the rape of a pregnant woman by her partner who woke her in her sleep was not rape even though he acknowledged the rape in a text, because she hadn’t fought him off. The judge allowed contact.  

As foster carers and contact centres are now inaccessible during the coronavirus lockdown, mothers’ contact with children who have been taken from their care has been curtailed even further, cutting children off from their mothers.  

Remote family court hearings are causing injustice and retraumatising vulnerable women.  When they are isolated on a phoneline to the court they are denied meaningful access to a lawyer (if they have one) and can’t talk to any lay supporter.  

For many women and children the lockdown and #StayAtHome directive are a like a “prison sentence” with a violent and controlling man.  Support workers and the police have reported that the murder of women has doubled [1] in the UK with at least 16 killings between 23 March and 12 April 2020, including of children. Reports of domestic violence have mushroomed all around the world. China and Spain saw a surge in calls reporting domestic violence, while police in France reported a 30% increase in domestic abuse cases.[2]  

Women around the world have been demanding emergency safety measures, including cash and housing.  In some European countries, like Spain, Italy and France, women have won new State protections, including: emergency refuge in hotels or the eviction of violent men from the home, helplines and code words to alert pharmacists to call the police.  

In the UK, the Home Secretary has said victims can leave their home despite the lockdown.  But where are they to go?  What are they to live on?  As with the protective equipment demanded by health and care workers, our survival and protection are not being prioritised.  Yesterday’s Home Affairs Committee report demands money for services.  But funding charities is not enough – women need our own money.  

A decade of austerity wiped out our financial independence and our escape routes out of violence.  Women have suffered 86% of the cuts.[3]  Benefits and social housing were slashed – a key source of independence for women.  The bedroom tax and total benefit cap hit mums and kids fleeing violence. Refuges have been cut: 1 in 6 refuges closed over the past 8 years.  Women’s Aid reported this month that even before lockdown they had to decline 64% of referrals over 2018-19.[4]  

The withdrawal of social care services leaves disabled women more at risk of abuse as we are forced to rely on family and friends who can turn abusive. Unwaged family carers are suffering domestic violence during lockdown as Council support is not provided to disabled adults with aggressive and challenging behaviour, and day centres are closed.

This is echoed in the criminal justice system’s disgraceful response to violence.  Before the virus, an average of two women a week were murdered by partners or ex-partners often after reports to police.  And despite a 40% increase in reports of rape over 2012-2018, in 2019 convictions fell to 3% – the lowest in a decade.[5]  

The anti-rape movement has won important protections over the years: ● WAR’s 15-year campaign got rape in marriage finally recognised as a crime in 1991 ● We exposed and defeated some outrageous discrimination in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, especially against those who were raped as children, and won thousands of pounds for individual victims ● Official recognition that rape is torture and grounds for asylum: we won the right to stay for many rape survivors seeking asylum.  

But the falling conviction rates for rape and domestic violence show that in reality the state has given violent men near total impunity.  And without financial independence our vulnerability to violence and injustice remains.  

WE DEMAND:

·     Immediate safe accommodation for women and children in emergency need. 

·     Immediate changes to the family courts as outlined above.

·     A permanent end to benefit sanctions and other punitive measures, especially to disabled and traumatised claimants. People pressing their needs during COVID-19 brought some benefit changes but Universal Credit is lower than many previous benefits it replaces, and makes women financially dependent on men. ESA which a lot of traumatised women get, has not had the £20 increase like other benefits. They must scrap the two-child limit, total benefit cap and policies which pay money to the man in the household rather than individually to the woman. Scrap the bedroom tax. Raise child benefit. All payments must be made without delay.  The welfare state must be rebuilt and expanded – we need urgent access to benefits and social housing. 

·     We support the call for a Care Income made by the Global Women’s Strike and the Green New Deal for Europe.  The virus crisis has shown how dependent society is on caring work, waged and unwaged, in the family and outside, and how women in particular care for extended families and neighbours.  For the health and protection of people and the environment to be prioritised, those already doing caring work must be compensated.  Money from the state would guarantee financial independence from men and our ability to protect ourselves and our children.  We could refuse unwanted sexual demands, and have the means to leave and to use the law.   Women fleeing or surviving after violence deserve an income for self-care and recovery, and to be there for traumatised children.

·     Thorough investigations and prosecutions by the police and Crown Prosecution Service.  The Corona Virus Act has given police free reign to arrest, fine and criminalise, and even to fine the parents of young people who leave the house.  We demand a change of priorities so that resources go into protecting women and children from violence.  We demand accountability from those charged with protecting us – those who don’t implement the law should be sacked.

·     An amnesty against deportations #Papers For All. Over 70% of women seeking asylum have fled from rape but sexism, racism and other injustice in the asylum process leaves them destitute. Sign the Open Letter to the Prime Minister of the UK and the Taoiseach of Ireland demanding  the release of all immigration detainees, free health care, and an end to destitution.    

28 April 2020  

Notes
1 Data collated by Karen Igala Smith of Nia Project. Looking at the same period over the last 10 years, data records an average of 5 deaths. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/15/domestic-abuse-killings-more-than-double-amid-covid-19-lockdown 

2 https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/04/08/domestic-abuse-reports-coronavirus

3 Women’s Budget Group, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/09/women-bearing-86-of-austerity-burden-labour-research-reveals

4 Women’s Aid

5 There were 58,657 complaints in the year to March, but just 1,925 of those resulted in a successful prosecution.’ https://metro.co.uk/2019/12/17/anger-police-just-3-rape-cases-lead-conviction-11918901/

More than 1,000 reports of sexual abuse and harassment at UK McDonald’s, campaigners say

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/mcdonalds-sexual-harassment-protests-abuse-workers-a8937186.html

Exclusive: ‘He texted me to say he was at home alone with just the kids. I just blocked his number. That resulted in him pulling his pants down in the stockroom where there were no cameras,’ says McDonald’s employee

The president of the UK’s largest independent trade union in the food sector says workers in McDonald’s across the UK had told them sexual harassment is commonplace ( Getty )

McDonald’s workers in the UK are being subjected to a “toxic culture” of sexual harassment which has seen at least 1,000 women abused and predatory employees moved to different stores rather than sacked, campaigners have told The Independent.

Allegations range from managers making repeated sexual comments, brushing up against staff and discussing sexual desires, to abusing their access to workers’ contact details in order to send texts and explicit photos, and even offering better hours and promotion in return for sex.

Workers at branches across the UK have detailed a catalogue of abuse and harassment to the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), the country’s largest independent trade union in the food sector.

Ian Hodson, president of the union, alleged complaints were “swept under the carpet”, workers were “victimised” for complaining, and added that some had been paid compensation on the condition they sign non-disclosure agreements.

A spokesperson for UK McDonald’s responded by urging anyone with any concerns around sexual harassment to speak to their manager or contact their confidential employee helpline to allow them to “investigate immediately”.

A spokesperson for the BFAWU said: “Sexual harassment is very prevalent. There is a toxic culture. Predatory employees operate with impunity. I would not say sexual harassment and sexual assault is happening in every store, but where a predatory manager or culture arises then McDonald’s is doing far too little to address it. 

“Workers are dependent on their hours to survive so it creates a power imbalance when a staff or senior staff or manager is a predator. There are very little checks and balances on them because of that power structure. When people make a complaint, managers do not deal with the procedure as they should. They often brush it off rather than say, ‘That should not be happening, we need to start an investigation into this’. We have heard of several situations where managers accused of sexual harassment have been moved.”

The union spokesperson estimated that over 1,000 female workers had experienced sexual harassment at McDonald’s in the UK – explaining this figure is based on conversations the union has had with workers across the country.

“It is rare for McDonald’s workers to file grievances about sexual harassment,” he added. “This might be because they do not recognise the behaviour of sexual harassment or they might not know the process for filing a grievance. They might also feel shame or are often concerned that they will not be believed.”

The spokesperson noted victims of sexual harassment might also be put off reporting abuse due to fear of retaliation or being bullied, worries about being isolated or further isolated in the workplace and concerns around the perpetrator being a friend of the manager. They will often try and manage the situation themselves by avoiding the perpetrator or asking colleagues to keep an eye out for them, he added. 

He noted that a very small proportion of McDonald’s workers are union members – explaining that McDonald’s does not recognise the union.

The union organised the first McDonald’s strikes in British history back in September 2017. It is calling for a £10-per-hour minimum wage and guaranteed work hours, as well as for McDonald’s to recognise their union.

A female McDonald’s employee from London said she had endured sexual harassment from a more senior colleague at a store where she has worked at for a number of years. 

She said: “I got approached by a manager to me who would make sly comments like asking if I was up for any fun while his wife was going to be away. He would say that in the workplace. He eventually got hold of my phone number from the system or from another employee. He text me to say he was at home alone with just the kids. I just blocked his number. That resulted in him pulling his pants down in the stockroom where there were no cameras. He held his penis and said, ‘Is this worth waiting for?’ 

“After I complained, a manager said I better have proof of what I’m saying he did because if I was saying this about her, she would use her life savings on getting me done for slander.”

The employee added that she walked out in the middle of a shift after learning that her harasser had been sending inappropriate texts to another female member of staff. 

The union said her attempts to seek help over many months were not taken seriously – explaining that she had asked colleagues for help and approached senior colleagues, but was largely left to manage the situation herself.

This culminated in her writing a formal letter about what was happening to human resources – with it leading to what the union described as an inadequate “investigation” meeting being carried out months later. Following the initial “investigation” she was expected to continue working alongside her harasser.

She subsequently had a panic attack at work for which she was taken to hospital, the BFAWU said, adding that she has been unable to return to work since.

The employee said there was one manager there who had been moved to another store after being accused of sexually harassing girls – adding that it “got to the point” where there were no more stores for him to go to and he got sacked.

“He would make inappropriate comments, make girls feel uncomfortable and try breaking relationships between crew members up,” she added. “What I hope happens is McDonald’s and my managers listen. We need a zero sexual harassment policy. McDonald’s care if you give out one too many sauces or one too many napkins in the drive-through but they need to address harassment. There are a lot more women suffering sexual harassment than any of us can imagine.”

She said she was in touch with people from a number of different McDonald’s stores and came across many people in her own store who said they had been sexually harassed at other stores.

She added: “I know 20 or 30 specific incidents of sexual harassments across different stores in the UK that people have told me. After a while you see a pattern – people say, ‘The manager pulled me in the freezer, in the toilets, stock room.’ Basically, wherever there is no camera, and obviously a manager is going to know exactly where all the cameras are, rather than a crew member who has been working there for three days. It gets to the point when people get so upset and furious with it they end up walking out and losing their jobs or lashing out and getting fired. Imagine if it was your daughter or your son.”

Another female McDonald’s worker who worked at a store from 2011 to 2013 said the “banter” was “quite pervy and flirtatious”.

“There was someone in the kitchen who smacked my bum,” she said. “He was persistent with other girls. I was not aware of any protocol if sexual harassment were to happen. I would have been careful who I reported it to as they were keen to cut corners there. I would have queried who would have dealt with it correctly. I would not have gone to the managers and would have gone to head office.”

The former worker, who worked there from the ages of 16 to 18, said one of her colleagues was sexually assaulted by a male colleague, who was in his early thirties, on a night out. Her friend, who was just 17, was “groped” by him.

“She did not tell management,” she said. ”She felt ashamed. She was so young she might not have even had the wherewithal to think she could report something like this.”

A survey by Unite union from January of last year found sexual harassment was rampant in the hospitality industry – discovering nine out of 10 hospitality staff have experienced sexual harassment at work. Of those who reported they were sexually harassed at work, more than half said the perpetrators were members of the public and another 22 per cent said they were harassed at the hands of a manager. A further eight out of 10 surveyed said they witnessed others being sexually harassed at work.

When asked whether their work had an anti-sexual harassment policy in place, 77 per cent said no or they did not know. Some 60 per cent said they were unsure or lacked faith in their management to deal with a sexual harassment complaint.

Dr Hannah Bows, of the Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse at Durham University, said: “Lots of studies have shown sexual harassment is a huge problem. The majority of women will experience it at some point. If you are on a zero-hour contract or in temporary work, it is harder to report as you may face losing your job. Women are often blamed or a common response is getting rid of them.

“Also, sometimes women normalise sexual harassment because we know they experience it in every part of life – from on the way to work on the Tube to sexual harassment at work to at the gym after work. It can be difficult to pinpoint whether or not what you are experiencing is sexual harassment because it is part of everyday intrusions.” 

McDonald’s employs more than 120,000 people, according to its website. Its gender pay gap report from 2018 states there are 1,290 restaurants across the country that are owned and operated by either McDonald’s or their franchisees – as well as explaining women account for over half of the total workforce.

McDonald’s response to the “Migration Advisory Committee – Call for Evidence” states over 80 per cent of their employees are UK nationals. Most of the remainder (around 12 per cent) are EU nationals. 

More than two dozen current and former McDonald’s workers filed sexual harassment complaints in the US last month to challenge what they claim is widespread misconduct at the fast food giant. The allegations include indecent exposure, groping, propositions for sex and lewd comments – behaviour that reportedly took place at both corporate and franchise stores in 20 cities.

A spokesperson for McDonald’s in the UK said: “There is absolutely no place for harassment or discrimination of any kind in society or at McDonald’s. We deeply regret that the employee’s case was not treated with the sensitivity and gravity it warrants. This is not acceptable and our investigation into the case is ongoing.

“We have long-standing policies, procedures and training in place specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment – we regularly review and evolve these and we’ve recently rolled out a new training programme and guidance.

“We have an ongoing commitment to educating and raising awareness at all levels of our organisation – encouraging open conversations and communication – and we will continue to prioritise this. We take any allegations extremely seriously.”

They said the company has always strived to create a positive experience in its restaurants and create an environment where everyone feels respected and valued – adding that McDonald’s is committed to a culture that is respectful to all of its employees and customers. 

MORE ABOUT

SEXUAL HARASSMENT |  MCDONALD’S |  BAKERS |  FOOD AND ALLIED WORKERS UNION

WAR addressing Baker’s Union annual conference 2019

The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union has been working with WAR on an inspirational campaign to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. They invited Lisa to speak at their annual conference in Southport on 10 June 2019, about the campaign. Watch the film here on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_50u7Ay-3I

After the speech there was a standing ovation. The BFAWU represent workers in fast food and hospitality industries and is a leading campaign taking strike actions against precarious contracts and low pay. We know that benefit cuts and poverty wages make women and girls more vulnerable to sexual violence, including abuse of power by employers. Read more about their amazing campaigns and strikes at https://www.bfawu.org/blog and https://www.bfawu.org/

Universal Credit split payments given to only 20 claimants

DWP ignoring the needs of vulnerable claimants at risk of domestic abuse, says SNP.
Posted By Steven Preece

This article appeared at https://welfareweekly.com/universal-credit-split-payments-given-to-only-20-claimants/?fbclid=IwAR0gEzakL4W4ab3LLltYC90D7bBjKTQrS0wND_EZeFe-qARP2cBtJmm0d0I

March 17, 2019

The UK government has been urged to make split payments the default for Universal Credit, after figures showed the DWP system of split payments on request is severely limited, and could leave vulnerable people open to domestic abuse and financial control by abusive partners.
Figures have revealed that just 20 claimants were in receipt of split payments across the UK – despite almost 1.3 million claimants of Universal Credit, including 120,000 in Scotland.
Not one person in Scotland received a split payment of Universal Credit last year.
The DWP currently pays Universal Credit for couples into a single bank account, and current guidance stipulates that split payments are only available in very exceptional circumstances, despite domestic abuse being a common occurrence.
Women’s groups argue that the current system could isolate victims and make it financially difficult to leave abusive relationships, with 85% of domestic abuse survivors agreeing that a request for split payments could trigger more abuse, according to a report from Women’s Aid.
The Scottish Government has committed to introducing split payments but as Universal Credit is entirely reserved, needs the agreement of the DWP.
Shona Robison MSP said: “Financial abuse affects one in five women and the current system, of paying Universal Credit into one bank account per household, can make it easier for perpetrators of domestic and financial abuse to exert control over their victims and further endanger partners at risk.
“The concerning fact that just 20 claimants had Universal Credit paid into separate bank accounts last year – and shockingly, none in Scotland – simply shows the severe limitations of the system of split payments on request.
“It is yet another example that Universal Credit is deeply flawed system.
“It is unacceptable for the UK government to side-line this issue. With Tory welfare policy forcing people to food banks, reducing household finances and leading to increases in child poverty, something must change.
“With over 3 million people expected to migrate to Universal Credit over the coming years, it is vital that split payments become the default position.
“This will not only prevent abuse of vulnerable claimants, but will ensure that universal credit correctly reflects modern working life and gender equality principles.”
Disclaimer: This is a press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Union launches campaign against sexual harassment in hospitality

Published in The Caterer

THURSDAY, JANUARY 10TH 2019, 10:07
WRITTEN BY: EMMA LAKE

The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) has launched a campaign against sexual harassment in the fast food and hospitality industries.

The union has joined forces with Women Against Rape to launch the campaign. The charity said: “Sexual violence in the hospitality industry is much more common than we all think. We don’t exactly know how common because most people don’t tell anyone. Abusers count on the victim being afraid to report it, scared that she may lose her job if she is not believed, or even if she is.”

BFAW hopes the campaign will encourage victims of sexual violence to report abuse. The two groups have said those in low-paying roles, on zero-hour contracts or with insecure immigration status may be particularly vulnerable and fear coming forward.

Woman Against Rape added: “Things are changing. Decades of campaigning by organisations like ours, individual women and other survivors who fought back, and the advent of social media have enabled global movements like #MeToo. This has encouraged workers in the hospitality industry to come forward.

“But it is hard to speak out if you don’t know your rights and you don’t know if your union is going to back you or you don’t have a union. The BFAWU has come to Women Against Rape because it wants to ensure that workers can report any abuse, win justice and stop any further violence. We are very glad about that and want to support in every way we can.”

More details of the campaign, and advice on how to report an incident, can be found here.

Men behaving badly: how to protect your staff from harassment>>

London women tell UN poverty envoy about impact of welfare cuts

Residents of deprived Newham describe domestic abuse and hunger to Philip Alston

Women in London have told the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty they are bearing the brunt of government welfare cuts, and described how austerity has left infants homeless and exacerbated problems including overcrowded housing and domestic violence.

More than a dozen women addressed Philip Alston at a highly charged meeting in Newham, east London, and urged him to tackle British ministers over the disproportionate effects on women of eight years of spending cuts.

A group including many immigrants told the human rights lawyer that as a result of austerity measures, some had been driven to sell sex, some had faced increased domestic abuse and others had been denied the ability to bring up their children properly.

One woman with a baby strapped to her back spoke through tears about how she fled domestic violence only to be made to wait for 20 hours at a social security office where she became so hungry she had to drink her child’s milk.

Alston arrived in one of the poorest boroughs in the capital on the eighth day of his tour of the UK, in which he has been examining extreme poverty, austerity, welfare changes and the impact of Brexit.

Reducing poverty was one of the specific legacy goals of the 2012 Olympic Games, which Newham helped host. Between 2010 and 2015, the borough rose out of the 20 most deprived neighbourhoods in England, but local activists say this improvement was not spread evenly across the borough, with areas directly around the sporting venues enjoying increased prosperity while others suffered.

Last year, child poverty in the borough was the third worst in the UK behind Tower Hamlets and Manchester. After housing costs, 43% of children were living below the poverty line, according to analysis of official figures by the charity End Child Poverty.

Among those who addressed Alston was Jane Williams of the Magpie Project. Her organisation has helped 215 of the estimated 2,000 homeless families with children under five who live in the borough. Williams said children had nowhere to play or be potty-trained, mothers could not sleep as several children shared a room, and some were spending one-third of their incomes on milk formula.

She read out testimony from one of the projects’ clients: “They have taken everything from me but my body. What do they want me to do? Do they want me to sell my body?”

Trinity*, a mother of a nine-year-old, told Alston: “A lot of women are forced into poverty and into prostitution. I have been destitute and homeless from one place to another.” She said she survived an attempted rape and had boiling water poured on her when she resisted.

Paula Peters, from Disabled People Against Cuts, described the difficulty of a a 54-year-old carer in accessing universal credit, including seven attempts to fill out online forms, as well as needing to borrow money to eat and at one point not eating for a week.

Another woman’s benefits were sanctioned, Peters said, “because she didn’t look happy” at a meeting with the welfare officer.

Another woman unfurled a banner in front of Alston with the names and photos of dozens of people said to have died as a result of benefit sanctions and austerity.

Alston told the group: “It will be interesting to me to ascertain the extent to which the authorities are really aware of the sort of issues you presented, the extent to which they have tracked those impacts of those policies.”

Alston will spend the rest of this week in London having meetings with Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, and John Glen, the economic secretary to the Treasury, as well as officials at departments including the Department for Exiting the European Union.

He will then draft a report to be delivered at a press conference on Friday. It will examine how the UK government, councils and devolved assemblies have been handling extreme poverty, the impacts of austerity policies and the roll-out of universal credit.

Alston is also expected to address Brexit and whether it might deepen poverty in some areas of the country, and will look at how the increasing reliance on computers to deliver welfare and even make judgments about benefit decisions using algorithms will affect people.

Several women described how universal credit could “facilitate economic abuse” between men and women, because it is normally paid in a single payment. Requesting split payments in violent households could escalate abuse, one woman said.

A mother of two who gave her name as Doris said she had lived in 40 places in the past decade as a result of welfare insecurity. “I have said to my sons: if you could come back as a woman, would you? They said no way, not the way you’ve been been treated,” she said.

*Trinity was one of the women from our centre at the hearing, she is a member of the All African Women’s Group.

Evidence to UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, 2018

We joined other groups in submitting evidence to the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ahead of his visit to the UK in November 2018.

This has now been published by the UN alongside other submissions: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/UKVisitSubmissions.aspx –
See submissions from Legal Action for Women and Single Mothers Self Defence & by WinVisible – both quote WAR on the effects of growing poverty on women’s vulnerability to sexual and domestic violence.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Philip Alston who is an ’eminent international human rights lawyer called for submissions from anyone in the UK to establish “the most significant human rights violations experienced by people living in poverty and extreme poverty in the UK”. He is interested in the impact of austerity, universal credit, the advent of computer algorithms making decisions on welfare matters, and Brexit.’

RESPONSE to the Home Affairs Committee Report on DOMESTIC ABUSE

Press release

from Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape

 We welcome the Committee’s recognition of many of the issues raised in the evidence we and other women’s groups submitted. But they should have gone much further, especially in the following areas:

1.      Welfare cuts & financial dependence on violent men.

We welcome the Committee’s acknowledgement that welfare cuts have made women vulnerable to Domestic Violence (DV) and made it harder for victims to flee violent partners. The Committee noted that Universal Credit is a disaster for women as it will be paid to the head of household, usually assumed to be the man, making women and children financially dependent on men. As the Committee noted, this reverses the principle established in 1945 by independent MP Eleanor Rathbone who after decades of campaigning won Family Allowance as part of the Welfare State, paid to the mother – the primary carer.

They should have supported the widespread call for Universal Credit to be scrapped along with the discriminatory and degrading two child tax credit limit (which denies money to any further children unless the mother can prove they were the product of rape) and the benefit cap. They should also have called for welfare benefits to be reinstated.

2.      Other austerity cuts that cut off women’s escape routes.

Lack of provisions such as refuge space, social housing and legal aid have left women at the mercy of violent men, especially where the couple have young children. We welcome the Committee’s call for refuge funding to be a legal obligation nationally.

They should also have recommended changes to address the social housing crisis which traps women and children in violent relationships.

3.      Family courts and DV.

DV has become a key pretext for local authorities to remove children from their mothers with the excuse that they are ‘at risk of future emotional harm’. The Committee acknowledges that family courts don’t treat DV as seriously as criminal courts, prioritising child contact for fathers even when they have criminal convictions for violence or a history of DV. Forced contact with fathers has resulted in violence, even murder, of children and their mothers. The Committee falls short of recommending that children should stay with their mother, who is usually the child’s first carer and protector, rather than be forcibly separated from her. But they do mention that happens in Edinburgh and could be a useful model.

The forthcoming Domestic Violence Bill must go much further than stopping a man cross-examining his victim in court. It must stop fathers’ ‘right’ to contact being prioritised over women and children’s right to safety and protection, and provide support for victims rather than take their children.

4.      Immigrant and BAME women face DV.

We welcome the Committee criticising the ‘hostile environment’ as making immigrant women more vulnerable to violent men, and particularly the police for reporting immigrant victims of DV to the Home Office. But they do not acknowledge that racism results in women of colour and immigrant women having lower incomes and therefore being more vulnerable to DV.

We welcome their call for care ad support for all victims of DV regardless of their immigration status. They should also call for an end to policies of detention, destitution and ‘voluntary returns’.

5.      THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.

The Committee acknowledges that police and courts sometimes let violent men off the hook with catastrophic consequences for women and children – even murder.

 Key actions that need prioritising are: early arrest and conviction of violent men before they are allowed to attack again; robustly enforcing and financing the protection of victims; ending the criminalisation of women and children who report violent men.

6.      WOMEN THE MAIN VICTIMS.

 We welcome the Committee’s call for DV to be treated as affecting mainly women. We have seen too many examples of men making counter accusations against women who report DV in order to avoid arrest and prosecution, and to gain access to the children and/or to keep exerting control over the mother.

 Dealing with DV must be integral to all economic and social policies.

See our evidence to the Committee here[1]

Black Women’s Rape Action Project         bwrap@rapeaction.net

Women Against Rape        war@womenagainstrape.net

Tel: 020 7482 2496

 

[1] http://againstrape.net/evidence-to-home-affairs-committee-on-domestic-violence-from-black-womens-rape-action-project-and-women-against-rape-5-july-2018

 

Support the Strikers this Thurs 4 Oct

This Thursday, 4 October, workers at McDonald’s, TGI Fridays and Wetherspoons are striking against low wages and slave working conditions: https://www.facebook.com/events/357347934806498/ In the US, the Fight for $15 campaign is taking strike action across the country in the hospitality industry. https://fightfor15.org/

BWRAP and WAR are joining actions wherever we are. Low wages, zero hour contracts and lack of other employment rights make women in particular vulnerable to sexual violence and workplace exploitation. Women have kids to feed, and when wages are low, and they may face sanctions and even the sack if they report abuse, it is really hard to complain or speak out about it. But workers have had enough and are organising together.

At McDonalds in the US on 18 September workers held co-ordinated strike/walkouts in many US cities, to publicly expose the systemic abuse. This includes groping, sexual demands and other abuse from colleagues and employers. Those who report it to managers are ignored or punished.

Over the past decade, legal actions by victims won substantial damages, and/or their local employer was often fined. But the company has evaded responsibility by blaming the local McDonalds franchise holder.  (Explanation and details on legal actions here: https://www.vox.com/2018/9/13/17855198/mcdonalds-strike-me-too)

When women workers came out in the US, they arrived wearing tape over their mouths with #MeToo written on it. Some of their placards read “I am not on the menu”.

Let’s show our support for the low-waged women who are striking – because their actions are in everyone’s interest.

#McStrike

Find a nearby action, or organise your own: https://waronwant.org/mcdonalds-respect-union-mcstrike-action. Please let us and others know what you are doing.