Victory To The Bin Workers!

In the current dispute Birmingham Bin Workers have demonstrated a high level of organisation, solidarity, initiative and commitment to defending jobs in a crucial public service.

The flexible approach to prosecuting this dispute by striking for 2 hours with a step up to 3 and at varying times to cause maximum disruption has created a major back-log in empty bins across the city. A successful ballot result of the street cleansing teams would further bolster morale and apply pressure to the council.

What has become clear is that the Labour group on the council seems determined to defeat the strike through any means necessary including breaking existing industrial relations laws by drafting in a scab army at council tax payers expense. In addition, it’s use of newspapers, TV and social media to cut across the public support for the bin workers needs to be challenged.

The Socialist Party sees a victory for the Bin Workers, defending staffing levels, grade progression, health and safety standards etc as a major win for public sector workers who have been targeted by the Tory Government through cuts, privatisations and a long standing ‘pay cap’. A victory would also act as major reversal to the ‘Blairite-run’ City Council.

The Socialist Party has many members in leading trade union positions both locally, nationally and internationally who have years of experience of prosecuting industrial action.

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With the above in mind, we fraternally offer the following suggestions as a package of measures designed for ‘stepping up’ the dispute in response to the strike breaking of the employer:

Publicity campaign:

  • A social media campaign is launched that contests the employer’s position and explains the bin workers case. This can be shared across social media and begin to counter the propaganda campaign of the employer.

  • A lobby of Birmingham City Council’s next full council meeting. Industrial action would need to be timed to coincide with this initiative.

  • Leafletting of local authority workplaces explaining the bin workers case and how their victory is necessary to the maintenance of their jobs across the council”

Finance:

The issue of money is crucial in every dispute. Therefore, a strike account should be opened and overseen by the union and shop stewards. This would enable trade union branches and national unions to donate ‘solidarity’ money to a hardship fund. This can be distributed on a ‘needs basis’ to enable strikers to continue their action lifted from excessive money pressures at home.

Stepping up’ the action.

As mentioned previously, rather than ‘sit out’ the strike in the hope that money pressures force workers back to work, the council is employing a scab army at council tax payers expense to intervene and break the dispute. Therefore, in the event that the current action strategy falls short of bringing a victory, and following the measures detailed in a & b having been agreed, then a city-wide meeting of all strikers should consider the question of how to step up the action including an ‘all out strike’ in response to management’s provocative actions. The meeting would need to be convened at “a time that will ensure a maximum turnout”.

Why is Birmingham, a Labour council, attacking its own workforce?

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour offers a ‘different kind of politics’ but Birmingham’s Labour council don’t seem to have got the message.

While some middle-ranking managers were meeting with union representatives to try to resolve the current refuse workers’ dispute, behind the scenes letters were being prepared by service directors which offered workers a ‘take it or leave it’ ultimatum. These letters were received by workers the following day.

This is a despicable way to treat any workforce but it gets worse. Instead of re-entering meaningful negotiations with the union, council managers have brought in scab labour and private contractors to try to break the strike.

We have been informed on a picket line that the council have engaged two firms, ‘24/7’ and BMI and are paying a thousand pounds a wagon to clear overflowing rubbish over weekends.

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Birmingham’s Labour Councillors: busy “ratting” on their own workforce

 

 

Now, unable to organise recycled rubbish- and therefore losing income, the council is sending more to landfill for which they have to pay. They seem willing to pay any cost to beat up the workforce. Why?

 

We should be very suspicious of their motives and this bullying must be resisted to the end.

Birmingham’s Labour council are acting like the worst private employers and have now sent the grade 3s a third intimidatory letter to their home address. They are dancing to the Tory government’s tune and are proving once again that they are only too willing to do their dirty work locally.

We must defeat this attack by the Council. Then we have to change the council!

Birmingham Labour has administered £650m of cuts without protest so far and there is more to come.

Some may have considered privatisation of the council’s Children’s Services department or slashing libraries and closing children’s centres the lowest point of the council’s Tory impersonation. However questions must be now asked by Unite members, who are Labour’s biggest donor, about how Labour can take their money yet employ scabs and attack their members working for the council.

Unison are currently balloting its members in street cleansing, they face the same dilemma as Unite and the other council unions. One thing is for certain: the council must be defeated because if they get away with smashing the bin workers they will be even bolder when they come after the other grades later.

If Jeremy Corbyn is serious about changing Labour he must prove he is prepared to take on the Blue Labour slashers in local government.

He should come to Birmingham as a matter of urgency, meet the strikers and their union reps and declare that he is on their side. And he needs to the go and meet the Leader of the Labour Group and demand they back off

Labour councils can utilise various forms of short-term funding to plug gaps caused by Tory austerity such as using reserves or prudential borrowing. Besides, Jeremy Corbyn should now guarantee that a future Labour government would reverse the cuts when it takes office and instruct Labour councils to refuse to implement any further cuts.

Otherwise Labour councils will continue to be seen as no different to the Tories and the hundreds and thousands of fresh new members will become demoralised.

Birmingham Binworkers Hold Firm

A large turnout of between 50 to 60 striking bin workers were present at Perry Barr picket line on 17th July reported Ian Leech. The mood remains resolute with anger being directed at the council and local management. Bob Severn at Tyseley and Clive Walder at Lifford Lane where pickets numbered between 30-40, reported the same.

Many strikers explained that, in sharp contrast to previous strike action, they had received verbal support from the public. This was added to by the Convenor’s report that informed that email support had also been received by Unite offices. Click here for Socialist Party strike bulletins and public info flyers that have been distributed during the dispute.

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Strikers at Perry Barr

Management have stepped up dirty tricks and strike breaking from recruiting expensive agency staff and ‘partners’ to clear up rubbish left by the strike and sending letters to individual workers about a confidential hotline to encourage those scared by the threat of job loss to jump ship and weaken the entire workforce. These tactics from management—more akin to Thatcher against the miners than to Jeremy Corbyn– while they were supposed to be talking to the Union!

They could of course, stop the imposition of their lousy plan, let bin workers go back to work and save money as a result!

It’s no wonder there is a deteriorating relationship between local management and bin workers. Strikers informed the Socialist that they wished it made known that this dispute isn’t about chasing more money. It is about cuts that are leading to attacks on terms and conditions, changes in work practices and reduced Health and Safety standards.

The use of strikebreaking ‘partners’ raised in many workers minds that the council were trying to batter their conditions to get the service ready for privatisation.

A striking bin worker at Lifford Lane exposed the truth about the strike breaking operation taking place at weekends. They indeed did have 52 crews out but many were only using street cleaning lorries which hold much less than a bin wagon and have no equipment to lift a wheelie bin and empty its contents! All they can do is to pick up bags of rubbish not in wheelie bins. This was confirmed by tweets accompanying the Birmingham Mail article where angry residents were denouncing the council’s claim of clearing the backlog as a sham.

He also said that they are being told to mix recycling and non-recycling waste which is apparently against EU regulations and which also means that they are losing the revenue that would be accrued for recycling materials and pay extra to send it to landfill. They are therefore spending money to break the strike, losing revenue and incurring extra charges! Not to mention undermining their ‘green’ credentials

Towards the end of the stoppage at Perry Barr the Unite Rep called the strikers together for an update. He said the dispute remains solid across the city and that Unite would not suspend any action until they agree with a written submission from the employer. He went onto explain that, in addition to the 2 hour strikes every day until the end of July, an additional daily one hour stoppage during the lunch break would take place where staff would book keys etc back in and clock out, thus raising the level of disruption. This was met with cheers and laughter from the strikers.

In addition, the Convenor reported that Unison were now balloting its members and that Unite were now balloting its membership amongst Street cleaning teams.

This showed the importance of keeping information flowing. We hope our bulletin has helped a bit in this, but if management are going to target individual workers, then the strike will need to overcome any sense of isolation they may feel, and to keep confidence high. Regular reps meetings and reports definitely help in that. Mass meetings, we believe would also help bind workers together and counter any sense of isolation.

Some strikers discussed approaching local MPs and Councillors about the dispute.

This led to a discussion on the current state of the Labour Party where it was suggested that Corbyn’s leadership and the ‘crew in Birmingham City Council’ were totally different. “They are all Blairites in the Council here”.

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May’s Tories are weak and divided. Why is Birmingham Labour continuing to cut services?

The answer to this lies in the Socialist Party’s description of Labour as “two parties in one”. On the one hand Jeremy Corbyn has called Austerity “a political choice” and has campaigned against local authority cuts, but the reality ‘on the ground’ is that local councils are controlled by Labour groups loyal to former leader Tony Blair and his acolytes the “Blairites” who dominate areas like the West Midlands.

For a generation Labour Councillors have claimed they’re against cuts whilst at the same time carrying them out. This process speeded up with the Banking crisis of 2007-8 and the introduction of Tory Austerity.

The Socialist Party (previously Militant) has consistently argued that councils should lead a public campaign for more money from the Tories by setting budgets based on local service needs and refusing to make any cuts as Liverpool City Council did in 1983-87.

In order to ensure that representatives such as MP’s and Councillors are more accountable to the grassroots of the party, we’ve argued that Jeremy Corbyn needs to ensure that decision making is put in the hands of the local members through a mandatory reselection process. This way, local community members of the Labour Party can try to ensure that their voices are heard through their public representatives.

Birmingham Bin Workers Step Up Action

As Birmingham’s Labour council continues to try to impose job cuts and conditions changes on Brum’s bin service workers, UNITE the union’s members are to escalate their strike.

They announced that from a weekly 2 hour strike between 6 and 8am, they would now undertake such a 2 hour strike every week day through to August 4.

Birmingham council has so far not budged in their demands for 113 job cuts and for workers to give up part of their rest day.

The Labour council have been acting like any other employer at trying to undermine the strike by using Saturdayovertime and also street cleaners collecting rubbish unable to fit in wheelie bins. It is welcome that Unison who represent most of the street cleaners are now balloting for action and hopefully this will stop shortly but this demonstrates that it would have been much better for both unions to ballot simultaneously and have a joint campaign from the outset.

The workers mood is upbeat, but they continue to be disappointed that GMB has not balloted to join the action but happy at least Unison now has. There is an unconfirmed report that the GMB are to ballot this week.

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Jeremy Corbyn might be trying to change Labour, but for Birmingham bin workers it’s not happening here

Tuesday (11th) saw the second strike action by Bin workers. Reporting from the 30-40 strong picket line at Lifford Lane, Theo, from Birmingham Socialist Party said “a worker said the action should be stepped up to every morning because management were “using dirty tricks” and said the  dispute ‘was as much about breaking spirit of workforce as it was about austerity’. Another spoke about the need for day long actions instead of just mornings. A guy who’d been there 11 years said he didn’t trust Labour whatsoever to handle the situation, which was echoed by others.”

”All the Labour councillors are Tories” remarked one picket at the Lifford Lane depot, as refuse workers represented by Unite held the second 2 hour strike of their dispute.

At Tyseley where 40 pickets covered the gates, one worker suggested they strike for the last hour of shifts as well.

Management have attempted to break picket lines and to use Saturday overtime to undermine the dispute. Eamonn reports that pickets at Tyseley believe temps were told to go in early and 3 crews had gone out before 6am.

The 40 pickets at Perry Barr depot had one lorry go through them but remarked that the agency worker crew had probably been bullied into working. At Digbeth, where 15 workers picketed, Nick reports that only one wagon went out – “a suit drove off in another, before being flagged down by workers who pointed out he wasn’t accredited to be driving it!”

A picket added: “There’s no trouble getting the agency lads out, we don’t even have to ask them – some of them have been here for 10 years!”

So while Jeremy Corbyn is rightly campaigning against zero hours, agency working and other dodgy contracts, Birmingham Council is institutionalising agency work. Clive Walder reported this was echoed at Lifford Lane. “People saw Theresa May’s weakness but they had no time for Labour councillors”.

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Whilst this dispute has been brewing the council hve been spending money preparing a bid for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Clearly there is no shortage of money for prestige projects but they can’t find £300,000 to settle this dispute. The council has £895.7 million in usable reserves at the end of the 2015-16 financial year! A striking worker at Digbeth commented: “If the council can find millions to big for the Commonwealth Games, then they can find the £300,000 we’re asking for”

There is a clear understanding amongst the strikers that the Tories have no mandate for continued cuts and that a determined campaign to face down the government could result in the Tories being brought down but they would want them replaced by a Labour government who would fight for them not against them.

It isn’t lack of money but the Blairite political, outlook of the Labour council that is driving this dispute, they are firmly wedded to the notion that workers should pay for the capitalist crisis.

Jeremy Corbyn must take advantage of his current high approval rating and issue an ultimatum to pro-cuts Labour councillors across the country  ‘stop cutting services or consider yourself ineligible to continue being Labour councillors’ and should organise fresh selection conferences to endorse anti-cuts candidates.

If, as workers say, part of the council plan is to demoralise the workforce then the Trade Union and socialist movement around Birmingham must respond to support these workers. Solidarity and support should be built now, beginning with messages/letters of support which could be sent to regional officer Lynne Shakespeare: lynne.shakespeare@unitetheunion.org

*Birmingham Socialist Party produced a Bulletin that was well received, reporting on the issues in dispute, on the first days strike, and commenting that “The Council…are demanding workers pay for the cuts being made by the government. Instead of attacking workers conditions, they should be fighting together with workers against Tory cuts.

There could be a Corbyn government by the end of the year that would try to stop austerity. So, the council should use some of its reserves to defend services pending the removal of the Tory government.”
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Bin Workers’ Strike Begins

At 10.45am on Friday 30th June Bin workers across the city of Birmingham began leaving their vans and depots to begin the first in a series of strikes against their employer Birmingham City Council.
The dispute has been triggered in response to the Labour Controlled authority plan to introduce a package of measures designed to cut the bin service budget.
The package includes the termination of the contract of, initially 122, now 113 full time staff employed at Grade 3 level and then re-employ some at a lower Grade 2 through a competitive process. In addition, the reconfiguring of working days -currently staff work four days at 9 hours with a ‘rest day’. This will be altered to reduced hours on four days plus working until 10.30am on the previous ‘rest day’. This will cut staff wages and eat into their designated rest day in what is a physically demanding job.

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Picket line at Redfearn Road depot

 

 

The trade unions are also demanding that Birmingham City Council cease their long-standing use of Agency Staff and recruit to full time posts for the Bin service.
The mood on the picket line at the Perry Barr depot was a mixture of anger, determination and frustration. The frustration comes as a result of the members having offered up suggestion after suggestion when asked by the employer on how best to improve the service, yet none of the proposals from staff have been recognised. In addition, a large amount of money earmarked to improve the service in previous commitments had never materialised. This has brought an accusation from the Local authority trade unions of “financial incompetence”.
In discussion with pickets many referred to learning the lessons of a previous dispute that took place in 2014 where, according to Unite members “we had them over a barrel only to let them off the hook and they reneged on the agreement reached. That won’t be happening this time!”
On the picket line there was some intense discussion on the issue of a “Labour Council continuing to make huge cuts when Labour could be in power within months” along with questioning of the failure of the GMB union to ballot its members despite their lodging a formal dispute with the employer. This issue and its consequences for individual GMB members not wanting to cross picket lines had caused a complication and worry that could have been avoided. It had been reported that, as a result, GMB members had been leaving to join Unite.
In addition, there was questioning as to why Unite itself had only called out the Grade 3’s across the city on strike despite balloting the Grades 2 and 4 members? Instead Unite full time staff had only asked Grade 4’s and 2’s to support their colleagues if they felt inclined to. In each Refuse Vehicle Grade 4 staff drive and take charge of the vehicle in road traffic and parked whilst Grade 3’s oversee the bin operation at the rear of the vehicle. Grade 2’s undertake the lifting and emptying of the bins. Clearly without the Grade 3’s in the operation then, not only will a gap appear in the pay structure blocking Grade 2 ‘progression’ but also, and crucially, Health and Safety will also be compromised as the Driver cannot take responsibility for all aspects of the job from inside the cab.
Unite members will continue the action with 2 hour stoppages on designated days throughout July (3rd, 11th, 19th and 27th) and into August (4th) to force the employer to back down over their proposals. However, even at this stage it would provide a massive lift to the Unite members involved in the current action if GMB were to announce that they intend to ballot their members who are equally affected by these proposals.

Click here for for copies of Socialist Party strike bulletins and info flyers.

May Must Go! Protest This Wednesday

Theresa May called an election thinking she’d win a huge majority – she managed to lose the small majority she had, but she still thinks she can carry on! Young people surged to the polling stations to support Jeremy Corbyn – now we need to carry on the fight against May and the Tories.

Join the protest in Birmingham on Wednesday 21st June – the day of the opening of Parliament/Queen’s Speech when the humiliated Theresa May and her new partners in the ultra-reactionary DUP will announce the attacks they plan on carrying out over the next year.

Assemble at Victoria Square at bottom of steps on New St at 6pm – and be sure to click attending on the Facebook event!

May Humiliated! Now Kick Her Out!

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After Theresa May called her snap election in April most people had no idea what the result would be. However, after Corbyn’s lively campaign and manifesto with left policies, he managed to rally support gaining 40% of the popular vote compared to Theresa May’s 42.4% (a loss for her was majority government).

With the outright mainstream media attack and the negative polls against Corbyn this shows it has been a monumental win for him as well as the political left. Despite the fact he hasn’t been able to get a majority in parliament he has come out the strongest leader winning many seats from the Tories and increasing Labour’s share of the vote more than any other Labour leader since 1945. In particular, there was a huge surge in turnout among young people, with 72% voting (as against just 43% in 2015) – and with a massive 67% of under 25s voting Labour according to exit polls

What we also can’t ignore during this election is the complete utter failure of the Blairites within the Labour party. The 80% of MPs that held a no confidence vote in Corbyn trashing the Labour polls before the election was called – even after Corbyn was re-elected as leader, increasing his votes from 250,000 to 310,000 last year. We see how much of a mistake that was in damaging Labour’s image just before an election that ended up being a lot closer than anyone expected. Who knows what the outcome would have been without this blow to the party before the election – painting an image in some peoples heads that he was “unelectable and not a leader”. If there is anything we can take away from this election it is that the complete opposite is true. This election has shown that “New Labour” Blairites in the party have been proven completely wrong when they said no-one would vote for left policies.

In Birmingham this has heavily been the case! The marginal areas the Conservatives were hoping to gain, Labour actually managed to increase their votes significantly as well as gaining popularity in their safe seats. Labour’s vote for Birmingham made up 62.6% – a higher result than Tony Blair in 1997 with just 55%. People from the second city have obviously been yearning for left policies! After the horrendous attacks we have seen from the Tories on public services and social care in the West Midlands, Jeremy Corbyn’s anti austerity stance has hit a chord with the people of Birmingham, again show by the thousands of people who went to see him speak in the city on Tuesday.

What this election definitely proves is that socialist ideas are back on the agenda and the need to continue the struggle against a now very weakened Conservative Government. Now more than ever is the time to get active fighting for a socialist alternative – for more info on how to join the Socialist Party, get in touch.

The next step for the Socialist Party in Birmingham is our public meeting on the 12th June, where we will discuss the way forward from here, for the socialist party and for movement behind Corbyn. Come along and join the socialist movement! More details here on the Facebook event: www.facebook.com/events/1355499851212109/

With many potential twists and turns to come in the next few days as Theresa May attempts to cobble together a government and face down the unrest in her own party, keep up to date with socialist analysis of events on the Socialist Party national Website

Why this Care Leaver is voting for Corbyn

Written by Kris O’Sullivan – Socialist Party Birmingham Central

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The general election is fast approaching in Britain and June 8th will roughly mark approximately seven years of austerity that has had devastating, widespread, and long-lasting effects on working-class people and the marginalised groups that comprise it.

These groups consist of single-parents, the homeless, disabled, LGBT, long-term unemployed, people of colour, women, mental health sufferers and many more individuals – including Care Leavers.

What is a care-leaver you might ask? 

The technical definition is ‘’A care leaver is defined as a person aged 25 or under, who has been looked after by a local authority for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14; and who was looked after by the local authority at school-leaving age or after that date’’

As a group that has little visibility in the mainstream media it is understandable that a lot of the general public would of not heard the term before  but will probably have some familiarity with the term of when an individual was under the care of a local authority prior to leaving, a ‘looked after-child’ or a ‘child in care’.

Current statistics suggest that there are  70,00086,000   looked after children living in the UK presently. If we extend these findings and apply them to individuals who have been under local-authority care for a significant amount of time – be it residential, foster or a specialist institution under the auspices of social services, then it is safe to say that there are several hundred thousand care-leavers living in Britain today.

How Has Austerity Affected Social Services / Care – Leavers

Back in 2010 and as seen in previous recessions, the first intuitions within the public sector to receive the swing of the axe of budget cuts was those institutions found within the welfare state, including social services. This gave way to the exasperation of the current Foster care crises being felt today in which there is a chronic shortage of available foster-carers.

Recent years have seen now-resigned conservative ministers trying to change the definition of child poverty to evoke a more fuzzy, judgemental, moralistic dimension to it by removing icome equality but instead adding other factors such ‘bad life choices’ like unstable relationships. Commentators correctly criticised the main advocate of this, previous Minister of Work and Pensions Ian Duncan Smith, that with this new definition the Tories would effectively avoid their obligation to end child poverty by 2020, as outlined within the 2010 Child Poverty Act, an act they tried to scrap. Fortunately, the backlash of this attempted change in definition resulted in the Tories retreating and a U-turn was actioned.

The effects of austerity have continuously toughened and complicated all spheres of life and importance when it comes to care-leavers. A joint report published last year by several leading childrens charities outlines that the result of gutting funding for local authorities is an increase in pressure on social services that are already pushed to breaking point. These pressures may have dangerous results for many families.

Various studies have suggested that austerity negatively affects all three of the key stages of a care-leaver’s life. An analysis of these findings to quantify the true damaging extent of austerity is highlighted below.

Before care

  • More children are being taken into care by social services from struggling single-parent and working class families due to council preventative and family support services in England being cut by 71%.
  • This is compounded by the housing crisis felt by working-class families across Britain. With certain councils under the marching orders of ‘ budget-saving’  initiatives due to austerity measures, are akin to acting out social-cleansing of many areas across the country. This results in many homeless and struggling families being relocated to areas with no support and preventative services available – further exacerbating the numbers of children going into care. It is clear that a vicious circle is taking place. 
  • Combined punitive and draconian welfare reforms are pushing more children into absolute poverty and putting an enormous amount of strain on previously mentioned struggling families. Currently 3.9 million children are estimated to be living in poverty. In some areas of my home city, Birmingham, the percentage of children living below the poverty line is as high as 50 %.
  • Teenage pregnancy support, respite care for disabled children, support services, are likely see cuts from £1bn to £3.2bn over the next four years under another Conservative government.

During care

The previously mentioned foster care crisis has led there to a chronic shortage in the number of foster carers available in Britain, resulting in added pressure to the already exhausted social services.  A leading foster care charity produced a report gauging the attitudes of foster carers who, when asked about if austerity had detrimentally affected foster care, overwhelmingly stated yes and pointed to several important reasons why which are explored below.

  • Allowances – The money from the fostering service to be spent on the needs of the child has been adversely affected by austerity, as local council budgets being cut has resulted in an increasing financial burden on carers, which is somewhat ironically one of the contributing reasons for young people being taken into care in the first place. This prevents some carers being unable to provide ‘extras’ such as school trips and extracurricular activities.
  • Access to fostered child’s social worker – Felt department cutbacks had significantly lowered the quality of this service. With increased workloads (including spiralling out of control referrals per social worker)  there is a culture of over-worked social workers, massive turn-over rates and increased use of agency workers
  • Access to services – Major issues are being experienced by carers trying to access additional services outside of the immediate remit of fostering such as mental health referrals and support. In addition, appalling respite provision and poor support groups contributing to the chronic shortage to carers, compounded by funding being cut directly linked to training is resulting in degradation of both availability and quality.
  1. Privatisation and Market Forces.

From it’s initial start of creeping privatisation back during Tony Blair’s administration the Tories since then have ideologically pushed for more and more involvement from market forces within children’s services with some of the more horrifying facts and proposed legislation being highlighted below      

  • Private equity firms dominate residential children’s homes with 79% of children’s homes being run by private or voluntary sector.
  • The ‘New Labour’ joint Blair/Brown project introduced the Children and Young Person’s Act 2008 allowing local authorities in England and Wales to discharge (privatise) their ‘corporate parenting’ function of social work services for children in public care via ‘Social Work Practices’.
  • In 2014 the Conservatives were keen to open up core child protection services to market forces and for-profit organisations.  However, due to mass opposition by the general public and in particular, Professor Eileen Munro, the chosen individual commissioned by Michael Gove to publish the report stated in the conclusion of her findings that it would be ‘perverse’ to have market forces involved.
  • Later on in 2016, the Conservatives tried to pick up where they left off with a new report called ‘The potential for developing the capacity and diversity of children’s social care services in England’ published by ex-Tony Blair advisor Julian Le Grand. Within the report under the chapter ‘Appetite for market entry’ Le Grand actively pursues the engagement from for-profit organisations of whose directing managers express ‘enthusiasm  and eagerness’ to begin the process of bidding on tenders resulting in local authorities being sold of. However once again, thanks to co-ordinated opposition from staff, service users and the general public the government was forced to distance itself from the report and scrap the idea.
  • Much like Frankenstein’s monster, the Tories ideological pursuit to open up children services to market forces sees them yet again trying to resurrect previously defeated and opposed plans. This time it comes in the form of the ‘Children and Social Work Bill’ which under the guise of ‘innovation’ which will pave the way for ‘academia style’ reforms. In essence this  bill is designed to allow the lifting of the ban on for-profit organisations taking over core parts of child protection services. Again, this was defeated by mass-opposition and narrowly being voted down in the house of lords. 

The above list illustrates a consistent desire from the Conservatives to introduce market forces and creeping privatisation into our children’s services. The question must be raised of who would this benefit? Does it benefit the service user/service workers or big business and private individuals accumulating vast amounts of money? 

Clearly it is the latter.

So how much money can these organisations profit from running children’s services. Quite a lot apparently.

These companies do not become involved for simply altruistic reasons. The overarching aim is profit. It would appear that the £3.7 Billion ‘Care’ industry is a very lucrative one to become involved in.  As The Financial Times  times so eloquently stated, the ‘’Fostering sector is ripe for consolidation’’ meaning that our struggling children’s services decimated by ideologicallyl driven austerity cuts are seen as a prime cash cow for wealthy individuals.

The Financial Times, the paper of choice for so many ‘Venture capitalists’, went on to state ‘’fostering is a growth market. More than 50,000 children were placed in care in 2012, up 3.7 per cent in 2011, according to official figures. The number is widely expected to grow as benefit cuts pile the pressure on struggling families and children with severe disabilities are given life-prolonging medical treatment’’

The article clearly outlines how business is booming in regards to  children being taken into care as a result of austerity. With austerity being good for this new and upcoming ‘growth market’, with foster care specifically proving to be quite a profitable outlet to pursue as 100’s millions are garnered by the most successful private fostering outfits.    

Track record : Market Forces Fail Children, Not Care for Them

The track record of for-profit organisations within children’s services is abysmal and shocking  for those unfortunate enough to have their wellbeing put in their charge. Back in 2013, an emergency review was initiated in the aftermath of the Rochdale scandal in which it revealed that 63 children’s homes were rated within the worst ‘inadequate’ category of Ofsted. This was a 1/3 of the children’s service asset empire possessed by US owned equity firm ‘GI Partners’.  On a national scale, this followed suit with 28% of all privately owned children’s homes falling within the same failure category.

As mentioned above this review was launched in the aftermath of the Rochdale child sex grooming scandal. One aspect of the story that was given little attention was the role of the unscrupulous ‘venture capitalists’. One of the victims was in a ‘’solo’’ residential home which Ofsted reports showed to be falling under the required staffing numbers and lack of training around child sex exploitation.

As Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Adolescent and Children’s Trust said in regards to this scandal “[…]The problem comes where it becomes about maximising profit. One of the ways of maximising profit is to reduce levels of support and increase the workload on staff.” 

An additional example is the horrifying revelations made by the undercover panorama documentary last year of the disturbing malpractice and abuse taking place at the G4S run ‘Secure Training Centres’ or child prisons. The panorama documentary showed young adults – many who had been through the care system – having G4S staff using extremely excessive force and overall psychological/physical abuse. The training of these ‘officers’ was pitiful with a lack of transparent background checks/physiological tests taken.

As a result of these findings, a report of produced by the Howard League for Penal Reform illustrated how ‘’Children aged 13 to 15 living in children’s homes were found to be almost six times as likely to be criminalised as looked after children of the same age in other placements – and almost 20 times more likely to be criminalised than non-looked after children’’    

Post – Care

When we consider the numerous socio-economic challenges faced by young working-class people trying to make their way in the world, this can be effectively doubled for care-leavers and made even worse by the presence of austerity as illustrated above. The figures for care leavers in many aspects is a sign of a broken and breaking social system. Below we see David Cameron at his last Conservative conference back in 2015 recognise facts about the life of care leavers upon leaving the system.

  • The suicide rate among children formerly in care was four times the national average. In addition, during the middle of the coalition years when mental health services were beginning to feel the first wave of the major cutbacks to follow, care Leavers at the ages of 19-21 made up 1% of the general population of that demographic but comparatively made up 7% of the respective deaths of it.
  • 40 – 60 per cent of sex workers had likely been in care.

However, Cameron failed the mention that:

  • Care-leavers represent more than a quarter of our prison population
  • Only 9% reach university, compared with the national average of 47%.
  • 50% of looked after children suffer from clinical-level mental health problems with many remaining unwell post-care with mental health problems exacerbated by the lack of services available due to budget cuts.
  • Roughly 1/3 of homeless individuals, especially youth, are care leavers/experienced time being ‘looked after’ by local authorities   

General election  – Support Corbyn

Corbyn’s anti-austerity position  of putting the needs of the ‘many not the few’ is a welcomed message to receive for the care leaver community. Out of all the mainstream political manifestos for the upcoming election, the Labour manifesto was the only one that put forward concrete ideas regarding how to support many of the issues raised above, these include:

  • ‘’And we will refocus social care to work with families in local communities to prevent children becoming at risk of going into care.’’
  • ‘’The government is currently failing to develop a strategy for the wholesale improvement of the care system that delivers for all, not just those children being considered for adoption.’’
  • ‘’We will promote the care and educational achievement of our most vulnerable children and increase support for children in kinship and foster care, and their families. It is important that other forms of care, such as kinship care and fostering, are not marginalised, as this will not result in the step-change we need to see in outcomes for looked after children.’’
  • ‘’Labour will support further regulation of commercial fostering agencies, as well as commissioning a review on establishing a national fostering service.’’
  • ‘’We will extend Staying Put arrangements to support all children and young people in residential and other forms of care until they are 21.’’
  • ‘’We will enshrine the European Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law’’

These policies are a step in the right direction and would address some of the most visible chronic issues being faced by our at-breaking point social services and marginalised looked after children/care leavers. For this reason I’ll be voting Labour on June 8th to support Jeremy Corbyn and his anti-austerity platform.

Beyond Corbyn – Social movement, political battle to change system

The key points listed above in Labour’s manifesto in regards to care leavers/social services and Corbyn’s overall anti-austerity platform is a step in the right direction, but if a fundamental change is going to occur it cannot be by resting all of our hopes on one individual or limiting our political voice and power by being co-opted within mainstream parties.

The resistance of care leavers/looked-after children can come in many forms and taking inspiration from fellow marginalised groups who have formed their own networks of resistance independent of mainstream political parties. This is important as mainstream parties tend to have a tendency of watering down the most radical elements and neutralising dissent and the alternative challenging narratives to the status quo.

Groups to take inspiration from include the Mental Health Resistance network, Disabled People Against Cuts & most importantly the Social Workers and Service Users Against Austerity with the latter showing the most powerful tool needed in this fight, solidarity. From this grassroot movement, both sides of the victimisation of austerity can join forces, care leavers and staff, service users and social workers empowering both sides to fight back against these unnecessary ideological austerity attacks. A great example of 360 solidarity and successful coordinated political action between services users and social workers was seen in Spain during the ‘Orange Tide’ movement.

I have had the statement thrown at me before like it’s some kind of insult that I’m trying to ‘politicise’ Care Leavers, service users, social workers etc. Truthfully – yes I am! Our lives and line of work has been politicised from day one.

From vital frontline services being gutted to the creeping privatisation of children’s services this is a political attack, an individual battle part of a larger war on the welfare state orchestrated by the Tories and the Blairite old guard wanting to see social care returned to the Victorian days of ‘Christian charity’, whilst  simultaneously trying to commodify looked after children.

Just as we need to radicalise our social workers and service users to fight for ‘’social change and the empowerment and liberation of people’’ as highlighted  by the political-philosophy of radical social work and expressed clearly by groups such as SWAN NETWORK, we need to link this up to a completely new socio-economic system where people come first, not profit.

We need to challenge and fight to replace the ultimate root cause of all the ills that have been illustrated in this article, the system of capitalism. No matter how many achievements are won by ordinary people, capitalism will always seek to forever accumulate vast amounts of wealth for a tiny select few and roll back all the social achievements won by workers.

This will mean the continuation of devastating cuts, and the continuation of commodifying looked after children to be looked as a product to be purchased by large equity firms, will mean the continuation of alienating and stripping of all vocational willpower of social workers.

Under capitalism poverty will always be a feature of our society and as this system continues to go through boom and bust cycles it will be normal workers and service users who will suffer from this systems ‘perpetual crises’. This system will continue to commodify children and privatise their services through neo-liberal marketisation and ‘quasi-markets’ of hidden for-profit forces behind the ‘human face’ of voluntary trusts or charitable organisations.

Looked after children, care leavers, and services users are not a ‘growth market’ to be exploited anymore but instead are a marginalised group I call upon to link up arms with their fellow workers, trade unions, local authority service providers to fight to replace this rigged system and replace it with something radically different to take care of all society’s needs, to put people first not profit, to fight for socialism.