|Issue 1 - December 1971|
A varied and large group of people are now totally dependent on the "dole" and social security. They include pensioners, unsupported mothers, sickness benefit claimants, families on low incomes, strikers, the dependants of those in prison, and finally a rapidly expanding group of unemployed workers and school-leavers. At a time when so many people are totally dependent on the Department of Health and Social Security it is essential that all concerned fully understand the rights to which they are entitled and, most importantly, exert them. The following are the basic rates; if you are unemployed make sure you're not being underpaid:
For a single householder (which includes a single person who is directly responsible for rent) ... £5.80p
For a married couple ... £9.45p
For someone living in another's household:
Plus all your rent if a householder.
Less family allowance, maintenance received etc in excess of £2.00p (only £1.00p of your part-time earnings are, however, disregarded if you are an unemployed person registering for work at the Employment Exchange).
Less small deductions for savings over £300. NO deductions for savings and tax rebates under £300.
Other rights are:
1 the right to attend technical college and claim supplementary benefit at the same time as a result of South Shields Claimants' Union and Trades Council pressure. Arthur Blenkinsop (Labour MP South Shields) established the principle in a debate at the House of Commons on March 30th, 1971. It seems that this is deliberately not being publicised. The principle established is that persons in areas of high unemployment (i.e. areas in which the Supplementary Benefits Commission's one month count rule is not operating for the young, single and unskilled) have a right to receive benefit if they take part-time courses up to 2 1/2 days per week, or block-release courses of up to 3 months duration. A real chance to improve employment prospects.
2 Section 77 of the Supplementary Benefits Handbook states: THE COMMISSION HAVE THE POWER TO AWARD TO PEOPLE ENTITLED TO BENEFIT A SINGLE PAYMENT OF BENEFIT TO MEET AN EXCEPTIONAL NEED.
a) Clothing and footwear (section 30) South Shields Claimants' Union's
experience has shown that it is possible to help dozens of claimants
to obtain a grant for new clothing and footwear for themselves and their
families, especially when they have been drawing benefit for some time.
In practice, these rights are difficult to obtain without much time-wasting and frustration. Sometimes the claimant is confronted by outright refusal over a legitimate grievance or, on the other hand, experiences hardship and suffering because of ignorance about his rights, the appeal procedure, the whereabouts of relevant information and many other factors. It is in these areas that a Claimants' Union can be most useful in securing claimants' rights.
Those drawing benefit have to organise themselves. This kind of initiative is an urgent priority because unemployment will almost certainly remain with us into Spring. The outlook is more gloomy than Press and TV would have people often believe, for there is still a strong possibility of a further increase in unemployment as British industry attempts to streamline its structure in preparation for the tough European competition it will encounter in the EEC. The likelihood of the north-east being further 'depressed' is great.
Only Claimants' Unions can make a useful contribution over this period. Why? The answer lies in the structure of Social Security itself. There are two aspects of the Supplementary Benefits Scheme which mean an organised group can bargain for a better deal. The situation is like that of bosses versus workers in industry when legitimate claims have been placed without success. The first and major aspect is "Discretion". The basis for discretionary payments in emergencies is Section 3(1) of the Ministry of Social Security Act, 1966; it is worth quoting from this section in the original:
"... in determining whether any benefit is payable by virtue of this section and the amount or nature of the benefit the commission shall not be bound by ... any regulations made under this Act which appears to them inappropriate in the circumstances of the case ..." The "over-riding discretion" provided for here means, in effect, that the DHSS can pay out any amount of money for a good reason. We can seize these concessions by creating an organised group of people to produce the evidence and fight individual cases from a position of knowledge. At the same time, claimants can publicise concessions won by others to make sure everyone obtains their full rights from the SS.
Ultimately, the Claimants' Union will have to take a politically active stance. This will come naturally from an examination of problems confronting claimants, and the formulation of demands and actions over them. Being without work means claimants have one of the most valuable assets in the "rat-race" world of today - namely time. They can show by their actions just how effective time, well used, can be.
NE Claimants Union
Newcastle on Tyne branch, flat A, Thornton House, Beech Grove Road, N/C on Tyne 4 (messages only: 0632/21371 "Stuart)
South Shields branch (also Jarrow), 4 Lawe Road, South Shields. Tel 08943/62213 "Phil and Joe".
Durham City branch, 13 Silver Street (Dave and Mike) - Muther Grumble
Office - 2nd floor.