URGENT UPDATE “SIMPLY UNBELIEVABLE” Update Welfare Rights

As a result of consultation we have now learnt that the two welfare rights advisor workers are not being sacked in order to make CUTS, they are being sacked because vulnerable families will get a better service without them!

Before I address the issue of why it is so wrong to sack the Welfare Rights workers I want to highlight this scene in Ken Loach’s BAFTA Award winning film “I, Daniel Blake”

This scene shows the daily humiliating life experiences people in need are facing.

I’m referring to this scene, because the Barnet Council proposal is to move away from helping to sign posting. It sounds good in the highly paid consultancy circle world. BUT the grim reality this is not just a cut for two workers it is a cruel cut that will deny access to the vital information, advocacy and support for the most vulnerable families in Barnet.

Before Barnet UNISON found out that this was NOT a financial saving, we would have referred the Council back to the uncontrollable Agency/consultancy worker costs which have gone from a round £7.3 million in 2012 to 19.8 million by March 2017.

“Why will this proposal cause hard to vulnerable families?”

In the past seven years there have been many changes in the way Advice in the London Borough of Barnet has been delivered.

The following organisations have either closed down or no longer do Welfare Rights Advice.

  1. Welfare Rights Unit (Barnet Council)
  2. Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has closed five of their offices (a) Avenue House (b) Grahame Park (c) Finchley (d) Edgware Hospital (e) Dollis Valley hub. Currently, the New Barnet Office is only open on Mondays morning and is due to totally shut in October 2017. The only remaining CAB is the Hendon one which is also only opened three days a weeks
  3. CAB also used to operate a home visiting service which has also ceased.
  4. Barnet Law Service (Dealt with Welfare Rights Appeals)
  5. Mary Ward Legal Services (Dealt with Welfare Rights Appeals)
  6. East Barnet Advice Services
  7. Disability Action in the Borough of Barnet
  8. Mencap (substantially reduced service since 2013) This service refer to the two Welfare Rights workers for Appeals and complex cases
  9. Jewish Deaf Association Barnet (substantially reduce services now drop in sessions only on Tuesdays morning  for  people with hearing impairment)
  10. Mind Barnet
  11. Due to the Legal Aid cuts no Solicitors in Barnet do Welfare Rights Appeals

The two Welfare Rights workers are the only service that still provides comprehensive/ impartial benefits Advice up to Appeals level in Barnet. Both statutory and non-statutory organisations refer to the two workers. 

In consultation it has been put to Barnet UNISON that the service could be picked up by other organisations. What is clear is that the report does not appear to know what is being provided out there in our community.

Below are some of the organisation mentioned who could pick up the work left as a result of sacking the two welfare rights workers.

  1. Welfare Rights Task Force – Benefit Advisors only support clients affected by the benefit CAP and assist them with income and expenditure in order for them to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment
  2. Employment Advisors do not specialise on welfare benefits, their remit is employment
  3. Shelter specialise in Housing and debts. They do not provide Welfare Rights Advice
  4. DWP is unable to help the majority of our clients as there may be a conflict of interest. We support client in taking cases to the Tribunal against DWP. There would be a conflict of interest, should the DWP provide welfare benefits advice. Welfare Benefit Advice exists to ensure that clients are made aware of their legal rights and represented in the event of disputes and maladministration of benefits.

Next actions:  

Barnet UNISON on Tuesday 9 May at the Family Services JNCC declared a ‘failure to agree’ in response to the proposed sacking of the two welfare rights workers.

The matter has now been escalated to a meeting chaired by the Chief Executive.

If the proposal to sack the workers is not withdrawn the matter will be raised at General Functions Committee on 28 June where we will address the Leader of the Council.

Links:

http://www.barnetunison.me.uk/wp/2017/05/04/simply-unbelievable-update-welfare-rights/

 

 

 

 

Robot Wars: Barnet Libraries on the Eve of Destruction

Humans not Machines

What was once one of the finest public Library Services in the UK is about to undergo a transformation that will see it left in ruins. In 2002 Barnet won a Beacon Council award for libraries as a community resource, but since then successive restructures have seen staff numbers and service points cut. The decline will reach an all-time low in April 2017 when the newly restructured Library Service comes into operation.

In April the Library workforce will be reduced by almost half. The Council alleges that their skills, knowledge and experience can be replaced by volunteers and self-service machines.

Four Libraries will be handed over to charities and resident groups to be opened for only fifteen hours each a week.  The people of Mill Hill, South Friern, East Barnet and Childs Hill will lose direct access to a professional library service.

The Council will give these partnership libraries between £352,000 and £384,000 in grants for the first 3 years, money that would be better spent providing a service staffed and run by librarians and other real library workers.

The remaining Council-run libraries will have staff present only for a few hours on most days. Some days will be completely unstaffed. Under 15-years olds not accompanied by an adult will be unable to enter the libraries during these hours.

The Council seems unconcerned how this will affect the public, although aware that;

“The reduction in staffed opening hours will mean less support available in the library to get advice, information and to utilise the resources in the library. This will have the biggest impact on those who may require support to make best use of services at static library sites or are less able, or confident at using libraries without library staff support

 Barnet Future Library Service 5.9.10)

https://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s30694/Barnets%20future%20Library%20Service.pdf

The Council claims that CCTV monitored from a control centre in Cardiff will be sufficient to maintain the safety and security of people using the Libraries. Barnet UNISON disagreed, and continues to disagree, with the Council, citing incidents of anti-social behaviour, physical and verbal abuse and theft that have occurred in libraries, the number of which would be far higher if library staff had not been on site to prevent them.  Barnet UNISON remains unconvinced that the emergency response systems the Council plans for unstaffed hours will be sufficient.

Libraries are also to be reduced in size by up to 90%, as space is hived off to be offered for rent to commercial and community groups. This will leave inadequate study, computer and events space in most libraries. With only a few days to go before the restructure the Council has confirmed only one organisation interested in renting.  Since 2014, when this plan was first announced, Barnet UNISON has been pointing out that the Council’s estimated rental income of £546,000 by 2019/20 is very unlikely to be met

The Council claims it is being forced into reducing Library staff numbers, space and direct control of all libraries because of the need to save £1.6 million from the Libraries Budget by 2020. But the Council allocated over £6.5 million to implement the changes. In December the Council made known it was allocating over £14 million for “library procurements”. On the 8th December 2016 Barnet UNISON asked the Council a number of questions regarding this “procurement” spend. Because the Council did not answer our questions in full we resubmitted them on the 16th January 2017 and on the 14th February 2017. We still await a meaningful response

This is a lot of money to be spent on reducing the assets, efficiency, accessibility and safety of a service.

Barnet UNISON and the Save Barnet Library Campaigns have argued with the Council for over two and a half years that a machine and volunteer dependant Library Service would lead to a decline. The Council’s own consultations with the public found little if any support for their plan.  But the Council has consistently failed to address these arguments instead repeating the mantra that no libraries in Barnet were being closed and that opening hours were being extended. But when the new Library structure is implemented in April opening hours will not be any longer than at present.  The promised extended opening hours are now being postponed until the autumn. Only five of the Council-run libraries will be open while building work to reduce library space is carried out and the four “partnership” Libraries will stagger their hours between them.

In April the people of Barnet will find their library service much reduced. It is likely that many current and potential library users, particularly children, will find Barnet Libraries hard to access, information and advice difficult to come by, containing very little study space and the range of stock and services a shadow of what was once on offer.  This is likely to lead to a decline in use and an excuse by the Council to close Libraries

Our members working in libraries will continue as they have done in the past to try and provide the best service they can. But their low numbers, limited staffed opening hours and lack of space will be insurmountable barriers. Barnet UNISON will strongly oppose any attempts by the Council to place blame on library staff for the decline in the Service and any attempt to shift responsibility for any harm resulting from unstaffed opening hours.

Our members will be the first in line to face the frustration of the public with the restructured Library Service, but those responsible are the present ruling administration of the Council. Public dissatisfaction with the Library Service is likely to grow and may well have an influence on how Barnet residents vote in the next local elections.

Barnet UNISON will continue to campaign for a restoration of the Library Service. The people of Barnet need and deserve a professional library service staffed by real library workers.

Barnet UNISON call on the Council to stop the restructure and work constructively with those people working in and using libraries and with the wider community to build a Library Service that can once again rightly claim to be one of the best in the UK.

Further details on the Library changes and the Barnet UNISON’s campaign to stop it can be found on.

http://www.barnetunison.me.uk/wp/?s=libraries

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book your Pensions Seminars now – Barnet UNISON

Barnet UNISON is proud to be able to offer a Pensions Seminar for UNISON members.

The seminar would include the following:

  • Understanding changes to Local Government Pension Scheme
  • Understanding Career Average Benefit – with an example
  • Tips for Good Housekeeping
  • Understanding and Checking Annual Benefit Statement
  • Opportunity for further consultation through 1 to 1 meeting
  • The above areas will answer members’ questions around the effect of Unified Reward on LG Pensions.
  • The seminar and Q & A will normally last up to 90 minutes.

If you would like to take up this offer for your workplace/school please contact the Barnet UNISON office, on 0208 359 2088 or email contactus@barnetunison.org.uk

Let us help: Barnet UNISON plea to School Support Staff

You are worth it.

You are entitled to be treated like any other member of staff in your school.

Everyone in a school contributes to a healthy education environment in which children can thrive.

I am making my plea out of frustration.

I have spent the last six months working through outstanding grading appeals and pay issues for Barnet Council workers, but not school staff.

In the last three months I have started on my list of School Support Staff who are in need of support and advice concerning their pay.

The difference in working environments is appalling and unfair. The rest of the Council workforce have been subject to cuts and mass outsourcing, but in relation to their pay and grading the application has been without pressure.

BUT, in schools it is oh so different.

Why must some Schools always refer to budget cuts and letting staff go?

Why do some Schools complain about not being involved when they were?

Why are School Support Staff left to feel that they are wrong to challenge the grade, in most cases they are losing money, and they don’t earn much money anyway.

I have never seen equivalent fear like it in a workplace, grown women and men with huge life experience are sometimes too scared to let the union fight their corner for fear of reprisals.

Barnet UNISON will not be going anywhere and will continue to offer our fullest support for all of our support staff.

If you work in a school and need our help please contact the branch on 0208 359 2088 or email contactus@barnetunison.org.uk

 

*** IMPORTANT Performance Reviews – Moderation period

The Performance Review is rapidly becoming the Number 1 issue for our members working for Barnet Council.

When the Council first started talking about the Unified Reward scheme they used this slide.

As you see the colour scheme has been replaced with new ratings. However, members are reporting that whereas they had previously been rated as Green they are now being rated as Satisfactory.

It appears that managers are rating Green as Satisfactory which is not what UNISON and the staff attending the briefings were expecting.

Moderation.

Between April and June moderation panels will be taking place to look at the ratings. This means your rating could still change. Lastly, you do not need to sign or agree your Performance Review.

Barnet UNISON is asking members to contact the Barnet UNISON office on 0208 359 2088 or email contactus@barnetunison.org.uk if they are unhappy with their Performance Review.

“Outsourcingitus vaccine discovered” by Barnet UNISON

“I am so proud of our branch who have effectively been working round the clock for the last 9 years and to finally have discovered the antidote to this vicious and harmful virus will bring hope to others.  I know from bitter personal experience that “outsourcingitus” is very contagious and damaging to the health and wellbeing of members and to the services this virus feeds off. As many know we had a serious outbreak between 2012- 2014 where a large number of staff were affected as were residents. We intensified our efforts and at one point the branch nearly disappeared completely, incredibly we are still here despite all the odds; which I believe is all down to the dedicated and hardworking Unison reps. Finally I must point out that we are still in the early stages of creating a vaccine, but if anyone out there would like to take part in our trials please do not hesitate to contact the branch. Solidarity.” John Burgess, Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON.

 

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