Interview with an Activist: Mike Cormack and Welfare Reforms
Mike Cormack is involved in Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty. This is an interview with him discussing his work and the issues which he sees at stake particularly as the current welfare reforms are pushed through in the UK. Offering counsel and support to people who receive benefits to understand their rights and resist unfair sanctions, Mike has been involved in activism for many years.
At the moment there is a policy push to reduce benefits to those who most need them. In the United Kingdom the political rhetoric seems to be formulated around the binary ideas of the deserving and undeserving, the ‘skivers and the strivers’, those who are citizens and those who are free riders on the economy… This is a dangerous and unrepresentative state of affairs.
These perspectives have brought about a very damaging atmosphere which is harmful to social relations as well as peoples mental and physical health. John Hills deconstructs the myths and misnomers in the revised edition of his book ‘Good Times – Bad Times; The welfare myth of them and us’. The book brings together deep research showing that the idea of a them and us in terms of welfare is a convenient invention being used to penalise people from getting the financial support which they need to function in modern Britain:
“It is therefore profoundly damaging that as a nation we understand so poorly what all this activity achieves, and who is affected by it. Public perceptions (and misconceptions) are dominated by two linked notions, often tapped into by politicians and then further fed by their own rhetoric and parts of the media. First, the beneficiaries of the ‘welfare’ system are largely unchanging and are different from the rest of us who pay for them through our taxes. Second, the bulk of this huge amount of spending goes on handouts to a group of people who are out of work, often claiming fraudulently.”
Mike Cormack has been championing people in the Edinburgh area for many years standing up to policy changes which have impoverished people. He has been involved in standing up against the famous ‘bedroom tax’ before Raquel Rolnik, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Raquel Rolnik concluding that there was a breach in human rights calling “for a paradigm shift from housing policies based on the financialization of housing to a human rights-based approach to housing policies.”
Offering advocacy and support for people being forced into schemes like Workfare, he and others have formed a network of support which can be called upon when individuals are in need of an accompanying hand. Workfare is forcing people into working for their benefits with threat of sanction. A sanction is where the money that people have a right to is withdrawn until they have had a review. The time which it takes to be offered a review of the decision can be many months to over a year without money.
Mike Cormack has been working with a nationwide network of community organisations and activists to challenge the benefits sanctions and welfare reforms in the light of Ken Loaches film – I Daniel Blake. The movement, called ‘We Are All Daniel Blake’, has been organising free film screenings of with the support of UNITE union and the film distributors.
As well as this, Mike and Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty are organising workshops which teach people their rights and inform people how they can offer support to benefits claimants who are being put through the Draconian procedures. If you or anyone is interested to know more and be involved, then please get in touch by visiting his website, or the We Are All Daniel Blake wordpress: