RCG street stall against Universal Credit

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 268 February/March 2019

Universal Credit (UC) is a new system of benefit payment which is being rolled out to millions of claimants at the same time as cuts in welfare payments are taking place. 75% of benefit cuts set out in the 2016 Budget have yet to take place, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies. UC will drastically cut payments to single parents, carers and the disabled in particular. Job Centre workers are now called ‘job coaches’ because UC is designed to move all unemployed claimants into work. It is supposed to save the Treasury £7bn a year.

Susan Davidson and Leo Latour report.


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Universal Credit: Tories stumble but Labour flounders

Universal Credit: a mechanism to slash benefits by the back door

On 5 November 2018, Esther McVey (then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) announced a swathe of amendments to Universal Credit (UC). UC is the government’s flagship welfare reform programme, and is a mechanism to slash benefits by the back door. The amendments, which will only affect those already on pre-existing benefits who are expected to ‘migrate’ to UC, include:

  • a two-week extension of old-style benefits after UC has been applied for (theoretically cutting waiting times between payments);
  • a three-month ‘grace period’ be­tween being notified that you have to apply for UC and your old benefits being stopped;
  • a reduction in the rate at which emergency loans for people be­tween payments can be clawed back, and a longer period in which to pay back debt to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP);
  • the extension of two programmes which allow self-employed workers to earn over the minimum wage without their benefits being cut.


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Precarious work: a hidden labour reserve

Low-paid women workers on strike in Glasgow in October

The British government have flaunted high official employment figures, suggesting this is good news for workers, and the Autumn Budget was full of promises for ‘hard working families’ and ‘strivers’. But an overwhelming proportion of ‘jobs’ that have been created since the 2007/2008 financial crisis have been precarious, and this is extending to increasingly broad sections of the working class. This both contributes to poverty – around 60% of those in poverty today are in a family where at least one person works – and represents a hidden labour reserve, which shifts the balance of forces against the working class and puts downward pressure on wages. Tom Vickers reports.


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IWGB foster carers fight for recognition as workers

On 1 August 2017 in a landmark case an employment tribunal in Scotland ruled that a married couple working as foster carers were not self-employed or volunteers but employees of Glasgow City Council, and that foster carers were therefore entitled to workers’ rights. This victory has been a huge achievement for the Foster Care Workers’ Branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), and part of the union’s general struggle for the rights of casual and other marginalised workers. However, many foster carers are still denied many of the rights that this ruling is supposed to secure.


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Newcastle: Save Elswick Pool!

FRFI supporters and members of Parents Against Cuts in Newcastle have been working with other local people to defend Elswick swimming pool, the latest victim of savage cuts being implemented by the Labour Council.

In the last five years £151m has been cut from Newcastle council’s budget. Public services in the city have been slashed including libraries, play and youth services, rubbish collection, leisure facilities and Sure Start. Another £40m is to be cut this year and an expected £90m over the following two years. Not a single Labour councillor has voted against any of the cuts budgets, not even David Stockdale, cabinet member for leisure facilities, who recently led the North East campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party


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Queen's speech: Trouble ahead - Fight austerity

‘My government will legislate in the interests of everyone in our country. It will adopt a one-nation approach, helping working people get on, supporting aspiration, giving new opportunities to the most disadvantaged and bringing different parts of our country together.’ The Queen’s speech, 27 May 2015

Like a ventriloquist’s dummy and in the fashion now familiar – describing everything as the opposite of what it actually is – the Queen announced the Conservatives’ plans for the next Parliament. With an absolute but small majority of 12, Prime Minister Cameron took the opportunity to outline what the Financial Times referred to as ‘a blue collar agenda’ ‘inspired by Margaret Thatcher and aimed at working class voters’, explicitly ‘Red Tories, Blue Collar Conservatives or White Van Man’. CAROL BRICKLEY reports.

Cameron’s ‘one nation’, however, should be strictly understood to include only his, mainly English, Tory voters, a welter of UKIP supporters who hate Europe and immigrants and could be won back to voting Conservative, and the majority of the Labour Party and their supporters who have moved rightwards at breathtaking speed following the election result. Harriet Harman, now temporary leader of the Labour Party, was quick to announce Labour’s ‘sympathetic’ support for much of the Tory programme. As the Financial Times reported: ‘“We got lucky,” said one well-connected Conservative MP. “But by the time we’ve finished, there won’t be any ground left for Labour to occupy”.’


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Public sector cuts and health inequality

End Child Poverty britaing

In March 2015 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) published a report which details how between 2010 and 2015 the poorest communities in England shouldered the biggest burden of the public sector austerity cuts.

Overall, local authorities have seen their spending power reduced by 27% in real terms. Planning and ‘supporting people’ services have seen cuts of 45%. Behind these figures lies inequality between the most and least deprived areas.  On the one hand social care spending (this combines children and adult services) has risen in real terms in the least deprived areas to the tune of £28 per head.  Conversely, social care spending has fallen by £65 per head in the more deprived areas.   Respectively, these figures represent an 8% rise and a 14% fall.  The most deprived all-purpose authorities – those authorities which provide the full set of local authority services - saw cuts of £220 per head.    In contrast, the least deprived all-purpose authorities saw cuts of £40 per head.  Newcastle, with 37% of its population within the most deprived 10% of areas in England, experienced a 22% cut in funding.  On the other hand, Milton Keynes, with 11% of its population within the most deprived 20% of areas, experienced a 13% cut.  The result of the faster rate of cuts for the more deprived authorities has been a convergence in the overall spending per head between the most and least deprived authorities.  The differential was 45% in 2010/11.  It was 17% in 2014/15.


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Five years of capitulation

Five years of austerity since the 2010 general election have been met with little resistance. The devastating cuts to housing, benefits and services have for the most part gone unanswered. Where resistance has emerged, it has been outside the established trade unions and those sections of the left that are allied to the Labour Party. Calls by Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of the Unite union, in September 2011 for a ‘campaign of resistance’ including ‘civil disobedience’ to protect jobs and pensions have proved to be hot air. There has been no real resistance to job losses in local authorities or elsewhere. Tom Vincent reports.


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Newcastle Labour leader attacks RCG for fighting to save Sure Start

In Newcastle Parents Against Cuts continues to campaign against planned cuts of £4.67 million to the city’s Sure Start children’s centres, including the loss of 28 full-time jobs. The RCG has been part of the campaign since the beginning. The council repeatedly delayed releasing details of the proposed cuts, but the information available suggests a reduction from universal provision to services targeted by postcode at those amongst the ‘30% most deprived children in the country’. The council claims that the poorest families living outside these areas will still be able to access Sure Start, but beyond referrals by Sure Start staff of parents who already use the service it is not clear how this will be implemented. In the longer term, the shift to a ‘targeted’ service paves the way for further cuts, by which time there will be fewer people directly affected and therefore less chance of opposition. There are already reports of a two-tier system operating in the Newbiggin Hall area of the city.


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Benefit sanctions mean starvation

(Banner produced by Andrew Cooper https://andrewcooper-unseen.org)

At the close of 2014 a number of reports on the extent of malnutrition and the staggering rise in the use of food banks were released showing the brutal reality of 21st-century Britain. Already by April 2014 the numbers using Trussell Trust food banks had risen by 163% since April 2013. Ruling class parties – Tory, Liberal and Labour alike – pass sentences of starvation and death on the poor and vulnerable through benefit and service cuts and low wages. Charity is encouraged as eligibility for state welfare is reduced and levels cut. Prime Minister Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is no more than a return to Victorian values. Dominic Mulgrew reports.


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Focus E15 campaign: Social housing not social cleansing

The Focus E15 campaign, which with the support of the RCG and other organisations fought a successful campaign to prevent young mothers being forced out of Newham last year, continues to play a leading role against social cleansing in London. Whether it is the increasing numbers of individuals approaching the campaign for help with housing issues, or acting in solidarity with the growing number of campaigns for social housing and against gentrification springing up across the capital, Focus E15 has shown that it is possible to fight back – and win.


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Atos ditches the WCA: Maximus is the new target

From March, US multinational Maximus will take over the running of the hated Work Capability Assessment (WCA), in a contract worth around £500m over three and a half years. The WCA is a punitive measure used to strip disabled people of their benefits by declaring them 'fit to work'. Atos, the French multinational that has delivered the WCA since it was introduced by Labour in 2007, announced in March 2014 that it was buying itself out of its contract early. Atos’s withdrawal follows years of determined campaigning by activists across Britain and is an important demonstration that uncompromising direct action gets results. However, the WCA itself remains unchanged, and the track record of Atos’s successor shows that the struggle is far from over.


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Newcastle Labour council slashes Sure Start

Newcastle has been the focus of recent media attention due to the extent of council cuts. After decimating the Play and Youth Service in 2012, the Labour-led council now wants to slash the budget for Sure Start early years services by £4.7m, roughly equivalent to a 65% cut.

Parents Against Cuts

On 25 October Parents Against Cuts, in which FRFI supporters are centrally involved, gathered outside the councillor surgery of Labour Council Leader Nick Forbes for a protest against cuts to Sure Start and family services. That week the campaign had received significant national and local media attention and had forced limited concessions from the council in the form of a Cabinet proposal to reduce the planned cuts by £385,000. The campaign is clear that this is not good enough. So in the week before Halloween, protesters – decked-out in spooky fancy-dress and led by ‘Ghosts of Labour’s Past’ – arrived armed with sound-system, banners and placards; to send a very clear message to ‘Slasher Forbes’ and his Labour ‘Council-of-Cuts’: ‘No cuts to Sure Start – no cuts at all! Early years provision for everyone!’


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General election - Westminster parties gear up for more of the same austerity and lies

In just over six months’ time there will be a general election. Whatever the party politicians say, there will not be any real choice on offer for the working class. We will instead be treated to a circus as hundreds of greedy parliamentary candidates fight each other to get on the Westminster gravy train. Behind the scenes, the ruling class must decide which of the Conservative, Labour or LibDem parties will best serve British imperialism’s interests for the next five years.

The last four years of the ConDem Coalition have proved devastating for the working-class. A ruthless austerity regime has seen attacks on state welfare comparable to the attacks on the unemployed in the 1920s and 1930s, and a return to the punitive principles of the Poor Laws of the nineteenth century. So far the ruling class have faced little resistance, but the crisis conditions that produced the crash in 2008 have not been resolved. Restoring profitability will require further attacks on the working class to drive down wages and standards of living. The challenge the ruling class faces is how to do this without provoking massive opposition.


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Newham council attacks Focus E15 Campaign with lies and deception

On 7 October, Focus E15 campaigners will leave the Open House they had established on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, East London. Since 21 September the campaign has occupied a block of four flats, which had been boarded up for six years, to broadcast its demands for an end to social cleansing in Newham.

The protest drew widespread national attention, sparking a public debate about the housing crisis. It was covered by the BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, The Independent and the Financial Times and others. Following an unsuccessful attempt on 26 September, Newham Council were able to secure a possession order on 2 October. However, with the campaign deciding to leave the property anyway on 7 October, the Council decided not to serve it.


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Homeless people under attack

The screw is tightening on homeless people; the Salvation Army is reporting beggar claimants to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and councils are using police and the courts to remove them from city centres. The Salvation Army is one of the few charities that participates in the government’s workfare scheme, and has been subject to praise by the DWP for ‘holding the line’ as other charities have distanced themselves from it.

The latest figures published by The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) show that homelessness has risen since last year. 58,440 households were in temporary accommodation on 31 March 2014, 6% more than at the same date in 2013. The most recent DCLG statistics for rough sleeping showed a5% riseon last year, with 2,414 people reported by local councils across the country as sleeping rough on any one night in 2013, up from 2,309 in 2012 and from 1,768 in 2010. However, the number of people sleeping rough is impossible to collate accurately, and these figures will be a conservative estimate at best. The Shaw Trust reports that ‘In the most extreme cases, the Work Capability Assessment had led to homelessness and the use of food banks, with one customer reporting that after their assessment ‘they ended up homeless as it took three months to get income again”.


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Focus E15 campaign declares ‘Open House’

‘For real politics, don’t look to parliament but to an empty London housing estate’.

Aditya Chakraborrty, The Guardian

On 21 September, RCG members joined other supporters of the Focus E15 campaign as it marked one year of fighting for social housing and against social cleansing with a birthday party on a largely-boarded up council housing estate in Newham, east London. The party culminated with the opening up of four empty properties on the Carpenters Estate as a social centre, open to all those fighting for social justice and against Newham Labour council’s shameful housing policies. Hannah Caller reports.


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Victimising claimants with disabilities

On 28 June 2014, campaigners with disabilities organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) occupied Westminster Abbey in protest at the closure of the Independent Living Fund, which provides support for some 18,000 severely disabled people. This is not the only attack on state welfare for disabled people. In FRFI 236 we pointed out that the government’s drive to force 640,000 disabled people off Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) would result in benefit sanctions for thousands of claimants. Now the government is considering the possibility of introducing sanctions for claimants who refuse mental health treatment – despite the fact that such services are next to non-existent.


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Focus E15 campaign social housing, not social cleansing

Focus E15 supporter on the march through Newham on 5 July © 2014 Peter Marshall

On Saturday 5 July 2014, the Focus E15 campaign held its first march through the east London borough of Newham, in protest against social cleansing and in defence of decent affordable housing for all. 200 people, among them members of over 25 organisations, including FRFI, ensured the campaign’s message was heard loud and clear all along the route – social housing, not social cleansing! Local support was overwhelming as passers-by took leaflets and drivers sounded their horns. At East Ham town hall, campaigners stopped to express their anger at the Labour mayor, RobinWales. Individual messages about the borough’s housing crisis were tied to the railings. And, despite harassment from the police ahead of the march about confining it to the pavement, on the day of the event itself there was not a uniformed officer in sight, and we marched proudly in the road – banners and placards held high.


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Cuts bite deep in poverty Britain

In the United Kingdom, the seventh richest country in the world, 3.5 million children – nearly a third of all children – live in poverty,1 a figure expected to rise by another million over the next six years. Up to a million people have needed emergency handouts from food banks in the last year, while 28% of all adults say they regularly skimp on food so that others in their households can eat. These stark facts, highlighted in a recent Oxfam report,2 reflect the growing destitution imposed on the working class by the Coalition government. Like the four horsemen of a capitalist apocalypse, hunger, poverty, debt and insecurity stalk the land. Cat Alison reports.


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Fight all benefit cuts

The ConDem coalition’s onslaught on the unemployed and those on welfare benefits shows no sign of letting up. Immediately following the introduction of Claimant Commitment in April, the government announced that daily signing-on will be required for workers unemployed for two years or more, and that anybody who is unemployed may face sanctions if they do not accept a zero-hours contract. The only purpose of daily signing-on is punishment: there is no extra money for those who have to get public transport to their local Jobcentre. The lie behind government policy is the notion that unemployment is the fault of the unemployed, and they need to be pilloried or whipped to get back to work. Mark Moncada reports.


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Bedroom tax - Fight to the finish

The bedroom tax is not working – even by the government’s own criteria. It was supposed to free up social housing properties for overcrowded households. But most overcrowded social housing is in London where the number of tenants affected by the bedroom tax is far fewer than in the north of the country and the midlands. The tax was supposed to save £500m on housing benefit spending a year, but the figure is nonsense because so many tenants have had to downsize into the private sector where rents are much higher, and many more have had to be supported by discretionary housing payments. Robert Clough reports.

Despite the appalling impact of the tax, especially on disabled people, struggles against it across the country are at present small-scale. One of the most active is South Wirral Campaign against the Bedroom Tax which has organised pickets, marches and public meetings since it was set up in April 2013 and repeatedly challenged local MPs and Labour councillors to act against the bedroom tax – to no avail. The campaign has also supported tenant appeals against the bedroom tax, and has won six out of eight benefit tribunals over the issue of bedroom size.


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Focus E15 campaign - Focus on the future

‘The campaign has grown majorly and we have noticed it isn’t just mothers being affected. We have decided to widen the campaign for everyone. We are introducing our new name – Focus on the Future. We are fighting for everybody with housing problems and offer our full support. We will fight for as long as it takes to stop the privatisation of London and stop social cleansing. We are fighting for social housing for all, a home that everyone can afford, where they feel comfortable and have the support network that we all need!’


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Budget games: Political spin masks bleak reality

Budget day allows Chancellor George Osborne to take to the parliamentary stage for an uninterrupted hour to deliver his political agenda. After four years of preaching the need for unremitting austerity to revive the economy, in this, his fifth Budget, the time had come to retune his message in preparation for the general election just over a year away. He is after all a very rich boy determined to continue his chosen hobby of parliamentary politics, while pretending to run the British economy. David Yaffe reports.


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Criminalising the destitute

The vicious Coalition government has opened up a new front in its war against the working class, targeting the most destitute and vulnerable sections of society. In this it has, as ever, the compliance of London’s Labour councils. Operation Encompass, in which local authorities work with the Metropolitan police and the UK Border Agency to ‘deal robustly’ with ‘disrupting and deterring’ rough sleeping in the capital, was piloted in the Tory-led borough of Westminster in October 2013. On a single day (17 October), 15 people were arrested and a further 60 ‘engaged with’ – usually in the form of anti-social behavior notices, a prelude to ASBOs which the council is fighting to retain. In January, Operation Encompass was extended to the Labour councils of Camden, Croydon, Islington, Lambeth and Southwark. Newham’s Labour council has its own project, Operation Alabama, run on similar lines.


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Zero-hours contracts: the face of casualisation

While the government talks up the rising levels of employment, the reality is that unemployment remains nearly 50% higher than it was before the crisis, and that the bulk of new jobs that have been created over the past period are part-time and/or temporary. In the period April-June 2008, part-time workers made up 25% of the workforce in Britain, 9% of whom were working part-time because they could not get full-time work. For the period November 2013 to January 2014, the number of part–time workers had risen to 8.08 million, 26.8% of the workforce, with 18.2% of them unable to find more work – double the 2008 proportion. At the same time, 1.6 million people were in temporary work, of whom 37%, or 595,000, were unable to find a permanent job.


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New Poor Laws - Poverty, Insecurity, Hunger

Over the past three years the ConDem government has carried out an aggressive programme of benefit cuts and welfare reforms that amounts to a crusade against the working class. Alongside falling wages and soaring living costs, these changes have driven more and more people into destitution so that, according to a new report by the Rowntree Foundation,1 one fifth of the population in Britain lives in poverty.2 And, despite claims by the Coalition that it would ‘make work pay’, the reality is that the largest proportion of people living in poverty are in households where at least one adult is working. Cat Wiener reports.


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Determined Focus E15 mothers fight to stay in Newham

‘We want to let everyone know what is happening. [In Bridge House] we met a mother being sent to Birmingham as we speak and another who shared tears with the Focus mums as she had no home for her and children to return to that night. We are not going to lose this fight, we are going to win for everyone.’

These are the words of Jasmin Stone, a leading Focus E15 mother, speaking on 17 January after Focus E15 mothers and their babies held a tea party in the show flat in the East Thames Housing Association offices in Stratford, Newham, inviting their friends and supporters to protest against their eviction and ‘social cleansing’ from the capital.


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Marching against the bedroom tax in South London

On 25 January, South London RCG joined a march against the bedroom tax from Peckham Square to Camberwell Green organised by Southwark Benefit Justice. 4,046 households in Southwark are liable for the bedroom tax, with more than 220 so far in rent arrears that they are facing repossession orders from Southwark council, the majority social housing landlord in the borough.

So it wasn’t surprising that Labour councillor Richard Livingstone got the reception he deserved when he spoke at the beginning of the march; the RCG were among those who led the heckling and shouting as he attempted to excuse the council’s actions, claiming Coalition cuts made the council’s situation untenable: ‘The enemy is central government’, he insisted. But, clearly under pressure, he promised that Southwark would not evict tenants who are in arrears because of the bedroom tax. While the council must be held to that promise, it is deceptive when it has already summonsed more than 8,000 people for council tax arrears. As long as Labour councils continue to levy the bedroom tax and refuse to use the legal tools at their disposal to challenge it, they will be nothing other than the executive arm of central government.


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Fighting the bedroom tax in Newcastle

In January, a report by Newcastle’s Labour council stated that the bedroom tax has ‘withdrawn up to £3.26m of housing benefit (HB) across the city’. Rent arrears to Your Homes Newcastle (YHN), the city’s main social housing provider, increased by £274,208 between March and December 2013 and will total £1m by the end of 2014. 66% of the 5,117 households affected by the bedroom tax are now in rent arrears. 139 possession orders have already been granted to YHN and these families now face eviction.

On 19 December 2013 Newcastle residents, including FRFI supporters, protested in the city centre demanding to meet with the council’s Housing Benefit and Environmental departments. We also demanded that the council follow the definition of a bedroom as laid out in the 2004 Housing Act, submitting a letter requiring a reply by 6 January 2014, and a meeting by 6 February. To date, the council has not responded.


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Fighting the bedroom tax - Loophole gives hope to tenants

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

The revelation that possibly 15% of all tenants forced to pay the bedroom tax are in fact exempt because of a legal error must give hope to those fighting this vicious attack on the working class.

Described in the media as a ‘loophole’, it is in fact down to the criminal incompetence of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) who ignored clauses in housing benefit regulations set out in 2006. This error means that any tenant who has been on housing benefit since before 1 January 1996 and who has been occupying the same house over that period is exempt from paying the bedroom tax.


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