Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

DWP Staff: Have Your Universal Credit Cake and Eat it!

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Universal Credit Cake Baked for DWP Employees.

Universal Credit cake sparks outrage.

Belfast Live.

“The cake which was given by staff in England and is understood to be similar to the one given to workers in NI.”

Stormont department spent more than £1,000 on sweet treats for staff

 Civil servants celebrated the introduction of the controversial Universal Credit with specially made cakes, it emerged today.

The 40 cakes, which cost taxpayers more than £1,000, had ‘Universal Credit’ and ‘UC’ iced onto them.

The Department of Communities said the sweet treats were fed to staff as part of a “team building” exercise after a “challenging implementation effort”.

Universal Credit, which rolls six benefits into one single payment, is being introduced across Northern Ireland but has sparked widespread anger amid delays in payments leaving claimants facing serious financial difficulties.

The story has caught the beady eyes of the Indy:

Civil servants in a Stormont department spent more than £1,000 on 40 cakes to celebrate the completion of a controversial year-and-a-half Universal Credit benefits roll out program.

Each cake was branded with a Universal Credit (UC) logo and given to staff in some 40 locations across Northern Ireland, paid for by the department for communities.

The North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon told the Irish News:

It is also true however that Universal Credit, and the minimum five-week wait for your first payment, is causing financial hardship especially in North Belfast, Antrim and Ballymena, where it is being rolled out in the month of Christmas.

Here’s some more chaps celebrating Universal Credit.

Let joy be unconfined!

 

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Written by Andrew Coates

December 10, 2018 at 5:12 pm

Posted in DWP, Universal Credit

Tagged with ,

Christmas is Coming and….. Universal Credit leads Revival of Christmas Day in the Workhouse.

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Image result for christmas day in the workhouse

Coming near you!

Local newspapers and on-line local sites have come into their own over the Universal Credit scandal.

Here are some stories today:

Universal Credit is threatening to break this city – THIS is how Liverpool is fighting back

Liverpool Echo.

Scousers from all walks of life coming out to support those affected by problem-hit benefit system.

Vulnerable families across Liverpool are bracing themselves for the full impact of Universal Credit – a benefit reform that is already pushing people into poverty.

This week, Job Centres in the deprived areas of Everton and West Derby switched claimants over to the troubled system, despite voices from all over imploring the government to halt the roll-out after the many problems that have been reported.

In Liverpool, the country’s 2nd most destitute city, people are taking things into their own hands to help out the most vulnerable neighbours -they know that to sit, wait and hope for a change of heart from this government would be living in fantasy land.

Manchester Evening News.

Universal Credit roll out means people applying for benefits in Stockport could face Christmas with no cash

It takes five weeks to apply for the benefit.

WalesOnline.

The existence of food banks is a national disgrace

Let’s be quite clear about the increase in foodbank usage: it’s do with government welfare policy and the implementation of Universal Credit.

 

And there is this, from the out-of-work’s essential daily read, the ‘I’.

Life on Universal Credit at Christmas: I have to save sugar packets from cafes to put in my daughter’s stocking

A mother explains how she is trying to make Christmas special for her disabled daughter despite having to sell her belongings

This is the song to sing at every food bank:
It is Christmas Day in the workhouse,
And the cold, bare walls are bright
With garlands of green and holly,
And the place is a pleasant sight;
For with clean-washed hands and faces,
In a long and hungry line
The paupers sit at the table,
For this is the hour they dine.

And the guardians and their ladies,
Although the wind is east,
Have come in their furs and wrappers,
To watch their charges feast;
To smile and be condescending,
Put pudding on pauper plates.
To be hosts at the workhouse banquet
They’ve paid for — with the rates.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 7, 2018 at 2:08 pm

Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions: Universal Credit and Food Banks, a Photo Novel.

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On 16 November 2018, Rudd was appointed Work and Pensions Secretary by Prime Minister Theresa May, and succeeded Esther McVey in steering and leading the Department for Work and Pensions.

She has “promised to fix Universal Credit and make it ‘better’.”

It’s a busy job fixing things.

Here are some of her Tory colleagues doing their bit for the poor.

Four near identical tweets from Tories going to donate to foodbanks

 

Bless!

Or not…..

Update: Tory Ross Thompson’s latest good works:

 

Written by Andrew Coates

December 4, 2018 at 1:06 pm

“Thousands of people will face a miserable Christmas” – UNITE Survey of Universal Credit Claimants.

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The Mirror reports,

Thousands of are facing a “very bleak Christmas” after a new survey found three quarters of people on botched benefits system Universal Credit said they had been left saddled with debt.

Three in five claimants said they had been pushed into struggling with housing costs because of the new welfare system.The survey of over 1,000 Universal Credit claimants was carried out by Unite the Union.

Other respondents raised the fear of eviction, and many reported problems with monthly budgeting on a low income.

The Department for Work and Pensions blasted the study as “completely unscientific” and said some of those questioned might not even be on UC.

Yet the DWP’s own research shows three quarters of those who moved onto UC struggle with bills constantly or “from time to time.”

Here is the UNITE Press Release:

Universal Credit pushing people into debt and housing problems reveals survey

More than three quarters of respondents in a survey of over 1,000 Universal Credit (UC) claimants said they had been put into debt, or pushed further into debt by UC with some forced to use foodbanks to survive as well as borrowing from friends and family. Shockingly 60 per cent of respondents said that they had been pushed into housing cost problems.

Thousands of people will face a miserable Christmas as a result of having to claim UC according to the new survey by Unite the Union published to coincide with a national day of action against UC on 1 December 2018 (see notes to editors).

During six weeks of October and November 1,141 people responded to the survey. The findings make grim reading and identify a number of issues facing a significant number of people claiming the benefit.

Rent arrears were raised by a number of people and the fear of eviction was evident in the responses. Many claimants reported the problems of monthly budgeting on a low income. Disabled people and those who are sick reported a huge drop in income as a result of moving on to UC.

The vast majority (82 per cent) have a negative view of the new benefit and a significant number had problems either claiming the benefit on-line or maintaining their claim through an on-line journal.

Unite is using the evidence collected from the survey to lobby politicians and is calling for a stop to the controversial new UC system.

Unite has called for Universal Credit to be scrapped before more damage is done.

Unite head of Community, Liane Groves said: “Universal Credit is causing misery and suffering as the survey results clearly show. Despite knowing this, the government is still intent on ploughing ahead regardless, while claimants are descending into debt, relying on food banks and getting into rent arrears and in some cases being evicted from their homes.

“Evidence from voluntary and community organisations as well as unions and local authorities seems to be ignored as the government presses on with the implementation of Universal Credit.

“Access to the benefit has been devised for the benefit of administrators not the recipients of Universal Credit. The damage done by forcing people into debt, far from helping people into work, as the government claims, is driving people away from the job market as spiralling debt impacts on people’s mental and physical wellbeing.

“As we head into winter, many claimants cannot afford warm clothing for themselves or their children and don’t have enough money to heat their homes. It will be a very bleak Christmas for thousands of families who are being abandoned by this government.”

“The survey was conducted outside job centres by volunteers and was also completed on-line. Unite will be submitting the raw data from the survey to independent academic researchers with a view to further analysis of the responses.”

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 30, 2018 at 11:29 am

1st of December Protests Against Universal Credit.

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Join the national day of action against universal credit

Join the Day of Action!

A few days ago Amber Rudd said this,

Rudd said she was going to specifically examine the impact of Universal Credit on women and single mums, amid concerns the scheme was making hundreds of thousands of single parents worse off – admitting that despite being a “force for good”, it currently has “real problems”.

Amber Rudd recognises ‘real problems’ with Universal Credit

What with ‘other issues’ dominating the news people may forget the constant stream of stories about these “real problems@>

Birmingham Live, today:

Dad-of-three living without heating after Universal Credit stopped in letter blunder

Ian Reynolds, 51, had Universal Credit payments cut after official letters sent to wrong address.

An unemployed dad has been forced to turn to foodbanks after his Universal Credit was stopped because he failed to respond to letters sent to the wrong address – five doors away.

Ian Reynolds, 51, now cannot afford to heat his home in Stafford after his payments were sanctioned without warning because he did not respond to the messages concerning Jobcentre appointments.

The Department for Work and Pension (DWP) made the benefit cut decision in September.

Since then Ian has been living on monthly ‘hardship payments’ of £187 and receiving support from the House of Bread charity.

The BBC today:

Concerns raised as Universal Credit rolls out in Edinburgh

The controversial Universal Credit benefit system is being rolled out across Edinburgh.

Foodbanks say they are preparing for increased demand, as those being moved to the new system can expect a five weeks wait for their first payment.

An estimated 10,500 local council tenants are expected to be moved to Universal Credit by 2023.

The Scottish Conservatives say the new system is widely supported and funds are in place to aid the roll-out.

But the Trussel Trust say they expect this December to be the busiest since foodbank records began.

Bethany Biggar, operations manager at the Edinburgh Food Project, told the BBC Scotland news website that her foodbank, like many support agencies are preparing to deal with an increase in usage.

She said: “Christmas is already a very difficult time of year for most families who are living in poverty, so it’s a double barrelled difficulty.

“In areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out already, the Trussel Trust has seen an overall increase in demand.

This is a good response (Common Space):

The roll-out of the ‘full service’ of the controversial welfare system – which has been condemned by critics as inefficient, punitive and likely to drive those reliant upon it further into debt and poverty – was greeted at Edinburgh’s Leith Jobcentre by anti-UC protestors, including representatives of the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP), Sisters Uncut and Oficina Precaria.

“We declare we will take direct action against any employer involved in Universal Credit workfare. We declare we will take direct action to defend people sanctioned under Universal Credit. We declare we will take direct action in solidarity with all under attack.” ECAP Declaration of Resistance to Universal Credit

Following today’s protest, which took place despite Storm Diana hitting Edinburgh with severe wind and rain, a spokesperson for ECAP told CommonSpace: “We are encouraged that people came out today in the rain to oppose Universal Credit.

“Universal Credit increases poverty, homelessness and misery. It massively increases the scope and length of sanctions. It attacks the disabled, young people, women, workers, migrants.  Research shows the majority of claimants will be worse off.

“The fact that new claimants have to wait many weeks for their first payment causes huge hardship and plunges many into rent arrears, from which many never recover, losing their homes. It’s all part of the Government’s austerity attack, designed to undermine everyone’s wages and conditions and force people to accept low-paid, insecure jobs.”

“Demonstrators today proclaimed a Declaration of Resistance to Universal Credit, multiple copies of which were fixed to the Leith Jobcentre wall. This read: ‘We declare we will take direct action against any employer involved in Universal Credit workfare. We declare we will take direct action to defend people sanctioned under Universal Credit. We declare we will take direct action in solidarity with all under attack.’

As is this:

Join the #StopUniversalCredit day of action

This Christmas will be cancelled for thousands of families claiming the new benefit Universal Credit. Despite knowing Universal Credit causes serious problems for claimants, Theresa May’s Tory government is pressing ahead and rolling it out to thousands of people who will have to wait weeks to receive any money. Claimants are descending into debt, relying on food banks, getting into rent arrears and in many cases getting evicted from their homes because of in- built problems with Universal Credit.

Take action NOW against Universal Credit

On Saturday 1 December 2018 Unite Community will be staging a national day of action to #StopUniversalCredit to send a message to the Tory government that it can’t be fixed. Join Unite in your area and back the call to #StopUniversalCredit. Check out the events where you are:

Events across the country.

London & Eastern.
  • Norwich City Centre stall/protest outside Tesco (NR2 1JH) from 11:00-13:00 close to the Job Centre
  • Ipswich – Alternate Carol Service on between 13:00-15:00 at The La Tour Cafe at 7, Waterfront, Ipswich (IP4 1FT)
  • Colchester- Carol Singing at 16:00 outside the Town Hall to raise Universal Credit awareness, songbooks provided
  • Woolwich Stall in Woolwich Town Centr DLR Station in Powis St/Woolwich Market (SE18 6AY) from 11:00
  • Brixton tube station from 11:00-13:00
  • Ladbroke Grove – Underground Station, London (W10 6HJ) Carol singing – 14:00
  • Chingford Chingford Mount, London (E4 8LG). 11:00 at Protesting in constituency of Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of Universal Credit misery.
  • Camden Town – outside the tube station at 11:00
  • Wisbech outside the local Job Centre Plus, Wisbech, (PE13 1AN) Friday 7 December 2018
  • Tottenham Job Centre, Carol Singing, Friday 7 December 2018

More information and details of events across the country here:

Join the #StopUniversalCredit day of action

Written by Andrew Coates

November 29, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Government Tries to Solve Housing Benefit (Local Housing Allowance) Universal Credit Disaster.

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Looks Complicated and is…

The latest in a long run of stories about Universal Credit:

Edinburgh families forced to wait five weeks to receive Universal Credit

FAMILIES face being left without cash over Christmas when Universal Credit starts being rolled out in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

Claimants will be forced to wait five weeks before they receive the new benefit, meaning first payments will not be made until January.

The shake-up is expected to mean more people relying on foodbanks and also lead to a rise in rent arrears.

Green councillor Susan Rae said: “The immediate impact is debt because the gap people have to wait for payment will throw people into rent arrears.

What is the background to this problem?

The DWP says,

You could get Housing Benefit to help you pay your rent if you’re on a low income.

Use a benefits calculator to check if you can get Housing Benefit before you apply. You may need to claim Universal Credit instead.

Housing Benefit can pay for part or all of your rent. How much you get depends on your income and circumstances.

You can apply for Housing Benefit whether you’re unemployed or working.

And,

The housing element of Universal Credit

When people are moved onto Universal Credit, the single payment for their household will include a ‘housing element’. This will replace the help they currently get from Housing Benefit.

Universal Credit – including the housing element – is paid monthly in arrears.

Direct payment of rent – what is it and when is it coming in?

If you’re a registered social landlord and you receive your tenants’ rent directly from your local council, this will change under Universal Credit. Instead, tenants will receive their ’housing element’ direct and be responsible for paying it to you themselves.

Before the new system comes in, some tenants who are not yet claiming Universal Credit might be selected to start receiving their Housing Benefit payment direct.

The Department for Work and Pensions has committed to consult with social landlords before deciding whether to move their tenants onto direct payments. They will take into account any information you provide about your tenants’ ability to manage with direct payments.

If your tenant can’t manage their rent payments

A tenant can ask to have their housing payments switched to the landlord for a period of time while they get the support they need to get their money under control.

If a tenant has rent arrears, then, as their landlord, you can ask for the rent payments to be temporarily switched to you.

When Amber Rudd became the latest in a long list of DWP Ministers she said (Sky 23rd of November).

The new work and pensions secretary also said she was going to review the five-week wait time for new claimants to receive their benefits; payment systems for the housing element of Universal Credit; access to cash and the repayment of upfront loans.

She said: “We need to give [claimants] more confidence in the fact that they can access cash immediately.

“You know people are nervous about moving from legacy benefits to Universal Credit because they cannot afford quite often to be without cash for a few days, a week, two weeks, three weeks.

“I have to make sure that they can have confidence in access in earlier.”

It does not take a genius to work out that with money in your hand, when you have little, it is tempting to spend on other things than rent.

But there are other problems:

If you live in a private sector property, it may not cover your full rent as it will take account of where you live and, if you are under age 35, whether you are expected to share accommodation.

If you live in a council or housing association property you will be asked about the number of bedrooms you have to compare with how many you are thought to need, to see if you are under occupying the property.

And there is a cap on the rent anybody can get.

Which seems reasonable but with rents in some cities…

So you can be out of pocket in the first place.

So, this is the Government’s latest attempt to solve some of these multiple problems by patching up relations with the (better) landlords.

Inside Housing today reports:

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will be promoting its Universal Credit landlord portal with a six-week social media campaign, starting today.

The portal allows social landlords to ‘verify’ claimants’ rent, which makes it easier for claimants to set up a claim for the housing elements of the benefit payment swiftly.

It also allows landlords to make a request for tenants to be switched back onto the direct payments arrangement, where the rental payments are paid directly to them rather than to the tenant.

This is the case for legacy housing benefit, but is a key reform introduced by the Universal Credit system.

There are currently 538 registered landlords from the social rented sector using the portal.

Justin Tomlinson, minister for family support, housing and child maintenance, said: “The landlord campaign aims to increase awareness of the ways landlords can support Universal Credit, and receive their payments in time. It’s fantastic we’ve signed up 538 registered landlords from the social rented sector already – the feedback we’ve had so far has been overwhelmingly positive.”

“The campaign is spearheaded by partners in the sector and features real life case studies from landlords who explain in their own words their experience of working with the Department of Work and Pensions to support tenants who are claiming Universal Credit.”

A spokesperson for housing association Riverside said: “The landlord portal allows us to verify tenants’ rent and offer support to them early in the Universal Credit process.”

When social landlords enrol with the landlord portal they are invited to accept ‘Trusted Partner status’, allowing them to apply for alternative payment arrangements such as managed payments.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 26, 2018 at 5:34 pm

The Universal Credit Journal – another Millstone in the System.

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Image result for Universal credit journal

Access to Universal Credit now available on Star Trek Enterprise Communicator:

Image result for starship enterprise communicator

UC Journal Log-in.

A number of our commentators have talked about the Universal Credit ‘Journal’.

From a link given about how UC is social engineering to change people’s behaviour we find this:

The government is also determined that universal credit will require you to set up an online account and fill in an internet job search ‘journal’ before receiving any money. Even though one in ten UK households do not have internet access, it’s now the only way to get the benefits you are entitled to. Universal credit was the only benefit claim line with a paid-for phone number, the DWP said, because it is intended as an internet-only system: ‘the expectation is that claims are made online’. The charge was not there to make money, but to try to stop most claimants calling them at all. It was just another part of the dynamic model: tweaking the system’s rules to change your behaviour.

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people

Tom Walker Red Pepper.

At last week’s Open Meeting about Universal Credit held by Ipswich Trades Council Mark Page from the PCS mentioned this issue.

Apart from the ‘digital exclusion’ for many people it’s often the case, it is said, that Coachy and the people specifically meant to read this account (Case Managers) do not have the time to look at it.

Now this may be a shame for would-be diarists who have now got a captive audience but it does strike the causal observer that it is a bleeding liberty that the DWP expects to know the ins and outs of our daily lives.

Plus that you have update the thing all the time, which for anybody not with easy computer access is a right pain.

This does not seem to crop up much in the media but last year there was this report

I work for the DWP as a universal credit case manager – and what I’ve seen is shocking

I see so much suffering on a daily basis. Case managers like me are well-trained to deal with any claimants threatening suicide, simply because it’s become such a frequent occurrence

Full-time case managers on average handle in the region of 300 claims each. We recently started a new way of working whereby tasks are prioritised in a “trigger” approach, meaning we often only have time to look at the highest risk cases. Payments and “payment blockers” are the first priority but many case managers struggle to make it past these on a daily basis. Claimants are told that they must fill out an online “universal credit journal” about their job searches and keep it up to date in order to release the benefit – their “work coach” is the person who’s supposed to keep in touch with them about those notes. But in reality, claimants are putting important journal messages about jobs and interviews online all the time, and the case managers and work coaches can’t reply. Each employee has dozens of other unseen journal messages they simply don’t have enough time to address.

The Nosey Parkers of the DWP demand this to start with:

“Your journal keeps a history of the actions throughout the lifetime of your account.

Your journal will show completed To Dos as well as messages between you and your Work Coach.”

“Your journal keeps a history of the actions throughout the lifetime of your account.
Each time a To Do is completed it is moved to the journal.
Some To Dos can be reviewed such as claim submissions, any additional information, upload a document or any conversations that
you have ongoing with a member of staff.
You can also add notes to your journal about your work search or other activities that you are doing to help improve your circumstances
such as careers advice or getting support to help you manage your money. ”

If you’re expected to look for a job you will need to record your work related activity. Record every job that you apply for in your Online Journal. It’s a useful record of what you’ve applied for. Examples of work related activity to record in your journal:
o Accept your commitments in your claimant commitments
o Attend your work search review
o Prepare for you claimant commitment meeting
Examples of a To Do
o Writing a CV, or spending time adapting your CV for a
particular job
o Completing a job application form
o Contacting employers to follow up from applications
o Travelling to job interviews

Keeping in touch
You’ll use your Universal Credit journal to keep in touch with your work coach.

Top tip: Send a message directly to your work coach by selecting
‘A message to my work coach’.

It is not hard to see that a system that depends on IT, a weak point at the best of times for Universal Credit, is bound to go wrong.

These are examples (from July this year), Universal credit IT system ‘broken’, whistleblowers say. Guardian.

  • Staff are not notified when claimants leave messages on their online journal; for example, if they wish to challenge payment errors. As a result, messages sent to officials can go unanswered for days or weeks unless claimants pursue the inquiry by phone.
  • Claimants are discouraged by staff from phoning in to resolve problems or to book a home visit and instead are actively persuaded to go online, using a technique called “deflection”, even when callers insist they are unable to access or use the internet.
  • Callers have often been given wrong or contradictory advice about their entitlements by DWP officials. These include telling severely disabled claimants who are moving on to universal credit from existing benefits that they must undergo a new “fit for work” test to receive full payment.
  • Although the system is equipped to receive scanned documents, claimants instead are told to present paper evidence used to verify their claim, such as medical reports, either at the local job centre or through the post, further slowing down the payment process.
  • Small delays or fluctuations in the timing of employers’ reporting of working claimants’ monthly wages via the real time information system can lead to them being left hundreds of pounds out of pocket through no fault of their own.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 23, 2018 at 5:11 pm

Amber Rudd, “listening” on Universal Credit…..

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“Listening” Amber Rudd.

 

Universal credit: Amber Rudd to listen to ‘expert guidance’

The BBC reports,

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has agreed to listen “very carefully” to concerns over universal credit, conceding the system “can be better”.

Making her first Commons appearance since getting the job on Friday, she faced calls from Labour and the SNP to halt the rollout of the single benefit.

She said she would “learn from errors” and “adjust” the system, which she admitted had problems, where needed.

She also rejected a UN report on UK poverty as “extraordinarily political”.

And she made clear that universal credit had an important role to play in reducing the number of workless families and tackling in-work poverty.

The Express says

Amber BACKS Britain! Rudd LAMBASTS ‘wholly inappropriate’ UN report on poverty in UK

Standing up for her nation, she said: “I have seen the report by the rapporteur, I read it over the weekend, and I must say I was disappointed, to say the least, by the extraordinary political nature of his language.

The New Statesman has an account of her House of Commons Appearance:

Amber Rudd’s tricky frontbench return shows how toxic Universal Credit has become. 

Amber Rudd had a difficult return to the frontbench in her first set of ministerial questions since being appointed as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Strikingly, both for someone regularly tipped as a possible leadership contender, and as the latest occupant of an increasingly tricky brief, there was no “donut” – a ring of supportive MPs sitting around her for moral support and to make the pictures look better on telly – behind her.

And although most of the questions opened by welcoming her return to frontline politics, there were very few that could genuinely be described as properly sympathetic. Huw Merriman, Mike Penning, David Morris and Rachel Maclean all chipped in with supportive questions but even on the government side many of the questions were tricky ones.

Desmond Swayne, the New Forest West MP who, Brexit aside, is normally a government loyalist, asked about the case of a woman left severely disabled due to variant-CJD, a rare and fatal brain disorder, who is now facing both a work capability assessment and cuts to her benefits that will mean that she could lose her home. Chris Philp, the Croydon South MP and ultra-loyalist, had a detailed and tricky question about the implementation of the Universal Credit.

And the opposition parties were out in force – to a degree that you could almost have thought, looking at their benches, that it was Prime Minister’s Questions – with questions that were often detailed and uniformly critical.

Before the event, there was some talk of a “change of tone” or even a policy shift. Instead, what was offered was the same position with a different accent. Rudd’s response to a damning UN report into poverty in the UK – an angry condemnation of its “political” language – could have been said, word for word, by Esther McVey.

The BBC continues.

Expert guidance

Answering questions from MPs about her department’s work, Ms Rudd was pressed by Tory Sir Desmond Swayne to ensure the changes were “measured and continually improved”.

She replied: “I share his view that it is vital as it is rolled out that we do learn from any errors, we do adjust it to make sure it properly serves the people it is intended to.”

Ms Rudd said she would take heed of what campaigners have said about universal credit, following a call by 80 charities and other organisations for it to be halted.

Perhaps a few experts amongst us could give her a word of advice…

Written by Andrew Coates

November 20, 2018 at 11:54 am

UN Poverty Envoy Slams Universal Credit and Sanctions Regime.

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Image result for Jaywick meeting UN rapporteur

UN Rapporteur on Human Rights and Poverty in Jaywick, Essex (Ipswich delegation in Second Row….)

While Esther McVey snuggles up with a wheel-barrow full of her leaving prezzies:

Unicorn Poo

The UN envoy has issued this initial report on his visit to the UK.

UK austerity has inflicted ‘great misery’ on citizens, UN says

Poverty envoy says callous policies driven by political desire for social re-engineering

Guardian.

 ‘I’m scared to eat sometimes’

 Women reveal impact of cuts

 Children tell UN: ‘It’s unfair’

The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, the United Nations poverty envoy has found.

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ended a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK with a stinging declaration that despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, levels of child poverty are “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.

About 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials, he said, citing figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%.

“It is patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty,” he said, adding that compassion had been abandoned during almost a decade of austerity policies that had been so profound that key elements of the post-war social contract, devised by William Beveridge more than 70 years ago, had been swept away.

Pause.

Although the various media stories just breaking underline the general issue of the poverty the UN envoy found one thing stands out: i the thread running through the report’s initial findings is the central role of Universal Credit in creating poverty and misery. 

Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations  Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights London, 16 November 2018

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world.  It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.  And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.  Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centers have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centers have been sold off.  While the labour and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies.

 

Key extracts from the report:

14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line,1 and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.

But the full picture of low-income well-being in the UK cannot be captured by statistics alone. Its manifestations are clear for all to see. The country’s most respected charitable groups, its leading think tanks, its parliamentary committees, independent authorities like the National Audit Office, and many others, have all drawn attention to the dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well off in this country. But through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is.

The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial. Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the  government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan. Some tweaks to basic policy have reluctantly been made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention.

…..

UNIVERSAL CREDIT.

Universal Credit and the other far-reaching changes to the role of government in supporting people in distress are almost always ‘sold’ as being part of an unavoidable program of fiscal ‘austerity’, needed to save the country from bankruptcy. In fact, however, the reforms have almost certainly cost the country far more than their proponents will admit.

No single programme embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than Universal Credit. Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.

Social support should be a route out of poverty, and Universal Credit should be a key part of that process. Consolidating six different benefits into one makes good sense, in principle. But many aspects of the design and rollout of the programme have suggested that the Department for Work and Pensions is more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting. While some surveys suggest certain claimants do have positive experiences with Universal Credit, an increasing body of research makes clear that there are far too many instances in which Universal Credit is being implemented in ways that negatively impact many claimants’ mental health, finances, and work prospects.

Hardship.

In addition to all of the negative publicity about Universal Credit in the UK media and among politicians of all parties, I have heard countless stories from people who told me of the severe hardships they have suffered under Universal Credit. When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits.

The Universal Credit system is designed with a five week delay between when people successfully file a claim and when they receive benefits. Research suggests that this “waiting period,” which actually often takes up to 12 weeks, pushes many who may already be in crisis into debt, rent arrears, and serious hardship, requiring them to sacrifice food or heat.10 Given the delay, which will only be partially mitigated by a recent concession, it is no surprise that the majority of claimants seek “advance payments,” which in turn must be repaid to DWP in relatively short order.

Additionally, debts to DWP and to third-parties can be deducted from already meager Universal Credit payments at a rate much higher than is the case with the older benefit system. While supposedly deductions are capped at a maximum rate of 40% of the standard allowance portion of the payment (which will change to 30% in a year’s time), the Government told me that in fact additional clawbacks can occur. These so-called “Last Resort Deductions” are for matters such as rent, gas, and electricity arrears, if it is judged to be in the best interest of a claimant or their household..

……..

Sanctions.

One of the key features of Universal Credit involves the imposition of draconian sanctions, even for infringements that seem minor. Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the Special Rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time. As the system grows older, some penalties will soon be measured in years.

….

As I spoke with local authorities and the voluntary sector about their preparations for the future rollout of Universal Credit, I was struck by how much their mobilization resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic.

Universal Credit has built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements. Women, older people, people who do not speak English and the disabled are re likely to be unable to overcome this hurdle.

Artificial Intelligence and Threats to Freedom.

The merging of six legacy benefits into one new Universal Credit system aimed at reaching millions of UK citizens is in fact a major automation project. The collection of data via the online application process and interactions with the online journal provide a clear stepping stone for further automation within DWP.

The new institutions currently being set up by the UK government in the area of big data and AI focus heavily on ethics. While their establishment is certainly a positive development, we should not lose sight of the limits of an ethics frame. Ethical concepts such as fairness are without agreed upon definitions, unlike human rights which are law. Government use of automation, with its potential to severely restrict the rights of individuals, needs to be bound by the rule of law and not just an ethical code.

*****
This is also worth taking notice of,

“The United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union poses particular risks for people in poverty, but the government appears to be treating this as an afterthought,” said the UN’s expert on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, at the end of a 12-day visit to the country.

Independent.  UN condemns UK government’s ‘mean-spirited and callous approach’ to poorest, in damning report

Written by Andrew Coates

November 16, 2018 at 4:16 pm

Esther McVey: Whip Round for Leaving Present.

with 28 comments

Memorial Plaque.

 

Esther McVey: Who is the former work and pensions secretary and why has she resigned over Brexit?

Esther McVey has resigned from Theresa May‘s government, saying the prime minister’s Brexit deal “does not honour the result of the referendum”.

The ex-work and pensions secretary called the draft withdrawal agreement a threat to the integrity of the UK and said she believed it would “bind the hands” of the current and future governments in trade negotiations.

“We wouldn’t be taking back control, we would be handing over control to the EU and even to a third country for arbitration,” she added in the second cabinet resignation letter to land on Ms May’s desk on Thursday morning, after Dominic Raab’s.

Her website describes her as a businesswoman and broadcaster; she is a former presenter of GMTV. “She has written several careers books for girls and boys which have been turned into plays by the National Youth Theatre and have been performed around the country as well as in London’s West End,” her biography adds.

In Ipswich we are already having a whip-round for her leaving present

Suggestions welcome.

Leaving Card from Silly Prints

Written by Andrew Coates

November 15, 2018 at 12:05 pm

Universal Credit: Costs More Than Previous System and makes 60,000 Families Worse off.

with 74 comments

Resolution Foundation research suggests 600,000 families could be worse off

Universal credit, the government’s flagship welfare policy, will be more expensive than the system it replaces, according to a new report.

The rollout of the reformed system, which brings six benefits into one, has been hampered by delays amid widespread concern that the changes could force people into poverty, while there have also been reports that universal credit, which has undergone phased introductions across the UK, has increased reliance on food banks.

In the autumn budget the chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced that an extra £1.7bn would be injected into universal credit, which combined with the projected £3.2bn higher benefit take-up would make it more expensive than the legacy system it replaces, the study states.

The Resolution Foundation says.

This briefing note focuses on the implications of recent changes to Universal Credit (UC) – in particular the £1,000 increase in work allowances announced in Budget 2018 – for the number of winners and losers from the switch to this new benefit system, for UC’s generosity and for its impact on work incentives.

David Finch, Laura Gardiner.

Key findings

  • The Budget 2018 work allowance increase means that the number of working families that gain from the switch to UC increases by 200,000 – from 2.2 million families previously to 2.4 million families now. Among working families with children, the number (1.5 million) expected to be better off under UC now matches the number (1.5 million) expected to be worse off.
  • Relative to the pre-Summer Budget 2015 UC system, the work allowance and taper changes of recent years have restored or improved incentives to enter work at low earnings for renting single parents and the first earner in renting couples with children; and reduced incentives to enter work at low earnings for home-owning parents who are either single or first earners in couples, and non-parents without disabilities.
  • Single parents and second earners in couples with children – both very likely to be women – are most responsive to work incentives. As such, it is a concern that UC continues to incentivise single parents (particularly renters) to reduce working hours below the 16 hours backstop present in the tax credits system. It also still fails to sufficiently incentivise work for second-earner parents.
  • One of UC’s major advantages is that it gets rid of the very highest rates at which benefits are withdrawn in the existing system, which can leave people with less than 10p for each additional £1 earned. However, the fact that taxpayers on UC keep just 25p of each additional £1 earned (even less when paying for childcare costs) means that challenges remain.

Recommendations

  • We suggest boosting single parent work allowances, at a minimum, to the equivalent of 15 hours a week on the wage floor, and introducing a second earner work allowance for those in couples with children.
  • Financial incentives to progress in work should be boosted by gradually lowering the taper rate. In addition, planned progression pilots should test a far more ambitious system of practical support to help low-paid workers progress and secure better-quality roles.

Another day, yet another story:

Universal credit: Rent arrears double for benefit claimants

BBC.

Council tenants on universal credit have on average more than double the rent arrears of those still on housing benefit, a BBC investigation has found.

In Flintshire, north Wales, one of the first counties to test the new payment, the council says rent arrears have gone up by £1m.

One claimant there said a mistake left him with just £29 a month to live on.

But the UK government said it had listened to concerns and universal credit was working well.

The BBC contacted every local authority in the UK that has council homes about their arrears. The results from the 129 councils that responded showed the average amount owed by tenants claiming universal credit across the UK is £662.56. For those still on housing benefit it is £262.50

Flintshire council said this week that tenants on universal credit in the county owe on average four times as much rent as those on the old benefits. At times it has been even higher; in September it was six times as much.

In the 18 months since universal credit was introduced in Flintshire, the council’s rent arrears have increased by £1m, something officials say is largely due to the new benefit.

Ipswich:

Ipswich & District Trades Union Council

No automatic alt text available.

Open meeting on the Universal Credit Crisis with key speaker Mark Page, a regional officer in the PCS with a background in the DWP.

Hosted by Ipswich & District Trades Union Council, all welcome.

Mark Page, Regional Officer PCS  will speak on the UNIVERSAL CREDIT CRISIS.

Every day another horror story about Universal Credit hits the news headlines, how and when will it end?Following debate at Congress, the TUC’s policy is for Universal Credit to be stopped and scrapped. What should replace it?

7.30pm Wed Nov 21st 2018 Unite Office, 13, Arcade St, Ipswich

This meeting is part of the build up to Unite Community’s National Day of Action on Universal Credit on Sat Dec 1st 2018.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2018 at 11:18 am

Bad Week for Esther McVey as she makes more ” false and misleading claims” about Universal Credit.

with 55 comments

“Praise from across the charity sector” for Universal Credit.

Esther had a happy start to her week.

Look at these larks!

Her ladyship went on to announce this:

“The package included a £1.7 billion injection into working allowances, which will allegedly support 2.4 million working families. McVey quoted various charities that have supported the potential system, including the Child Poverty Action Group who were quoted as saying “The work allowance increase is unequivocally good news for families receiving Universal Credit.” McVey also quoted the Joseph Roundtree Foundation, stating that “This extra investment will help make Universal Credit a tool for tackling poverty.”

But every silver lining has a cloud (the eagle-eyed may notice that the original list of charities that supported her has been edited….)

 

Esther McVey makes claim about charity – and incredible twitter thread immediately shows her up

Her best friends in the Liverpool Echo continued.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey made a claim about a charity in Parliament – only for the organisation to ‘set the record straight’ with an incredible twitter thread.

Ms McVey – from Liverpool – is coming under increasing pressure over the controversial Universal Credit benefits roll-out – which is being blamed by many for pushing more people into poverty.

The government says it is making changes to its flagship benefit system in a bid to halt the damaging effects on people.

It says claimants will not have to wait as long for their money and debt repayments will be reduced.

And in Parliament, Ms McVey reeled off the names of a number of charities that she claimed had welcomed those changes and which agreed that the Department of Work and Pensions was ‘now listening to claimants.’

One of these was mental health charity Mind – and based on its stinging response on twitter, it looks like those at the charity don’t quite agree.

The Mind twitter account stated: “Yesterday the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions @EstherMcVey1 mentioned us in a list of organisations who had recognised and welcomed changes to #UniversalCredit. We thought it was important to set the record straight.”

It then launched into a powerful thread, which showed the wide-ranging criticisms and warnings it has made about Universal Credit – including since the latest changes were announced.

A comment from Mind’s Director of External Relations Sophie Corlett – from when Universal Credit was announced – said: “We are hugely concerned about the ramifications of these proposals, which leave open the real possibility that many people with mental health problems could see their benefits stopped entirely while they struggle with the process of applying Universal Credit.”

 

Esther McVey under fire from charities over misleading Universal Credit claims

Work and Pensions chief brazenly told MPs that changes to Universal Credit “had received praise from across the charity sector”.

The charity Gingerbread, who support single parents, said on Twitter: “We want to be clear – we support changes to the system that benefit single parents, but this statement does not paint the full picture.

“We are not complacent and are clear these changes do not do enough to make the system work for single parents.”

McVey has become infamous for repeatedly making false and misleading claims in and outside of Parliament.

In July 2018 she was forced to apologise to MPs for misleading Parliament about the contents of a National Audit Office report.

McVey admitted: “Whilst speaking in Parliament, in answer to questions on the National Audit Office report into Universal Credit, I mistakenly said that the NAO had asked for the rollout of Universal Credit to continue at a faster rate and to be speeded up.

“In fact the NAO did not say that Mr Speaker, and I want to apologise to you and the House for inadvertently misleading you.

“What I had meant to say was that the NAO had said that there was ‘no practical alternative to continuing with Universal Credit’.

In the meantime:

“UN envoy meets Newcastle users to gauge scale of hardship and hunger “I’m scared to eat sometimes in case we run out of food… Universal credit has punched us in the face”

Written by Andrew Coates

November 8, 2018 at 4:15 pm

MPs hit out at “pointlessly cruel” Benefit Sanctions Regime.

with 42 comments

Sanctions Regime Remains in Place.

As I was walking out from my gaff this morning I saw a poster for today’s edition of the East Anglian Daily Times.

This is the story:

Children turn to emergency handouts as foodbank demand soars

Thousands of children in Suffolk and Essex are relying on emergency handouts from foodbanks, it can be revealed.

More than 1,500 youngsters turned to emergency food handouts in Suffolk from April 1 to September 30, up from 1,004 in the same period last year.

And the figure was even higher in Essex, with 6,338 children receiving three-day emergency food supplies at Trussell Trust foodbanks, up from 5,514.

The hard-hitting data, released by the organisation today, has seen volunteers warn of an impending “debt crisis” which could plunge even more families into poverty.

Problems with Universal Credit are being blamed for driving such an increase in foodbank use.

“It is unprecedented and the situation only seems to be getting worse,” warned Maureen Reynel, owner of the independent Ipswich foodbank FIND. “For a lot of families, it’s the impossible choice of whether to eat or heat their homes. Foodbanks are their lifeline.

By no coincidence whatsoever this is the main story about Universal Credit today:

MPs call for review of ‘pointlessly cruel’ benefit sanctions

Guardian. Patrick Butler.

Work and pensions committee concludes that current scheme carries too high a human cost.

A cross-party group of MPs has called for a review of the government’s controversial benefit sanctions regime after concluding that it was arbitrary, punitive and at times “pointlessly cruel”.

The Commons work and pensions committee inquiry said the human cost of stopping benefit payments to claimants judged to have breached job centre rules was too high and there was scant evidence that it helped or incentivised people to get a job.

It called for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions who have limited capability for work to be exempt from sanctions and said penalties for single parents and care leavers should be vastly reduced.

“We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counterproductive it just seems pointlessly cruel,” said the committee’s chair, Frank Field.

……

A five-year academic study of sanctions published in May found that they were ineffective at getting jobless people into work and were more likely to push those affected into poverty, ill health or even survival crime.

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “We’re committed to ensuring that people get the benefits they’re entitled to, but it is reasonable that people have to meet certain requirements in return for payments. Sanctions are only used in the minority of cases when someone doesn’t meet these requirements without a good reason, and work coaches will continue to offer support to claimants to identify and help resolve the issues that lead to that.”

The Independent is even more direct:

Ministers broke promise to review ‘pointlessly cruel’ system for benefit sanctions, MPs say

Rob Merrick

No evaluation carried out despite 2013 pledge – and repeated warnings of people being pushed into poverty.

Ministers have broken a promise to review the “pointlessly cruel” system for imposing sanctions on benefit claimants, a damning report by MPs warns today.

No evaluation has been carried out despite a pledge made back in 2013, it says – and despite repeated warnings of people being pushed into poverty after being wrongly stripped of benefits.

Meanwhile, the troubled expansion of universal credit has sparked a fresh rise in the number of sanctions – including on the sick and disabled, single parents and care leavers.

Among the people who told the committee about the suffering caused by sanctions were:

* Jen, a wheelchair user forced to “sofa surf” and sleep in a college library for an entire year – including through her exams – when she was wrongly sanctioned for failing to attend a jobcentre appointment.

The jobcentre had told her it was acceptable to miss an appointment that clashed with an A-level exam, but she still had her benefits stopped for almost one yea

* Luke, who was sanctioned after missing a jobcentre appointment because he had been admitted to hospital with severe epileptic seizures.

He was sanctioned for failing to show “good reason for missing his appointment” – a decision only overturned after a media outcry.

* Samantha, a single parent forced to switch to part-time working because of a lack of childcare and stress, who was sanctioned for “voluntarily leaving employment”.

Her income fell from £800 per month to £300, forcing her to rely on food parcels from friends and to beg for money.

Here is the Work and Pensions Committee summary:

For a long time, the UK’s out-of-work benefits have been framed in terms of responsibilities and rights, from which derives a system of conditionality and sanctions. There are certain things the state expects you to do as a condition of receiving out-of-work benefits; if you fail to do those things your benefit may be stopped. The Committee does not believe in unconditional benefits for those who are capable of moving into work. But unfair and disproportionate application of the current sanctions regime is causing unintended consequences.

The objective of conditionality and sanctions is to motivate people to engage with support and to take active steps to move them closer to work. But the evidence on the role of sanctions in achieving this goal is patchy. At the very least, it calls for more research. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 and subsequent changes have made sanctions longer, more severe and applicable to more people than ever before. The previous Government did not know the impact of these changes in 2012 and, six years later, it is still unknown. What we do know is that sanction rates are higher under Universal Credit than under the legacy system, and when applied inappropriately can have profoundly negative effects on people’s financial and personal well-being.

The failure to evaluate the 2012 reforms is unacceptable. It is time for the Government urgently to evaluate the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012, including an assessment of sanctions’ impact on people’s financial and personal well-being. Furthermore, until the Government can point to robust evidence that longer sanctions are more effective, higher level sanctions should be reduced to two, four and six months for first, second and subsequent failures to comply.

Some groups of people are disproportionately vulnerable to, and affected by, the withdrawal of their benefit. These include single parents, care leavers and people with an impairment or health condition. The Government must develop a better understanding of how sanctions affect employment outcomes for vulnerable claimants. Only strong causal relationships can justify these groups’ continued inclusion in the sanctions regime. In the meantime, we recommend that people who are the responsible carer for a child under the age of 5, or a child with demonstrable additional needs and care costs, and care leavers under the age of 25, only ever have 20% of their benefit withheld if sanctioned. As well as reduced sanctions, care leavers need better support. So we recommend that the Government review working practices between local authority personal advisers and work coaches to ensure they are collaborating as effectively as possible to support care leavers. It must also introduce a way of identifying care leavers within the benefits system to allow ongoing monitoring of their experiences, including of sanctions, and to inform further tailored support.

Of all the evidence we received, none was more compelling than that against the imposition of conditionality and sanctions on people with a disability or health condition. It does not work. Worse, it is harmful and counterproductive. We recommend that the Government immediately stop imposing conditionality and sanctions on anyone found to have limited capability for work, or who presents a valid doctor’s note (Fit Note) stating that they are unable to work, including those who present such a note while waiting for a Work Capability Assessment. Instead, it should work with experts to develop a programme of voluntary employment support.

We still believe that support for people in work to increase their hours and earnings has the potential to be revolutionary. But its promise risks being undermined by hasty roll-out of a policy not grounded in robust evidence. The Randomised Controlled Trial showed sanctions had no effect on in-work claimants’ outcomes and work coaches are not yet equipped to get decisions right every time for every claimant. Sanctioning people who are working is too great a risk for too little return. We recommend that the Department does not proceed with conditionality and sanctions for in-work claimants until full roll-out of Universal Credit is complete. Even then, the policy should only be introduced on the basis of robust evidence that it will be effective at driving progress in work. In the meantime, the Department should focus on providing in-work claimants with the right support.

Under Universal Credit, a sanction incurred under one conditionality regime continues to apply even if the claimant’s circumstances change and they are no longer able, or required, to look for work. At that point, the argument that the sanction will incentivise them towards work no longer holds water. The sanction becomes little more than a seemingly unfair punishment for non-compliance. We therefore recommend that sanctions are cancelled when a claimant’s change in circumstance means they are no longer subject to the requirement that led to their sanction in the first place.

Under Universal Credit, the maximum amount someone can be sanctioned is 100% of their standard allowance. In theory, housing and children elements are therefore protected. But in reality, this is not always the case: If someone is receiving less than their full standard allowance because of deductions, such as for rent arrears, a sanction representing 100% of their standard allowance eats into other elements. It is a technical glitch, but it puts housing and children’s welfare at risk and must be resolved with the greatest urgency. We therefore recommend that the Government immediately ensures any deductions from standard allowances are postponed for the duration of any sanction imposed to ensure that the children and housing elements are always protected.

Setting the right policy is important. But so too is implementing it on the ground. Over and again we heard stories of it going horribly wrong, resulting in inappropriate sanctions causing unjustified and sustained hardship. We heard about people being asked to comply with impossible requirements.

We also heard that work coaches were not consistently applying the exemptions (‘easements’) they have the power to use. Claimants did not know they existed and work coaches had neither the time nor the expertise to ask questions about every avenue of someone’s life. We recommend that the Department develop a standard set of questions, covering all possible easements, which work coaches routinely ask claimants when agreeing their Claimant Commitment. The Department should also review and improve information about easements made available to claimants.

If a work coach thinks someone has failed to comply with their Claimant Commitment they raise a doubt and put in motion the wheels that could lead to a sanction. We recognise that giving work coaches and decision-makers the right amount of flexibility is a challenge. But we heard too many stories of poor decision-making to believe the current system has got it right. The first hurdle is deciding what counts as ‘good reason’ for failing to comply, which is currently a judgment call for work coaches. This is a big ask when the consequences of getting it wrong can be so great. What’s more, it inevitably means that claimants in similar circumstances are treated inconsistently. But this could be easily fixed by carefully drafted regulations. We therefore recommend that the Department introduce regulations on what counts as good reason, which still allow work coaches to exercise judgment in any situation not included.

If a work coach concludes someone did not have good reason for failing to comply, they must refer them for a sanction. We heard repeatedly, however, that the welfare system is being reformed to reflect the world of work. But we do not think it is fair or proportionate for someone’s first mistake to be met with the harshest penalty, either in the world of work or benefits system. We welcome the Government’s announcement to trial a system of warnings, instead of sanctions, for first sanctionable failures, but it only applies to narrow circumstances. We therefore recommend that the Government use the trial as an opportunity to learn lessons, while taking steps towards introducing warnings, instead of sanctions, for every claimant’s first failure to comply.

We recognise the importance of an independent decision-maker to impose the sanction. It is, however, a missed opportunity that a work coach’s relationship with the claimant and insight into their circumstances—supposedly at the very heart of Universal Credit—plays no role at this stage of the process. What is more, a sanction can only be challenged once the decision has been made, by which stage the damage has been done, and the burden of proof falls to the claimant. We recommend that when a work coach refers a claimant for a sanction they are required to include a recommendation on whether a sanction should be imposed based on their knowledge of the claimant and their circumstances. Decision-makers should contact the claimant to let them know their ‘provisional decision’ and, if it is to impose a sanction, the evidence on which this is based. The claimant should then have 30 days to challenge the provisional decision or actively opt not to provide further evidence.

Claimants can challenge the final decision to impose a sanction first, through Mandatory Reconsideration, and then via First-tier Tribunal. But in the absence of any commitment from the Department on how long these decisions will take, people can endure the hardship of a sanction for weeks on end. This is all the more painful if, after all that time, the sanction is overturned. We therefore recommend that the Department commit to a timetable for making decisions about sanctions at Mandatory Reconsideration and appeal.

Hardship payments are made to those who would otherwise be left with nothing when sanctioned. But recovering that payment at a rate of 40% of someone’s standard allowance imposes further significant hardship. It is neither necessary for the Government—as it appears not to be financially motivated to recover the money—nor affordable for those who have been recognised as at risk of extreme poverty. Our final recommendation is therefore that the Department issues revised guidance to all work coaches to ensure hardship repayments are set at a rate that is affordable for the claimant, with the default being 5% of their standard allowance.

Full report: 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 6, 2018 at 11:01 am

GOV.UK Verify programme, now a private “digital identity market” (and essential for Universal Credit) runs into more trouble.

with 36 comments

A graphic showing the GOV.UK process - with icon's showing a user query and a user being verified

Your Identity now part of a “digital” profit making market.

In September this news came out.

Government projects watchdog recommends terminating Gov.uk Verify identity project (Computer Weekly)

Infrastructure & Projects Authority says Whitehall departments are unwilling to fund flagship GDS identity programme – cancellation would mean writing off at least £130m spent so far.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) had submitted a business case for a “reset” of the troubled programme that required extra budget for further development and to pay the external identity providers (IDPs) that underpin the system, but sources say there is little appetite in the Treasury to provide additional funds for a project that is seen to be failing. Three-year contracts with the IDPs are due to end this month.

GDS is understood to have spent at least £130m on Verify so far, most or all of which would be written off if the project folds. The IDPs are required to support existing Verify services for 12 months after their contracts end, but sources say further funding would be needed to pay the companies during that period. GDS has not announced any plans for a new procurement exercise to sign up new or additional IDPs.

….

GDS is also understood to be making a case that Verify remains essential to the ongoing roll-out of Universal Credit, the government’s new benefits system. But even there, the Department for Work and Pensions has had to develop an additional identity system after finding that hundreds of thousands of benefits applicants could be unable to register successfully on Verify.

On the 9th of October this was announced, quietly:

GOV.UK Verify programme:Written statement – HCWS978

 Oliver Dowden (Minister for the Implementation )

I want to update the House on the GOV.UK Verify programme, on the creation of a digital identity market, and the provision of a digital identity service to Government.

Since its inception, GOV.UK Verify has sought to create an effective standards based digital identity market in the UK. International examples point to the challenges in successfully creating a secure digital identity framework for the public and private sector. I am proud that the UK is regarded as a global leader in this space, and that the innovative assets and standards created by the GOV.UK Verify programme have been utilised by numerous international Governments.

GOV.UK Verify is now sufficiently mature to move to the next phase of its development. The private sector will take responsibility for broadening the usage and application of digital identity in the UK.

I can confirm that contracts have been signed with a number of private sector identity providers, for an 18 month period, and with capped expenditure. These commercial arrangements formalise the transition to a private sector led model.

The Government has an immediate and growing need for digital identity. As such, I am pleased to confirm that the GOV.UK Verify programme will continue providing a digital identity service to the public sector.

Poorly secured services are vulnerable to attack from cyber crime and other hostile activity. GOV.UK Verify enables citizens to securely prove that they are who they say they are to a high degree of confidence when transacting with Government online. It is a major enabler and a critical dependency for Government’s digital transformation.

The Government will continue to provide state backed assurance and standards to ensure there is trust and confidence in the emergent digital identity market. The Government expects that commercial organisations will create and reuse digital identities, and accelerate the creation of an interoperable digital identity market. This is therefore the last investment that the Government will provide to directly support the GOV.UK Verify programme. It will be the responsibility of the private sector to invest to ensure the delivery of this product beyond the above period.

The approach announced today ensures that GOV.UK Verify will continue to protect public sector digital services from cyber threats, including identity fraud, and other malicious activity. In addition, the contracts enable the private sector to develop affordable identity assurance services that will meet future private and public sector needs.

I am pleased that the Government can continue to support the creation of a digital identity market, and the work of the GOV.UK Verify programme.

On the 11th of October the Official Blog Government Digital Service   announced:

Working with the private sector

The standards and guidelines which currently underpin the way Verify works will now be opened up to the private sector to build on.

Through these standards and guidelines, GDS and government will ensure there is trust and confidence in the emergent digital identity market. And the private sector will invest to ensure the success of the market, bringing in even more innovation and forward-thinking solutions.

While the private sector works on new developments, GOV.UK Verify will continue to protect public-sector digital services from identity fraud and other malicious activity. We’ve signed new contracts with 5 private sector identity providers, who will support Verify over the next 18 months.

Users can choose any one of these 5 certified companies to verify their identity online: Barclays, Digidentity, Experian, Post Office and SecureIdentity. People who have Verify accounts with other companies can still use their accounts for the next 12 months, while they set up accounts with the current certified companies.

To keep Verify affordable for government, we’re using a tiered pricing system to reduce the cost the government will pay the providers over the 18-month period. As the number of users increases, the cost for government will go down. We are working to get to a position where Verify is cost-neutral for government and sustainable and self-supporting.

And we’ve been working hard to ensure the providers we’re working with are, along with the rest of the private sector, empowered to develop commercial solutions that will benefit users and government.

Another site adds that for Universal Credit you can use the above and two others (Government services you can use with GOV.UK Verify)

Benefits

These identity providers are:

The following companies also provide identity services as part of GOV.UK Verify, but you cannot create a new account with them:

This Week Private Eye reveals that the new cash for identity system is already in crisis.

The Royal Mail and CitizenSafe have already dropped out.

So the 90,000 people registered with them will have to go through the process again.

Just to add to the massive problems the on-line application for Universal Credit is already creating.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 3, 2018 at 10:50 am

A Budget for the Top 10% Wealthy, as 3/4 of Welfare Cuts Remain.

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Image result for arthur daley

One Man’s Advice has been Heeded.

Tory Budgets are odd things.

There’s a standard pattern

A Chancellor of the Exchequer stands up and grins like a Cheshire cat, meaning that you can be sure that only fellow tubby cats are going to be happy with the announcements.

In this case the likes of Sir Philip Green(CBI  and British Chamber of Commerce) and the Sir Arthur Daley (President, Federation of Small Businesses) are lapping it up.

Phil Fleming, spokesperson for the Federation of Small Businesses, described it as “a brilliant Budget”.

He said: “It was the most enjoyable Budget speech I have ever listened to in my life.

“He shut up the Opposition, considering what he had to juggle with. It is a brilliant Budget.”

Schools, we are told, are going to get cash for ‘little extras’.

Much needed it is said, for the post-Brexit teaching programme on the reintroduction of farthings, groats, and measurements such as Els, Furlongs, and terms for the reform of local government, Wapentakes and Hides.

Meanwhile…..

On Universal Credit in  the ‘I’ reporter Serina Sandhu reports,

The rollout of Universal Credit is being delayed once more, with a new target date of December 2023 for all claimants to be transferred to the Government’s flagship new benefit. The announcement came as Chancellor Philip Hammond provided an additional £6.6 billion over the next six years to smooth the introduction of UC, which replaces a range of welfare payments. Mr Hammond revealed the Treasury would be giving £1bn over five years to the Department for Work and Pensions to help ease the transition to the controversial benefits system. He also said he was increasing the work allowance – the amount claimants can earn before Universal Credit begins to be withdrawn – by £1,000 a year, at a cost of £1.7bn annually.

Mr Hammond defended the much-blighted system, which has led to some claimants being hundreds of pounds a month worse off than on legacy benefits. Others have fallen into rent arrears caused by delays to their first payment. “The switch to Universal Credit is a long overdue and necessary reform,” he said. “It replaces the broken system left by the last Labour government, a system… that trapped millions on out of work benefits. Universal Credit is here to stay.” Welfare damage Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “The announcement doesn’t begin to repair damage caused by yearly welfare payment freezes, welfare reform act [and] austerity. This is no budget for strivers, grafters [and] carers.” Labour said: “[It] is inadequate. The document confirms that the work allowance change only reverses around half of the previous Tory cuts from 2015.”

The Resolution Foundation says,

Squeeze continues for low and middle income families despite Chancellor’s £55bn giveaway Budget

Almost half of Budget 2018 income tax cuts are set to go to the top ten per cent of households

The Chancellor set out a significant easing of austerity in a £55bn giveaway Budget yesterday that set out major increases in public service spending, tax cuts and a reversal of cuts to the generosity of Universal Credit. But the squeeze is set to continue for low and middle income families, the Resolution Foundation said today (Tuesday) in its overnight analysis of the Budget, How To Spend It.

Faced with a total fiscal windfall of £73.8bn from the Office for Budget Responsibility over the forecast period, the Chancellor chose to use 75 per cent of it in a £55bn giveaway Budget. But while yesterday’s Budget represents a significant shift in overall direction of public spending, it does not spell the end of the squeeze – either for unprotected public services, or over ten million working age families in receipt of benefits.

Key findings from How To Spend It include:

The squeeze continues for low and middle income families

  • The analysis shows that over three quarters of the £12bn of welfare cuts announced after the 2015 election remain government policy, despite the welcome £1.7bn boost to Work Allowances in Universal Credit.
  • Half of the welfare cuts that hit family budgets are yet to be rolled out – including a £1.5bn benefit freeze next April that will see a couple with children in the bottom half of the income distribution losing £200.

Better news for the ‘more than just managing’

  • 84 per cent of the income tax cuts announced yesterday will go to the top half of the income distribution next year, rising to 89 per cent by the end of the parliament (2022-23) when almost half (45 per cent) will go to the top ten per cent of households alone.
  • The richest tenth of households are set to gain 14 times as much in cash terms next year from the income tax and benefits giveaways in the Budget as the poorest tenth of households (£410 vs £30).
  • The overall package of tax and benefit changes announced since 2015 will deliver an average gain of £390 for the richest fifth of households in 2023-24, compared to an average loss of £400 for the poorest fifth of households.

Cuts to public services are eased, but not ended

  • Overall day-to-day departmental spending per capita is now set to rise by 4 per cent between this year and 2022-23, rather than fall by 4 per cent as previously planned.
  • However, the promises of extra spending on the NHS, defence and international aid mean that unprotected departments will continue to see cuts in every year from 2020-21. Their per capita real-terms budgets are set to be 3 per cent lower in 2023-24 than 2019-20.
  • If allocated equally this would mean day-to-day spending cuts of 48, 52 and 77 per cent between 2009-10 and 2023-24 for the departments of Justice, Business and Transport respectively.

The economic backdrop to Budget 2018

  • Despite the slight upgrade in the OBR growth forecasts, GDP per capita is set to grow by 4.9 per cent between 2018 and 2023, compared with an IMF forecast of 5.5 per cent across the rest of the G7.
  • Real average earnings are not set to return to their pre-crisis peak until the end of 2024 – representing an unprecedented 17-year pay downturn.

Torsten Bell, Director of the Resolution Foundation, said:

“The Chancellor was able to navigate the near impossible task in his Budget of easing austerity, seeing debt fall and avoiding big tax rises, thanks to a £74bn fiscal windfall. He chose to spend the vast majority of this on the NHS, income tax cuts and a welcome boost to Universal Credit.

“But while yesterday’s Budget represented a seismic shift in the government’s approach to the public finances, it spelt an easing rather than an end to austerity – particularly for low and middle income families.

The Chancellor made a very welcome £1.7bn commitment to Universal Credit, but has left intact three quarters of the benefit cuts announced following the 2015 general election. Meanwhile income tax cuts announced yesterday will overwhelmingly benefit richer households, with almost half of the long term gains going to the top ten per cent of households. On public services the NHS saw a big spending boost ­– but unprotected departments still have further cuts penciled in.

“This Budget was much easier for Philip Hammond than many expected. But there will be tougher choices for Chancellors in the years ahead. Brexit must be delivered smoothly, public spending will remain tight, and forecasts may not always be so rosy.

“Looking further ahead, living standards growth is set to be sluggish and the tax rises to meet pressures in the 2020s from our ageing society will still be needed – as and when there’s a government with the majority to deliver them. Austerity has been eased, but there are still tough times ahead.”

The Mirror gives Labour’s response:

John McDonnell: Philip Hammond gave a broken promise budget, failing to end austerity

By choosing to cut rather than invest, Tories have failed to fix the weaknesses of the economy, says the Shadow Chancellor

DWP a “fortress” in “denial” about Universal Credit Failures.

with 41 comments

Universal Credit has again  has hit the headlines.

Our newshounds are already scanning the media as this is written…

 

This Morning:

DWP has ‘fortress mentality’ on universal credit, MPs say

 Guardian.

Parliamentary committee says department is unresponsive to difficulties people are facing.

The committee said McVey’s department has repeatedly been unresponsive to on-the-ground evidence about the practical problems with universal credit, and what it called the “unacceptable hardship” faced by many.

The department’s systemic culture of denial and defensiveness in the face of any adverse evidence presented by others is a significant risk to the programme,” the MPs said, citing the DWP’s response to an earlier critical report by the National Audit Office (NAO).

Here is the source of the article:

 Universal credit: delivery causing unacceptable hardship.

Public Accounts Committee 

The introduction of Universal Credit is causing unacceptable hardship and difficulties for many of the claimants it was designed to help. However, while the Department is responsive to feedback on its digital systems from staff, it has persistently dismissed evidence that Universal Credit is causing hardship for claimants and additional burdens for local organisations, and refuses to measure what it does not want to see. In 2013 this Committee raised concerns about the Department’s culture of reporting good news and denying problems that emerge. In further reports in 2015 and 2016 the Committee warned about the Department’s continued lack of transparency. It is hugely regrettable that the Department has not heeded these warnings. Instead of listening to organisations on the frontline supporting claimants, the Department has continued with its fortress mentality and as a result is failing claimants who struggle to adapt to the way Universal Credit works.

The recent announcement by the Secretary of State of a further delay and a “slow and measured” approach to the rollout is not a solution on its own and the Secretary of State has admitted that some claimants will be worse off under Universal Credit. If the current problems are not addressed and the funding needed is not forthcoming the hardship is likely to continue. It needs to work with third party organisations to help shape the new programme in light of the real life experiences of recipients.

More:

Report findings

The report concludes that:

  • DWP’s dismissive attitude to real-world experience is failing claimants
  • Recent announcement of delayed roll-out is not a solution
  • Department must work with third-party organisations to shape programme

The introduction of Universal Credit is causing unacceptable hardship and difficulties for many of the claimants it was designed to help.

However, while the Department is responsive to feedback on its digital systems from staff, it has persistently dismissed evidence that Universal Credit is causing hardship for claimants and additional burdens for local organisations, and refuses to measure what it does not want to see.

In 2013 this Committee raised concerns about the Department’s culture of reporting good news and denying problems that emerge. In further reports in 2015 and 2016 the Committee warned about the Department’s continued lack of transparency.

“Slow and measured” is not a solution

It is hugely regrettable that the Department has not heeded these warnings. Instead of listening to organisations on the frontline supporting claimants, the Department has continued with its fortress mentality and as a result is failing claimants who struggle to adapt to the way Universal Credit works.

The recent announcement by the SoS of a further delay and a “slow and measured” approach to the rollout is not a solution on its own and the SoS has admitted that some claimants will be worse off under UC.

If the current problems are not addressed and the funding needed is not forthcoming the hardship is likely to continue. The Department needs to work with third party organisations to help shape the new programme in light of the real life experiences of recipients.

Chair’s comment

Comment from Public Accounts Committee Chair Meg Millier MP

“This report provides further damning evidence of a culture of indifference at DWP – a Department disturbingly adrift from the real-world problems of the people it is there to support.

Its apparent determination to turn a deaf ear to the concerns of claimants, frontline organisations and Parliament is of real concern. The culture needs to change.

A Department in denial cannot learn from its mistakes and take the action necessary to address the desperate hardship suffered by many Universal Credit claimants.

DWP’s dismissive attitude points to a troubling pattern of behaviour in the Department – something highlighted by our recent report on errors in Employment and Support Allowance.

The Department’s painfully slow approach to correcting underpayments, years after it accepted responsibility, indicated weaknesses at the highest levels of management.

As a priority the Department must demonstrate a tangible shift in the way it listens and responds to feedback and evidence.

Meanwhile, the Government’s recent announcement of changes to the roll-out of Universal Credit offers no guarantee that the problems facing claimants will be resolved.

We will be watching Monday’s Budget carefully and, in its formal response to this report, expect Government to take meaningful action on our recommendations.”

Lo and Behold!

9.55 am this Morning (Guardian )

Alok Sharma insists jobcentre staff and claimants are happy with benefits overhaul.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sharma insisted the message he was getting from jobcentre staff and claimants was that they were much happier with universal credit.

However, he refused to be drawn when it was put to him that a report by a charity that runs a network of more than 400 food banks had found they were four times as busy in areas where the full universal credit service had been in place for 12 months or more. The Trussell Trust recorded an average 52% increase in the number of three-day emergency food packages distributed.

Prompted to answer three times, Sharma said another report by MPs had suggested there were “very many reasons” why people used food banks and they could not be attributed to just one factor.

Sharma, who rejected claims that his boss, Esther McVey, had been ducking out of media appearances, and said he was responsible for the government’s increasingly beleaguered benefits policy, claimed it was working because “cliff edges” that had previously disincentivised people from working had been removed.

He said he had been visiting jobcentres, most recently in Harlow in Essex, adding: “There are absolutely brilliant people in DWP working as work coaches and they tell me that for the first time in their lives they are doing what they came in to do, which is to provide that one-to-one support which wasn’t available under the legacy system, and that’s a message I get from claimants when I talk to them.”

Yet Quin notes,

The DWP’s own survey found 40% of people were experiencing financial difficulties eight or nine months into their claim, and McVey, the work and pensions secretary, recently admitted the rollout would leave “some people worse off”.

The Mirror adds,

Universal Credit: Thousands face having no payments this Christmas – how to make sure you’re not hit

The new benefit Universal Credit is rolling out to millions, and many could find themselves caught in a gap over Christmas. Here’s how to avoid being caught out.

Universal Credit is rolling out to about 100,000 people a month, leaving a trail of rent debt and food banks in its wake.

The six-in-one benefit is meant to make welfare easier and fairer, but it’s been bundled up with cuts that MPs warn cause “unacceptable hardship”.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been blasted for being “in denial” about the problems by Parliament’s public spending watchdog.

Meanwhile Christmas is fast approaching – and thousands of families face the risk of a financial gap over the holiday season.

That’s because there is a standard five-week wait for your first payment when you start claiming Universal Credit.

The paper offers this suggestion:

But there is a way to avoid being high and dry, and not everyone is affected.

So how do you know if you’re hit, and what action should you take? Here’s a guide.

See also this important article by Kitty S Jones.

Former Universal Credit staff reveal call targets and ‘deflection scripts’

DWP Tweets Boosting Universal Credit, “playing People like Fools.”

with 51 comments

Frankie may have faults but he sums it up.

For some very fathomable reasons Twitter, Facebook, and all the rest, are the favourite playgrounds of charlatans, cranks, nutters, and….the DWP.

This Blog is no great fan of Frank Field.

Or indeed close.

Few are, outside of his pet tarantula and his hair shirt.

But he is still there, ferreting away at the Tory Mess that is Universal Credit.

The Mirror reports today,

DWP blasted over ‘misleading’ Universal Credit advert ‘that is playing people for fools’

The Tory government has been accused of “playing people for fools” with a “misleading” advert about Universal Credit .

The image on Twitter last week boasted the six-in-one benefit “mirrors the world of work” because it is paid monthly and “paid to you like wages”.

But Frank Field, chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, claimed these statements were misleading.

That is because many low-paid workers are given their wages weekly, not monthly, Mr Field said.

UC is also paid to one representative of the household – not each person. Activists have warned this policy worsens domestic abuse.

Mr Field has now written to complain about the letter to UC programme director Neil Couling in the Department for Work and Pensions.

His letter demands to know “how misleading advertising such as this is compatible with, and supportive of, the Department’s commitment to transparent and open communication with claimants and stakeholders over Universal Credit.”

Mr Field claimed: “These so-called “facts” about Universal Credit are nothing of the kind.

We are waiting for the DWP to repeat this one in a campaign to publicise the successes of Universal Credit.:

DWP admits inventing quotes from fake ‘benefits claimants’ for sanctions leaflet

DWP

Written by Andrew Coates

October 22, 2018 at 3:11 pm

Esther McVey Defends Universal Credit, Hell or High Water!

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Image result for esther mcvey parliament

The Right Honourable Esther McVey: My door is always open.

Yesterday in the House of Commons Esther McVey was on rare form.

Bertie Wooster once recommended that when confronted with a misdeed the best response was stout denial.

Readers of Hansard and no doubt those who watch the BBC Parliamentary Channel can see her Ladyship following his sage advice.

Universal Credit. 17 October 2018. Volume 647

 

Labour’s Margaret Greenwood ‘umbly but impertinently  began,

 

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the following papers be laid before Parliament: any briefing papers or analysis provided to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions since 8 January 2018 on the impact of the roll-out of universal credit on recipients’ and household income and on benefits debts.

Universal credit, the Government’s flagship social security programme, has been beset by flaws in its design and delivery. It is causing immense hardship for many people wherever it is rolled out. It is hard to believe now, but universal credit was designed to lift people out of poverty and smooth the transition into work to ensure that it always pays. The reality is that universal credit is a vehicle for cuts: cuts in support for families with a disabled child for whom the basic rate of support is half what it is in tax credits; cuts in support for disabled people in work, such as the disabled person who wrote to us saying that they are more than £300 a month worse off since switching from claiming working tax credits; and cuts in support for lone parents bringing up children who will get more than £20 a week less on average, with many losing far more.

..

Let me make some progress.

Overall, 3.2 million families with children could lose around £50 a week. People are worried, but there is no clarity from Government. The Prime Minister told this House that no one would be worse off, yet The Times reported that the Secretary of State told Cabinet colleagues that households could lose up to £200 a month. Being forced to manage on a low income that is then cut still further means tough choices for the families affected. The DWP’s own survey of claimants published in June showed that nearly half of new universal credit claimants are falling behind with bills. Even six months later, four in 10 are still struggling to cope financially.

And so it went. And went – it’s pretty long so I skip.

Her Royal Highness (for it was she, Esther) replied,

Members want to speak in this debate. I know too, Mr Speaker, that you are always anxious to hear Back Benchers speak, as am I, so I will keep my remarks as brief as possible.

I have been forthright with colleagues across the House—and in my speech at Reform earlier this year—about universal credit’s strong merits and the areas that we need to improve. In fact, in my Reform speech, I said that I would improve universal support, and I delivered on that this month. Since becoming Secretary of State, I have changed the system to provide extra support for those with severe disabilities, vulnerable young 18 to 21-year-olds and kinship carers. I am also working with colleagues to identify areas where we can make more improvements.

This is also long so I will just cite a few of her gracious words,

We have taken a mature approach to rolling out universal credit. We have said that we will test, learn, adapt and change as we go forward. That has resulted in a series of improvements, and I will read some of those out. We are providing extra universal support with Citizens Advice, an independent and trusted partner. We have brought in the landlord portal. We have brought in alternative payment arrangements, 100% advances and housing running costs. We have removed waiting days and are providing extra support for kinship carers and those receiving the severe disability premium.

My door is always open. We will make sure we get this benefit right, and Government Back Benchers, who have genuine concerns, want to get it right.

Here is a more readable report:

Tories block Labour bid to reveal government assessment of Universal Credit impact

Politics Home.

After a heated four-hour debate, they voted by 299 to 279 against the release of the documents, which Labour hoped would reveal the detrimental effect of the welfare shake-up which rolls six existing benefits into a single payment.

Labour used an arcane parliamentary procedure known as a humble address – previously used to force the release of the Government’s Brexit impact assessment – to try to compel the publication of analysis of the shake-up on people’s incomes.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey last week admitted that some people “could be worse off” under the reform, despite Theresa May’s claim that would not be the case.

Ms McVey’s opposite number, Margaret Greenwood, today called for the Government to publish all reports and analysis it has carried out into the effects of Universal Credit since Ms McVey took office in January.

“The social security system should be there for any of us should we need it, yet the Government’s flagship programme has brought real hardship,” she said.

“How did it come to this in the fifth largest economy in the world that we have people facing hunger and destitution?

“It cannot be right, the Government must wake up, it must open its eyes to what’s happening and that is why we are calling on the Government to stop the roll-out of Universal Credit.”

Ms McVey yesterday confirmed that the “migration” of existing welfare claimants to Universal Credit would be delayed until later in 2019.

Meanwhile the BBC reported that the deadline for full implementation could be pushed back by another nine months to December 2023.

Ms McVey today prompted angry shouts from Labour MPs when she opened her comments by saying: “It’s good to be here again for my department to update the House on Universal Credit for the third time this week.”

She later added: “We will continue with Universal Credit. We will continue to roll it out. We will engage with colleagues across the House… my door is always open, but we will make sure we get this benefit right. You know why? Because of the genuine concerns of the people on our backbenches who want to get it right.”

Then there is this:

Written by Andrew Coates

October 18, 2018 at 10:43 am

Benefits Freeze Adds to Universal Credit Misery.

with 101 comments

Image result for universal credit cartoon

More than the usual ‘system error’.

The controversy about Universal Credit continues to develop.

Today the Currant Bun, not the Claimants’ chum,  headlines

Universal Credit revolt by THIRTY Tory MPs as they urge Chancellor to plug £2bn black hole which will leave millions worse off.

At least two dozen have signed a letter to the Treasury highlighting their fears to the Chancellor – urging him that an extra £2billion is needed for the reform.

Around a million people are expected to go onto Universal Credit next year as part of the rollout to everyone over the next five years.

The letter reads: “As it stands 3.2million working families are expected to be worse off, with an average loss of £48 a week.

“Enabling hard working parents to keep more of what they earn and thus encouraging them to take up more work is at the heart of Conservative policy.

“This measure would boost the incomes of 9.6million low income parents and children.”

In July 2015, having promised £12 billion of welfare cuts – reportedly on the assumption that the Liberal Democrats would argue this down – George Osborne announced exactly that. Chief among these cuts was a further working age benefits freeze. So no matter what the rate of inflation was, benefits would not be increased in April 2016, 2017, 2018 or 2019.

One thing that risks being forgotten is the impact of the Benefit Freeze.

Last week (October the 13th) the Resolution Foundation published this.

Despite ‘the end of austerity’, April promises another deep benefit cut

Adam Corlett.

How important this nominal freeze would prove to be couldn’t be known exactly in advance – only predicted – as its real impact depends on inflation. At the time, it was thought that inflation would be below 2 per cent in every year, as the table below shows. At first, the inflation forecast actually proved too high, with very small price rises in 2015 and 2016. This meant that the benefits freeze had only a limited impact in its first two years. But with the Brexit vote and resultant price increases, CPI inflation reached 3 per cent in September 2017. Normally, that September figure would have been used to uprate working-age benefits for the next tax year but, due to the freeze, that didn’t happen. And now inflation for September 2018 is expected to be around 2.7 per cent. Working-age families will again be denied that inflationary benefits increase next April.

Overall, the real cut to many benefits from the four-year freeze is over 6 per cent (and that’s before considering separate or earlier cuts).

….

If we exclude pensioners and working-age non-parents, the impacts become even clearer. The average couple with kids in the bottom half of the income distribution will be £620 poorer in 2019-20 than if inflationary uprating had occurred since 2016-17, and the average poorer single parent will be £760 worse off. The April 2019 freeze alone will mean a £210 hit for an average poorer couple with kids and £260 for poorer single parents.

This chart is depressing to look at.

This, the long-term decline in the value of benefits, is significant.

Corlett’s conclusion is important:

Whether or not the final freeze goes ahead, there is also a tough question for the opposition parties. Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats have all said they would end the freeze. But CPI uprating is already set to return from April 2020. The big question is whether those parties would actually undo the real term cuts that have already happened (i.e. though a real terms increase) if they got the chance, or if that £5 billion, 6 per cent cut will simply be accepted as a fait accompli.

The talk of the town may be of ‘the end of austerity’ and ‘Brexit dividends’, but for low to middle income working-age families – particularly parents – the outlook is quite different. On top of weak pay growth, their outlook includes a further benefits freeze, the transition to Universal Credit with its slashed work allowances, the phasing out of the valuable ‘family element’ and phasing in of a two-child limit. Ending the freeze one year early, with benefits rising just after Brexit day, would help to turn that outlook around.

This is exactly the issue, what exactly would the parties do to repair the damage caused by the benefit freeze?

Written by Andrew Coates

October 15, 2018 at 10:30 am

As Revolt Against Universal Credit Grows Esther McVey Tries to Ban Charity Critics.

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Image result for esther mcvey glamour photo

Esther McVey: Needs Protection for her “standing and reputation”.

The world has turned against Universal Credit.

You know that when Gordon Brown attacked it, saying, “Halt universal credit or face summer of discontent” and and was followed by fomrer Tory PM, John Major rubbishing the hare-brained scheme.

And the Tory papers jumping on the bandwagon.

Not to mention yer actual present day Tory MPs:

The House of Commons,

Tory backbenchers have urged the government to slow down the roll out of universal credit. The new all-in-one benefit, which replaces six existing benefits, is being introduced gradually, but in areas where it has been implemented there have been multiple complaints about people being impoverished by having to wait for money. In an interview on the World at One, Nigel Mills said:

If you have any doubts that we can make it work for these volumes, let’s slow down. Let’s not get this wrong for the sake of sticking to a timetable.

Another Tory backbencher, Johnny Mercer, said UC was “politically undeliverable” in his Devon constituency, and called for a planned increase in income tax thresholds to be scrapped in order to make the benefit more generous. The MPs spoke out as Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, said some claimants would be worse off under UC, despite Downing Street saying otherwise. (See 4.59pm and 5.04pm.)

Guardian.

One of the things that stuck in the craw was McVey’s claim that if people lost money under Universal Credit they could always earn the shortfall by working more.

But, there you go….

Then there was this yesterday (Independent):

Some people “could be worse off” when they switch to universal creditEsther McVey has admitted – directly contradicting Theresa May’s pledge to “protect” them.

The work and pensions secretary said “tough decisions’ had been made which would hit claimants – following reports that she told the cabinet their loss could reach £2,400 a year.

The admission comes just one day after the prime minister told the Commons that current claimants “will not see any reduction”, promising: “They will be protected.”

Thin-skinned Esther is not one to take this lightly.

The Independent reports today:

Charities working with Universal Credit claimants required to ‘sign contracts to protect Esther McVey’s reputation’

Charities and companies working with Universal Credit (UC) claimants have reportedly been required to sign clauses pledging not to damage the reputation of Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey.

At least 22 organisations – covering contracts worth £1.8 billion – have been required to sign the clauses as part of their involvement with programmes getting the unemployed into work, The Times reported.

Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) denied they were “gagging clauses” intended to prevent criticism of ministers or their policies, insisting they were just “standard procedure”.

However a spokesman confirmed that the contracts did include references to ensure both parties “understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests”.

Eagle-eyed observers will have noticed in recent weeks a string of stories about charities, such as CAB,  being contracted to do the DWP’s work….

As in, “Citizens Advice to provide support to Universal Credit claimants.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will fund Citizens Advice to provide Universal Support from April 2019, the government has announced.

The support scheme will help claimants through every step of making a Universal Credit claim. It will offer people the comprehensive and practical support they need to get their first payment on time and be ready to manage it when it arrives.

Universal Support provides advice and assistance to help claimants manage their Universal Credit claim, with a focus on budgeting advice and digital support. Since 2017, Universal Support has been delivered by individual local authorities, funded by grants from DWP.

From April 2019 Citizens Advice (England and Wales) and Citizens Advice Scotland will take on the responsibility for delivering a strengthened Universal Support service, a move which will ensure a consistent and streamlined service for claimants across the country.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey said:

Since becoming Secretary of State in January, I have listened to the concerns of claimants, constituents, charities, welfare organisations and colleagues and I have made significant changes to the system, like extra support for those with mental health conditions, more support for vulnerable young people and more support for families who look after other family members’ children.

I have always said we will steer a new direction and work with partners to deliver vital services, and get Universal Credit right. The state cannot, and should not work in isolation and must reach out to work with independent, trusted organisations to get the best support to vulnerable people.

This brand new partnership with Citizens Advice will ensure everyone, and in particular the most vulnerable claimants, get the best possible support with their claim that is consistently administered throughout the country.

Citizens Advice are an independent and trusted organisation, who will support people as we continue the successful rollout of Universal Credit.

But….

The signatories to contracts must undertake to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the Work and Pensions Secretary, the newspaper reported, adding that they must “not do anything which may attract adverse publicity” to her, damage her reputation, or harm the public’s confidence in her.

A DWP spokesperson said: “It’s completely untrue to suggest that organisations are banned from criticising Universal Credit. As with all arrangements like this, they include a reference which enables both parties to understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests.

Even the Murdoch press is turning:

As the Mirror says,

The Times said at least 22 organisations signed the pledge as part of contracts worth £1.8 billion to run projects getting the unemployed into work

Written by Andrew Coates

October 12, 2018 at 11:04 am

Gordon Brown Joins Charge Against Universal Credit: Warns of coming “Summer of Discontent”.

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Sign the Petition from Our Friends from the Mirror!

It’s obvious that Universal Credit is going the way of the Poll Tax.

People you would not expect to talk about these things are angry about it at the drop of  a hat.

The local CAB is jammed with the number of cases they have to help.

MPs, including Ipswich’s, are besieged by those in dire straits because of the system.

I would hazard a guess, just a little guess, and say that the DWP is well aware of the train crash that is Universal Credit.

Now after John McDonnell called on Sunday for getting rid of the system Gordon Brown is set to make this speech.

Halt universal credit or face summer of discontent, Gordon Brown tells PM

Guardian – Larry Elliott

Britain is on course for a summer of discontent and poll tax-style chaos unless Theresa May scraps plans for a full national rollout of universal credit next year, the former prime minister Gordon Brown is to say.

In a ferocious attack on the government’s flagship welfare reform, Brown predicts that a complex application process alongside Treasury spending cuts will plunge a million more children into poverty and increase reliance on food banks.

The former Labour leader, who sought to tackle poverty through the introduction of tax credits in the early 2000s, will say on Wednesday that the government’s amendments are cruel and that a U-turn is needed before more suffering is caused.

Even this Blog, which does not mince its words, is shaken by Brown’s next statement,

Speaking in Edinburgh, Brown will say: “Surely the greatest burning injustice of all is children having to go to school ill-clad and hungry. It is the poverty of the innocent – of children too young to know they are not to blame. But the Conservative government lit the torch of this burning injustice and they continue to fan the flames with their £3bn of cuts. A return to poll tax-style chaos in a summer of discontent lies ahead.”

Writing in the Mirror Gordon Brown explains:

Universal Credit is cruel far beyond austerity – and it’s becoming Theresa May’s Poll Tax, says Gordon Brown

It is now time to abandon the national roll out of the disastrous benefit-cutting Universal Credit .

Call a halt to this experiment – cruel and vindictive far beyond austerity – that is pushing child poverty among millions of hard-working British families to record levels.

From next July when three million more families begin to be herded on to Universal Credit, our country will face the kind of chaos we have not seen since the days of the hated Poll Tax.

With the convulsions of Brexit in March and the Universal Credit four months later we face a summer of division and despair.

From July each family on tax credits today will have to submit a wholly new form for Universal Credit – a policy Ministers have been warned will risk a breakdown in the system.

Instead the Government should order a review into what is going wrong – and give emergency help to those families now in despair because of benefit cuts.

With child poverty rising inexorably from three million in 2015 to four million now and to more than five million by 2022, October 29 should bring a Budget for children.

And to halt the rising epidemic, Child Benefit should be raised and child tax credits should be improved – as the one way, alongside a decent living wage, that we can get low-paid families out of poverty.

Today’s poverty explodes the myth that children are in poverty because their parents are work-shy and indolent.

Two thirds of the children in poverty have a parent in work – but earning too little to lift them out of poverty. In fact, nearly half – 42% – of households are in poverty where there is one breadwinner only in work and no other adult working.

The majority of the rest who are in poverty have disability in the family.

Savage Cuts are pushing them on to the breadline.

And after freezing Child Benefit and children’s tax credits for years Universal Credit is taking £3-billion out of the social security budget as it is introduced. Almost 3.2-million working families will, according to the Resolution Foundation, stand to lose an average of £48 a week.

Read the full article.

This stands out:

So I am calling today for the Government to abandon the 2019 national roll out of Universal Credit and end this harsh, harmful and hated experiment.

We need an urgent review on the lines suggested by the Child Poverty Action Group to be instigated and we must hear the voices of those who know what it’s like to have help cut short I join individuals and organisations who have called for a rethink including The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Church of Scotland, The Mayor of London, Disabled Against The Cuts, The Mayor of Liverpool, Mind, The Trussell Trust, Unison, Unite and Citizens Advice Bureau as well as the Child Poverty Action Group and most disabled charities.

The review should look closely at three options: redesign Universal Credit to make it fit for purpose; axing it in favour of reverting to the old system if UC is unfixable; or introduce a brand new system altogether.

The Mirror has launched a petition:

Universal Credit is harsher on people both in and out of work, and some families could end up £200 a month worse off.

The Mirror are demanding a halt to the expansion of UC and for a review to take place. We say there are three options:

  • Redesign UC to be fit for purpose
  • Axe it in favour of the old system if UC is unfixable
  • Introduce a brand new system

Sign our petition to stop the rollout of Universal Credit across Britain and to replace it with a fairer system.

You can sign through here.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 10, 2018 at 10:42 am

Hold the Front Page! McDonnell says, “Universal Credit Has to Go!”

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Image result for UNiversal credit mcdonnell

LIVE: Labour likely to scrap Universal Credit – McDonnell

The shadow chancellor tells Sky’s Sophy Ridge the government’s benefit systems is past being fixed, in a change of policy.

Huff Post:

Universal Credit ‘Has Got To Go’, Says Labour’s John McDonnell

 Rachel Wearmouth

“I think most people now are coming to the conclusion it has got to be scrapped.”

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said Universal Credit “has got to go” in the strongest signal yet that Labour would scrap the government’s flagship benefit scheme.

Speaking on Sky News, McDonnell said: “I think most people now are coming to the conclusion it has got to be scrapped.”

Labour has previously called for Universal Credit to be paused and reformed.

But McDonnell said the government’s attempts to shake-up the benefit “haven’t worked” and Universal Credit “is not the safety net that people expect when they need support.

“I think we’re moving to a position now where it’s not sustainable, it will have to go,” he said.

It comes amid reports that Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has privately warned that families could lose £200 a month.

According to The Times, McVey told fellow cabinet members that the rollouts could result in millions of families losing out on the equivalent of £2,400 a year.

It is thought that half of single parents and two out of three working-age couples will be affected by the new system.

McDonnell said the system was “in shambles”.

“These are some of the poorest families in our communities and it’s just not acceptable,” he said. “We are moving toward the conclusion now that you can’t save the thing. It has got to go.”

Asked what Labour would replace Universal Credit with, McDonnell called for a cross-party debate and said it would consult widely.

Brought in by the former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Universal Credit was designed to simplify the benefits system, but the benefit has been associated with a huge rise in the use of foodbanks.

McVey, on Monday, unveiled plans for a £39 million partnership with charity Citizens Advice to support applicants in getting their first payments on time.

Research by the Child Poverty Action Group in August warned that Universal Credit claimants in employment were facing cuts of more than £250 a month as a result of pay day coinciding with assessment periods.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 7, 2018 at 10:45 am

Local Papers, and *some* nationals , do their Job in Reporting Universal Credit Train crash.

with 3 comments

Image result for universal credit

Talk to the Media!

It is very noticeable that the press, including local papers, has been doing its job in reporting on the Train Crash that is Universal Credit.

Obviously I exclude right-wing comics…..

I just cite a few examples this weekend:

Daisy Wyatt

The ‘I’ – a paper lots of us read.

Low-income families set to lose £200 a month in Universal Credit changeover.

Millions of families are set to lose £200 a month under the new Universal Credit system, it is understood. Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey confirmed the figures privately to colleagues as ministers are said to be increasingly concerned about the rollout of the new universal credit system, The Times reported. Ms McVey told cabinet colleagues that half of lone parents and around two thirds of working age couples with children would lose the equivalent of £2,400 a year, according to the newspaper. Labour MP Jess Phillips has since said the monthly figure lost by low-income families was closer to £300 in her constituency in Birmingham Yardley.

Banbury Guardian.

New service to help struggling Universal Credit claimants

A new service to better help people having difficulty claiming Universal Credit in north Oxfordshire and south Northamptonshire will be launched next year by Citizens Advice. Citizens Advice North Oxfordshire and South Northamptonshire has been given a Government grant to build on its benefits support service from April, 2019.

DWP: Universal Credit claimants get help from Citizens Advice as Teesside rollout continues

Teesside Live.

The Citizens Advice Bureau has been drafted in to help those applying for Universal Credit navigate their claim.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will fund Citizens Advice to provide ‘Universal Support’ from April next year, which hopes to help those on benefits through every step of the process.

The DWP says it will offer people the “comprehensive and practical support they need to get their first payment on time and be ready to manage it when it arrives”.

The Mirror:

Universal Credit’s next stage ‘could spark a huge increase’ in people being forced to rely on food banks

The Trussell Trust have warned issues with benefits are the main reason for referrals to receive emergency food supplies.

I could continue…

Why not keep up the pressure by contacting the press?

Local media obviously feel, and the genuineness of their concern is clear, that this is a top story.

Give ’em a ring, a text or an E-mail…

Written by Andrew Coates

October 7, 2018 at 9:55 am

Trussell Trust fears the next stage of Universal Credit will see Foodbank Use Soar.

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Image result for the next stage of universal credit trussell trust new report

The Trussell Trust has published this Press Release, which should be taken very very seriously indeed.

Not least because many of our contributors are already on Universal Credit and many will also be affected by “managed migration” onto Universal Credit.

Charity warns next stage of Universal Credit could further increase foodbank use.

Anti-poverty charity The Trussell Trust fears the next stage of Universal Credit – which will see three million people moving from tax credits and the old benefits system onto the new system – could lead to a significant increase in foodbank use as new research highlights a major increase in the proportion of foodbank referrals made for people moving onto Universal Credit.

Issues with benefits are the main reason for all Trussell Trust foodbank referrals. Analysis of data from frontline agencies referring to foodbanks across the UK between April 2016 and April 2018 shows that benefit transitions, most likely due to people moving onto Universal Credit, are increasingly accounting for more referrals and are likely driving up need in areas of full Universal Credit rollout. Waiting for the first payment is a key cause, while for many, simply the act of moving over to a new system is causing hardship.

The findings come as the Department for Work and Pensions finalises its plans for the next stage of Universal Credit to take to Parliament later this month. Until now, only people making a new application for benefits in certain areas have been able to apply for Universal Credit. This next stage – ‘managed migration’ – will see the three million people currently receiving tax credits or benefit payments under the old system sent a letter telling them to reapply for these payments under Universal Credit.

The report  (The next stage of Universal Credit. Moving onto the new benefit system and foodbank use) says,

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The rollout of Universal Credit to all Jobcentres will soon be complete, and the next stage of Universal Credit will begin. 3 million people currently claiming benefits and tax credits will have to move onto the system. The Trussell Trust is concerned that, given the links between Universal Credit, financial hardship, and foodbank use, this next stage could lead to increased financial need and more demand for foodbanks. The report uses referral data from Trussell Trust foodbank vouchers to examine the impact of Universal Credit on foodbank use, and finds that:

  • When Universal Credit goes live in an area, there is a demonstrable increase in demand in local Trussell Trust foodbanks. On average, 12 months after rollout, foodbanks see a 52% increase in demand, Credit for 3 months or less. This increase cannot be attributed to randomness and exists even after accounting for seasonal and other variations.
  • More detailed foodbank referral data show that benefit transitions, most likely due to people moving onto Universal Credit, are increasingly accounting for more referrals and are
    likely driving up need in areas of full Universal Credit rollout. Waiting for the first payment is a key cause, while for many, simply the act of moving over to a new system is causing hardship.

This poses serious questions for the next stage of Universal Credit, where many people could lose their benefits entirely or find themselves with less income. The Department’s current plans involve sending letters to people informing them their claim will be terminated if they do not apply for Universal Credit within a four week period. Each claimant will then have to wait at least five weeks for their first payment.

Emma Revie, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, explains:

“We created our benefits system in this country to free people from poverty, not lock them into it. As we look at the current plans for the next stage of Universal Credit, we’re really worried that our network of foodbanks could see a big increase in people needing help. Leaving three million people to wait at least five weeks for a first payment – especially when we have already decided they need support through our old benefits or tax credits system – is just not good enough. 

“It doesn’t have to be like this. We know the problems people are likely to face as they move over to the new system, so we can learn from them. The Department for Work and Pensions has shown they can act on evidence from the frontline to make a real difference to people who need our benefits system’s vital support. Now is the time for our Government to take responsibility for moving people currently on the old system over, and to ensure no one faces a gap in payments when that moves happens. Universal Credit needs to be ready for anyone who might need its help, and it needs to be ready before the next stage begins.”

The Guardian reports:

Trussell Trust calls for urgent changes to policy of moving 3m people on to new system

Last month the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, warned that managed migration posed a “significant threat of harm” to vulnerable claimants, and that the rollout should be paused to enable stronger protections to be put in place.

Universal credit, which rolls six working-age benefits into one monthly payment, has been dogged by delays – it is currently six years behind schedule – and has been much criticised over design flaws that leave thousands of claimants in hardship.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 5, 2018 at 9:28 am

Esther McVey screams abuse at “ugly, destructive, Marxist, Militant, socialists” and subcontracts DWP to Citizens’ Advice.

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Image result for esther mCvey

 

Pretty constructive Esther Attacks “ugly, destructive, Marxist socialists.”

Tory Esther McVey suggests her own party’s benefit cuts are “fake news” in shameless conference speech,

Reports the Mirror

The Work and Pensions Secretary launched her attack despite cuts being well-documented by experts and her predecessor Iain Duncan Smith.

She told Tory members in Birmingham: “If you were to believe everything you heard from Labour or read on social media you’d think we were somehow letting down the most vulnerable in society – especially disabled people.

“However, those who say we are cutting budgets are peddling fake news.

“So here’s the real news – we have never spent more on those with disabilities and long-term health conditions. We spend over £50billion a year, up £9billion on 2010.”

Ms McVey said she became a Conservative to stand against the “ugly, destructive, Marxist, Militant, socialists of the past”.

Today the Independent reports.

DWP calls in Citizens Advice to aid rollout of universal credit to claimants

The organisation has repeatedly raised alarming concerns over the rollout of universal credit, and last year said its expansion was a ‘disaster waiting to happen’

Citizens Advice Bureau has been called in to aid the highly contentious rollout of the government’s flagship welfare programme, Esther McVey has revealed as she announced a £39m fund for the partnership.

Ms McVey, the work and pensions secretary, said the cash would fund advisers to help claimants get their first payment on time and be ready to manage it when it arrives.

Citizens Advice –  a network of independent charities – has repeatedly raised alarming concerns over the rollout of universal credit, and last year said its expansion was a “disaster waiting to happen” with claimants being pushed into further debt.

Background:

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has publicly condemned the UK Government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme, claiming the widely criticised welfare reform makes falling into debt and hardship “practically inevitable”.

Welfare Weekly.

His comments are the latest in a long-line of criticisms and come only a few weeks after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, slammed the new benefit for leaving the UK’s poorest citizens even more “worse off”.

Writing in the Yorkshire Post, John Sentamu, a long-spoken critic of Tory welfare changes, says: “People have already been struggling with rising living costs and stagnating incomes, but emergency food providers such as the Trussell Trust report that in areas where Universal Credit has been introduced, demand has risen far more steeply than in other areas.

The Archbishop of York: Why a fresh rethink is needed over Universal Credit and its implementation

Yorkshire Post.

 IT is five years now since Universal Credit was launched in an attempt to simplify the UK welfare system. Had everything gone to plan, the system would have been up and running across the country by now. Instead, the policy remains a source of ongoing controversy. As a follower of Jesus Christ, my greatest concern is for how this policy affects the poorest members of our community. In the Bible, we are called to uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. It is right that we look at the impact that Universal Credit, in its current form, is having on our poorest neighbours living in poverty.

If those changes can be made, then Universal Credit still has the potential to be a successful, effective policy, and one which makes work pay a Living Wage – and not the present so-called National Living Wage (topped up minimum wage). Our churches will continue to show the love of Jesus in their neighbourhoods. We will continue to run community projects; food banks, holiday clubs, breakfasts for children, debt advice, support for those who are struggling. Our churches are places of welcome where all can find a home. The Government should take immediate steps to support many people who find themselves, through no fault of their own, in desperate circumstances. I urge them to think again.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 1, 2018 at 2:25 pm

Jobcentre Goes Mad: Demands People Have Smartphones.

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Related image

Soon to Include Jobcentre AP? 

eople are starving over Universal Credit – telling me to use a credit-hungry smartphone is beyond the pale

Arthur Chapple. The ‘I’. Today.

This story keeps developing

See, Man on Universal Credit says he was told by Jobcentre he had to get a smartphone to search for a job )

 

I am long-term unemployed. Few employers take me seriously: I’m 56, a credit risk due to high debt, can’t drive and therefore dependent on public transport which means I cannot pursue jobs with shift patterns outside the bus or train times. A history of agency temping jobs makes running a full five-year history check for potential employers too demanding. A degree in literature and philosophy makes me over-qualified by not being very vocational.

I was moved to a proto-version of Universal Credit (from Jobseeker’s Allowance) in Manchester a few years before moving to Preston in 2016.

I am transferring to the ‘full roll out’ of Universal Credit on 27 September 2018. I learned this at my last meeting with advisers at the Preston Jobcentre on 6 September.

Every fortnight I have a meeting with an adviser who looks at my job search activity, suggests a few job leads for me to consider and makes my next appointment. My job search log is on a flash drive which I can show advisers by clipping the drive to my tablet. T

he Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can’t check my records on their computers for data protection reasons but can absurdly look at my own devices directly if I lug them in. On 6 September, I was sent to an adviser – not my usual – who had no interest in my job search record at all. He looked at my tablet in disdain. He insisted that I use an iPhone instead.

I told him I don’t have an iPhone, just a basic mobile – which he saw – and a landline at home. “I questioned [the smartphone’s] affordability. He told me of one going cheap at Argos and said the DWP would contribute up to £40 towards a new model.” It’s a very simple phone that will only take calls and texts, but it’s good enough for somebody phoning me up to say we’ve got a job you might be interested in. I’ve got a computer at home as well.

‘Must get a smartphone’

The adviser told me my full roll-out signing session is on 27 September and that by then I must get a smartphone, which he said would be easier to carry and access. I questioned its affordability. He told me of one going cheap at Argos and said the DWP would contribute up to £40 towards a new model.

I asked if this included its top-ups or a contract, but no. Credit for my current phone costs an average of £5 every three months. I doubt if a smartphone would be as cheap. I was given no indication that I had a choice or that this decision was not mandatory.

Such power-play strikes me as highly unethical and bogus. I feel intentionally misinformed.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “There is no requirement for UC claimants to own a mobile phone, nor is a mobile phone required for a UC claim. Computers and free WiFi are available in all Jobcentres to enable claimants to maintain their accounts.”

‘Red tape hell’

With people starving and dying of suicide over the Universal Credit changes, forcing us to use credit-hungry phones is really beyond the pale. Many see the unemployed as scroungers but I do extensive voluntary work, have a book due for publication soon and Christmas work lined up for November and December. This is great but sadly temporary.

By January I will almost certainly be claiming benefits again and once more plunged into red tape hell, just as it seems to settle down from the last time. The whole, horrible process could be repeated on me.

Personally I rarely use even an ordinary mobile….

2013. Background.

Dear Jason Davies,

Thank you for your Freedom of Information request received on 16th July and your subsequent email of 19th July.

You asked for:

Are there any circumstances when a jobseeker (a JSA/ESA claimant) may be mandated by Jobcentre plus, by way of a Jobseeker’s Direction for example, to provide a telephone number and/or an email address on which the Jobcentre may expect to be able to contact them, if the jobseeker does not wish to provide this information?

Specifically, are there any circumstances in which a jobseeker would (note: not could, or may) be sanctioned for refusing to provide a telephone number and/or an email address?

If the jobseeker does not have a telephone (landline or mobile) is there any circumstance in which the Jobcentre can force the jobseeker to obtain one, even if this is being supplied at no cost to the jobseeker by, for example, the Jobcentre or a Work Programme provider? Would the jobseeker have to accept this or otherwise face a sanction?

Furthermore, are there any circumstances where a jobseeker would be sanctioned for refusing to allow the Jobcentre/DWP to keep a copy of their CV such that it would be permanently accessible to advisers etc?

If the jobseeker is not legally obliged to give a permanent copy to the Jobcentre/DWP is there a legal requirement to show a copy of a CV to the Jobcentre and, if so, would it be considered reasonable for a jobseeker to redact any personal information, such as telephone numbers, email addresses, employer details etc., from a CV being shown to an adviser?

Additionally, in the specific circumstance where a jobseeker is refusing to register with Universal Jobmatch, would the jobseeker be sanctioned if his reason for refusal is not wanting to supply an email address during the registration process (bearing in mind that supplying an email address is mandatory to set up a Government Gateway account and without which registration with Universal Jobmatch is impossible)? 

Reply: 

Providing a CV, email address or telephone number is not mandatory, therefore is not sanctionable.

However, a Jobseeker’s Allowance claimant may be issued with a Jobseeker’s Direction, requiring them to take a reasonable, specific activity that will help them find work, e.g. getting a

CV, telephone number or email address will help a claimant get a job. The decision to issue a Jobseeker’s Direction must always take into account the claimant’s individual circumstances.

Furthermore, claimants must demonstrate they have undertaken what is required in a Jobseeker’s Direction. Where the evidence provided is considered to be insufficient, the case will be referred to a Decision Maker for them to determine if the claimant has complied with the Jobseeker’s Direction. Failure to comply with a Jobseeker’s Direction, without good reason, will
affect benefit.

This is supported by Section 19A of the Jobseekers Act 1995, which can be found at the following internet address, via the DWP Website:
http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/a11-0101.pdf

It is for a Decision Maker to determine whether a Jobseeker’s Allowance claimant has good reason for refusing to create a profile and public CV in Universal Jobmatch, taking into account
the circumstances of each particular case.

If you have any queries about this letter please contact me quoting the reference number
above.
Yours sincerely,
DWP Central FoI Team

Written by Andrew Coates

September 20, 2018 at 11:37 am

Poverty Crisis Worsened by Universal Credit.

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Image result for poverty Social Metrics Commission

” total number of people living in poverty is 14.2 million.”

Poverty, anybody could see with their own eyes, is growing.

I was struck, visiting my old homeland, Haringey, by this recently.

It was not so much that seeing the homeless people on the streets was a surprise – we have plenty in Ipswich. Though I must admit that, coming out of Wood Green Tube station, the sight of a geezer with a sleeping bag sprawled out in front of the ‘Spoons on Spouters’ Corner was unexpected.

It was that walking from there to Turnpike Lane most people looked, well, not well off.

Same pound shops, charity shops, though a Mall looked a bit more prosperous than ours.

This is the real London, not Made In Chelsea.

Bounds Green, where I grew up, is (wrote the Guardian in 2013 and it’s still true), is “ordinary north London, like wot even Muswell Hill used to be: an endangered species these days.”, was another destination on this tour.

On a  round circuit from the Tube to my old gaff (a short 15 minutes)  I came across at least 10 off-licences and newsagents/food stores selling cheap booze.

Encouraging to see that people still appreciate white cider and 9% lager, no “shops selling single-estate, organic, truffle-dusted flat whites”.

But then………..

This report, then, does not come out of the blue.

More than two million Brits at risk of falling into poverty, report warns

The UK Government has been urged to take action at the Budget in order to tackle Britain’s growing poverty crisis, in response to the publication of a new report which shows that 2.5million people are at risk of falling into poverty.

The Social Metrics Commission has published a new framework for measuring poverty in the UK, which takes into account a wider range of interplaying factors which cause people to fall into poverty – including material resources, the cost of disability, and the cost of childcare.

Sam Royston, director of policy and research at The Children’s Society, said: “While we would welcome these changes to how poverty is measured being included in official statistics, concrete action is needed to tackle the shameful scale of poverty among our children, with all the damage it can do to their wellbeing, education and life chances.”

The Commission found that more than one in ten (12.1%) of the total UK population (7.7million people) live in persistent poverty. While a further 2.5million people in the UK are less than 10% above the poverty line – meaning relatively small changes in their circumstances could see them fall below it.

Philippa Stroud, the commission’s chair, said: “We want to put poverty at the heart of government policymaking and ensure that the decisions that are made are genuinely made with the long term interests of those in poverty in mind.”

The UK Government abolished child poverty targets under the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 – a moved condemned by the SNP who have reintroduced them in Scotland and have called for their reintroduction across the UK.

These are the conclusions of the above report:

The SMC report, available here,  reveals numerous key findings and challenges. The total number of people living in poverty is 14.2 million with the composition of poverty moving towards a better identification of children (4.5 million) and working-age adults (8.4 million). The good news is the shift away from pensioner poverty with far fewer pensioners living in poverty following a significant reduction of poverty amongst pension age couples, over the last 15 years.

The report reveals that people with a disability are much more likely to be living in poverty than previously thought, with around half of the 14.2 million people in poverty living in families with a disabled person.

The report also reveals the persistence and depth of UK poverty. More than one in ten (12.1%) of the total UK population are in poverty now and have been in poverty for at least two of the previous three years. A further 2.5 million people live less than 10% above the poverty line and are close to falling below it with relatively small changes to their circumstances; and around 2.7 million people live less than 10% below it.

 SMC KEY FINDINGS

  1. 2 million people in the UK population live in poverty: 8.4 million working-age adults; 4.5 million children; and 1.4 million pension age adults.
  2. Over half of those in poverty (58.2%) also live in persistent poverty. This means that more than one in ten (7.7 million) of the total UK population are in poverty now and have been in poverty for at least two of the previous three years. Persistent poverty is highest in families more than 10% below the poverty line, in workless families and families where someone is disabled.
  3. People with a disability are much more likely to be living in poverty. Nearly half of the 14.2 million people in poverty live in families with a disabled person (6.9 million people equal to 48.3% of those in poverty). The SMC metric recognises the inescapable costs of disability, accounting for them alongside the value of disability benefits, to reflect the lived experience of living with a disability.
  4. Far fewer pensioners are living in poverty than previously thought, with a significant fall in pensioner poverty over the last 15 years. Poverty rates amongst pension-age adults have nearly halved since 2001, and have fallen to one in ten, a drop from 17% of the total population in poverty in 2001 to 11% in 2017. There are, however some pensioner groups still experiencing high levels of poverty. For example, the poverty rate for pensioners who do not own their own home is 34.2%.

You can only note that all this is about to get a lot lot worse:

The Universal Credit Rollout Will Cause Liverpool Untold Harm – The Government Must Pause And Rethink. 

Joe Anderson Mayor of Liverpool

Huffington Post.

In a city described by the Joseph Rowntree Trust as having the second worst affected in the country when it comes to ‘destitution,’ Liverpool needs Universal Credit like a hole in the head.

Nevertheless, from this week, the remaining parts of my city not already covered by UC will start being migrated across to the new benefit.

The dread I feel is because we know what happens next.

Already, we can see a spike in hardship and a rise in council tax arrears from those who have already transitioned to UC. Not to mention the snaking queues at foodbanks and the families struggling with things like school uniform costs.

Around 55,000 Liverpool households will eventually see their claim move to Universal Credit. So far, we estimate that up to 2,800 people in Liverpool are affected by changes in work allowances in Universal Credit, resulting in a loss of income to families of between £40 and £200 each month.

The Council’s various discretionary schemes, set up to protect people in hardship, made 13,700 awards last year at a cost of just under £2.7million. 71% of all Discretionary Housing Payments made in Liverpool are to help people who have been hit by the ‘under occupation penalty’ – or as we know it, the bedroom tax.

It’s so frustrating because as a council, we have one of the best records in the country when it comes to maintaining discretionary benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable in our city. We are left picking up the pieces from failed central government changes.

Despite losing two-thirds of our government funding since 2010 (£444million), we have stretched our finances as far as we can in order to preserve basic human dignity, but also because it makes sense to address problems upstream before they swim downstream and cost even more to fix.

This is often down to the scandalous time lag between applying for Universal Credit and receiving a first payment. This is often as long as twelve weeks, with the National Audit Office recently reporting that four in ten applicants had experienced financial difficulties while transitioning across to UC, while one in five were not paid on time.

So my message to ministers is simple: pause this roll-out and listen to those of us on the frontline. It’s possible to reform Universal Credit to keep the original intention of simplifying the benefits system without deliberately causing misery for tens of thousands of people in my city and millions more across the country.

Drop the ideology for a start. There is no good reason to make desperate people wait for their benefits, simply because eight years ago Iain Duncan-Smith wanted to teach them budgeting skills. Pay up straightaway and take that terrible burden off the backs of some of the poorest people in our society.

Unnecessary delay simply throws vulnerably families into the clutches of payday lenders and loan sharks. This is a simple concession that Esther McVey could make that would transform the lives of millions of people for the better and show that the Department for Work and Pensions is listening to evidence about the ill-effects of UC.

I would also urge her to work with councils rather than ignoring us. Along with the voluntary sector, we are working to pick up the pieces of botched welfare changes. But give us the tools to do it. Provide ring-fenced funding so councils can create a local welfare scheme to address acute hardship.

But it’s also about practical steps, like understanding the system simply isn’t flexible enough for people on zero hours contracts and have no guarantees about their work situation from week to week. Also, the DWP could dramatically reduce the waiting time for connection to the DWP advice and information lines.

Before people in Liverpool are exposed to these poorly-conceived and badly implemented changes, I am asking Esther McVey to pause and #RethinkUC.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

September 18, 2018 at 9:23 am

All-digital Universal Credit system Creates Problems as DWP Goes Technology Tonto.

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Image result for universal credit GDS Verify online identity system problems

Problems with the all-digital Universal Credit system were flagged up in January by Computer Weekly,

Thousands of Universal Credit claimants unable to use Gov.uk Verify to apply for benefit

Government research shows that barely one-third of benefits claimants can successfully apply for new Universal Credit digital service using flagship online identity system.

In March the same journal said,

Universal Credit project warned over Gov.uk Verify performance in 2015

Government project management experts warned as long ago as 2015 that a problem with GDS’s Verify online identity system could undermine the Universal Credit business plan.

In June Computer Weekly reported,

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has lost responsibility for digital identity policy, with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) taking over.

There are still problems for users as the comments here indicate all too well.

Neil says:

You have to reclaim Universal Credit digitally, online. So basically you have to create a Universal Credit account with a user name, password, and and answers to a couple of security question (one of which is asked when you try to log on). You will be asked how you want your notifications to be sent to you, email or phone, and will have to confirm you email address (by clicking a link of an email the DWP sends you) or using a code sent to you phone as a text message. After that you have to go through the usual routine about rent, savings etc. That bit of it is quite simple really. You then have to telephone a call centre to make an appointment to go back to the Jobcentre to produce evidence to corroborate your identity, although if you’re lucky you might do all of this with one visit. If all goes well you will then get a message sent to you telling you that you’ve been transferred and are fully on the full digital service.

But,

It is a bit but what got me is having to take in documents to prove my identity again! I’ve been visiting the Jobcentre and claiming Universal Credit for months, had already proven my identity before, and then had to do it again when switching from the live system to the digital system. That’s proper nuts. But then most things are a bit mental when it comes to UC.

 

It’s not just Verification: the DWP is going Technology Tonto!

The ‘I’ reports, Serina Sandhu Friday September 14th

A Universal Credit claimant has alleged that his local Jobcentre ordered him to purchase a smartphone for his job search because his basic model was not good enough.

Arthur Chappell, who is unemployed, argued that his existing phone allowed him to answer calls and receive texts from employers and that he had a tablet with WiFi access to show the Jobcentre he was actively seeking work.

However an adviser told him he needed to own a smartphone by the end of September in time for his next session. The 56-year-old called the request “offensive… on many levels”.

With people starving and [dying of] suicide over the Universal Credit changes, forcing us to use credit-hungry phones is really beyond the pale,” he told i.

Basic phone is ‘good enough’

On 6 September, Mr Chappell attended his monthly meeting at the Friargate Jobcentre but was instead informed that he would be signed on to the Universal Credit “full service,” following the system’s roll-out in Preston. He was told he would need to bring his iPhone to the next briefing on 27 September.

Jobcentre offers to pay for phone

In a statement given to i, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “There is no requirement for Universal Credit (UC) claimants to own a mobile phone, nor is a mobile phone required for a UC claim. Computers and free WiFi are available in all Jobcentres to enable claimants to maintain their accounts.”

However Mr Chappell claims he was told in no uncertain terms that he needed a smartphone. When he raised that he could not afford one, the adviser told him they would pay £40 towards the device and specifically directed him to the Argos website.

One model can be found for £34.99. “He said they pay for the phone but not for the top-ups,” said Mr Chappell, who fears a smartphone will need topping up more frequently. “It’s obviously [going to cost] more than what my current arrangement is because I think they actually want me to have internet access on it as well which will obviously strain the budget a lot more than the unit I’m using now.”

The next passage is fair comment,

Mr Chappell said it felt as though the adviser wanted him to be able to search for a job round-the-clock with a smartphone.

“The official reply [from the DWP] seems to be about what they expect claimants to bring to the Universal Credit registration meeting while my adviser’s demand is going beyond the registration to a device he expects me to have on me 24/7.”

“It has been a standing rule that we should spend 35 hours a week job-seeking, though finding that many jobs in your skills range is extremely difficult. Having us contactable 24/7 by iPhone exceeds [this] boundary.

“Sleep, shower, being in a cinema, eating lunch, all go out the window if that all important call comes through. It is extremely intrusive and invasive. This isn’t remotely about improving our job searching. It’s about policing every move we make.

And,

Mr Chappell said he considered the adviser’s request “highly bogus”.

He also admitted it had initially caused him concern. “I might get sanctioned and that will cause me big problems. It’s only now they’re making this transition [to full Universal Credit] that I feel threatened by it all.”

He worried about how the public would perceive Universal Credit claimants with smartphones. “It is also likely to make more people look on the unemployed as scroungers. ‘Ooh, look at them walking round with the best [smartphones].’ That we didn’t pay for them and in some cases don’t want them is beside the point. We will get stigmatised.”

Having a smartphone paid for seemed unnecessary when some claimants, including himself at times, could not afford the basics and used food banks, he added.

Mr Chappell, who hopes to be working again by mid-November and is due to have his book on pub signs published in April, said he was managing at the moment but having to fork out for more credit for a new phone could mean he had to use food banks again. He said he would be sending a letter of complaint to the DWP and would hold off purchasing the phone until he heard back.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 15, 2018 at 11:02 am

Labour Needs Policies to Replace Universal Credit to Rebuild the Welfare State.

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Image result for mark Serwotka speech

“We need to see a Corbyn government commit to overturn decades of attacks on and ridicule of benefits claimants and return to the founding principles of a properly-resourced welfare state”  PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka.

A number of our commentators have been, rightly, dissatisfied with the lack of a strong Labour voice, above all, Labour Party Policy, on welfare issues.

These range from silence on the benefit freeze (which needs to be ended), to an alternative to the Universal Credit car-crash.

There remains talk about a pause to implementing Universal Credit (a 2017 petition – a bit late now).

The acting Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, Margaret Greenwood, seems to have said little since just before the long summer holidays, apart from continuing to criticise government policies (“Delays in payments of Universal Credit are sending victims back to abusive partners – Margaret Greenwood.” August the 1st).

Basic Income aside what are Labour policies, from funding to changing the whole miserable punitive structure of the benefit system?

What are Labour’s plans to fix Universal Credit?

No straightforward ideas seem available.

Although there is this:  John McDonnell attacks Tory disability cuts and vows to address suicides linked to welfare reforms.  Kitty S Jones

This suggested Contemporary Motion for the coming Labour Conference  (from the Clarion site) suggests some starting points:

SUPPORTING THOSE IN NEED: REBUILD THE WELFARE STATE

We note
• the 8 August ONS figures showing that improvement in life expectancy has virtually stopped.
• the 6 August Child Poverty Action Group report on how Universal Credit’s flaws are leading to low-income families arbitrarily losing as much as £258 a month!
• the July Resolution Foundation figures showing the poorest third’s incomes fell last year, even before inflation.

The situation is shameful. We must reverse the drive, accelerating since 2010, to make welfare less and less about supporting those in need and more and more stingy, punitive and coercive.

Neither Universal Credit nor the existing framework (JSA, ESA, etc) are good. We must redesign benefits in close consultation with recipients, workers and their organisations.

This must be part of a wider anti-poverty program, with a goal that by the end of our first term foodbanks disappear.

We commit to
1. Ending the benefit freeze; uprating with inflation or earnings, whichever is higher.
2. Reversing all cuts/reductions; increasing benefits to afford a comfortable, not minimum, income.
3. Entitlement conditions that are straightforward, inclusive and available to all, including migrants (scrap ‘No recourse to public funds’).
4. Paying benefits for all children and dependents.
5. Abolishing all sanctions.
6. Scrapping Work Capability and similar assessments.
7. Relevant health issues being addressed using medical professionals with appropriate knowledge of individuals’ conditions and impairments.
8. Delivery by paid public servants via networks accessible to everyone, including provision of face-to-face support for all who need it. Reversing DWP cuts and privatisation.

Whether this gets onto the agenda or not there are people calling for some serious policies.

‘Labour must return to the founding principles of the welfare state’, says union boss

Welfare Weekly reports (12th of September),

Labour must commit to over-turning years of cuts to social security benefits and end the stigmatisation of benefit claimants seen under Tony Blair and the current Tory Government, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said at a TUC Congress fringe meeting on Tuesday.

Mark told the meeting held in Manchester that the current benefits system in “broken” and “causing much difficulty for people claiming benefits”, whilst adding the Tory Government is seeking to cause divisions between “people in work, those who work in DWP and those in receipt of benefits”.

He added that a future Corbyn-led Labour Government must “return to the founding principles of the welfare state that it is for all people and provide dignity for all people at all stages of their lives”.

Mark also said the rollout of Universal Credit needs to he halted because the new system is in chaos and there aren’t enough DWP staff to deliver it.

“We need to stop a system that is causing so much difficulty for people claiming benefits,” he said. “The benefits system is broken, under-resourced, inadequate and understaffed.”

He added: “The starting point of the debate on welfare needs to be the founding principles of the welfare state that it is for all people and provide dignity for all people at all stages of their lives.

Mark continued: “We had a system that wasn’t perfect but gave people money when they needed it. Almost exclusively people claim benefits because of a crisis out of their control.£

Mark said that ‘New Labour’ took stigmatisation of welfare claimants to new levels and there was a lot of work to do to put that right. He said we need to see some radical welfare polices from a future Labour government that gives everyone a welfare system that we can all be proud of.

£34bn has been cut from the welfare budget since 2012, with a further £12bn of cuts planned before 2022.

“More money is needed as we have some of the lowest rates of benefits in Western Europe,” said Mark.

PCS DWP Group assistant secretary Steve Swainton said: “Universal Credit has been understaffed and underfunded at every stage. Our members are doing everything they can do to mitigate the worst of the system but we need a radical redesign.”

Colin Hampton, co-ordinator of the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres (DUWC), told the meeting: “If we can spend money on bombing people we can spend money on putting people into work.

“The benefits issue is fundamental to the trade union movement. What happens to people on benefits affects what happens to people in the workplace and wider society.”

“We need to restore dignity and respect to people in and out of work”, he added.

The PCS site carries further details, including this:

Written by Andrew Coates

September 12, 2018 at 10:46 am

Crunch Time for Failing Universal Credit Scheme.

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Image result for universal credit better off in work

Please Verify £3 Billion Extra Funding.

Theresa May has been told that she must inject nearly £3 billion into controversial benefit reforms as the policy reaches its most delicate stage in parliament.

MPs will be asked this autumn to approve the extension of universal credit payments to 2.1 million less well-off families who at present claim income-linked benefits. These include about one million families in which parents work in low-paid jobs. This group of people who are “just about managing” have previously been identified by the prime minister as her political priority.

The Times.

Government faces crunch decisions this Autumn as Universal Credit enters its ‘most difficult phase’.

The Resolution Foundation says,

The government must get the final phase of Universal Credit (UC) right this Autumn if it’s to reboot the reputation of its flagship welfare reform programme and support millions of low income families, according to a new report published today by the Resolution Foundation.

The benefits of moving focuses on the final, and in many ways most difficult, phase of UC, which involves moving 2.1 million families currently claiming benefits (such as tax credits and Employment Support Allowance) onto the new system. This includes around a million ‘just about managing’ families who are in work.

The details of the crucial final phase are due to be decided upon in parliament this Autumn and rolled out from July 2019 onwards. This ‘managed migration’ is the most difficult phase yet for UC because it involves people that have not chosen to apply for the new benefit.

The report notes that the principle of Universal Credit has consistently enjoyed cross-party support on the basis of two key advantages – improved financial incentives and higher-take up for the simplified benefit.

However, the first advantage has been undermined by cuts in Summer Budget 2015 that reduced the generosity of the scheme. The small print of UC’s design also means that the financial incentives for single parents and second earners to enter and progress in work are weak.

The Foundation says that upholding the second key advantage of UC – encouraging higher take-up – should therefore be a top priority for government as it seeks parliamentary approval for the legal rules that will govern the upcoming managed migration this Autumn. It argues that the potential gains from higher take-up are significant, with the OBR estimating that 700,000 families could gain around £2.9bn in total.

The benefits of moving says that a smooth final phase of the rollout, which prevents cash losses and encourages more families to claim their full benefit entitlement, could help to reboot the reputation of UC. However, it warns that further design flaws – which need to be resolved this Autumn – risk further undermining the roll-out and could put people off claiming UC altogether.

The Foundation’s recommendations to make a success of the most difficult phase of UC include:

  • Speeding up UC payments. The government should show that 90 per cent of new claims to UC are paid on time and in full before it rolls out the managed migration process. In February 2018, 83 per cent of claims were paid in full and on time, with little improvement since June 2017.
  • Reducing financial risks. The government should ensure that the state, rather than individuals, bears any financial risk that may arise from teething problems in the managed migration phase. No existing claim should be closed until a new UC claim is in place, so that people don’t lose support altogether.
  • Boosting financial incentives. The government should introduce an earnings disregard for those being forced to move onto UC to prevent claimants with volatile earnings (such as self-employed workers or those on zero-hours contracts), or who have a short-term boost in pay, from losing out financially from the transition. More broadly, the government should improve incentives by increasing single parent work allowances and introducing one for second earners.

David Finch, Senior Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“Universal Credit enjoyed almost universal support when it was first announced. But its reputation has been undermined in recent years by significant cuts and payment delays that have left too many claimants in difficult financial straits.

“But despite these problems, the rollout of Universal Credit is still going ahead and is in fact about to enter its most difficult phase as two million families already claiming benefits start to be moved onto the new system – including one million just about managing families.

“Get this final phase of the rollout right and it could help to reboot Universal Credit’s reputation, but get things wrong and UC’s reputation risks taking another battering, and worryingly some families could be put off claiming UC altogether.”

 

Calls for further delays to fix flaws before million working families move on to benefit

Failure to manage the critical next phase of universal credit, during which about a million low-income working families will be moved on to the benefit, could sink the controversial welfare programme altogether, experts have warned.

The Resolution Foundation says ministers should consider further delays to the rollout of the benefit so that design flaws can be fixed and further safeguards put in place to protect claimants from risks of financial hardship.

There is concern that universal credit could prove politically explosive for ministers when the large cohort of “just-about-managing” working families in receipt of tax credits are subjected to its well-documented problems with payment delays.

More than 2 million households – including about a million working families, as well as 750,000 disabled and ill claimants unable to work – will be transferred to universal credit under so-called “managed migration” over three years from next July.

Meanwhile:

‘Debt, tears and suicidal thoughts’: This is the reality of universal credit in Cardiff

Carer Vivien Soloman, 60, from Tremorfa, has been told she cannot receive anything as her partner’s pension counts towards the maximum household income they’re entitled to under Universal Credit.

Despite being signed off work after breaking her wrist in April last year and suffering from stress, she is now without any income.In six years time, when she turns 66, she will be entitled to receive her own state pension yet under Universal Credit she is not entitled to any benefits.

Vivien recently received a letter from her housing association telling her she is nearly £1,000 in arrears and faces being forced out of her home after 24 years.She and her partner have seen their council tax bills jumped up by over double – rocketing to over £90 a month when she used to pay £24 a month.

That’s on top of a maxed out overdraft of £2,000, with bank charges of £35 a month, paying her sister £30 a month for credit card debt and still paying for her father’s funeral after he died in April.With no savings, she can’t afford to pay it back, and it’s making her have suicidal thoughts.Vivien, whose partner is a retired painter and decorator, feels trapped.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 8, 2018 at 11:45 am

Universal Credit Failing People With Mental Health Problems.

with 40 comments

Related image

 

This appeared recently on the Disabled People Against Cuts Site.

Given the importance of issues about mental health recently should be looked at by the widest possible audience.

Some background before the article:

Universal credit leaves claimants with mental health problems ‘tangled in bureaucracy’

July 2018: 

People with mental health problems are becoming “tangled up” in the bureaucracy and flaws of the government’s new universal credit benefit system, a committee of MPs have heard.

Members of the public accounts committee heard this week that claimants were facing “considerable hardship and considerable deterioration in their mental health” because of universal credit.

Sophie Corlett, director of external relations for the mental health charity Mind, told them: “They struggle with the process, but they end up tangled in the process and unable to dig their way out of it.

“They struggle with the online application, they struggle with the conditionality that comes while you wait for your work capability assessment (WCA), they struggle with waiting for their first payment and if they are able to get an advance payment they struggle to pay that back.”

She also highlighted concerns about the role of the government’s work coaches, who are based at jobcentres and have “discretion” about whether they make adjustments to the process, including whether to relax the conditions placed on disabled claimants.

A key concern, said Corlett, was the period between the start of a universal credit claim and the WCA, during which claimants can be forced to carry out the usual 30-plus hours of jobsearch activity while waiting to be assessed for their “fitness for work”.

Carrying out this jobsearch activity was “a huge barrier” for many people with mental health problems, who were often not even well enough to visit their jobcentre.

Mental Health in the Social Security System

As the number of unemployed social security claimants has declined, the government’s drive for reductions in the benefits bill has focussed increasingly on the chronic sick and the disabled. The government’s aim is not to improve the well-being of these claimants but rather to classify as many of them as possible as fit for work and to push them into whatever jobs are available by cutting their benefits and, very frequently, imposing sanctions upon them. This strategy is backed up by a simplistic account of the mental health problems which, today, account for most sickness claims.

The key problem today is that mentally distressed claimants are being offered simplistic and ineffective remedies and are being pressurised by the social security system to seek employment of any kind, including in poor quality jobs which can aggravate their mental health conditions


Analysis

Over the last two decades, mental health problems have become a key issue in social security policy. This is because, first, straightforward unemployment is much lower and state-provided unemployment indemnities are now a very small fraction of social security expenditures, so that long-term illness and incapacity, which affect many more people, dominate in terms both of case-loads and spending.

Second, long-term illness itself now predominantly takes the form of mental distress, with anxiety and depression more frequent than the physiological problems, such as back pain, which used to account for most sickness-related social security claims.

In Britain  and in many other advanced economies social security claims related to illness increased rapidly in the wake of the deindustrialisation of the 1980s. One can trace these increases to labour market conditions and interpret them as a form of disguised unemployment in that they would not have been as severe if labour markets for industrial workers had remained buoyant. The geography of sickness benefits confirms the interpretation: For example, Merthyr Tydfil, devastated by the decline in Welsh heavy industry, was a notorious sickness benefit black spot.

In the 1980s policy-makers tended to accept the increased sickness benefit bill as the lesser of two evils, as preferable to much higher levels of open unemployment and as providing a certain compensation to some of the most vulnerable victims of structural change. However, as high numbers of sickness claims persisted and began to affect more recent generations governments became less passive and started to search for ways to limit the problem. One sign of this switch was a reformulation of labour market objectives: an increase in employment rates was seen as a better target than a reduction in unemployment as such in that high rates of inactivity (either through sickness or for other reasons) were now seen as in general undesirable.

Women were adversely affected by this shift because, in the drive to maximise employment, social security systems became much less supportive of women claimants who were full-time mothers and housewives. From the 1990s on, governments also started to make less use of early retirement as a palliative for long-term unemployment.

These changes should not disguise the continuity both in labour market conditions and in the nature of incapacity. There is certainly an alarming rise in mental health problems across western countries but the musculoskeletal disorders which prevailed in the past were not necessarily a completely distinct phenomenon: in an economy where most jobs were manual they could act as a sickness-induced disqualification from employment in general; in today’s service-dominated economy psychological malfunctions can, in a similar way, indicate an inability to meet the typical constraints of existing labour market conditions.

Thus the changing forms of sickness in no way undermine the notion of “disguised unemployment” or, in less tendentious terms, adverse labour market conditions, as a principal source of incapacity. Recent British policy, however, completely inverts this widely accepted causal relationship: current policy is based on the view that the labour market is not the cause of, but rather the remedy for, sickness-related inactivity. This view has led to the imposition of policies towards claimants which needlessly aggravate their distress while leaving untouched the labour market structures and practices which actually disqualify so many people from employment.

Two main developments have led to the policy impasse: the degeneration of the universal credit (UC) social security reforms and the drive within the NHS to address mental health problems through “Improved Access to Psychiatric Therapies” (IAPT).

The original objectives of the UC reforms were to simplify the benefit system, by bringing together six of the most important benefits under a single means-test, and consequently to strengthen employment incentives by reducing the rate at which benefits were withdrawn as claimants re-entered employment or took on more hours of paid work. Because these goals were seen as moving social security in the right direction, UC was widely welcomed by both researchers and organisations concerned with poverty, such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Child Poverty Action Group.

Gradually the welcome gave way to critical concern. After the election of 2015 the Conservative government stated its intention to reduce expenditures on working-age social security benefits by £12 billion, more than 10%, that is, to claw back some £12 billion per annum from the three largest claimant groups: the unemployed, the chronic sick and the low-paid.

It is an indication of social attitudes towards social security claimants, even though many are in employment, that the Labour Opposition did not at that time condemn these cuts but decided to abstain when they were debated in Parliament, though some, including many now in leadership positions in Labour, did vote against them.

While positive incentives to seek and retain employment were reduced, an increasingly harsh and oppressive treatment of claimants was substituted. The conditions for benefit payments were tightened continually, while breaches of these conditions were increasingly met with frequent and severe sanctions. Claimants with health problems were subjected to repeated assessments of their capacity to work – often crudely administered by unqualified staff in the service of revenue-hungry corporations. It was clearly intended to re-designate as many sickness-related claimants as possible as actually or potentially fit for work.

Unemployed claimants had to sign contracts committing them to often futile hours of job search and to participation in often badly-designed “work experience” and training schemes – both of these outsourced to corporations more concerned with profit than either high quality services or accurate reporting of their own performance.

The explosion in the numbers resorting to food banks and the arbitrary benefit reductions following from the “bedroom tax” (the so-called “spare room subsidy” removal) can both stand as emblems of the increased pressures on claimants.

Meanwhile, actual conditions on the labour markets towards which claimants were being impelled continued to deteriorate in terms of both wage rates and job security. Indeed the increasingly harsh regime imposed on those without employment may be leading people to accept worse pay and conditions rather than become claimants. The roll-out of UC in place of previous benefits became in itself a source of concern as new and renewed claims now attracted substantially lower levels of benefit.

Now the epidemic of mental distress became ever more central to the drive for social security spending cuts since, with falling rates of open unemployment, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and the corresponding sickness-related benefits under UC became a key item in social security spending and, at the same time, mental health problems increasingly predominated in these claims. The resulting policy difficulties could seem complex and intractable; they also called into question the punitive treatment of claimants which had in practice emerged from the UC reforms.

If claimants are suffering from anxiety and/or depression it is hard to see how suspending their benefits can improve their situation, and growing awareness of the severe consequences of sanctions – including suicides – may well have been a factor behind the unannounced but rapid and clearly policy-driven reduction in the use of sanctions after the peak they reached in 2014.

In this conjuncture the programme “Improving Access to Psychiatric Therapies” (IAPT) seemed to offer a silver bullet. Mental health problems could be easily overcome because:

  1. They were individual and not socio-economic in origin (after all, there are lots of people who cope);
  2. Thus the undeniable correlation between mental distress and socio-economic disadvantage should be interpreted as showing that mental health problems lead to disadvantage and not the other way round (the social security agenda does not require structural change in the sphere of employment);
  3. Most psychological problems can be easily dealt with by brief “talking therapies”;
  4. The essence of such “behavioural therapy” is not to improve the socio-economic situation of the sufferer but simply to alter their patterns of thought so that they cease to dwell on alarming or depressing features of their experience and so that they become – such is the hope – more likely to seek or retain employment;
  5. No great level of skill or knowledge is required to administer such therapy;
  6. Thus it can be provided cheaply;
  7. There will be a big pay-off in terms of employment and fewer claims for benefit since employment as such promotes psychological well-being and mental health.

One sign that this approach was completely unrealistic has been the failure to deal with many cases of depression and anxiety among claimants at the level of the least qualified mental health workers – the only group of workers in the field who have seen recruitment increase. Nor has the rolling out of IAPT led to any fall in the incidence of mental illness, nor any slowdown in the increasing prescription of psychotropic drugs in response to it.

Policy Framework

There is mounting evidence that current policies are aggravating the material and mental problems of many of the most vulnerable social security claimants. Social security reforms in the future must take fully into account their impact on mental health.

A complete refocus of policy on the well-being of the long-term sick and disabled is needed in the context of strategies which address the socio-economic determinants of poor mental health. Meanwhile, resources could be released by curtailing the frequently dysfunctional “assessments” and “work preparation” programmes to which mentally disturbed claimants are subjected, and by ceasing to contest large numbers of perfectly valid claims for sickness benefits.



John Grahl is Emeritus Professor of European Economics at Middlesex University. 

More: Rethink Mental Illness.

We know that money and mental health problems often go hand in hand. That’s why Rethink Mental Illness, as part of Mental Health UK, have set up a new website. It will help you understand, manage and improve your mental and financial health. You can find a wide range of information to help you with your benefits. Just visit www.mentalhealthandmoneyadvice.org to find out more.  

Clear, practical advice and support for people experiencing issues with mental health and money.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 4, 2018 at 10:26 am

As Rents Rise and People Risk Homelessness: End the Freeze on Local Housing Allowance!

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Housing benefit freeze leaving poorest private renters with shortfall of up to £140 a week

Low-income tenants in the private rented sector face a “heat, eat or pay rent” problem because housing benefit rates have failed to keep up with the soaring cost of accommodation, a study has found.

The benefit freeze is not just affecting people’s ability to pay bill, or to buy food in the shops (where massive price rises are predicted on basics)

Welfare Weekly reports,

Research from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) reveals that more than 90% of Local Housing Allowance (the equivalent of housing benefit for private renters) rates across Great Britain are insufficient to cover even the cheapest rents, as they were originally designed to do.

LHA rates were frozen for four years in 2016 and CIH is warning that they have fallen so far behind even the cheapest rents that private renting has become unaffordable for most low income tenants – putting them at risk of homelessness as they are forced to choose between basic living expenses and paying the shortfall. The organisation is calling on the government to review the policy and to end the freeze immediately.

LHA rates are meant to cover the cheapest 30%t of homes in any given area. But they haven’t been increased in line with local rents since April 2013 and they remain frozen until April 2020.

As a result, renters are facing gaps ranging from £25 a month on a single room in a shared home outside London to more than £260 a month on one to four-bedroom homes in some areas of London.

Over 12 months, those gaps rise to £300 and £3,120 – making it increasingly likely that renters will be forced to choose between paying for basic necessities like food and heating or their rent.

The government introduced targeted affordability funding in 2014 to bridge the biggest gaps but CIH’s new report has found that its impact has been negligible, covering only a handful of the shortfalls completely.

CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat CBE said: “Our research makes it clear just how far housing benefit for private renters has failed to keep pace with even the cheapest private rents.

“We fear this policy is putting thousands of private renters on low incomes at risk of poverty and homelessness.

“We are calling on the government to conduct an immediate review and to look at ending the freeze on Local Housing Allowance.”

Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “This report highlights just how much housing benefits for private renters are falling short of the levels needed, leaving many homeless people stuck in a desperate situation and putting yet more people at risk of homelessness.

“There are 236,000 people across Britain experiencing the worst forms of homelessness – this includes those sleeping on the streets, living in unsuitable hostels, and sofa-surfing. In many of these cases, people simply can’t find a home because there isn’t enough social housing and housing benefits are too low to cover private rents.

“Homelessness is not inevitable – there is clear evidence that it can be ended with the right policies in place. The government must urgently reform housing benefits for private renters, so they not only match the true cost of renting but also keep pace with future rent changes.”

There is some serious research behind this: MISSING THE TARGET? Is targeted affordability funding doing its job?

What are the consequences of the uprating freeze for private renters?

• Tenants are expected to make up any gap out of their jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) (or other basic benefits) even though basic benefits don’t include an allowance for rent. Basic working age benefits are also subject to the uprating freeze and are now only worth 93 per cent of their 2012 value.

• Single people aged under 25 only get the shared accommodation rate and a lower rate of JSA (£57.90). On average they are expected to contribute 10 per cent of their JSA on the gap (equivalent to a 17 per cent contribution in real terms).

• Young jobseekers’ resilience is severely limited because the basic benefit allowance for this group

 

Background: the local housing allowance and uprating policy (2008-2020)

How LHA rates become misaligned with local rents

• In April 2008 the government introduced the local housing allowance (LHA) which set a maximum rent that housing benefit can cover for private tenants. The LHA is the rent figure which a set percentage (currently 30) of all of the rents in that market fall below (‘the 30th percentile’) – ensuring that same percentage of homes is affordable to low income households.
• For each of the 192 distinct local housing markets across Great Britain there are five LHA rates, one for each category of dwelling (e.g. shared accommodation, one bedroom, two bedrooms etc.). Each LHA rate is calculated using a database of rental market evidence compiled by rent officers (professional valuers who work for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in England or the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales).
• In April 2013 the link with local market evidence was broken and henceforth (for an unspecified period of time) existing LHA rates were uprated by the consumer prices index (CPI) or a lower figure set by the government. From April 2014 for two years the uprating index was capped at one per cent, and from April 2016 LHA rates were frozen for four years.
• Over the medium to long term rents tend to rise faster than prices (i.e. CPI), so that from April 2013 when the link with local rents was broken, the LHA’s purchasing power receded and this has accelerated during the one per cent cap and the current freeze.
• From April 2014, to ensure that LHA rates remain reasonably well aligned with local rents, the government introduced targeted affordability funding (TAF). Under this policy a proportion of the savings that accrue from uprating by one per cent or zero instead of CPI is awarded to those LHA rates that have the lowest percentile value (i.e. cover the smallest proportion of the whole range of rents that are paid in that market).

Written by Andrew Coates

August 30, 2018 at 11:38 am

Government in the Courts Again over Universal Credit.

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Protests at a Crime Scene of Universal Credit.

There’s been – since we posted on the Ipswich Star’s report –   a string of more news stories  in local papers about Universal Credit claimants in work (Low wage fears as 10000 North-East workers claim Universal Credit, The Northern Echo MORE than 10,000 workers in the North-East and North Yorkshire are claiming Universal Credit because their wages are not enough to live on, …More than a third on Universal Credit in work  Shropshire star. ‘Shocking’ working benefits stats show two in five Universal Credit …Powys County Times21 hours ago.

Now we have this from the Disability News Service.

DWP facing court over claimant’s universal credit ‘fit for work injustice’

A disabled man who was unfairly found “fit for work”, and then saw his benefits slashed by almost £180 per month after he was forced onto the government’s new universal credit benefit system, is seeking justice in the high court.

It is the latest in a series of legal cases that have been taken on behalf of disabled benefit claimants against DWP, as a result of a series of welfare reforms introduced under successive Conservative and Conservative-led governments.

The man, known as IM for legal reasons, had been claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), but after undergoing a work capability assessment he was told in March last year that he was no longer eligible for ESA.

His jobcentre advised him to claim universal credit instead, which he did, but he also successfully appealed against the decision to find him fit for work.

Although the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) now accepts that he was unfairly found fit for work and that he has limited capability for work-related activity – the equivalent of being in the ESA support group – he has been treated as a new universal credit claimant.

As a new claimant, he is not entitled to the severe disability premium (SDP) he previously received as a top-up to ESA.

He is also not entitled to the partial compensation of £80 a month agreed by work and pensions secretary Esther McVey for those who lost entitlement to SDP when they were forced to move onto universal credit after their circumstances changed.

IM’s judicial review case has been taken by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), which has described DWP’s policy as “irrational” and discriminatory.

It has secured permission for a judicial review of the failure to provide IM with transitional protection after his move to universal credit, or, alternatively, the refusal to allow him to return to ESA.

Another case is in the pipeline:

CPAG is taking a similar legal action on behalf of AD, a single mother with a disabled child, which will be heard by the high court alongside IM’s case.

TD gave up her job to become a full-time carer but had her income support terminated when her child’s disability living allowance (DLA) was about to end and before it could be renewed.

She was also told by the jobcentre to claim universal credit, which she did.

Despite DWP eventually admitting that there had been a mistake, TD is now receiving almost £140 a month less under universal credit than she did when receiving income support.

The two cases are expected to be heard together in the high court early next year.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) welcomed the judicial review and warned that if it was not successful, many other disabled people would be affected in a similar way.

DPAC said DWP was clearly engaged in “another cost-saving exercise”.

A DPAC spokesperson said: “Financially, the incentive for DWP is to find as many claimants as possible fit for work.

“Even if the decision is overturned, DWP is saving money by transferring claimants to universal credit.

“This is clearly just more evidence that universal credit is beyond being fixed.

“People already living on poverty-level social security payments are simply and randomly being thrown even further into destitution.”

Claire Glasman, from the campaigning organisation WinVisible – which supports disabled women – said: “Families are being devastated by abolition of income support, which is some recognition of caring work.

“We are contacted by stressed out mothers at their wits’ end when their children’s DLA and their carer benefits are threatened by the brutal personal independence payment [which is replacing working-age DLA]and universal credit system.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are not able to comment on an ongoing legal case.”

This site recommends DPAC .

Their activists, all over the country, including Suffolk and Ipswich, have campaigned against injustice not just in words but by active protests.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

August 25, 2018 at 10:30 am

Universal Credit and In-Work Poverty in East Anglia.

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Related image

“In-Work Poverty” Keeps People in this Spider’s Web.

Many, many, indeed, many, if not many,  local papers have reported on massive problems created by and increased by  the introduction of Universal Credit.

Well, the East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Star have now got round to the issue.

Their angle is about people in work claiming the benefit – nothing about the bungling system itself, or the bungling it’s caused around the country..

‘In work poverty’ is a big, serious problem.

But a walk around Ipswich would reveal – as no doubt a keen newshound could find if it’s not too much trouble to do more than phone round various local charities and Food Banks –  that people are begging on the streets.

One of the principal reasons is that they do not get benefit at all.

Thanks to the compliance criteria, and sanctions.

There is also the fact that Universal Credit benefit rates are frozen.

A real newshawk might take the difficult step of going to the supermarkets, glancing at a few bills, and looking at the rising cost of living.

Low wages mean hundreds more workers are claiming Universal Credit.

Ipswich Star.

Michael Steward

Hundreds of workers across Suffolk and Essex are claiming Universal Credit as their low wages are not enough to live on.

Charities say that the “shocking” number of in-work applicants is due to low wages and housing costs.

In some areas, workers claiming the payment represented nearly half of the total people on Universal Credit, according to latest figures from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Universal Credit is a new benefit, slowly being rolled out by the Government, which replaces six legacy benefits and merges them into one payment.

It includes income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credits, and working tax credits.

Here the journalist give some figures,

In Colchester, there were 240 employed claimants on Universal Credit in July 2018, equating to 47% of the 516 people receiving the payment.

This was 93 more people than the previous month and one of the highest percentages of employed claimants in Britain.

In St Edmundsbury, the number of in-work claimants for July was 943, 142 more than the previous month and around 43% of the total.

In Suffolk Coastal, 169 people out of 413 claiming Universal Credit in July were employed (41%) and in Mid Suffolk, 259 people out of 648 were in-work (40%).

The figures for Babergh showed that 451 employed people were claiming Universal Credit – 39% of the total – and 63 people out of 172 claimants in Forest Heath (37%) were in-work in July.

Overall, there were 1,824 people on Universal Credit in Ipswich, 395 more than in the previous month, with 644 in-work – which is around 35% of the total.

There were 305 employed claimants in Tendring on Universal Credit in July – about 34% of the total – 25 fewer than the previous month.

Here the journalist phones around a few people.

Maureen Reynel, MBE, of foodbank FIND, which helps people in Ipswich and the surrounding areas who are experiencing poverty, said the charity has seen a increase in demand from a wide variety of people.

“It has been very noticeable for some months now,” she said.

“It isn’t just food, but also household items, which people aren’t able to replace.

“Everyone thinks of families, but it’s also the single people, males and females, who are really struggling.

“Some people have received Universal Credit but are finding huge deductions and have nothing to fall back on.

“It’s definitely had an impact.

“Many people who are working also have childcare costs or work part-time because of childcare and part-time jobs are very often low paid.”

Pritie Billimoria, from Turn2us, a charity which helps people who are struggling financially, said it was “shocking” that such a high number of workers earn so little that they are forced to rely on benefits.

“Every day we hear from working people who are living hand to mouth and facing impossible decisions about whether to buy food or pay their rent.

“We know that the rise of in-work poverty and in-work claimants is complicated. Households are dealing with low pay, the rising cost of living and changes to welfare support, which are all having a compounding effect on the daily lives of families across the UK.

“Work needs to be a route out of poverty so people are not left dealing with the intolerable stress and anxiety that their wages don’t cover their basic costs of living.”

Note: It would have been helpful for the ace reporters of the Star to mention that, “Turn2us”  links to this centre which helps rough sleepers and people who are homeless or socially excluded.

Ipswich Housing Action Group – Chapman Centre
Chapman Centre
1 Black Horse Lane
Ipswich
IP1 2EF

Public phone: 01473 232 426 / 01473 213102

Email: admin@ihagcc.co.uk

Website URL: http://www.ihag.co.uk

Service offered: The Chapman Centre provides advice and support to marginalised and vulnerable people over 18, including homeless people and rough sleepers, on issues such as housing, welfare benefits, money advice and health issues. The Centre also provides access to computers, shower facilities, use of phones, post collection, lunches, clothing and food parcels; and offers meaningful activities to enable and encourage individuals back to sustainable independence by supporting in their journey back into social inclusion – through structured training sessions and self-confidence boosting activities.

Target group: Rough sleepers and people who are homeless or socially excluded.

This Blog is very very far from convinced that, “a national charity helping people when times get tough. We provide financial support to help people get back on track” is in any sense whatsoever the real long-term way to deal with poverty and homelessness.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 20, 2018 at 4:02 pm

It’s Official: Nine times more people sanctioned under Universal Credit.

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Image result for sanctions universal credit campaigns

 

As a follow up to our recent post.

From Politics Home.

Nine times more people sanctioned under Universal Credit

The Government has released statistics detailing how many people who need support from benefits are being sanctioned – having their financial support cut or stopped entirely because they’re not able to do the things that are being asked of them, such as attend appointments with a work coach or Jobcentre Plus advisor.

Universal Credit (UC) is gradually replacing a combination of other benefits, including Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), provided to those who aren’t currently able to work due to a mental and/or physical health problems, and Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) provided to people looking for paid work.

The figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show:

  • Sanctions under Universal Credit are at least nine times higher than the benefits it is replacing. In the last period for which data is available 2.8 per cent of people saw their benefits drop due to a UC sanction compared to 0.3 per cent of people on JSA and 0.1 per cent of people on ESA.
  • Disabled people receiving ESA are over three times more likely than people in receipt of JSA to still be receiving benefits six months after a sanction – 85 per cent of people receiving ESA compared to 27 per cent people receiving JSA.*

Responding to these data, Ayaz Manji, Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer at Mind, said:

“It’s concerning to see that people who are currently receiving Universal Credit are much more likely to be sanctioned than those receiving the benefits that it’s replacing. We have long been warning the Government that a punitive approach towards people who are out of work because of their health or disability is not only ineffective but is causing a great deal of distress. In addition to the harm they cause, sanctions are counter-productive, causing many people with mental health problems to become even more unwell and move further from hopes of getting back into paid employment as a result.

“We’re hearing from more and more people with mental health problems who are struggling to cope with far more stringent requirements under Universal Credit. That includes people who have had to stop claiming benefits altogether without another source of income because they couldn’t cope with the added pressure. The Government says that the higher sanction rate reflects technical changes to Universal Credit and that they do not think it is possible to compare different benefits.** We need urgently clarity on what is really happening and for the Government to put in place safeguards to protect people who are unwell and in need of support.”

*Benefit sanction statistics to April 2018 (p. 1 and p. 9)

**See para 22 of the Department for Work and Pensions response to the Work and Pensions Committee recent inquiry into benefit sanctions.

Mind itself posts this:

Some anonymous Mind supporters receiving Universal Credit share their experiences of being sanctioned, or threatened with sanctions:

“… I had to rearrange a signing on appointment as it clashed with a doctor’s appointment. When I rang UC to rebook it, she told me that if I ‘chose’ to go to the doctor’s rather than the job centre, they would sanction my benefits. Fortunately, my Job Centre advisor intervened and rebooked the appointment without any problems. I have been covered by sick notes (for fibromyalgia and depression) continually since November last year, but UC consider me able to work as I am actively looking for work – but if I don’t provide proof of my job searches, or if I fail to attend any appointments due to ill health, they threaten me with sanctions. The amount of times I’ve been crying my eyes out trying to explain why I can’t get the bus into central Manchester to attend the work programme is ridiculous.”

“It’s been awful, I became depressed and found the Job Centre staff very unsympathetic. One told me she knew all about my illness as her father and partner had Bipolar disorder like me. She was angry, telling me “you can’t sit on your bloody backside until you retire”, I am 57. I found it embarrassing as there is no privacy at all. Her attitude was terrible with obvious bad temper but I felt bad about it, it dwelled on my mind and I felt like a burden. Even felt suicidal for a while, I had fitness certificate from my GP, not sick certificates these days. Told that I had to commit to certain tasks which I found hard due to my mental state, otherwise I wouldn’t get paid yet had to wait anyway.”

“I was treated like a work shy nobody up until I had my work assessment and they realised I am actually struggling with my health at the moment, even after that point they can be very inconsiderate. They would change my appointments at a moment notice and borderline harass me to attend meetings even though my GP had provided me a sick note for several months at a time. Because of the stress of it all my step dad had to become my advocate and deal with them because it was making me more ill.”

Written by Andrew Coates

August 17, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Sanctions and Homelessness: Universal Credit in Action.

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Image result for homelessness and sanctions

The Threat Looming Over Universal Credit Claimants.

As the juggernaut of Universal Credit continues, and millions are caught up under its wheels, it’s sometimes best to illustrate its effects through individual cases:

This is one:

“I was sanctioned after missing a Universal Credit appointment due to seizures. The DWP should help job-seekers like me, not penalise them.”

By Luke O’Donnell in today’s ‘I’.

They said Universal Credit would make things more simple. Having fallen foul of the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) trigger-happy use of sanctions, I can say that this is not the case. I have epilepsy and missed a Job Centre appointment in November after having seizures.

I missed a second meeting in January after being in a status epilepticus, which left me in a hospital bed, connected to a drip. While I had evidence for this, I could not provide anything to prove why I missed my previous appointment. The DWP stated I had “failed without good reason to comply with a work-related requirement to attend a work-focused interview”. I was sanctioned for three of my four weeks’ benefits.

Sanctions demotivated me This showed me there was no common sense or discretion being applied by the DWP. In bundling all benefits into one system they appear to have lost the ability to use reasoning or any sense of fair play.

O’Donnel continues:

Their sanctions only served to demotivate me further than my health had already. Quite the opposite of the intended effect. It just augmented my worries about finding an employer who’d take my health seriously because if a Government agency doesn’t consider it worth taking into account, what would employers think when they find out about my brain damage?

My case was so outrageous that when I tweeted the letter upholding my sanctions after I’d navigated the DWP’s arbitrary “mandatory reconsideration” process, it quickly gathered momentum on social media and was picked up by i and BBC News. As a result of the widespread negative attention the DWP’s flagship new benefit service received, my case was given a “second reconsideration”. My benefits were hastily reinstated and I heard no more. I was lucky. But I still wanted the DWP to acknowledge it was aware of the effects Universal Credit was having on people. I got in contact with Esther McVey, Minister for Work and Pensions, but received no response. So I tried again, to no avail.

My case is just a drop in the ocean. A simple search on Twitter will reveal thousands of people with disabilities and serious health conditions are being penalised instead of helped. I personally believe there is now a culture of “sanction by default, for as much as possible” within the DWP. We are being treated as though we’ve done something wrong because of the effect our health has on our ability to work. What use is a social security system that works against those very people it was initially set up to help?

Background: 

DWP says sanction review of epileptic man who missed benefits appointment was due to press coverage Luke O’Donnell said it was ‘satisfying’ to read a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions.

Serina Sandhu Wednesday August the 8th.

In March, i reported that Luke O’Donnell, who has epilepsy, was penalised after missing a work-related appointment for Job Seeker’s Allowance because he could not prove his seizures had prevented him from attending. At the time, the 24-year-old said the system was “cold-hearted”.

The story was widely shared and less than two weeks later, the Universal Credit department at the DWP informed him his sanctions would be reversed, saying “not enough consideration was placed on Mr O’Donnell’s health following three days of epileptic episodes”.

Even though his case was resolved and benefits fully reinstated, Mr O’Donnell wrote to Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey in June because he wanted acknowledgement that she was aware of the effects Universal Credit was having on claimants. “I wanted to see what she had to say. How does she justify these problems she’s causing people?”

A response from her office read: “The Department for Work and Pensions are committed to ensuring people with disabilities and health conditions get the right support they need, and we are sorry that we have not met this standard during a period of time when you were in ill health.” But it was also confirmed that the move to review Mr O’Donnell’s case was triggered by the press coverage. The decision to revoke the sanctions, however, was a result of a “full review of all evidence and information.”

It’s good that Luke O’Donnell found a way out of his problems.

But sanctions can have even more devastating effects.

The system cannot deal with the most “difficult” cases.

Welfare conditionality, benefit sanctions and homelessness in the UK: ending the ‘something for nothing culture’ or punishing the poor?

We have here a ‘multiple-miscreant’ population (homeless, unemployed, poor, many dependent on drugs or alcohol) but a policy (benefit sanctions) virtually impossible for them to comply with. It is, therefore, difficult to see how any moral rectification can flow from such a policy. It can, however, discipline or punish. Rather than producing a compliant working class, then, it pushes people out of the very system (social security) initially designed to protect them

The impact of Universal Credit and sanctions can be seen in this area, the news story that’s hit the headlines today.

Rough sleeping: £100m government plan to tackle homelessness unveiled

The Guardian  publishes this commentary:

Homelessness is caused by policies: decisions on how many houses to build, and in which price range. Universal credit, sanctions, the child benefit cap – these are political decisions that have contributed to people being unable to afford their rent. Up to a third of universal credit claimants are having their payments deducted because they are in rent or council tax arrears. The government is acting like its own incompetent opposition, decrying a situation of its own making, offering solutions that are nowhere near the source of the crisis.

Homelessness is back on the Tories’ agenda, yet it’s they who made this crisis worse

Written by Andrew Coates

August 14, 2018 at 11:28 am

Benefit Sanctions Rate Under Universal Credit Twice The Rate Under Jobseeker’s Allowance.

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Image result for benefit sanctions

Benefit Sanctions Rise Under Universal Credit.

People may have thought that benefit sanctions had gone away.

Not only have they not disappeared into a new more liberal system but the numbers have got worse under Universal Credit.

Benefit sanctions may do more harm than good

The ultra-liberal Economist this week says,

Reforms to Britain’s welfare system are not nearly as helpful as their supporters claim

MORE than half Britain’s jobcentres now offer “universal credit”, which merges six working-age benefits into one. Most discussion of universal credit, which will eventually offer payments to one in four households, has been about its botched rollout. Less attention has been paid to its tough sanctions regime. Those who fail to comply with requirements that include spending 35 hours a week job-hunting may see their benefits docked. In America, where there is talk of tightening conditions for receiving food stamps, reformers are looking at the British experiment with interest.

From 2010 the coalition government enforced sanctions more vigorously still. Under universal credit, claimants who have received several sanctions are often made to serve them one after the other, rather than concurrently, as under the old system. Research by David Webster of Glasgow University suggests that the sanction rate for jobless universal-credit claimants is twice the rate for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), the old unemployment benefit.

….

…the government has published little research on the impact of the tightening since 2010, despite sitting on a mound of data.

A new paper in the Cambridge Journal of Economics offers a pessimistic assessment. Focusing on the period from 2001 to 2014, it finds that sanctions under JSA increase the flow of people into work—but only in the short run. It may be that claimants, fearful of having their money cut off, take the first job they find, which turns out not to suit them. This also suggests that they may be taking jobs which do not pay as well as they might. In a speech last year Michael Saunders of the Bank of England drew a link between tough welfare rules and recent low wage growth.

As the evidence builds, the government may at some point have to tweak its approach. A recent study by Rachel Loopstra of King’s College, London, and colleagues, finds some correlation between tougher benefit sanctions and a rise in the use of food banks. A government that tones down sanctions would doubtless be accused of going soft. But it would have the evidence on its side.

This is the source:

BRIEFING 

David Webster (Glasgow University)

Benefit Sanctions Statistics 24 July 2018

Of the 920,000 claimants on Universal Credit at May 2018, two-thirds (67.3%) were subject to conditionality. For the first time, a majority (50.7%) of all unemployed claimants were on UC rather than JSA. UC is now significantly boosting the number of people recorded as claimant unemployed, by making people look for work who would previously not have done.

In the 12 months ended January 2018 there were a total of approximately 355,000 sanctions before challenges on all the four benefits subject to conditionality (UC, JSA, ESA and IS). This compares to 383,000 in the 12 months to October 2017. Of the 355,000 sanctions, approximately 264,000 or almost three-quarters (74.4%) were on UC.

The overall rate of sanction under UC is typically around 5% per month, and the unemployed sanction rate within UC will be considerably higher. Only for relatively short periods in 2010-11 and 2012-14 has the JSA rate ever been as high as 5%.

This is the crucial section of the research:

The rate of sanction under Universal Credit continues to be strikingly high. It is typically around 5% per month, far higher than the rate for JSA. In fact only for relatively short periods in 2010-11 and 2012-14 has the JSA rate ever been as high as this. It also needs to be remembered that this overall UC rate includes sanctions on groups with much lower sanction rates than the unemployed. The unemployed accounted for under three-quarters of the UC claimants subject to conditionality in the three months to January 2018. The unemployed sanction rate within UC will therefore be considerably higher than the overall rate shown in Figure 2.

Thus, “sanctions don’t just ‘appear’ higher in UC; they are higher.”

“Since summer 2017 about 8 % or 1 in 12 of all unemployed UC claimants has been serving a sanction at any one time, this proportion having reached a peak of over 10% in March 2017.  The proportion under sanction for unemployed claimants is now higher than it was when the statistics began in August 2015 – about 8% compared to about 6%, whereas for all other groups it is similar or lower. Evidently the administration of UC has become harsher towards unemployed claimants as the system has bedded in. Moreover it must be remembered that if 8% of claimants are under sanction at any one time, the proportion sanctioned at some point during, say, a year, will be much higher.

The second highest proportion under sanction is found among in-work claimants, running at around 2% except at the time of the backlog drive in early 2017. Rates for the other groups are around 1%.

A striking feature of the figures is that there are people serving sanctions who are in the groups which are not supposed to be subject to conditionality at all: ‘no working requirements’ and ‘working – no requirements’.

At January 2018 there were a total of 1,108 people in this position. This is  because they will have received a sanction when they were in a different group which was subject to conditionality.

One of the many problematic consequences of the ‘simplification’ of benefits by combining them into UC is that sanctions follow claimants into no-conditionality groups even though there is no longer any point to them. Previously the sanctions would have lapsed when people moved to another benefit. The number of people in this position will grow as UC expands.

Some other key findings from this survey of UC claimants relevant to issues of conditionality are:

  • Fewer than two-thirds (63%) of claimants thought their Claimant Commitment was achievable, and only 54% and 55% respectively thought that it took account of their personal circumstances and would help them to obtain or increase employment (p.41)
  • Around 40% of claimants found it difficult to complete the hours of work search or preparation required by their Claimant Commitment, and almost half (47%) had completed fewer hours. (p.59)
  • For around one third of those finding it difficult to meet the Claimant Commitment, the main reason was a lack of jobs available in their area. Suitability of the claimant’s skills, childcare responsibilities, and health problems were other common factors. (p.60)
  • Meetings with the Work Coach and the online Journal were generally favourably regarded, with around three-quarters taking a positive view (pp.50-51)
  • long-term health condition (55 per cent). This suggests a serious mismatch between requirements and capabilities. (p.28)
  • Claimants were asked to identify circumstances that could lead to a sanction. The circumstance which was least often correctly identified (by 80% of claimants) was failing to apply for a job when required by the Work Coach. This is serious as this carries the heaviest penalty, a ‘higher level’ sanction of three months for a first ‘failure’. (p.43)
  • Two thirds (64%) of those sanctioned considered their sanction to have been unfair (p.52)
  • 10% of those sanctioned did not know or understand the reason, while 7% believed that the sanction was due to an error made by the Jobcentre (p.52)

Observer May 2018.

Study concludes that punishing claimants triggers profoundly negative outcomes

Benefit sanctions are ineffective at getting jobless people into work and are more likely to reduce those affected to poverty, ill-health or even survival crime, the UK’s most extensive study of welfare conditionality has found.

The five-year exercise tracking hundreds of claimants concludes that the controversial policy of docking benefits as punishment for alleged failures to comply with jobcentre rules has been little short of disastrous.

“Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes,” the study concludes.

Despite claims by ministers in recent years that rigorously enforced conditionality – including mandatory 35-hour job searches – incentivised claimants to move off benefits into work, the study found the positive impact was negligible.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 10, 2018 at 10:31 am

Universal Credit Leaves Families in Debt.

with 18 comments

Protests as Universal Credit is rolled out in Clacton (6th August)

One of the first things you noticed in the changing High Street of the last decade was the invasion of loan companies, and pawn brokers and companies like BrightHouse,

Got no money but need a new TV? No problem. BrightHouse will sell you one in instalments… for a huge mark-up

Then there’s the Wonga, QuickQuid, and licenced loan sharks ads all over the telly.

Debt, the cause and the result of this has become a major problem.

But there’s nothing that Universal Credit can’t make worse.

Universal credit flaws leaving families in debt, campaign group says

Low-income working families are losing hundreds of pounds each year – and being wrongly denied free healthcare entitlements – because of flaws in the way universal credit is designed, campaigners say.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG ) said arbitrary rules built in to the way universal credit is calculated leave some families unable to predict how much they will be paid each month, leaving households in debt and unable to budget.

It can lead to claimants being wrongly benefit-capped – a penalty designed to “incentivise” jobless or low-earning households by severely limiting their benefits – because the system fails to spot they are working and earning enough.

In other instances, the problem means claimants doing the same job and earning identical salaries can end up being paid different amounts of universal credit simply because their respective claims begin on different days of the month.

The complication, which occurs when pay dates fall close to the start of universal credit assessment periods, can result in claimants who are parents or disabled losing up to £258 of work allowance each month, CPAG has estimated.

The charity has called for universal credit to be halted in order to fix the problem before the benefit is extended to over two million people – including many families who are currently in receipt of working tax credits – from July 2019.

It says erratic payments have left families stressed and in hardship: “Claimants are often left flummoxed by how much – or how little – universal credit they will receive from one month to the next,” said the CPAG chief executive, Alison Garnham.

The full report is:

Rough justice: problems with monthly assessment of pay and circumstances in universal credit, and what can be done about them

The lengthy press release from the Child Poverty Action Group says that it’s people working who are hit hard,

Universal credit assessment system is leaving claimants out of pocket

Working people claiming universal credit are having their benefits capped when they shouldn’t be, and losing the effects of ‘work allowances’ worth up to £258 per month simply because of the dates on which their paydays and universal credit ‘assessment periods’ happen to fall, new evidence from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) shows. Last month the Work and Pensions Secretary acknowledged the need to look at “ … payment cycles for those in work.” (3)

In the worst cases workers are losing hundreds of pounds each year simply because their paydays clash with the monthly ‘assessment periods’ in universal credit (UC). Far from offering much-vaunted simplicity, universal credit rules leave many workers unable to predict what their payments will be from one month to the next. People who happen to move house at the ‘wrong’ point in their assessment period can also lose hundreds of pounds in help with rent.

One in 20 cases coming in to the charity’s Early Warning System – which gathers case evidence from welfare rights advisers across the UK – indicates a problem with the monthly assessment system in UC. ​

Universal credit assessment periods run for a calendar month, starting from the date Universal Credit is awarded. At the end of each month, claimants’ circumstances and income are assessed to determine their entitlement to UC, with payment made a week later in arrears. But where a claimant’s monthly payday is on or close to the first day of their assessment period and they are paid a day or two early some months, because their normal payday would fall on a weekend or bank holiday, they are then recorded as having had two paydays in one assessment period and none in the one after.

Two pay cheques in one assessment period can leave claimants facing unexpectedly low universal credit awards as well as losing the effect of one month’s work allowance (see below). Claimants can even lose help with prescription charges or travel costs for NHS treatment because when paid twice they appear to earn more than they do. And if they appear to have no earnings in the following assessment period – because they received two pay cheques in the preceding one – then rather than seeing their universal credit increase to compensate for this they may find that they are in fact subject to the benefit cap (which was designed to limit how much support is paid to people out of work or with very low earnings) so their support for that month is reduced too. Had they simply received one paycheque in each assessment period they would have a consistent UC award and would be recognised as earning enough not to face the benefit cap.

Claimants whose assessment period start-date and payday are both close to the end of the month are especially likely to miss out, as bank holidays are often in the last days of the month.

A worker paid on the last working day of each month in 2018, with assessm​ent periods dated 30th – 29th of the month will have:

§ 6 assessment periods with one payday

§ 3 assessment periods with two paydays

§ 3 assessment periods with no paydays.

People who are paid weekly, fortnightly or four-weekly will also have different numbers of paydays in different assessment periods over the course of a year, which makes budgeting challenging and also means that they may be eligible for passported help with health costs in some months but not others, or may be benefit capped in some months but not others, when their pay has not in fact changed at all.

For couples where both partners work on different pay cycles, the variability of their UC award month to month can make budgeting almost impossible – see case study Katie and Luke (page 9 of full briefing).

There is a lot more.

They conclude:

Commenting on the findings from CPAG’s Early Warning System, the charity’s Chief Executive Alison Garnham said:

“Universal Credit isn’t working for working people. Our Early Warning System shows​ claimants are often left flummoxed by how much – or how little – universal credit they will receive from one month to the next.​ But we believe most of the problems created by the monthly assessment system can be fixed relatively easily if the political will is there. The mass migration of families on to universal credit should not begin until these fundamental problems are resolved.”

And:  Child Poverty Action Group is taking legal action on the rigidity of assessment periods

Just to remind people where this ends:

Written by Andrew Coates

August 8, 2018 at 12:17 pm

Basic Income: An Alternative to Universal Credit?

with 49 comments

Are a few Basic Income Pilot Schemes an Alternative to Universal Credit? 

Could a basic income replace Universal Credit? 

The BBC reports today.

A survey has found support for local experiments to explore paying people a basic income as an alternative to Universal Credit.

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) found 40% of people questioned backed local tests to see how such payments would work.

Only 15% would oppose the idea, a Populus survey of 2,070 people found.

However, the Department for Work and Pensions questioned the idea.

It said a basic income “would not work for those who need more support”.

The RSA describes a basic income as “a regular, unconditional payment made to every adult and child. It is not dependent on other earned or unearned income, is not means-tested and is not withdrawn as earnings rise”.

The article gives some discouraging  examples .

Some countries have tested paying a basic income to citizens.

In western Kenya, the government is paying every adult in one village $22 a month for 12 years to see if a regular payment can help lift them out of poverty.

The Netherlands and Italy have also launched trials, while Scotland is considering piloting basic income schemes in four cities, including Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell recently said that Labour would include a plan for universal basic income in its next general election manifesto.

However, a two-year trial in Finland, where a sample of 2,000 unemployed adults were given €560 a month, will not be extended.

And in Canada, Ontario’s newly elected centre-right government said it was scrapping a three-year basic income pilot project that hoped to discover whether it was better than existing welfare schemes.

The RSA survey found the cost of funding basic income was a concern for the public, with 45% of those questioned fearing it was “unaffordable”.

The examples could have been extended to Italy where the 5 Star Movement’s proposals never got beyond voter-bait and France, where a watered down version proposed by failed Socialist Party Presidential candidate Benoît Hamon last year was basically laughed out by trade unionists.

They conclude:

Anthony Painter, director of the RSA’s action and research centre, said: “Basic income is no magic bullet, but with HM Opposition exploring the idea and the Scottish government looking to pilot it with four Scottish councils, basic income is increasingly seen as one plausible response to modern economic insecurity.”

A DWP spokesman said: “A universal basic income would not work for those who need more support, such as disabled people and those with caring responsibilities.

“It’s reasonable for people to meet certain requirements to receive their Universal Credit payment and these are agreed with people in advance – sanctions are only used in the minority of cases when someone doesn’t meet these requirements without a good reason.”

Not to mention the details of the above Canadian trial:

Canada’s Ontario government cuts basic income project short

The Independent adds,

The findings emerge after the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, told The Independent that Labour is set to include a pilot of the scheme in the party’s next manifesto for a general election.
Mr McDonnell revealed to The Independent earlier this week that he had recently discussed the idea with former Labour leader Ed Miliband, who was “really keen” on getting a pilot of the scheme in the next manifesto.

Asked whether he could envisage a pilot of basic income forming part of Labour’s next blueprint for government, he replied: “It’s one of those things I think we can get into the next manifesto and see, it’s worth a try. There have been pilots elsewhere. I’m trying to wait for the feedback.”

He continued: “If you look at what’s happened elsewhere in other countries – and I think Scotland is looking at it as well – they are doing it on a small geographical basis in particular towns. Guy is looking at that now and coming forward with proposals.

“It will be thrown into the discussions about the next manifesto – that’s one of the ideas that a lot of people are pressing for.”

Most people are pressing for a replacement to Universal Credit, not Basic Income.

An opinion survey, to stir up interest in a report issued in February this year (to resounding indifference)  proves little.

But it’s is no secret that the key McDonnell’s adviser, the pro-Brexit James Meadway, who worked for the  New Economics Foundation, has long been favourable to this idea.

No doubt others in this small circle are as well.

The reasons why Meadway and the Shadow Chancellor  imagine amid the chaos of a post-Brexit economy a Labour government is going to be the time and place for the plan are open to imaginative speculation.

It would be a better idea if Labour were to concentrate on preparing a Universal Replacement for Universal Credit rather than speculating on the merits of “pilot schemes” for Basic Income.

And as for the principles of Basic Income….

Extreme Caution is recommended.

For a start, would it mean enough income for all to live on, including rent, bills and all the rest?

Next, setting it up would be a mammoth task, which governments have shown, with Universal Credit, frankly not up to the job, not to mention all their private contracting friends who keep getting shown up as incompetent bunglers.

Is the Civil Service, its New Public Management, and all the chancers making a profit out them, up to the task?

This is also unlikely to mean “luxury communism” as some of its enthusiasts, and detractors,  claim.

It’s hard to see more than a minimum being offered.

The ‘basic’ would be pretty basic, and the luxury remain in the hands of those with the best jobs and, above all, the ownership to keep themsleves in the style to which they are accustomed.

We should look at the background as well.

Love the idea of a universal basic income? Be careful what you wish for

Given that UBI necessarily promotes universalism and is being pursued by liberal governments rather than overtly rightwing ones, it’s tempting to view it as an inherently leftwing conceit. In January, MEPs voted to consider UBI as a solution to the mass unemployment that might result from robots taking over manual jobs.

But UBI also has some unlikely supporters, most prominent among them the neoliberal Adam Smith Institute – Sam Bowman, the thinktank’s executive director, wrote in 2013: “The ideal welfare system is a basic income, replacing the existing anti-poverty programmes the government carries out.” He added that UBI would result in a less “paternalistic” government.

From this perspective, UBI could be rolled out as a distinctly rightwing initiative. In fact it does bear some similarity to the government’s shambolic universal credit scheme, which replaces a number of benefits with a one-off, lower, monthly payment (though it goes only to people already on certain benefits, of course). In the hands of the right, UBI could easily be seen as a kind of universal credit for all, undermining the entire benefits system and providing justification for paying the poorest a poverty income.

In fact, can you imagine what UBI would be like if it were rolled out by this government, which only yesterday promised to fight a ruling describing the benefits cap as inflicting “real misery to no good purpose”?

Despite the fact that the families who brought a case against the government had children too young to qualify for free childcare, the Department for Work and Pensions still perversely insisted that “the benefit cap incentivises work”. It’s not hard to imagine UBI being administered by the likes of A4e(now sold and renamed PeoplePlus), which carried out back-to-work training for the government, and saw six of its employees receive jail sentences for defrauding the government of £300,000. UBI cannot be a progressive initiative as long as the people with the power to implement it are hostile to the welfare state as a whole.

So, with the present ‘agile’ IT in the DWP system it looks even less of a going proposal.

There are other reasons to reject the idea:

The respected Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – who seem not to be part of the charmed Basic Income circle around the Shadow Chancellor- have made an extensive, very critical, examination of Basic Income.

Solution or illusion? – the implications of Universal Basic Income for Disabled people in Britain (June 2018)

These are their conclusions.

UBI is not the demand we should be making if we want an end to the suffering that welfare reform is causing. We urgently need the abolition of sanctions and conditionality, of benefit assessments designed to deny disability and Universal Credit. The social security system is now one that is intended to create an intolerable environment for benefit claimants. The social security system of the future must be one capable of providing adequate social protection and standard of living for all in need of safety net support. Achieving such a radical transformation is no small task, requiring wholesale scrapping of existing systems and a fundamental redesign. Given the history of disabled people’s exclusion and the marginalisation of our issues it is reasonable for disabled people to fear that attention and resources dedicated to the task of implementing a UBI will be at the expense of effecting the level of change needed to ensure disabled people receive adequate support.

Costs.

Proponents of UBI tell us that disabled people would not be worse off under UBI but there is a dearth of evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, simulations for the introduction of a UBI to the UK indicate that the only way to ensure this would be through a partial UBI system run in parallel to a continuation of disability benefits. Supporters for such a system are then silent on the detail of how this separate system would work for disabled people, how it would address the many and considerable failings of the current system and how it would be afforded. A recent paper from the University of Bath presents an idea for a UBI with additional disability and severe disability premiums which when micro-simulated produces strong reductions in inequality and poverty but would be very expensive and require significant increases in income tax. The report author concludes: “The unavoidable reality is that such schemes either have unacceptable distributional consequences or they simply cost too much.”

No Improvement on Low Benefit levels.

Financing even a modest UBI set at a Guaranteed Minimum Income level in the UK would require high tax rises, as demonstrated by an OECD study . The World Bank report, which promotes the idea of UBI as an international response to the changing nature of work, concludes that when it comes to the UK, “taxing cash benefits and eliminating tax allowances is not enough to cover for the UBI” . This is because the level at which current benefits are paid is so far below a Guaranteed Minimum Income level that it would require the raising of significant additional funds to afford. In the UK a monthly BI amount that would cost the same as existing benefits and tax free allowances would pay £230 yet the poverty line for a single person is £702. The fact that benefit levels in Britain are so far below the poverty line point back to issues with the current social security system that need urgently addressing.

While many disabled people would be in favour of tax rises to fund welfare provision – particularly corporation tax and a progressive rise in the higher rate of income tax – the use of this for a UBI rather than more traditional forms of disability and unemployment support would mean much of the benefit flowing back to employers rather than those in most need. In functioning as a wage subsidy UBI would act to significantly reduce employers NI contributions. It would be hard to make a case that this is a more progressive solution than simply reversing the damage that the Tories have done to current systems. For example measures such as restoring the Independent Living Fund, scrapping conditionality and sanctions, and re-establishing the principle of universal benefits payed for by progressive taxation where the rich pay a greater proportion.

Poorest households featuring as losers

The distributional impacts of a UBI mean that there are winners and losers with the poorest households featuring as losers under certain models and simulations . This has the potential to divide against each other groups of people who are currently united in our opposition to the rich elite who we see as responsible for growing inequality and poverty. Maintaining this unity is essential if we are to bring about society that is structured in the interests of the mass of ordinary people before the pursuit of profit by a tiny minority.

Britain is currently home to the biggest socialist movement in Europe where demands for a living wage, for health and social care support services free at the point of need and a social security system that provides an adequate standard of living free from conditionality are all popular. These are what we need to fight for, not opening the door to policies that will be used to maintain existing power inequalities, facilitate greater job insecurity and low wages and risk further public service cuts.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 3, 2018 at 4:44 pm

Universal Credit lets “abusers control family finances.”

with 46 comments

Image result for universal credit abusers

2015 Report warned of risk of Abuser Control under Universal Credit.

Just when you thought that the stupidity of Universal Credit could not get any worse.

Now I – and I bet more than a few people here do as well – know women who had got so such a hard time from their partners that they fled to a women’s refuge.

To say that the new Universal Credit would have made their already hard lives harder bring rage to my throat.

Universal Credit hands power to abusers, MPs say.

BBC.

Welfare payments are turning the clock back to the 1950s and allowing abusers to control family finances, MPs say.

Under Universal Credit, payments are made to one person per household, often leaving abuse victims and their children dependent, a report by the Work and Pensions Committee said.

One abuse survivor said she feared the new system could leave her and her children with “nothing for weeks”.

The government said abuse support teams are on hand in every Jobcentre.

The Universal Credit system, which has been rolling out across the UK since 2015, aims to simplify the benefits and tax credits system with a single monthly payment.

Claimants typically provide details of one bank account for payments. The committee heard that they can request split payments, but Jobcentres are advised to only offer them in “very exceptional circumstances”.

The Huffington Post highlights this:

One domestic abuse survivor with children told the Commons Work and Pensions select committee: “He’ll wake up one morning with £1500 in his account and piss off with it, leaving us with nothing for weeks.”

Heidi Allen MP (Tory), Committee Member, said:

“One of the key improvements of Universal Credit over legacy benefit systems is the way it seeks to proactively support individuals. So it can’t be right that payments are made by default as a single block to a household. In the 21st Century women deserve to be treated as independent citizens, with their own aspirations, responsibilities and challenges. Good Government develops solutions that are dynamic and responsive to the individual as well as offering value for the tax payer, so I urge the DWP to show what I know to be true – that it can deliver both.”

We could have done without the claim that Universal Credit” has any “improvements”, and the (split infinitive)  “to proactively support individuals”.

The Huffington Post quotes this response,

Women’s Aid’s Katie Ghose said: “Universal Credit was not designed with survivors’ safety in mind. We have long been warning that Universal Credit risks making the domestic abuse worse for survivors and putting an additional barrier in the way of them escaping the abuse.

“It is clear from this report that there are major concerns about the safety of Universal Credit in cases where there is domestic abuse.”

This is what Women’s Aid had already found in 2015

Women’s Aid and the TUC wanted to find out more about women’s experiences of financial abuse and the potential implications for Universal Credit.

We conducted focus groups and an online survey with women survivors of domestic violence to find out more about their experiences and the impact that financial abuse had on their lives. We are grateful for the support of the TUC on this research project.

Key findings

  • Financial abuse includes control over money, exploitation of the survivor’s assets and sabotage of survivor’s efforts to work, study or interact with others.
  • Some survivors had no money or were given an allowance by the abusers
  • Many had little or no access to money even in a joint account
  • 67% of survivors in paid work at the time of the abuse agreed that their partner had monitored their work activities
  • Higher–income or ‘professional’ women can also experience financial abuse but may not be believed if people think domestic abuse is only linked to poverty
  • Disabled women are particularly at risk of abuse from partners, other family members or carers because of their impairments and additional benefit entitlement that they may have
  • Impacts of financial abuse included going without (71% of survey respondents went without essentials, 41% had to use the children’s birthday money or savings to buy essentials); 61% were in debt and 37% had a bad credit rating; 77% said their mental health had been affected
  • In interviews and focus groups, emotional or financial abuse came before other types of abuse (survey responses were less conclusive); but this does suggest that if we could identify and support survivors encountering these types of abuse earlier we might be able to prevent abuse escalating
  • Financial abuse is a barrier to leaving the abuser – some women had no money of their own. 52% of women survey respondents still living with their abuser said they could not afford to leave
  • Financial abuse continues after separation, often concerning difficulties getting child maintenance arrangements in place; legal disputes including court summonses; and disentangling joint assets
  • Of survey respondents, 36% had asked no-one for help with the financial abuse. 35% had told family and 26% told friends. 25% had asked a domestic violence service
  • Some abusers take women’s wages or benefits or get their benefits put in the abuser’s name. Abusers got benefits meant for the family, children or survivor – including Child Benefit. There were particular problems for non-UK nationals claiming benefit
  • The Government has said that, in cases of financial abuse, they can consider splitting Universal Credit between partners. But almost 85% of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that split payments would make the abuse worse when their partner found out.

In May this year the FT published this:

Universal credit increasing risk of domestic abuse, critics claim

Payments for couples are paid into a single bank account following UK benefit reform

When “Anne” and her family were enrolled in the UK’s new universal credit benefits system, she and her children went hungry.

Instead of helping the family with their expenses, the new lump sum was paid into the bank account of her abusive husband, who “allocated” a tiny amount to her each month.

With the help of friends, Anne (who has asked that her real name not be used) escaped her husband and has applied for her own universal credit. But the process has been torturous, with a staff member at her local jobcentre confessing that she was “unsure of what exactly to do but they’d learn together”.

This what the present report’s summary says:

Universal Credit and domestic abuse 

Since 2010, the Government has begun to make great strides in tackling domestic abuse. This includes welcome recognition of the damage wrought by perpetrators of coercive control, including financial abuse—where a survivor is deprived of their financial independence. Accountability for domestic abuse lies squarely with the perpetrator. But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP/The Department) has a duty to ensure that it is providing the right support for survivors of abuse.

Universal Credit aims to bring the benefit system into the 21st century by mirroring the modern world of work. Claimants—whether single or couples—receive a single, monthly household payment in arrears. From this, they are expected to provide for the whole household and manage rent, bills and living expenses.

Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches are the frontline of social security. They are expected to build a personal relationship with Universal Credit claimants and to tailor support to meet their needs. That means that they need to be equipped with the right skills, knowledge and advice to support survivors of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is hugely complex, and the training Work Coaches currently receive leaves them ill-equipped to perform this vital function. The Department should, with specialist organisations, design and introduce a new training module for all Work Coaches. It should also introduce domestic abuse specialists in every Jobcentre, building upon and enhancing its existing disability employment and self-employment specialist model. Their role would be to act as a single point of contact in Jobcentres to foster links with domestic abuse services, and as a source of advice for individual Work Coaches.

Like all claimants, survivors of abuse need to keep in regular contact with their Work Coach. But if an abusive partner can access those communications, they may be at risk of further harm. The Department should add a private individual communication log to claimants’ joint online Universal Credit accounts by default and provide private rooms in all Jobcentres. This will help survivors to communicate safely and securely with their Work Coach, supporting disclosure of abuse and ensuring they receive support that they are due.

DWP should further consider co-location with domestic abuse services to enhance co-operation, and how Universal Support funding might be used to enhance links with these services. Universal Support could also incorporate more in-depth advice on bank accounts and financial management. This would help equip survivors with the support, confidence and resources they need in order to leave, and promote equitable money management amongst couples more widely.

As well as support in Jobcentres, the Department must also make sure that its systems are providing the most effective support possible for survivors of abuse. For a minority of claimants, single household payments can be misused by abusive partners to further abuse survivors. Under Universal Credit, claimants living with domestic abuse can face seeing their entire monthly income—including money meant for their children—go into their abusive partner’s account. There is no guarantee that any of the money they need to live or care for their children will reach them. That risks them remaining dependent on their abusive partner and making it harder for them to leave, should the opportunity present itself.

Universal Credit currently only allows claims to be split between partners in exceptional circumstances. DWP itself recognises the risk that requesting such an arrangement poses to survivors. The perpetrator will realise the survivor has requested the split when their own payments fall, potentially putting them in great danger. In light of this risk, many survivors simply will not request a split.

Survivors, and the organisations who represent them, told us there is a strong case for splitting Universal Credit couple payments more routinely, or even by default. This alone cannot prevent financial abuse. Some abusers will find a way to control their partner’s finances, whatever systems the DWP puts in place. Nevertheless, the Department must give serious consideration to any changes which might offer some protection, albeit limited, to survivors of abuse.

The process of splitting payments is complicated. Payments could be split in several different ways—from a simple 50:50 split to more complex calculations. Even amongst those who advocated splitting payments by default, we found no clear consensus on which approach would be best for claimants. Neither is it clear what would be within the capacity of Universal Credit’s IT and administrative systems, which have been mired in difficulty as the roll out progresses.

The Scottish Parliament, however, is convinced: it has passed legislation which requires the Scottish Government to introduce split payments by default. This offers a chance to explore the practicalities, understanding whether, and how, split payments by default could work for claimants and for the Department. The UK Government must seize this opportunity by supporting the Scottish Government’s experiments. DWP should view the introduction of split payments in Scotland as an opportunity to learn about the part that splitting payments more routinely could play in supporting survivors of abuse.

The Department should engage positively and quickly with the Scottish Government to support and negotiate the roll out of split payments, and to scope and agree different forms to trial. To enable a clearer understanding of the challenges, costs and feasibility of splitting by default, the Department should commit in response to our report to provide quarterly updates to Parliament on its progress with the Scottish Government. The Department must also learn from the Scottish experience. It should agree with the Scottish Government to co-commission and publish a full, independent evaluation of the split payment trials in Scotland, including detailed costings. When the final evaluation report is published, the Department should givecareful consideration to whether, on the basis of the evidence, there is a case for splitting payments by default in the rest of the UK.

More immediately, the Department should ensure that Universal Credit serves, as best possible, all parties it is intended for throughout the UK. Where claimants have dependent children, the entire Universal Credit payment should be made to the main carer by default. Where alternative split payment arrangements are permitted, the higher proportion of the split payment should remain with the main carer, other than in exceptional circumstances.

The Department must also act urgently to collect the data it needs to ensure that it is supporting abuse survivors effectively. DWP claims that it has no reason to be concerned about the effects of UC on survivors, but it collects no data to enable it to know for sure. We heard compelling evidence that there is a serious risk of Universal Credit increasing the powers of abusers. The Department must prioritise gathering and publishing data on disclosures of abuse and split payment requests—including the number of requests, reasons for request and the number of split payments being made. This will help make sure vulnerable claimants are receiving the right support in the safest possible way.

The Government aspires, through Universal Credit, to create a new, modern welfare system. It has also demonstrated a clear commitment to being more supportive of survivors of domestic abuse. Ensuring Universal Credit reaches all members of a family it is intended for, and seizing the opportunity to learn valuable lessons on whether and how split payments could help survivors of abuse, will make vital contributions to achieving these objectives.

Recommendations of the Committee:

Ensure the benefit system does not facilitate abuse

Accountability for domestic abuse obviously lies squarely with the perpetrator, but the Committee says DWP has a moral duty to ensure the benefit system does not in any way facilitate abuse. The Committee heard evidence that, for a minority of claimants, single household payments of Universal Credit can make it easier for perpetrators to abuse and control their victims.

At one stroke, single payments allow perpetrators to take charge of potentially the entire household budget, leaving survivors and their children dependent on the abusive partner for all of their basic needs. As one survivor with children colourfully put it: “He’ll wake up one morning with £1500 in his account and piss off with it, leaving us with nothing for weeks.”

Ensure payments are received fairly

Universal Credit is intended to mirror the world of work, but neither male nor female employees are obliged to have their wages paid into the bank account of their partner. Instead, the principle of Universal Credit is that it is a single payment made to a household for the benefit of everyone in that household. DWP must do more to ensure that payments are received fairly by everyone in a claimant household.

The Committee says that the Department must give serious consideration to any policies that might offer some protection to survivors of abuse and deliver fairer payments to households. This includes splitting Universal Credit payment by default. The Scottish Government is already making arrangements to introduce split payments by default, but its ability to do this depends on DWP adapting Universal Credit’s systems to accommodate them.

The Committee recommends the Government engages quickly and positively with the Scottish Government, seizing the opportunity to pilot different ways of splitting payments and to reach an evidence-based conclusion on whether there is a case for splitting payments by default in the rest of the UK.

Pending the outcome of split payment pilots in Scotland, the Committee says that where claimants have dependent children, the entire UC payment should be made to the main carer, by default. Where alternative split payment requests are permitted, the higher proportion of the split payment should remain with the main carer other than in exceptional circumstances.

Improved safeguards and services

The Committee also recommends improved safeguards and services for abuse survivors in Jobcentre Plus. For survivors of domestic abuse, the consequences of unsecure communications can be devastating.

Like all claimants, survivors of abuse need to keep in regular contact with their Jobcentre Plus Work Coach and update them on their circumstances.

But holes in the system mean doing so can put them at risk of further harm. DWP must ensure it has every safeguard in place to protect vulnerable claimants, starting with a private room in every Job Centre, “without delay”, the Committee says, and privacy changes to the online journal.

Appoint a domestic abuse specialist

The Committee says every Jobcentre plus should be required to appoint a domestic abuse specialist. For many survivors of domestic abuse, Universal Credit will be the lifeline out of abuse, the income that enables them to provide for themselves and their new household.

JCP must work closely with expert services and the survivor to establish the claim and get the right support in place. Flaws in the current system obstruct lines of communication and prevent this from happening. An expert point of contact in Jobcentres to foster external links would ensure claimants get the support they vitally need.

Getting the right support and systems in place for Universal Credit claimants will not end domestic abuse. But it could play a small, vital role in minimising harm and implementing the Prime Minister’s wishes within the social security system.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 1, 2018 at 3:27 pm

Esther McVey gets brought down from Summer Jobs Cloud Cuckoo Land.

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It’s a hard life being Esther McVey.

Attacked for her handling of Universal Credit, and making a fool of herself vaunting the merits of the DWp’s “agile” information system…

Esther McVey apologises for misleading parliament – video

Unkind people have suggested that this has brought about an identity crisis.

But she takes what comfort she can get.

Her Summer Job wheeze is the latest case of what experts in psychology call “flaying around helplessly”.

But even delivered with a winsome smile her latest trip into cloud cuckoo land has not met universal admiration.

Apart from this unhelpful thread (there is a lot, a real lot, of the above)  the media has got into the act:

Esther McVey told teenagers to get summer jobs and it did not go down well Independent.

Happy Hols Esther!

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 29, 2018 at 9:36 am

Universal Credit is Creating Debt – Citizens’ Advice.

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Universal credit forces people into debt because application process is so complicated, says charity reports Jessica Morgan in the Independent.

Many claimants have fallen into debt after not receiving their first full payment on time.

Universal credit is forcing people into debt because the applications process is so complex, a new study has found.

Citizens Advice has revealed more than a third of people supported by the charity were left struggling to provide the evidence needed to complete their claim.

And as a result, a quarter of claimants fall into debt because they haven’t received their first full payment on time.

Many claimants, who must wait at least five weeks for the first payment, struggle to provide evidence for health conditions, childcare and housing and are stumped by multiple deadlines.

The charity is now calling on the government to simplify the process.

….

The Citizens Advice’s study comes after service centre workers lifted the lid on the “fundamentally broken” universal credit IT system, which was causing a surge in delayed payments.

Whistle-blowers have spoken out about the glitches and errors that the system has, which repeatedly leads to benefits being delayed for weeks, or wrongly slashed, The Guardian reported.

One said: “The IT system on which universal credit is built is so fundamentally broken and poorly designed that it guarantees severe problems with claims.”

They claimed the systems were overly complex, prone to breaking, and any errors were slow to fix.

“In practical terms, it is not working the way it was intended and it is having an actively harmful effect on a huge number of claimants,” they added.

This their Press Release:

Universal Credit claims falter due to complicated application process and lack of support

More than a third of people helped by Citizens Advice struggle to provide the evidence needed to complete their Universal Credit claim, new research from the charity finds.

With government data showing late Universal Credit payments are usually due to challenges submitting evidence, Citizens Advice asked people who came to the charity for help how difficult it was to meet these requirements. Of the people helped who qualify for extra costs under Universal Credit:

  • 48% found it difficult to provide evidence for health conditions

  • 40% found found it difficult to provide evidence for housing

  • 35% found it difficult to provide evidence for childcare

The charity also found that people receiving their first full payment late stood a higher chance of getting into greater debt, or falling into it. When people didn’t receive their first Universal Credit payment on time, their chances of being in debt increased by a quarter (23%). They were also 60% more likely to borrow money from a lender to help tide them over.

One mum-of-two had to wait an extra three weeks for her first full Universal Credit payment, which covered her rent. She was not told to bring her tenancy agreement to her Jobcentre appointment and struggled to get another appointment quickly. In the meantime, she went to a foodbank and borrowed money from friends and family members to tide her over.

As people must wait 5 weeks before receiving their first Universal Credit payment, their finances are often already stretched. This is particularly problematic if they have no income beyond an Advance Payment, which they are required to apply for. Any delays to this mandatory wait can then be more acute.

In total there are 10 stages to making a Universal Credit claim, many of which are time sensitive. If a deadline is missed, a claim may have to be started again. Some people are finding the process so complex that 1 in 4 people who were helped by Citizens Advice spent more than a week completing their claim.

Despite the demands of making a claim for Universal Credit, there is inconsistent support available with many not even aware it exists. Of those who took part in the research, 45% said they did not know about the support on offer but would have taken it up if they had been.

Citizens Advice is calling on the government to simplify the claims process, make it easier to provide evidence for extras costs and make sure adequate support is on offer. The charity says these improvements must be urgently put in place as roll out of the new benefit continues to increase.

Citizens Advice is calling on the government to:

  • Introduce an automatic payment for those who don’t get paid on time to help cover their immediate costs

  • Extend the support on offer so people can get help when making and completing a claim

  • Make it easier for people to provide evidence online at the start of making a claim

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“While Universal Credit is working for the majority of people, our evidence shows a significant minority are struggling to navigate the system. With people already having to wait 5 weeks as a matter of course for their first payment, any further delays risk jeopardising people’s financial security.

“Last year the government showed it was listening by taking important steps to improve Universal Credit. Those measures are starting to have an impact, but more needs to be done. Top of the government’s list should be simplifying the process and making sure adequate support is in place so that claims can be completed as quickly as possible.”

Citizens’ Advice relies on this research:

Making a Universal Credit Claim

23 July 2018

● DWP evidence shows currently 1 in 6 new claimants aren’t paid in full on time, and for many this is because they are struggling to provide the
right evidence.
● 40% of people Citizens Advice helps find it difficult to evidence their housing costs.
● 43% of Universal Credit claimants surveyed by DWP said they needed more help setting up their claim.
● 45% of Universal Credit claimants we help didn’t know support was available when applying for the benefit, but would have used it if they had.
● 1 in 4 of the people Citizens Advice helps take more than a week to make their claim, while DWP information for claimants says it should take up
to an hour.
●Universal Credit claimants we help who are paid late are 23% more likely to get into debt than claimants who aren’t.

(Too many people struggle to make a Universal Credit claim – summary [ 470 kb]

Making a Universal Credit Claim – full report [ 0.64 mb] )

In 2017 they stated:

Fixing Universal Credit.

We believe that roll-out should be paused while DWP addresses a number of signicant issues with Universal Credit. At the moment,  our research suggests that nearly a third of the people we help have to make more than 10 calls to the UC helpline to sort out their UC, over a third are waiting more than 6 weeks for their first payment of benefit and half are having to borrow money to cope with the initial wait for payment. The move to UC is causing significant financial challenges – our UC clients are nearly one and a half times as likely to seek advice on debt issues as those on other benefits.

Action is needed to reduce the waiting period for first payment, improve support for people receiving UC, and help people achieve financial stability once they are on the benefit.

Amongst the main recommendations was to call for a “pause” in the roll-out (ignored), reducing the waiting time (done: from 6 to 5 weeks…), and creating systems of “support” .

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 25, 2018 at 10:46 am

Esther McVey: After Swan Song at Reform Think Tank is She about to Flee the Sinking Ship?

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Image result for esther mcVey singing

“Swans sing before they Resign – ’twere no bad thing should certain persons die before they sing.” 

Our Newshawks have been keeping a beady eye on Esther McVey.

It looks as if she may be about to jump ship.

The far-right Express gloats,

ANOTHER blow to Theresa May Brexit plan as Esther McVey REFUSES to publicly support it

ESTHER McVey refused to publicly support Theresa May’s Brexit plan in another blow to the Prime Minister’s attempts to restore unity in her warring party.

The Work and Pensions Secretary said she was confident the Prime Minister will deliver the “Brexit that Britain voted for”.

Ms McVey was asked by the Reform think tank whether she had full confidence in the Chequers plan, to which she replied: “I will say that I have full confidence in the Prime Minister to deliver the Brexit that Britain voted for.”

But she would not give her backing to proposals agreed at Chequers, which Brexiteers have lambasted as being too soft.

Ms McVey and Penny Mordaunt, International Development Secretary, have been put on “resignation watch” by Downing Street after privately raising concerns about the Chequers plan.

The Work and Pensions Secretary’s partner, Conservative MP for Shipley Philip Davies, revealed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister after losing trust in the Chequers deal.

This follows efforts to cover her  tracks (Guardian Thursday) in this remarkable Whooper Swan Speech.

In a speech to the Reform thinktank on Thursday, McVey said universal credit was adapting the welfare system to changing patterns of work and using the latest technology to create an agile service offering “tailor-made support”.

But in an almost unprecedented official admission that not all is going well with the benefit, which is six years behind schedule, she said changes were needed.

McVey added: “And where we need to put our hands up, admit things might not be be going right, we will do.”

The DWP needed to reach out to, and learn from, all organisations that could help officials design and implement a system that fully supported claimants, she said, such as the National Audit Office. . A highly critical report by the public spending watchdog into universal credit triggered a controversy that ended with McVey being accused of misleading parliament and facing calls to resign.

McVey said she was working on changes to universal credit including debt repayment, support for the self-employed and benefit payment cycles for working claimants, but gave no further details.

As is often the way it is interesting to read her Highness’ peroration beyond the newspaper’s report (extracts):

On 19 July 2018, the Rt Hon Esther McVey MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, gave a speech to Reform on ‘Universal Credit: Delivering the welfare revolution’.

..it really is great to be here today to talk about my vision for the welfare revolution and the changing world of work.

And it’s terrific to be on a Reform platform.

Because Reform is a fierce advocate for public services in this new age of technology.

(Pardon Ma’m what the hell do you mean here?)

This a good bit,

Interestingly, I’m the only Minister I believe who has spent their whole Ministerial career in one department- Work and Pensions – moving from Parliamentary Private Secretary into a Junior Minister role to a Minister of State to now Secretary of State – even with a spell of unemployment in the middle!

One moment Minister of State for Employment the next moment unemployed!

(Indeed …)

She continued, pontificating on the new ‘Immaterial world’ (thanks to her speech-writer for citing Paul Mason…)

there was nothing personal about a complex, indiscriminate ‘one-size fits all’ system – which, I think it is fair to say, embedded low expectations on both sides of the claim desk.

So change has to come – and change that also reflects the rapidly changing world of work in which we live.

Lots of work is changing – it is now online, tasks are being automated, and new industries are being created.

This is a great time to be alive and to be in charge of the DWP!

The gig economy matches people and tasks more dynamically than ever before – creating new opportunity.

Flexible working is no longer an exception, and we are seeing an increasingly inclusive workforce, where work fits around personal circumstances and caring responsibilities.

Gone is the job for life.

And our welfare system should reflect that. It should be nimble and adaptive – reflecting changing working patterns in this fast-paced moving world.

Our vision is one of a personalised benefit system, a digitised system.

Audience dozes off..

This digital system personalises Universal Credit. And we are constantly updating it.

This is not just IT: it is using next-generation technology, design thinking and data to support work coaches.

Sound of loud snoring.

But hark!

But we are not complacent that that all is working like clockwork.

And where we need to put our hands up, admit things might not be be going right, we will do so. We will be a culture of mea culpa, hands up and then we need to change. For just as we are adopting agile technology in this fast paced world, Ministers have to be agile too.

Nimble is Esther’s Middle name.

The speech drones on…

Personal advancement is key to social mobility and ensuring people reach their potential.

And it is by empowering people, giving them choice and flexibility to carve their own path, that everyone is able to reach this potential.

We are working hard to make Universal Credit work for all. And we want to work with you all to achieve that.

We are both a pragmatic and a visionary government, listening to business, listening to charities, listening to people on the frontline and putting in place the right support to help people taking back control of their lives. (Grammar note, that should have been ‘take’ unless she meant helping a group of people who are already taking ‘back control’ and nobody else). And most importantly, always listening to the claimant. Thank you.

Off to the bar….

And now there is this:

Universal Credit rollout bungle blamed as over 1million people are fined for mistakenly claiming free prescriptions

Mirror. 20th of June.

The bungled Universal Credit rollout has been blamed for more than a million people being fined for mistakenly claiming free prescriptions.

Labour accused Government of “penalising ill people” by failing to inform them of entitlement after moving to the all-in-one benefit.

Helen Goodman blasted the Department for Work and Pens­ions and called on Employment Minister Alok Sharma for refunds.

Fines can be as high as £100 per prescription. The MP said: “This is the minister’s fault.

“They should not penalise ill people because of their shambolic rollout of Universal Credit.”

Written by Andrew Coates

July 22, 2018 at 10:00 am

After NAO Report on Universal Credit, Benefit Sanctions in Work and Pensions Committee’s Spotlight.

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Image result for benefit sanctions

The issue of Benefit Sanctions has not gone away.

Today (18th of July)  the Work and Pensions Committee, which has been conducting an inquiry into the issue, issued this statement.

DWP must give “facts behind the claims” on benefit sanctions

Work and Pensions Committee publish correspondence between the Chair and Alok Sharma

The Committee writes to employment minister Alok Sharma querying data on benefit sanctions supplied by the Department.

The Department’s published data consistently understate the number of sanctions applied for UC, JSA and ESA claimants by updating figures to reflect the post-appeal status. This means that every time a sanction decision is overturned at appeal, it no longer appears in the number of sanctions applied.

The pre-appeal figure for ESA sanctions was, in one month, as much as 57% higher than the post-appeal figure published by the Department. The Committee is asking for an explanation and for the Department to publish pre-appeal figures routinely so that the true picture can be understood.

The data also shows that in February 2018 1,108 Universal Credit claimants were still subject to a sanction despite having moved into in the “Working Enough” or “No Work-Related Requirement” conditionality group – usually because they are medically not fit for either work or to look for work.

The Committee is pushing for an answer on what possible purpose a sanction can serve for claimants whose circumstances mean there are no conditions attached to their benefits.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee. said:

“What is the point of applying sanctions to people who cannot work and are not expected to look for jobs? The DWP have yet to make the case that benefit sanctions work to get people into employment and it’s difficult to see how they can have that effect for people who are ‘working enough’ or cannot work. Benefit sanctions are the only major welfare reform this decade to have never been evaluated, and the picture DWP paints of the policy doesn’t match the troubling stories we’ve heard. In the wake of the NAO’s damning assessment of Universal Credit, we more than ever need the facts behind the claims.”

Note the figures indeed show the above, “) According to the data published in Annex 1 to your letter, in February 2018 1,108 Universal Credit claimants were subject to a sanction despite being in the “Working Enough” or “No Work-Related Requirement” conditionality regimes..”

The letter also adds, “Overall the statistics understate the scale of sanctions, because they change each record to update to the latest status of the case, which means that the figures are showing you sanctions after any successful appeals, rather than before. That particularly affects ESA sanctions,
where there is a very high rate of appeal and a high success rate.

Background:

Following the NAO’s devastating report on DWP’s failure to assess Universal Credit’s impact on claimants, or prove the benefits it has claimed for the massive welfare reform , we’ll question minister Alok Sharma on benefit sanctions, the “only major welfare reform since 2010 that has not been evaluated” at all.

The  inquiry will look at recent sanctions policy developments, like the “yellow card” system which gives claimants 14 days to challenge a decision to impose a sanction before it is put into effect. The system was announced in late 2015 although there is still no date for introducing it.

The inquiry will also consider the evidence base for the impact of sanctions, both that emerging from newly published statistics, and the robustness of the evidence base for the current use of sanctions as a means of achieving policy objectives.  Previously published in the Department’s quarterly statistical summaries, the Benefit Sanctions Statistics will now be a separate quarterly publication.

Earlier this year these stories showed the problems sanctions cause:

Groundbreaking Demos study reveals ‘culture of disbelief’ about disability among jobcentre staff leads to money being docked.

A comprehensive analysis of the treatment of unemployed disabled claimants has revealed that they are up to 53% more likely to be docked money than claimant who are not disabled. This raises serious concerns about how they and their conditions are treated.

The findings, from a four-year study by academic Ben Baumberg Geiger in collaboration with the Demos thinktank, will cause worry that a government drive to help a million more disabled people into work over the next 10 years could lead to more unfair treatment.

Sanctions – the cutting or withholding of benefits – are applied as a punishment when claimants infringe the conditions of their payments by, say, as missing appointments or failing to apply for enough jobs.

While the sanctions regime has been championed by the government as a means of encouraging people to take a job or boosting their chances of finding one, most experts consulted as part of the Demos project concluded that conditionality has little or no effect on improving employment for disabled people. There was also widespread anecdotal evidence that the threat of sanctions can lead to anxiety and broader ill health.

The study found that disabled claimants receiving jobseekers’ allowance – given to people who are out of work – were 26-53% more likely to be sanctioned than claimants who were not. Those hit by sanctions reported that the disparity arose because jobcentre staff failed to take sufficient account of their disabilities.

Less noticed amidst the chaos that is Universal Credit there are many harrowing tales of hardship (May 23rd 2018. My Disability Matters).

A disabled campaigner has told MPs how she was thrown out of a shelter and forced to sleep in her college library after she was unfairly sanctioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Jen Fidai described yesterday (Wednesday)* how she spent nearly a year with no benefits after being wrongly sanctioned while studying for her A-levels in 2012, and was forced to leave the temporary accommodation where she had been staying.

She had to rely on friends for somewhere to sleep, or even the library at the sixth form college where she was studying, which also provided her with food during the day.

She had been sanctioned for failing to tell the jobcentre that she would not be attending a meeting, even though she was in full-time education at the time and had told them both in person and by phone that she would not be able to attend.

It later emerged that she had been placed on the wrong benefit and should not have been claiming jobseeker’s allowance.

Fidai, who is now chief executive of the LGBT mental health charity Rainbow Head, told the Commons work and pensions select committee that she had tried to explain the situation to the jobcentre “but they wouldn’t listen”.

This is a reaction from the legal profession:

The current system of benefit sanctions is failing to treat claimants with dignity and respect and causing severe hardship for some of the most vulnerable people in society, according to the Law Society of Scotland.

In its response to the UK Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into benefit sanctions, the Law Society has also highlighted that the system is not meeting the UK Government’s policy objectives.

The professional body for Scottish solicitors has said there is an urgent need for effective monitoring and a review of training provided for Department of Work and Pensions staff.

Richard Henderson, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Administrative Justice committee, said: “Reviewing decisions around sanctions, through mandatory reconsideration and through appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, is not sufficiently effective or speedy enough to be regarded as satisfactory means of redress – resulting in real hardship for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The DWP urgently needs to put in place an effective mechanism for monitoring the quality of decision-making across all of its operations and should also undertake a review of the decision making training it provides to its staff.

“While we accept that there may well need to be power to make reasonable directions to claimants, and for some sanctions to be available if these directions are not followed, evidence shows that the UK Government’s policy objectives in this area – namely that benefit sanctions are there to positively assist claimants and that there is appropriate support available to help people return to work – are not being achieved.

“Claimants are not being treated with dignity and respect. Best practice is not being developed through learning from appeal decisions and, in some individual cases, human rights may well have been breached. It has long been apparent that there are some very serious issues to be examined in this area, and this inquiry offers a real opportunity to create a better benefit system across the UK and also provide much needed insight as a new benefit system is developed in Scotland.”

The terms of the benefit sanctions inquiry of the UK Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee can be read online: Benefit Sanctions Inquiry

Daily Misery of Universal Credit.

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Image result for esther mcvey universal credit cartoon

Esther McVey is facing accusations of dishonest behaviour worthy of Donald Trump ..

Somebody should produce a digest of stories about Universal Credit misery.

With a long list of Esther McVey’s Trump like fact-denials.

These are just some of the latest stories:

Birmingham Live.

Universal Credit left one mum so poor she couldn’t buy socks for her children

Birmingham children had to go without socks on their feet because of Universal Credit chaos, says MP.

Liam Byrne, Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, said “chaos” in the way the new benefit system was administered had left parents without money.

Universal Credit replaced benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. It was Irolled out across Birmingham between November 2017 and February this year.

But critics say mistakes meant some people were forced to wait longer than expected for money, or received the wrong amount.

Mr Byrne told the House of Commons: “In my Birmingham constituency, we have the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] telling my constituents that they cannot apply for housing credit through Universal Credit.

They get sent to Birmingham City Council, which then sends them back to the DWP.

“There is still a level of chaos on the frontline that meant that one of my constituents told me that not only could they not afford to eat, she could not afford to put socks on her children’s feet.”

Esther gave her normal Trump style reply:

In response, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, the Minister responsible for the benefit, highlighted the note written by Mr Byrne when he was a Labour Treasury Minister following the banking crisis.

She said: “And this from the man who said there was no money left. But to be fair, he actually has some honour, because that was correct.”

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 15, 2018 at 10:34 am

“Welfare” in the USA under Trump: An Ipswich Unemployed Action Special.

with 10 comments

US Food Bank Queue.

Trump is in the news today.

The orange ‘orror is not just loathed for all the usual things, or for having ordered the UK to follow his Brexit line after having shat after a good Feed at Blenheim, including a turd directed at his host.

He has been busy destroying the already feeble level of social security in the USA.

Trump wants to slash welfare with stricter work requirements. Tara Golshan 

Vox. 10th of April 2018.

Trump calls on his Cabinet to propose stronger work requirements for welfare across the board.

President Donald Trump is making a big push to expand work requirements in the nation’s social safety net, calling on his administration to propose tougher rules for America’s most vulnerable population to benefit from welfare programs.

Trump signed the Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility executive order privately Tuesday, ordering secretaries across the government to review their welfare programs — from food stamps to Medicaid to housing programs — and propose new regulations, like work requirements.

The executive order calls on federal agencies to enforce current work requirements, propose additional, stronger requirements, and find savings (in other words, make cuts), and to give states more flexibility to run welfare programs.

Background:

United States Welfare Programs: Myths Versus Facts.

The Balance.June 26th 2018.

There are six major U.S. welfare programs. They are Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Earned Income Tax Credit, and Housing Assistance. The federal government provides the funding; the states administer them and provide additional funds.

Welfare programs are not entitlement programs; those base eligibility upon prior contributions from payroll taxes. The four major U.S. entitlement programs in the United States are Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and worker’s compensation.

On April 10, 2018, President Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to review work requirements for many welfare programs. The programs include TANF, Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance. Trump wants agencies to standardize work requirements between programs and states.

For example, food stamp recipients must find a job within three months or lose their benefits. They must work at least 80 hours a month or participate in job training. But several states, such as Alaska, California, and Nevada, have opted out of the work requirement. They say unemployment rates are too high. The executive order encourages agencies to make sure all states follow the same rules.

The Six Major U.S. Welfare Programs Myths Versus Facts

TANF is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Most people refer to this program as welfare. On average, TANF provided income to 2.5 million recipients in 2017. Of these, 1.9 million were children.

In 2015, TANF assisted only 23 percent of the families living in poverty. On average, a three-person family received $429 a month. Despite this help, they still live below the poverty line of $1,702 a month.

Welfare received a bad reputation due to President Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign. He portrayed the welfare queen who cheated the system to get enough benefits to drive a Cadillac. He also warned of how welfare created a cycle of poverty. As a result, 61 percent of Americans believe the government should provide jobs instead of welfare payments.

Fraud like Reagan described has been cut since 1996. That’s when President Clinton created TANF out of the ashes of Aid to Families with Dependent Children. The number of families “on the dole” dropped from 10 million before welfare reform to 1.9 million in 2017.

The new requirements were the reason for this decrease. Families who receive TANF must get a job within two years. They might not get more money if they have another child. They can own no more than $2,000 in total assets. They can only receive TANF for five years or less in some states.

Rest on site.

Trumps’ ‘reforms’ are widely admired by ‘hard-Brexit Tories, indeed all Tories like the US punitive and miserly US ‘welfare’ system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 13, 2018 at 10:23 am

Esther ‘Poor Law’ McVey Clings on like a Limpet.

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Image result for limpet

Esther McVey Tries to Weather Cabinet and DWP Storm.

Fun and games at Chequers,

It seems that Esther McVey did not need the taxi.

Unlike David Davis she has not resigned in the wake of the Brexit Bust-up.

She did not sound off about “polishing turds”, no doubt little concerned about the quality of her regular stool production:

A bungled Universal Credit roll-out is forcing some Ashford claimants to travel more than two hours on public transport to sign on – in Folkestone.

With the issue affecting some 6,000 properties, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says it is “working to resolve it as quickly as possible”.

Kent on-Line. 8th of July.

Like a limpet she is clinging to office, making these sounds…

Some, such as Esther McVey, sounded off about Brexit compromise.

So let us pause and have a look at her.

This, which appeared yesterday,  is a harsh, but essentially kind hearted, summary of our Boss’s politics,

Will Hutton.

 For Brexiters, truth is what you believe – even if it’s a lie

Esther McVey is a passionate Thatcherite believer and fully paid-up Eurosceptic – crucial attributes for success in today’s Conservative party. But her faith is a closed, druidic belief system that, whatever its dubious merits 40 years ago, now has no relationship with today’s economic and social realities.

She is work and pensions secretary, charged with delivering the biggest change in the welfare system for more than half a century – consolidating six income-based benefits and tax credits into one: the universal credit.

There were good arguments for trying to simplify the system – one means test rather than many – but the reality is that it was complex because the lives and circumstances of Britain’s tens of millions of very poor people are also complex. But the belief of the Thatcherite architects of universal credit, notably Iain Duncan Smith, was that the complexity was encouraging claimants to game the system, creating a dependency culture and making poverty worse not better. Best consolidate the six benefits into one in the name of simplicity – making it available only to those in desperate and obvious need who cannot pass the tough availability-to-work tests – save billions in welfare payments and end the dependency culture.

In his and now McVey’s mind the intent was what mattered – even if it is obvious that reality means that universal credit is de facto a regression to the Victorian poor laws, offering a mean, inflexible payment to the “deserving” poor and varying degrees of destitution for the rest.

Last week reality closed in on McVey. The independent National Audit Office (NAO), beleaguered custodian of reality, has a responsibility to tell the truth. Its report last month was damning. Not only was the system operationally faulty, but pilots showed that many claimants were worse off, with a significant minority not receiving any benefit at all. It should not be extended until these faults were remedied. What’s more, it did not promote employment and was not value for money.

Amazingly, McVey told the House of Commons, under questioning, that the NAO, notwithstanding its criticisms, wanted the rollout of universal credit to be accelerated. Last week Sir Amyas Morse, auditor general, published an open letter to her. The NAO had decidedly not said that. Rather, it had suggested the opposite: a pause while the issues it raised were addressed. He wanted the record set straight. Two hours later, McVey apologised to the Commons for misleading it. But she made no commitment to address the new system’s deep faults.

It was shameless, a degradation of our public life. But sealed in the bubble of her ideology, protected by a rightwing press locked in the same bubble, she was able to get away relatively unscathed – despite Labour calls for her resignation. She may have overtly lied: but the greater integrity, she will have told herself, was to be truthful to her beliefs.

We await Esther’s Resignation: Now!

Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has lied to Parliament – her false claim that the National Audit Office was concerned about the slow pace of the Universal Credit Universal Credit rollout has been exposed as a fabrication by an open letter from Sir Amyas Morse of the National Audit Office clearly stating that this was “not correct”.

McVey’s lie is a deliberate one – intended to distract from the actual content of the National Audit Office’s report of Jun 15 which highlighted the hardship Universal Credit caused to claimants. 1 in 5 are not being payed in full on time, 40% are experiencing financial difficulties and 25% said they couldn’t make an online claim.

The report also stated that the Universal Credit system was “not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven”. This proves what Disabled People Against Cuts have always said – that Universal Credit is an expensive white elephant which undermines provision for disabled people, those without work and the low-paid. McVey has lied to throw dust in the eyes of Parliament and the public because our calls for this damaging policy to be stopped and scrapped are being proved to be well founded.

That McVey has given this false information knowingly is without doubt; in his letter to McVey on 27 June Sir Amyas Morse wrote: “Our report was fully agreed with senior officials in your Department. It is based on the most accurate and up-to-date information from your Department. Your Department confirmed this to me in writing on Wednesday June 6 and we then reached final agreement on the report on Friday June 8.”

The Cabinet office’s own standards state: “It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister”. Other ministers who have misled Parliament such as Priti Patel have been expected to resign – there should be no exception made in the case of McVey.

It is clear that in her fanatical pursuit of creating a hostile environment for disabled people and other claimants Esther McVey has breached this code, knowingly misleading Parliament over the position of the National Audit Office regarding Universal Credit.

We call on Esther McVey to resign now – if she refuses to do the right thing and go we call on The Prime Minister, Theresa May to sack her.

Written by Andrew Coates

July 9, 2018 at 10:35 am

Esther McVey on the Way Out?

with 48 comments

Steve Bell 5.7.18

Esther Tries to Ride out the Storm.

Our Newshawks spotted this one:

Esther McVey has to go. Her downright lies are dangerous

In a world of fake news and downright mendacity, lying to parliament may seem like just another day in politics. But the work and pensions secretary Esther McVey’s non-apology in the Commons on Wednesday, deliberately repeating fabrications about the universal credit (UC) disaster, takes indifference to facts to a new level of insolence.

The comptroller and auditor general, Sir Amyas Morse, who is in charge of the rigorously independent National Audit Office, has a reputation for strict propriety and extreme circumspection in his public comments. It takes unprecedented misrepresentation of an NAO report to force him to take the extraordinary step of publishing his letter of reprimand to the minister in charge of the Department for Work and Pensions. What else can he do when this minister has the effrontery to refuse to meet him? She plainly takes a Trumpist approach to inconvenient realities, so why bother meeting this annoying nitpicker?

McVeyism is everywhere. Duncan Smith, the architect of UC and many other calamities in one of the most disaster-causing political careers of our time, had the gall to tell parliament that Morse’s report is “a shoddy piece of work”. As he appears on our screens day after day propounding preposterous Brexit unrealities, broadcasters should ask if there comes a point when a politician found responsible for an act of such monumental failure is stripped of all public credibility? As for McVey, her deliberate misleading of parliament is considerably worse than the actions that led to Amber Rudd’s resignation as home secretary earlier this year after she inadvertently misled the home affairs select committee. But there is no sign of any such honourable resignation from McVey.

Our friends in the Mirror report,

Esther McVey faces calls to quit after apologising for misleading MPs about benefits shake-up

Labour demanded a probe into whether the Work and Pensions Secretary broke the Ministerial Code after her humiliating climbdown over Universal Credit.

Labour Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett demanded Mrs May investigate whether Ms McVey broke the Ministerial Code – which governs Whitehall ethics.

He wrote to the Prime Minister: “I urge you to conduct a full investigation into [Ms McVey’s] conduct to determine whether she knowingly misled Parliament.”

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “The NAO report is damning about the roll out of Universal Credit, the Government’s flagship welfare programme.

“If she didn’t read it properly, that’s incompetence. If she did read it properly and knowingly misled Parliament, then she should resign.”

Lib Dem welfare spokesman Stephen Lloyd said: “ Esther McVey ’s contempt for inconvenient facts and independent, reputable bodies such as the NAO shows she is unfit for office. Theresa May should replace her.”

Commons Work and Pensions Committee chairman Frank Field added: “I’ve never seen a letter from the National Audit Office like this before in the 40 years I’ve been in Parliament.

“It’s clearly a call to end this Trumpism in British politics when you think you can stand up and say anything about what any other people have actually said.”

PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The apology from the minister will do nothing to convince those using Universal Credit, or our members who administer it, that the scheme works.

“The fact that the Auditor General has felt the need to make a public statement that the minister’s claims that Universal Credit is working are not ‘proven’ is a damning indictment.”

But who would have guessed that the far-right Mail would say this?

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey is facing calls to quit after issuing a grovelling apology for misrepresenting the findings of a Whitehall watchdog.

Ms McVey has said sorry for ‘inadvertently misleading’ MPs by wrongly claiming the National Audit Office (NAO) had concluded benefit reforms were working.

The admission in the House yesterday came after the NAO went public with a spat over a report it published last month savaging the government’s flagship benefits shake-up.

 

 

 

This is her last known Tweet:

 

If she won’t resign boot her out!

Written by Andrew Coates

July 5, 2018 at 10:08 am

Health Checks at Jobcentres as Auditor General diagnoses Esther McVey’s Advanced Porky Malady.

with 28 comments

Image result for esther mcvey ill

Auditor General Says McVey Suffering from Advanced Porky Malady.

“I’m a GP in Kent, with an interest in public health. I’ve really enjoyed the discussion, and this has been really useful to us. We do NHS Health Checks here in my practice. In terms of targeting the people who would most benefit, and I’m aware that there’s an issue with who would do this, but I think we should use places like job centres, food banks and the housing team to publicise this – because, that is where a lot of the people who would benefit most might be found. “

Health Matters – Using NHS Health Checks to optimise CVD care – Your questions answered.

Lo and Behold, in Ipswich…

Our Health Check team are conducting health checks at Ipswich Jobcentre EVERY Wednesday 10:00am-4pm. Please speak with your Work Coach, call 01473 298772 or respond to this email  to make an appointment.
 
https://onelifesuffolk.co.uk/
NHS Health Checks are a bit like a midlife MOT
Not had a health check in the past 5 years?
If you are aged 40-74 OneLife Suffolk can offer you a FREE NHS health check to assess your general health and your risk of cardiovascular disease.
http://onelifesuffolk.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Health-Checks-June-2017.pdf
Access Criteria:

 

  • 40-74 years old
  • Not had an NHS Health Check in the last 5 years
  • Resident in Suffolk, Essex, or Norfolk

 

  • No current diagnosis for hear  (sic) disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke, kidney disease or vascular dementia.

Perhaps Esther McVey – apparently suffering from Advanced Porky Malady – should give this one a whirl.

(Just out from the Independent)

Esther McVey made incorrect statements to MPs over universal credit roll out, says government spending watchdog

Auditor General Sir Amyas Morse said Ms McVey’s claim the NAO was concerned that universal credit was rolling out too slowly was ‘not correct’.

Whitehall’s spending watchdog has written to cabinet minister Esther McVey to complain over a series of incorrect claims to parliament about its critical report of the roll-out of universal credit.

The National Audit Office (NAO) took the highly unusual step to rebuke the work and pensions secretary, after she dismissed the catalogue of failing outlined by auditors last month in their major report into the government’s flagship welfare programme.

In an open letter to Ms McVey, which is likely to raise questions about her future as a cabinet minister, Auditor General Sir Amyas Morse said that elements of her statement to Parliament on the report were incorrect and unproven.

He said it was “odd” that Ms McVey told MPs that the NAO did not take into account recent changes in the administration of universal credit, when the report had in fact been “fully agreed” with senior officials at the Department for Work and Pensions only days earlier.#

Sir Amyas added that Ms McVey’s claim that the NAO was concerned that Universal Credit was rolling out too slowly was “not correct”.

Her assurance, in response to the report, that Universal Credit was working was also “not proven”, said Sir Amyas.

In its report on June 15, the NAO highlighted the hardship caused to claimants by delays in receiving payments under universal credit.

It concluded that the new system – being gradually introduced to replace a number of benefits – was “not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven”.

Written by Andrew Coates

July 4, 2018 at 10:36 am

Iain Duncan Smith Rumoured to Seek Cognitive Therapy as his Universal Credit System Worsens.

with 37 comments

Image result for iain duncan smith

Creator of Universal Credit Rumoured to be up for Cognitive Therapy.

Every day I walk past Major’s Corner in Ipswich.

Often there are people in a dire state.

Every day I walk round Ipswich town centre and get asked for money from people in a dire state.

I hear all the time from people with problems with finding work, pay, bills, and with benefits.

This is not remarkable: it’s the case for just about every town and city in the country.

What is is clear is that the more that the government’s welfare ‘reforms’ it’s getting worse.

From , Two-child policy’ cuts benefits of more than 70,000 families

Campaigners warn poverty will rise as low-income families lose financial support.

To this, which is typical of the hundreds of reports now filling local and regional papers,

Ex-serviceman facing eviction after receiving just £84 Universal Credit for one month

Grimsby live. 28th of June.

Brian Lister has fallen into rental arrears after receiving only £84 Universal Credit in one month.

An ex-serviceman is facing eviction from his home after receiving just £84 of Universal Credit to live on in one month.

Brian Lister, 61, of Hildyard Street, served for 15 years in the RAF as a telecommunication operator, where he toured in Northern Ireland during the height of the troubles, and is now being told that he faces eviction from his Lincolnshire Housing Partnership home after falling behind on his rent because of Universal Credit.

He owes his landlord £260, and has been threatened with court costs of £325, if he is not able to clear his debts.

He says that the problems all started because his Universal Credit payment was heavily deducted due to him having been working for an agency, and Universal Credit deducted 63p for every pound that he is meant to have earned.

It has come to a sorry pass when even Money Week, not a journal of the radical left, publishes this,

Universal credit and the Tories’ stumbling welfare reforms

What happened?

Two big problems. First, as part of his spending cuts, George Osborne (as chancellor in 2010-2016) cut the level that claimants could earn before their benefits were withdrawn, thus saving money but reducing the reform’s effectiveness in creating an incentive to work. The overall result is that the universal-credit system is expected to be about 3% less generous overall than the previous system, shaving £2bn off the total spend. That means that many claimants – in particular self-employed people – will be worse off than under the previous system. Meanwhile, the Office for Budget Responsibility argues that the reform may in practice not save as much as ministers hope, and that the uncertainty poses a “significant risk” to the public finances in coming years as the numbers grow. Only 660,000 people (around 10% of all claimants) were in receipt of universal credit by last November, but the rollout of the benefit is expected to gather pace this year, with two million people projected to be covered by March 2019 and about seven million by 2022-2023.

And the second big problem?

The rollout, costing £2bn to date, has been shambolic – due to multiple management and IT failures and to radical flaws in the overall design. For example, a key benefit of universal credit is supposed to be simplicity and a smoother claim system. But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) greatly overestimated the number of claimants who would be able to confirm their identity online using the government’s online interface Verify. The officials reckoned on 90%, but the reality is just 38% (according to the National Audit Office, or NAO), meaning the supposed savings are much lower amid administrative chaos. Additionally, under the new system claimants receive one monthly payment, but have to wait five weeks – and in many cases much longer – for their claim to be assessed.

Why is that such a problem?

Many low earners are paid weekly, not monthly, and reams of research show that people on low incomes struggle to budget over long periods. And the five-week wait for money, in cases where people have no other savings or resources, has proved disastrous – leading to real hardship: a surge in the use of food banks in the areas where universal credit has been brought in; a spike in rent arrears and evictions; and widespread reports of private landlords now refusing to let to benefit claimants. The NAO report is harsh in its criticism of the DWP for failing to react to the mounting evidence of real hardship – from claimants and other stakeholders including landlords and welfare advisers – and instead being “defensive, insensitive,
and dismissive”.

Will it get more people into work?

No one knows, but there are reasons to be sceptical. The NAO says that the DWP will “never be able to measure” whether universal credit actually leads to 200,000 more people in work, because it cannot isolate the effect of the reform from other factors that raise employment. The way the DWP has rolled out the reform means it “lacks appropriate control groups” of legacy (old system) claimants, says the NAO, and “the larger claims for universal credit, such as boosted employment, are unlikely to be demonstrable at any point in the future. Nor for that matter will value for money.”

Wilson concludes,

 Despite evidence that it should pause the scheme, change course, or “risk doing real damage”, the government seems determined to plough ahead with this “giant, increasingly unpopular project”.

No wonder the creator of Universal Credit, Iain Duncan Smith is rumoured to be shortly bundled off for treatment by “nerve specialist” Sir Roderick Glossop with cognitive therapy in a special rest home.

Here is his cry for help:

Tory Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith links CBI to Nazi appeasement.

“Before World War II, as the historian Andrew Roberts has pointed out, the Federation of British Industries – the forerunner of the CBI – supported both the Gold Standard (which, in its constraints on a government’s ability to manage the economy is an instrument of jobs destruction), and the appeasement of Nazi Germany.

“Between 1937 and 1939, while the Nazis were opening their concentration camps, the FBI oversaw the creation of no fewer than 33 separate agreements between British and German business groups.”

Also citing CBI support for nationalisation, the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and the euro, as well as hostility to Margaret Thatcher’s policies, Mr Duncan Smith said the organisation has historically been “wrong” with “amazing consistency”.

“Yet the worry is, despite the CBI’s appalling track record, when it comes to Brexit, aggressive corporate campaigning could have a pivotal impact on government policy by forcing Britain to remain, in effect, under EU rules,” he added.

“There are already signs that this is happening, with key figures in the cabinet now acting as cheerleaders for the argument – made by BMW and Airbus – that Britain must remain as closely aligned to the single market and customs union as possible.”

Written by Andrew Coates

July 1, 2018 at 11:51 am