Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

Skint Britain: Friends Without Benefits. Review.

with 80 comments

Abbey and Nathan are forced to rely on their dog to help them catch food (Mirror).

Skint Britain: Friends Without Benefits.

Not that long ago Channel Four put on one of the worst series about people on benefits, the wittily named Benefits Street. White Dee and the rest of the Brummie crew were a barrel of not-unlovable rouges playing the system. Some said it was a modern freak show. That may be insulting to the people shown, but not far off about way they were shown.

How we laughed!

Channel Five’s the Great British Benefits Handout and others followed – like rats excited at easy prey. It looked like the telly had become screen version of the Sun, the Express and the Mail. It was open-season on scrounging idlers.

How things have changed. Last night Channel Four put on Skint Britain: Friends Without Benefits. In the first of 3 episodes there not many chortles. We saw people struggling with the rollout of Universal Credit in Hartlepool. Emphasis on struggling.

We got the message about the new angle right from the start. A couple of gammon talked about people having to work to eat. Switch to the “35 hours a week job search” and the Universal Credit Journal. The youngster who couldn’t read or write, having to cope with that. The fact that, in Hartlepool there weren’t jobs there for the taking.

Then there was woman juggling with paying either gas or electricity. We saw what it means for the under-25s who get less than those who’ve reached the magic age. Somebody made homeless because he couldn’t get the rent together. More juggling, ducking and weaving. Tracey, who managed to survive cancer, is the carer for her husband, who has multiple sclerosis. Single mum Terri, out desperately trying to get proper work.

David “fucking” on-Hold Music.

“Some of the most affecting moments in the programme were about David who had severe problems with his eyesight – a major, and rare, illness, keratoconus. He had got his PIP removed and is found fit for work. Now he is left with a fiver for a whole month to feed himself. He had to phone up the Dole for an appointment. On a pay-phone, outside the Food Bank. As he said, the waiting music alone was designed to fucking drive you up the wall. He gets told he has to do 5 days Job search…..

The poor sod, driven from pillar to post, was left in a world like Jo the Crossing Sweeper living in Dickens’ Tom-all-Alone.

The programme did not fail to mention that crisis loans no longer existed, and the ‘local’ (‘devolved’) Council fund, Local Welfare Assistance, couldn’t help those who asked.

Or to put in clips of Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May praising Universal Credit.

The “safety net” of the old welfare state is so full of holes it is starting to disappear.

Nathan and Abbey, waiting – how you wait! –  for the first payment on Universal Credit,  had one way of getting food when they were broke. Nathan got his dog Twister out tracking down rabbits on the local heath. There are few scenes on telly sadder than seeing the new hunter-gatherers preparing the cony and chucking the faithful hound a choice morsel. At least they had a bit of good cheer.

The world of Universal Credit is not just Dickens sprung to life. The homeless, who we only just glimpsed in this episode, have become like the street urchins of Les Misérables. Some would hope that like Gavroche they would rise on the barricades….

The series is a must-see.

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Government Rejects Benefit Sanctions Inquiry report call to change “inhuman” Sanctions Regime.

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Image result for benefit sanctions uk

 

Our contributors could have already have said the following: “Benefit sanctions found to be ineffective and damaging. Study concludes that punishing claimants triggers profoundly negative outcomes”. (Guardian May 2018)

In fact some people who write here  are in dire straits because of this regime.

But the Government is still turning its face against facts’

Today:

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, responding to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s publication of the government’s response to its benefit sanctions inquiry, said:

“The government appears to be in complete denial about the impact of its sanctions regime on people’s lives. It is damaging people’s health and well-being and leaving many at risk of destitution.

“There is no evidence that sanctions lead to people finding work that lasts and lifts them out of poverty. This government is so extreme that it has rejected reducing the length of sanctions and is even prepared to consider making them longer.

“The real way to help people into work is through an industrial strategy to deliver jobs and growth and employment support tailored to each person’s needs. Labour will end this government’s cruel and counter-productive sanctions regime.”

11 February 2019 Work and Pensions Committee.

No respite for “victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel” in Government’s response

The Committee is today publishing the Government’s response to its report on benefit sanctions. While the Government has finally agreed to evaluate one aspect of the impact of its reforms to conditionality and sanctions – the “only major welfare reform this decade to have never been evaluated”  – it is looking only at their effectiveness in getting people into work. While this is clearly key, as it is the supposed objective of the policy, the Government is still not even considering the impact of sanctions on claimants’ financial and personal wellbeing. The widely reported detrimental impact of sanctions on claimants’ welfare formed the basis of the Committee’s report, when the Chair noted “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 counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel”.

Negative impact of sanctions worked against people getting into work

Even confined to the question of impact on employment, the Committee found that the negative impact of sanctions actually worked against people getting into work, to the extent that the Government’s approach appeared “arbitrarily punitive”. No evidence the Committee received 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.”

The Committee’s inquiry highlighted the distressing stories of claimants like Jen Fidai, a young disabled woman forced to sofa-surf and sleep in the Uni library for a year, and ultimately give up her studies, after she was sanctioned  – erroneously, as it turned out. It is these impacts on claimants’ lives, and the countless others which the Committee’s report and ongoing shocking news reports only scratch the surface of, which the Government is refusing to assess.

Forceful recommendation by Committee rejected

The Government rejected the recommendation that claimants already found to have limited capability for work should be exempt from sanctions, and also rejected the recommendation that claimants who are waiting for a Work Capability Assessment  – the medical assessments for disability benefits PIP and ESa which the Committee has previously denounced as “riddled with errors and omissions”, and also subject to lengthy delays  – should be exempt from sanctions if they had a “Fit Note” from a doctor saying they were unable to work. Government says it is looking into the possibility of a general policy that conditionality shouldn’t apply to those assessed as having limited work capability and people waiting for a WCA – although this decision would be in the hands of Work Coaches, ignoring the Committee’s wider concern that leaving too much to Work Coaches’ discretion in terms of sanctions more widely risked leading to inconsistent practice. The Government also rejected the recommendation to define “good reason” for failing to meet a requirement that led to a sanction – currently left to work coach discretion, leading to inconsistent practice – in legislation.

The Committee’s forceful recommendation – in the face of distressing evidence of the impact of sanctions on lone parents and their children – never to dock more than 20% of a lone parent’s benefit, was rejected, with the Government promising only to assess the employment impact of sanctions on this group as well. The Committee has reported elsewhere on the particular, deep difficulties lone parents are encountering under the major welfare reforms of the decade, including in its report on support for childcare costs under Universal Credit

Once again, the Government’s position on a key recommendation – that claimants is no longer subject to the requirement, the condition, that led to the sanction should also have the ongoing sanction lifted: the Government rejected this recommendation – is difficult to square with the supposed objective of the policy.  If sanctions are about incentivising, for example, looking for work, it is difficult to see the point of continuing to punish someone for not making sufficient efforts to find work when they are no longer in fact required to find work.

Chair’s Comment

Commenting on the response, Committee Chair Rt Hon Frank Field said:

“Our report laid bare the inhumanity of the Government’s sanctions regime, which it has pursued for years without ever stopping to check whether it works or what it is doing to the people it is meant to “support”.

In response, the Government has failed utterly to grasp the seriousness of the matter. It talks about reviews and “proof of concept”: it might want to take a look at the concept of not pushing disabled people and single parents—not to mention their children—into grinding poverty and hardship.”

Tories SNUB pleas to rein in ‘pointlessly cruel’ benefit sanctions

The Mirror.

New limits to the punishments were proposed in a damning report last year. But now DWP chiefs have rejected the plan – triggering a furious response.

Ministers have snubbed a series of recommendations designed to ease the burden of benefit sanctions on vulnerable claimants, it is revealed today.

A damning report from the Commons Work and Pensions Committee branded the system “pointlessly cruel” in November.

MPs warned the human cost of the sanctions regime was “simply too high” and called for new protections for single parents and people with disabilities and health conditions.

Committee chairman Frank Field today accuses ministers of “failing utterly to grasp the seriousness of the matter” after recommendations were rejected by Amber Rudd’s Department for Work and Pensions.

Under the current system, sanctions can be imposed for missing appointments or failure to show efforts to find work,.

Claimants face being stripped of up to 100% of their Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit standard allowance.

In some “higher level” cases – such as a failure to take up paid work – claimants can lose benefits for as long as three years.

The committee recommended that the maximum period for such sanctions should be limited to two months for the first failure to comply and four and six months for subsequent breaches.

But the DWP rejected the plan, along with recommendations to ensure lone parents with children aged under five are never subjected to the withdrawal of more than 20% of their welfare payments; limit sanctions on care-leavers below the age of 25 to 20% of their benefits; remove the threat of sanctions from claimants deemed to have “limited capability for work” and those with valid sickness notes from their doctors; and remove sanctions if a change in circumstances means the claimant is no longer subject to the requirement that led to benefits being withheld in the first place.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 11, 2019 at 11:31 am

Universal Credit Creates “looming Eviction Crisis.

with 110 comments

 

For many people Citizen’s Advice is the first port of call when they have problems with benefits, starting with Universal Credit.

Here is what’s happening with our Citizen’s Advice Service in Suffolk.

The East Anglian Daily Times reports:

On Thursday, February 14, the final vote on 2019/20 budget proposals will take place at Suffolk County Council’s full council meeting, where divisive cuts to the £368,000 Citizens Advice grant over two years has been put forward by the Conservative administration.

But the opposition Labour group, which has already called for a reversal of the cuts, has now tabled an amendment to ringfence £2,500 from each councillor’s locality budget – an £8,000 pot each councillor has to spend on projects and improvements in their ward – for Citizens Advice.

With 75 elected councillors, the proposal would secure £187,500 for Citizens Advice’s core funding.

It means that the £184,000 Citizens Advice is set to lose in 2019/20 is covered, while further ways to cover funding will be explored for 2020/21. Sarah Adams, Labour group leader, said the planned cuts were “a dangerous act of self-harm that will pile even more pressure on the council’s beleaguered public services”.

Here is the CAB’s latest statement on Universal Credit.

Citizens Advice reveals half of claimants seeking benefits assistance risk being evicted

Citizens Advice has called for a root and branch overhaul of universal credit, after revealing that half of all claimants who came to it for help managing the new benefit were at risk of being evicted owing to rent arrears and hardship.

Relatively minor changes to the way the benefit operates, announced by ministers in the 2017 budget after coming under intense pressure from campaigners, have “only made a dent in the problem rather than fixed it”, the charity said.

The minimum five-week wait for a first benefit payment left nearly half of claimants it advised unable to pay household bills, or forced them to go without essentials such as food or heating, it said, while 54% had to borrow cash from family and friends to stay afloat.

“Half the people we help with universal credit are still struggling to keep a roof over their heads while they wait for their first payment,” said Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice.

Here is the CAB Press Release:

People claiming Universal Credit are still struggling to pay for the roof over their heads, despite the wait for their first payment being reduced from 6 weeks to 5, new Citizens Advice data shows.

1 in 2 people the charity helped were in rent arrears or fell behind on their mortgage payments, the same number as when the wait for the first payment was longer.

Citizens Advice also found 60% of people it helped are taking out advances while they wait for payment.

The research also found that, following changes by Government in 2017, fewer people are falling behind on their bills or going without essentials during the wait period. Payment timeliness has improved – now 1 in 6 people are not paid in full and on time, while previously it was 1 in 4.

The report, Managing Money on Universal Credit, released today, reveals new analysis based on the 190,000 people Citizens Advice has helped with Universal Credit.

Among the people the charity helps with debt and Universal Credit:

  • Debt problems are more common for the people we help with Universal Credit than those claiming benefits under the previous system, with 24% of the people we helped with Universal Credit also seeking debt advice.

  • Nearly one in two (47%) have no money left after essential living costs (such as food, housing and transport) to pay creditors, or are spending more than they take in.

  • More than 4 in 5 (82%) hold priority debt such as council tax, rent arrears or mortgage payments, and energy debts.

Citizens Advice is calling on the government to make Universal Credit far more flexible to fit around people’s lives and to make sure people have enough money to live on.

It also wants Alternative Payment Arrangements to be more widely available, allowing for rent to be paid direct to a landlord, more frequent payments, and a payment to go to both members of a couple.

Just 3% of claimants currently receive more frequent payments, while just 20 households in the UK receive split payments to different family members.

Four in 10 of the people helped by Citizens Advice are aware of managed payments to landlords, while just 1 in 6 know payments can be made more frequently.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Half the people we help with a Universal Credit claim are still struggling to keep a roof over their heads while they wait for their first payment.

“Changes to the waiting period for first payment have improved things for many people, but our evidence shows they don’t go far enough.

“Universal Credit must continue to be reformed so it works for all claimants and leaves people with enough money to live on.”

I watched this last night:

Life on Benefits: Universal Credit?

Brexit might be dominating the headlines – but arguably one of the biggest changes to the welfare state in a generation is the roll out of Universal Credit – which could affect over eight million people across the UK.

Tonight, Richard Bacon explores the impact of Universal Credit and meets some of those receiving the benefit.

CRITICISM

Universal Credit was announced in 2010 by Tory politician Ian Duncan Smith as a way to combine many benefits and incentivise people into work, but critics are furious that it’s bringing hardship to many families.

Everywhere you look there are issues with the system. It’s not working for the disabled, it’s not working for families, it’s not working for lone parents, it’s not working for those in jobs and it’s not working for the self employed.

– TESSA GREGORY, A SOLICITOR WITH LEIGH DAY

The Trussell Trust are a nationwide network of food banks and say the use of food banks have increased by 52% in areas where Universal Credit has been introduced.

Fair enough as it went, but it could have been an hour long instead of 30 minutes.

The ‘Simplicity’ of Universal Credit – Anything But, say Top Researchers.

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Image result for universal credit cartoon simplicity

Iain Duncan Smith Universal Credit is about simplifying the “complexity of the existing benefit system”.

The day begins with the usual.

Walk into the town centre, passing a chap cowering, just out of the rain, on the steps of one of the boarded up old County Hall (derelict since 2004 – plans afoot to make it into, no doubt ‘luxury’ flats).

Job Search (Just added, er, just in case….).

Look at the stories on Universal Credit:

I spent a week living on Universal Credit – this is what it’s like

The Mirror.

Receiving weekly allowance for a 23-year-old, one young reporter ended up with just £6 a day to spend on food, heating and travel.

It soon dawned on Alex that even Tesco meal deals – priced at £3, or half his daily allowance – would have to fall by the wayside, too.

Alex added: “I am a sucker for a Tesco meal deal which sets me back £3 a day and although it’s a great offer, it costs me almost half of my daily budget.

“I knew I had to change my ways so every night I made sandwiches to take into work and bought multipacks of crisps instead of wasting money buying individual packs as part of a meal deal.”

There is a high possibility, particularly at a time when we are experiencing sub-zero temperatures, that I would have had to endure freezing cold nights and sacrificed my warmth in order to get by.

He should be so lucky!

Couple’s Universal Credit payment leaves them with just £1 a day.

Metro.

A couple claim they’re struggling to survive on just £1 a day after their Universal Credit payment was miscalculated. Colin Robinson said he was forced to rely on food banks in Coventry because the £39 he received in December was not enough for him and his wife to survive on. Mr Robinson, 46, now fears he could lose his home if his benefits are not increased.

Now we learn that some serious types have looked into the way we are expected, or going to be expected to live.

The alleged simplicity of Universal Credit and the lived experience of benefit claimants

Kate Summers and David Young challenge the assumed simplicity of Universal Credit by focusing on its single monthly payment design. They draw on two empirical studies of means-tested benefit claimants in order to explain how short-termism is a crucial tool for those managing social security benefits.

2019 started with another announcement that Universal Credit (UC) is being reset and rethought. While some of the changes being introduced are welcome, piecemeal policymaking draws our attention away from the bigger picture. We want to return to one of the principles underpinning UC: simplicity. In his short introduction to Universal Credit in 2010, Iain Duncan Smith made it clear that simplifying the “complexity of the existing benefit system” is a central tenet of welfare reform. Complexity will be “cut through” and the system will be “streamlined”.

Currently, however, claims of simplicity can only be sustained if UC is considered at a superficial level: one monthly payment per household, delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions, with a single taper rate, and with the amount calculated and adjusted monthly. But if we consider the system in any detail and from a claimant perspective, claims of simplicity fall away.

…..

What about the claimant experience of simplicity within a changing policy environment? We draw on evidence from two empirical studies to examine one element in particular: the single monthly payment under Universal Credit. Monthly payment is based partly on the evidence that three quarters of people in the UK are paid their work income monthly, making the move from benefits to work purportedly easier by aligning social security payments with ‘the world of work’. However, when looking at those earning less than £10,000 a year, around half of workers are paid more often than monthly, raising questions about how successfully Universal Credit fits with the reality of the lives of low-income claimants. There is also evidence of longstanding budgeting processes developed by those on a low income that centre around the regular receipt of different sources of income for whom monthly payments pose significant challenges.

In the first research by Kate Summers, 43 claimants in receipt of the ‘legacy’ outgoing payments were interviewed. People spoke about how they organised their money, and the majority were oriented around short-term (days and weeks) timescales that were bolstered by the ‘pay days’ of the legacy benefits (these overlap and span from weekly, to two weekly, to four weekly). Three main notions underpinned this short-termism: 1) the ability to establish some degree of security by managing and planning in the short-term; 2) conversely that short-termism was essential as a matter of survival when, as one participant put it, “you’re budgeting pennies”; 3) meaning that inevitably money is experienced highly transiently and “just goes”. Only seven of the 43 participants talked about managing their money on slightly longer term timescales (weeks and months). However, these participants tended to be in work, they were paid monthly and had opted to receive their tax credits four-weekly.

The second, ongoing research by David Young involved 15 households claiming UC and legacy benefits over a three-month period. Seven of those households adopted weekly budgeting periods, four adopted two-weekly budgeting periods and four adopted monthly budgeting periods. The most common reason for short-termism was a sense of control in the face of unstable and inadequate income. The most common reason for monthly budgeting was experience of a monthly income and regular monthly bills.

…..

The evidence shows that social security recipients have developed effective tools and processes to make ends meet while in receipt of meagre means-tested payments: the monthly payment design of UC pushes against many of these strategies. Moreover the earmarking tools and short-term orientations are sometimes seen as deficiencies to be fixed with money management education and training. Instead they should be recognised for what they are: astute responses to managing on a very low income.

Within the current ‘re-think’ period, there remains a powerful consensus that Universal Credit is, or at least can be, simple. While certain administrative simplification still has the potential to improve a system widely seen as too complex, this must be considered alongside claimant experience. Claims of simplicity can often mean that complexity does not go away but is shifted out of sight, backstage. We argue that with Universal Credit, the complexity of managing to make ends meet on a very low-income could end up being shifted onto those that can least afford it: the claimants themselves.

Or to put it clearly, managing a tiny budget over a month is anything but simple.

Then there is this:

Written by Andrew Coates

February 4, 2019 at 12:21 pm

“Deflection script’ used to get Universal Credit claimants off the phone (Sky News).

with 66 comments

 

Image result for universal credit deflection script

All week our contributors have been talking about the Digital Disgrace of Universal Credit.

Harpo commented,

With Universal Credit’s full digital service you don’t actually physically sign your CC. You accept what is recorded on it by clicking a button later on a page in your UC online account or, as poor Violet has discovered, the automatic system doesn’t pay you by direct transfer into your bank account.

Ken suggested,

Get rid of that online account.The situation can rapidly go down hill you don’t know who’s looking I there and what could be going on, these could be a dozen heads looking in there hence a dozen opinions and none of them lawful.

How can a claimant commitment be agreed online it must be done face to face,simply someone putting anything on there is like giving some an ultimatum.Try to avoid using family for support as this could put a strain on relationships long term.The whole idea of the welfare state is to provide the support not the family.

I’ve had horrendous experiences with these Claimant Commitments with no doubt many more people,all well mentioned.

There are so many other comments – they all deserve a serious read – that it would be hard to keep up.

One thing that comes out is the way “online” is meant to be the way everything gets done – E-Mails from job application to the UC Journal.

You get the feeling that there’s some gleaming Web World out there where everything goes on with a few taps on the keyboard.

In the meantime where most of us live ordinary people, and the poor, wander around, looking, er, not well off, popping into Poundland and B&M to look out for cheap stuff.

This story, which I saw on the telly this morning, just about sums it all up.

The issue emerged last year:

A Labour MP has described the practice, which sees claimants urged to head online instead of speak on the phone, as “outrageous”

Sky News has obtained a “deflection script” which confirms Universal Credit call agents were officially told to refer claimants online instead of addressing their concerns on the phone.

The claims had been dismissed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as “completely false” after our initial report in October, when a former Universal Credit case manager, Bayard Tarpley, came forward to lift the lid on the controversial practice.

The documents reveal that the “deflection scripts” were introduced in November 2016 to “support staff during telephone calls”.

The guidance was designed to cut down on the thousands of claimants contacting call centres by getting callers to log on to access their benefit.

According to the document, five call centres took place in a two-week pilot last year – including in Blackpool, Canterbury, Middlesbrough, Belfast and Bristol.

call centre hub in Grimsby, where Mr Tarpley worked as a case manager, used the deflection scripts for a longer period of time.”

Managers listened in on calls between handlers and claimants to see if the scripts were effective in “encouraging claimants to use their online account”.

Watch it: it shows a woman whose dad was plunged into misery because of this ‘script’.

The poor bloke was so stressed out that he took his own life.

Leanne Bailey’s father Brian was put on Universal Credit at the beginning of 2018. In July, he took his own life. He was 59.

She said: “He couldn’t understand the system from the very start. He was told to go online and access his journal but he didn’t have a clue about the internet. He was constantly ringing up and asking for advice but was told to go online. It really got him down.”

Sky News concludes,

A National Audit Office report concluded that Universal Credit has been too slow in its introduction, causes unnecessary hardship and is not providing value for money.

It has also been claimed that funding cuts have meant there was not enough support for those trying to access their claim.

The criticism follows warnings from several non-governmental organisations. Last year, the UK’s biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust, reported that demand for food parcels in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out increased by an average of 30%.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary at the Public and Commercial Services (PSC) Union, said: “It is breathtaking that ministers have been caught lying to the public about the existence of a so-called ‘deflection script’ for Universal Credit claimants.

“Our members would prefer to be given the resources and time to give a first class service to help claimants. However they are instructed to use this deflection script as a means to get people off the phones.

“It is another example of a government who has failed to invest in staff and support claimants. This is why Universal Credit must be scrapped and replaced with a system that supports those in need.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “There has never been a policy to hurry callers off the phone and accusations that this is the case are completely false. Call handlers are encouraged to spend as much time as necessary on the phone and remind claimants that they are able to complete certain activities online where appropriate.”

Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, has promised to make changes to Universal Credit admitting it lacks compassion towards those accessing it.

Update:

Written by Andrew Coates

February 1, 2019 at 9:49 am

While Amber Rudd is Elsewhere Universal Credit Crisis Continues.

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Image result for universal credit
Public interest in Universal Credit has not dampened down.
Though  Amber Rudd has does not pay much attention.

A steady drip of really bad stories continues.

This site would like to hear from people on the issues around the  Universal Credit Job Search and the Journal.
We were told, or least got the impression,  that the transfer of millions of people already on benefits to UC  was being halted.
Or rather,

Ms Rudd will delay asking MPs to approve the transfer of three million benefit claimants to UC, and instead plans to move just 10,000 onto the system this summer as part of a trial to study its effectiveness.

Independent. 11th of January.

Other important changes include pressing ahead with a pilot to support 10,000 people from ‘legacy benefits’ on to Universal Credit in a test and learn approach.

There remains this:

What is natural migration

‘Migration’ is the word in common use for the process by which a claimant with a current award of a ‘legacy’ benefit (income-based job-seeker’s allowance (JSA), income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), income support(IS), housing benefit(HB), child tax credit (CTC) and working tax credit (WTC)) has that award (or those awards) terminated, instead being obliged to rely on UC for means-tested support. Under current plans, the DWP intends to start an official ‘managed migration’ process in 2019. This will see the DWP mandatorily terminating current legacy benefit awards and replacing that with a claim for UC. In this process, transitional protection will apply for those whose UC award is lower than their legacy benefit entitlement. The process is due to be complete by March 2022.

By contrast, ‘natural migration’ is the process by which a current claimant can end up, in effect, being obliged to claim UC instead of legacy benefits for means-tested support, completely outside of the managed migration process. No transitional protection will apply. Natural migration is possible at any time, including before 2019. It is more likely to occur in UC full service areas, but can occur in UC live service (or gateway) areas too.

This was announced last week, and, er, got buried under others news:

DWP not engaging with expert calls for change to Universal Credit

The Work and Pensions Committee is today launching a new inquiry into what the Government calls “natural migration”: the process by which people claiming existing benefits move onto Universal Credit if they have a change in their circumstances,

What is natural migration?

Universal Credit has now been rolled out to every Jobcentre in the country. This means that if people who are already claiming benefits under the old system have a change in their circumstances (for example, if they form part of a new couple, or separate from an existing partner), they can’t make a new claim for the old benefits. Instead, they have to make a whole new claim for Universal Credit.

The Government calls this “natural migration” to Universal Credit. People who transfer onto Universal Credit in this way aren’t eligible for any transitional protection payments and so may see a change in their income from benefits. For many people, this may be the first time that they discover that their income will change under Universal Credit.

Natural Migration inquiry launched

The Committee has heard concerns that:

  • the Government hasn’t given clear and comprehensive information about the “triggers” for “natural migration”
  • the absence of transitional protection means people might have to cope suddenly with a drop in income.

This is the latest stage in the Committee’s ongoing work on Universal Credit – which has already resulted in the Government making significant changes to the system

n its November report on so-called “managed migration” – the process of wholesale moving existing benefit claimants onto Universal Credit even if their circumstances haven’t changed  – the Committee called on the Government to publish an assessment of the impact of a sudden loss of income due to natural migration on different claimant groups, and then to look again at whether the triggers for natural migration are appropriate. In its official response to that report, published today alongside this new inquiry launch, the Government has refused to do that.

The Chair has written back to the Secretary of State with a series of questions about the Government’s response:

The Committee is disappointed and concerned by the Government’s failure to engage with its report and reasoning behind key recommendations, and intends to return to several of them including, now, the “triggers” for natural migration. The Department declined, again, to set tests that it will meet before managed migration begins. “Given that we, the NAO and SSAC all made this recommendation, this continued resistance is very disappointing.”

The Government’s response also does not address the central issue of who takes the risk in the transition to Universal Credit, with the Committee arguing repeatedly that it should be Government, making the huge reform, who assume the risk, not existing benefit claimants who include the most vulnerable people in our society. The Government says it’s simply impossible for it to move people over without requiring them to make a new claim, but “did not offer—and has not offered during our inquiry—any evidence” why.

DWP also appears strangely reluctant to acknowledge the key recommendation it did accept. The Committee had said DWP should not ask MPs to vote on new UC rules until it had listened to expert views on them. And that is what happened: rather than a vote before Christmas as the Government had originally planned, revised rules were published last week. The Chair was therefore very “surprised to read that the Government ‘does not accept this recommendation’, given that by the time the response arrived the Government had not only accepted the recommendation but also implemented it.”

Written by Andrew Coates

January 29, 2019 at 1:18 pm

Universal Credit “quirk” means Hundreds of Thousands are threatened with Housing Underpayment.

with 19 comments

Image result for universal credit

Universal Credit Achievement.

Food is bad enough.

But if there is one thing people really worry about, it’s housing.

You only have to walk around here to see why: figures in the doorways sleeping in evening.

People get anxious, to say the least, about threats such as having a ‘review’ of their cases when they get Personal Independence Payment.

Transferring to Universal Credit means a gap in money – making not just the rent hard to pay, but demands for the full rate of Council Tax.

All the benefits listed on the DWP site carry the potential to get taken away.

Sanctions are there to remind us, that like some bad nipper, we lose our supper and sweets because we haven’t done our homework.

You can see what can happen:

I don’t think those who’re not on the Dole realise just how small the amount we get weekly is:

Age JSA weekly amount
Up to 24 up to £57.90
25 or over up to £73.10
Couples (both aged over 18) up to £114.85

The  writer of this post lives in the centre of a large town, and doesn’t have to pay bus fares.

This is the cost of what is essential for anybody who wants to come to the library or the Job Centre on public transport (and Ipswich is cheap):

Ipswich Town Fares
One Zone (Pink) Two Zone (Yellow)
Single £1.00 £1.50
Return £1.90 £2.90

That’s quite wodge on top of all the other expenses.

Not that this kind of thing concerns her ladyship Amber Rudd:

Now there is this.

Universal Credit technicality threatens hundreds of thousands with Underpayment

Hundreds of thousands of social housing tenants on Universal Credit are set to have their housing costs underpaid in the next financial year due to a quirk in the calendar which means 53 weekly rent payments will fall due.

The article continues,

The National Housing Federation (NHF) is currently at loggerheads with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over the issue.

Many social landlords collect rent every Monday – and in 2019/20 there will be 53 Mondays.

However, the Universal Credit system will continue to account for 52 rent weeks over the year only, meaning that thousands of social tenants across the UK who pay their rent weekly will be one week short and face rent arrears.

The 53-week phenomenon last occurred in 2013/14. Then, fewer than 20,000 people were claiming Universal Credit but now there are more than 1.5 million.

As of August, around 290,000 social rented households were using Universal Credit to pay their rent, many on a weekly basis.

Housing association Bolton at Home estimates that its 4,000 tenants paying will be left a total of £300,000 short, while Rochdale Boroughwide Housing says 3,000 residents will have a gap of £220,000.

The Mirror also reports:

Universal Credit: Hundreds of thousands of people set to lose out on a week’s rent

Housing associations say the problem will hit tenants who pay rent weekly in 2019/20 – and demanded action from the DWP to close the “bizarre” loophole.

……..

Labour MP Ruth George, who has raised the issue face-to-face with DWP chief Amber Rudd, added: “Having 53 weeks of rent in a year is an anomaly of the system, it’s not anyone’s fault.

“So to refuse to compensate tenants on Universal Credit is a bizarre decision that will leave claimants even more out of pocket.”

The problem, raised by the NHF and first reported by Inside Housing, is expected to affect Universal Credit claimants who pay weekly rent once every six years.

The NHF says that because UC is paid monthly, it is calculated using a formula that effectively takes 52 of a claimant’s weekly rent payments and divides the total by 12.

But there are 52 weeks plus one day in each year. That means every six years or so, a tenant has to make 53 rent payments, not 52.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 25, 2019 at 5:04 pm

DWP “unfit for purpose and should be axed” Demos “Provocation Paper.”

with 91 comments

Image result for dwp office

Unfit for Purpose? 

This Blog is, with good reason, suspicious of Demos.

Here are some reasons,

In the run-up to the 1997 general election it was seen as being close to the  Labour Party in particular its then leader Tony Blair defines itself, however, as independent of any political party. Geoff Mulgan went on to work inside  Downing Street in 1997. At that time Demos was seen as central to New Labour’s  vision for Britain.

But the excellent Welfare Weekly sumarises some of this paper in a way which makes it sound attractive.

In a new report, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Demos says welfare reforms first introduced by the Tory-Libdem coalition and then continued by the Tory government have “caused more harm than good”, and demonstrate a “lack of compassion” that has become synonymous with the DWP and the welfare system.

The thinktank states: “The Conservative government and its predecessors promised transformation, yet their changes have amounted to little more than palliative tweaks.

“Universal credit and the replacement of incapacity benefit with ESA caused more harm than good.

…….

a punitive regime of benefit conditionality has regularly left many people destitute.”

The report’s author Tom Pollard, formerly of the mental health charity Mind, has spent 18 months with the DWP and warns that staff have become afflicted by a “benefits lens”, where they see benefits as a tool for punishing people rather than helping them into work.

Sanctioning claimants for minor infringements, such as arriving late to meetings, has “created a confrontational dynamic of power asymmetries” – “benefits are the carrot, sanctions are the stick”.

This approach means claimants now see the DWP and Jobcentre staff as the enemy, rather than a friend that exists to help them in their hour of need.

“There’s such a rift between the DWP and hard to help groups that I don’t know how you could get back to engaging on meaningful terms – there’s too much baggage”, says Pollard.

The DWP’s narrow-minded focus on “weeding out instances of fraud and error” has been harmful to the Department’s relationship with benefit claimants, says.

This is what Demos itself says:

Is the DWP capable of moulding itself to a radical new agenda?

In a provocation paper that marked the start of Demos’ research examining the Department of Work and Pensions, Tom Pollard, formerly of the mental health charity Mind and fresh from an 18 months secondment to the DWP, depicts a bureaucracy blighted by historic dynamics and averse to radical thinking.

Pollard’s paper identifies three problems with the DWP. First, the department is afflicted by a “benefits lens”, where case handlers perceive employment support as a condition for receiving benefits, rather than a means of enabling claimants to pursue fulfilling work. Where benefits are the carrot, sanctions are the stick. Sanctioning claimants for misdemeanours such as arriving late to meetings creates a confrontational dynamic of power asymmetries.

Second, Pollard argues the department is impoverished in ambition. DWP staff are often promoted from frontline roles working in job centres. While such expertise is valuable, he argues that staff often seem “incapable of thinking about radical solutions”, and repeat the mistakes of the past, gravitating towards systems of conditionality and sanctions.

These factors contribute to the DWP’s injured reputation among frontline users. Productive engagement between case handlers and claimants is dependent on trust. “There’s such a rift between the DWP and hard to help groups that I don’t know how you could get back to engaging on meaningful terms – there’s too much baggage”, Pollard describes.

A question hangs over Pollard’s paper: Is the DWP capable of moulding itself to a radical new agenda? To find an answer and identify potential solutions, Demos recently hosted a roundtable discussion with industry experts and senior parliamentarians.

Participants described the DWP’s lack of compassion, which is exacerbated by the department’s focus on weeding out instances of fraud and error. Unlike many organisations that deal with vulnerable customers, the DWP has no special provisions for claimants with accessibility needs, they added.

Moreover, a culture of suspicion means the department often fails to serve the public. One expert noted that while the DWP has a child maintenance exemption for people suffering domestic abuse, staff “don’t tell claimants this up front”, and are guided instead by an institutional culture that pushes people outside of the system, rather than supporting claimants within it.

Where Universal Credit was supposed to update welfare for the 21st century, one expert said the policy was “exactly the same as the old days”, and only provided “small switches”. Instead of tweaks or fixes, they advocated for a broader change – making people “believe” in the welfare system again.

The practical recommendations barely scratch the surface of Universal Credit.

While the press releases do not make this clear the thrust of the report is directed only to one – important – side of UC problems.

Or as Disability Rights puts it, “DWP incapable of delivering a pathway from poverty for ill and disabled people.”

That is in the Demos language, the ‘harder to help’ groups, not in-work UC claimants, or the unemployed who were/are on JSA.

From the  report: Pathways from Poverty.

These are the three areas Tom Pollard suggests change in:

  • We need to look afresh at the challenge of supporting ‘harder-to-help’ groups into employment. In doing so, we must question the default assumption that the DWP should lead this work. The factors driving this assumption are the very ones which fundamentally undermine the department’s ability to effectively support these groups – the ‘benefits lens’ through which employment support is seen; and the presence of the existing infrastructure, staff, processes and approach, which I believe are not ‘fit for purpose’.
  • we must transfer responsibility for helping ‘harder-to-help’ groups away from the DWP. The responsibility (or opportunity) to provide support to
    these groups could instead be assumed to sit with a range of organisations who, working together, may be better placed to foster the type of
    engagement that the DWP is unable to. As this project evolves we will explore a variety of options, for example:
    • Greater onus could be placed on the Department for Health and Social Care, working with NHS England, to support people with healthrelated barriers to employment. This would also provide moreopportunity to the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and
    Northern Ireland to try different approaches.
    • Those who have substantial skills-related barriers to employment could be supported to access training and qualifications by the Department
    for Education, which holds responsibility for education and skills funding. • We could devolve more responsibility and funding for these groups to sub-national government, whether local or combined authorities. This would allow a place-based approach with collaboration across a
    range of local public services.
  • Note this: (third sector covering the usual chancers, worthy and respected by still charities  –Polland worked for Mind – and no doubt ‘social enterprises, profit making companies with a fancy name) With the right environment and contracting/payment arrangements, specialist third sector organisations could play a greater role in supporting these groups, making use of the expertise, trust and rapport they already hold in relation to their clients.
  • Thirdly, whoever leads or contributes to these new approaches should make use of modern design methodologies, including meaningful co-production with those they are looking to support, in order to ensure that systems and services reflect the reality of people’s lives, needs and aspirations. Although it is vital to take account of existing evidence on what works, imagination, creativity and bravery are also required to move on from the current orthodoxies and develop radical approaches that are commensurate with the challenge.

Waffle and more chancer designer’ opportunities….

Our suspicions prove rapidly justified.

Here is a pretty weighty objection:

Welcoming the new Demos paper, DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Officer Ken Butler said:

“Disabled people will readily agree about the problems with the DWP Pollard identifies. Especially its focus on work conditionality and the threat of benefit sanctions. Many we also support his conclusion that the DWP is incapable of the radical reform and innovation that’s needed to take disabled people out of poverty.

And his proposed solutions are innovative and very worthy of discussion. Although those with experience of claiming tax credits will have grave doubts about benefit and pension payments responsibilities being moved to HMRC.”

Disability Rights. UK

Written by Andrew Coates

January 22, 2019 at 5:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Claimants to Pay for Universal Credit Delay as Bishop Butler “Welcomes” Changes.

with 171 comments

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "moi, daniel blake"

A Film Loved Across Europe.

Last weekend when they showed I, Daniel Blake,  on the telly many people asked me if I had watched it.

I did not.

The reason is very simple: some of the scenes (which I have seen from clips that our contributors posted on this site) were part of my own life.

I refer to the one in which the bloke could not use the computer and had to be helped.

This happened to me when a mate, who is a joiner, and much more skilled than me in all kinds of things, asked me to help him use one for ‘Job Search‘.

I could add that when Universal Credit first came on the horizon a friend, who is a single parent, explained to me how her situation, small jobs, child care, was going to affect her.

Disaster.

This young women, it took her ages to go into the details, is going basically spend her life filling in forms – on-line naturally.

Us lot know first hand what the Dole is like, but this is beyond the usual stuff.

People here know this all too well.

There is a geezer I know, I saw him stocking up on Sainsbury’s Basics a few days back, who, live in dire straits.

In fact is was so bleeding obvious that it would take only some as thick as pig shit not to have guessed that Universal Credit would wreak havoc on people.

Back to the latest news:

Claimants will pay for universal credit delay

Guardian. 

The delay Amber Rudd announced in the roll-out may appear to be a concession to UC’s critics. But in fact it will cost some claimants dearly, says Patricia de Wolfe

Your leader on universal credit (Rudd’s adjustments are no solution to the serious problem of welfare reform, 12 January) is too kind to Amber Rudd. The delay she announced in the roll-out of universal credit (UC) to existing claimants of means-tested benefits may appear to be a concession to the benefit’s countless critics. But in fact it will cost some claimants dearly. Cynics might even regard the delay as a cost-saving measure for the government.

When existing claimants are eventually moved to UC in the course of what is known as managed migration, their previous level of benefit will be protected if it is higher than their UC entitlement (though it will not rise until their UC entitlement catches up with the amount they receive). But pending the managed migration, existing claimants whose circumstances change must claim UC without this protection: their previous benefits stop and they are treated as new UC claimants. There is no rationale for this distinction between “managed” and “natural” migration beyond stinginess.

A relevant change of circumstances for UC purposes might consist of a move to a different area, or a change in household composition or in employment status. Inevitably, as many years go, by some claimants’ capacity for work will lessen; some claimants will need to relocate; couples will form or split up; babies will be born. This means that the longer the managed migration of existing claimants is postponed, the more people who would be helped by transitional protection will have to forgo it.

For fairness, transitional protection should be introduced immediately for all claimants of means-tested benefits moving to UC, with compensation for those who have already lost out.

Patricia de Wolfe
London

Yet, steady on Padre, this type says this today.

Bishop Butler welcomes Universal Credit reform.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has welcomed the reforms to Universal Credit which were announced by the Government last week.

After the news that the two-child benefits cap for families with children born before the system began in 2017 would not be implemented, Bishop Butler said: “As a just and compassionate society, we believe that every child is a blessing and deserves to be treated equally.”

He went on: “I very much welcome today’s announcement that the two-child limit policy will not be extended to children born before the policy came into effect in April 2017. I also welcome the Government’s more considered approach to moving people on to Universal Credit from the old benefits system.

“I look forward to working with Ministers to continue reviewing these policies as part of a broader, coherent strategy to reduce child poverty, helping parents to give their children the best possible start in life.”

Ipswich Unemployed Action looks forward to working for MInisters’ downfall!

Written by Andrew Coates

January 18, 2019 at 9:47 am

Amber Rudd to Make Universal Credit, ” more compassionate and individual”.

with 71 comments

Image result for amber rudd

The Pantomime Season has not ended.

Benefits freeze likely to end in 2020, says Amber Rudd

Guardian.

Sky reports:

Tory welfare policy estimated to have cost poor working families hundreds of pounds

Further announcements expected during Ms Rudd’s first major speech as work and pensions secretary on Friday will include:

  • Steps to make weekly and fortnightly payments more accessible
  •  A new online system for private landlords to get rents paid directly to them
  •  Confirmation that the managed migration of claimants from legacy benefits to Universal Credit will be initially limited to a test group of 10,000 people

When asked about measures she hopes to bring forward in the future, Ms Rudd gave the clearest indication yet that the four-year benefit freeze, which has been in place since 2015, will not be renewed when it comes to an end next year.

“It was the right policy at the time, it’s got one more year to run, I look forward to it coming off,” she said, adding: “I do not expect that to be renewed at all.”

Ms Rudd’s hopes of one day leading her party were seen to have been dented when she was forced to resign as home secretary last year during the Windrush scandal.

More via Press Association.

Reforms will make Universal Credit more compassionate and individual – Rudd

The Work and Pensions Secretary also indicated that she expects the longstanding benefits freeze to end in 2020.

Amber Rudd has announced a set of reforms to the Government’s new Universal Credit, saying that the system she inherited was not as “effective” or “compassionate” as she wanted.

The Work and Pensions Secretary confirmed that she was delaying asking Parliament for permission to move three million people on to UC until next year, after a pilot of the transfer from existing benefits has been completed.

And she announced that controversial plans to apply a two-child benefit cap retrospectively to new Universal Credit (UC) claimants are to be scrapped, helping around 15,000 families.

Ms Rudd also signalled that an end is in sight to the longstanding benefit freeze introduced by former chancellor George Osborne in 2016, telling Sky News she did not expect it to be renewed in 2020.

She said it was not “reasonable” to impose the two-child cap – intended to force claimants to make decisions on whether they can afford a third child in the same way as those in work – on families which already have more than two offspring.

Given the comments on this Blog Dame Rudd has a long way to go before she changes the hated Universal Credit system.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 11, 2019 at 12:24 pm

Collapse of Universal Credit: “extension delayed”.

with 104 comments

 

Image result for universal credit

Collapse amidst Universal Shame.

There’s a rush of reports on this.

I think we can get the gravity of it.

My friends, in low paid work  or out of work have been really affected by their Tory scheme.

Those of us on ‘legacy benefits’ – as if they were some of kind of toff’s  bequeath – were and are seriously concerned.

But I noticed when I last signed on and asked about it the person said basically the same thing.

Universal Credit rollout axed as controversial benefit set for overhaul

The next phase of the Universal Credit programme (UC) will be overhauled following widespread criticism of the extension of the flagship welfare reform.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd is to scrap an imminent Commons vote on plans allowing all existing claimants of relevant benefits to be moved onto the new all-in-one payment.

Instead she plans to seek approval to move just 10,000 claimants onto UC to monitor the way the system works.

Influential committees in both Houses of Parliament had raised concerns about the plan to move around three million claimants onto UC and the Government faced losing a Commons vote on the “managed migration” programme.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 6, 2019 at 12:29 pm

Homeless Rise not due to Welfare Cuts or Tory Government – George Osborne and James Brokenshire

with 115 comments

Image result for homless doorway

Everybody knows about the rise in the numbers of the homeless.

You only have to walk a  couple of minutes from Ipswich Central Library to come across at least one person living on the streets.

|It’s not as if they are just sitting there.

If you gave money to every rough sleeper who asked you for some you’d be broke in a day.

Each town and city in the country is full of people living in doorways – and that’s just those you see.

There’s this, which does great work round here:

I imagine the emergency Christmas shelters also  give some people a place, but they don’t seem to have much visible effect here.

Could these people possibly get help through Universal Credit, the only kind of welfare payment (which includes local housing benefit)  going these days?

You’re having a laugh!

It is deeply distressing.

To say the least.

So, it’s no surprise that there’s some kind of Christmas pass the poisoned parcel when it comes to accounting for this:

Nearly 600 homeless people died last year in England and Wales, other official figures showed this week, a 24 per cent increase over the past five years.

There is Mr Austerity.

He’s just left some Seasons Greetings:

George Osborne has denied that “a lack of money” following his harsh austerity programme was the cause of Britain’s homelessness crisis.

reports the Independent.

The former Conservative chancellor dismissed growing warnings that the severe spending cuts he introduced were behind the explosion in rough sleeping, saying: “No, I entirely reject that.”

“It’s not a lack of money. That’s not a consequence of austerity – that’s just a consequence of bad policy,” Mr Osborne insisted.

The denial came despite the revelation that child homelessness is at a 12-year high, with 123,600 minors in temporary accommodation in England – a 70 per cent rise since the Conservatives came into power.

A few days ago it was this chap (no I hadn’t heard his name before either).

James Brokenshire blames factors such as family breakdown and drug use

Rising rough sleeping in Britain is not the result of government policy but is being driven by factors including the spread of psychoactive drugs such as spice, growth in non-UK nationals on the streets and family breakdown, the housing secretary, James Brokenshire, has claimed.

The number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled since 2010 to 4,751 according to the government’s own figures. The homelessness charity Crisis believes that this is a fivefold underestimate and that 24,000 people will be sleep on the streets, in cars and in tents. Sofa-surfers make up a further 68,000, according to Crisis.

ut Brokenshire insisted the growing problem is not a political failure, even though charities which run hostels and advice lines believe that caps on housing benefit and welfare sanctions introduced as part of austerity policies have been key factors driving rises in homelessness every year since the Conservatives took office in 2010.

“I don’t see it in those terms,” Brokenshire said. “I see it as a combination of concerning elements in terms of addiction, family breakdown issues. The thing that struck me over recent months in speaking to some of the LGBT charities in terms of young people, because of their sexuality, being thrown out of home.”

Well you Tories can piss off !

re.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

December 22, 2018 at 4:13 pm

Amber Alert as Curse of Universal Credit Strikes Rudd.

with 9 comments

Image result for albatross ancient mariner

Amber Rudd’s Universal Credit Team.

There was an Albatross once.

He was called Universal Credit, UC to his mates.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross

About my neck was hung.

His Evil Eye foretold a sorry fate,

An orphan’s curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a live UC’s eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,

And yet I could not die.

And so the Rime of the Ancient Universal Credit continues……..

Amber Rudd warns of further delays to universal credit

Guardian. 

Work and Pensions secretary will consider policy changes to restore public confidence.

“I’m enthusiastic about universal credit and I do think we can get it right. I acknowledge it is not just tinkering; there have been problems. I see that as the biggest change I have got, to fix those problems and give people the confidence to believe that universal credit is going to help them in their lives,” she said.

Responding to MPs’ concerns that up to 1 million ill and disabled claimants are at risk of destitution and isolation when they are transferred on to universal credit over the next three years, Rudd said she wanted to ensure the most vulnerable were safely moved on to the system in a safe way.

“The priority for me is making sure we get it right … We have particular concerns about … the most vulnerable in society and some of them will take a long time to get on to universal credit in terms of engaging with them and getting the transfers done effectively. We will learn and see how long we need in order to ensure it is effective.

….

I would much rather every individual gets the personal attention and care getting on to universal credit than sticking to a prescribed timetable.”

She also promised to look at ways to minimise the risk of benefit payments – currently paid to one member of the household – being used by domestic abusers to exert power over their partner by seizing control of the family income.

Universal credit, which rolls six working-age benefits into one monthly payment, has proved politically toxic for the government in recent years as a result of policy and design flaws such as a five-week wait for an initial payment that have left thousands of claimants in debt, suffering from depression, and reliant on food banks.

Even the bleeding BBC is struck by UC’s baleful spell.

Universal credit: Is the government’s benefit system working?

The government’s overhaul of the welfare system to create one universal benefit has not had an easy roll out.

The aim was to create a smoother benefits system that encourages people to stay in work. But it’s years behind schedule, linked to a rise in food bank use and rent arrears, and critics claim it might make millions poorer.

It’s big, it’s confusing and it’s hard to know from the noise what the actual problems are.

Michael Buchanan, who’s spoken to universal credit claimants across the country, explains.

The Currant Bun continues its doomed attempt  (‘The Sun wants to Make Universal Credit Work’) to shake off the curses of millions of the poor, the unemployed, the halt and the lame.

XMAS CANCELLED 

Single mum on Universal Credit can’t afford to buy Christmas presents for her two children after being left with just £30 for five weeks

Suzanne Coates, 29, said she wishes she’s stayed on Job Seekers Allowance.

A SINGLE mum on Universal Credit said she can’t afford to buy Christmas gifts for her two kids after being left with just £30 for five weeks.

Suzanne Coates, 29, from Hull, said she’d been left with just £34 for herself and daughters Bethany, 11, and Gracie Mae, five, while her Universal Credit claim is processed.

Amber Rudd’s fate is , however, sealed,
Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

 

Ye jest.

But how many Ministers of Work and Pensions have already been struck down and disappeared from office?

Written by Andrew Coates

December 20, 2018 at 5:11 pm

The Sun Launches a “Campaign” to Make Universal Credit “Work”.

with 66 comments

Image result for protest at universal credit redcar

While Sun Bleats People Take to the Street.

The Current Bun has a way with weasel words,

Hard-working families are being punished for working and forced into debt due to the shambolic roll-out of Universal Credit – but The Sun’s got a plan to Make it Work

The government must act NOW to fix these problems, here’s what we demand:

  • Get paid faster: The government must slash the time Brits wait for their first Universal Credit payments from five to two weeks, helping stop 7 million from being pushed into debt.
  • Keep more of what you earn: The work allowance should be increased and the taper rate should be slashed from from 63p to 50p, helping at least 4 million families.
  • Don’t get punished for having a family: Parents should get the 85 per cent of the money they can claim for childcare upfront instead of being paid in arrears.

Like, really…

That will solve everything…

These stories are more its style:

Related image

You can’t help feeling the Murdoch Press has now changed to follow this example:

This might have some effect, as opposed to the Cor Blimey Wealthy Sun’s tears:

The Tories laid into it before it began:

Meanwhile a decent paper which has not just jumped on the bandwagon reports:

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

December 17, 2018 at 12:22 pm

Universal Credit, it’s Official, “all types of claimants” “benefit from the improved, personalised, one-to-one support that Universal Credit offers.”

with 63 comments

Image result for drones club

DWP MInisters Discuss Universal Credit.

The Conservative Party is having a nervous breakdown.

But, when they’re not having lunch at the Drones’ Club to get away from it all, they are sticking to Bertie Wooster’s policy of stout denial.

On the 21st of November this was said,

Amber Rudd insisted Universal Credit was a ‘force for good’ today and insisted tweaks would ensure it gets ‘cash into people’s hands’ more quickly.

Today the Mirror reports,

Universal Credit leaves applicants “scavenging in bins at night for food”

A tortuous process to sign up, an interminable wait without money after it and vulnerable applicants sidelined – new report highlights the human fallout of the new payment system being inflicted on the country.

Now a report from debt charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) has revealed the shocking human cost of the key failures of the system, as people fall through the gaps.

“Some of the UK’s most vulnerable families are sinking in bureaucracy and we owe it to them to give them a voice and press for change,” CAP chief executive Matt Barlow said.

The charity, which helps people struggling to get by, found three key areas that urgently need addressing – as well as revealing some of the heartbreaking stories of the people who’ve been hurt by the mass-adoption of the new benefit.

CAP’s three biggest areas of concern are the online application, the wait for the first payment and the lack of understanding of how many people are truly vulnerable.

This is important, raising an issue many here have mentioned,

There is no paper form to apply to claim Universal Credit, you do it online. Worse, you can’t save the form half way through the process.

And that’s causing big problems for some people.

Those without internet access can be forced to travel to a library to use computers there. But this is typically only free for an hour a day.

You need details of past addresses and identification when filling it out, meaning if you’ve travelled to get to a computer, and have forgotten something, you need to go back only to return later and start the whole process again.

“This can lead to a real feeling of hopelessness and for someone very vulnerable be the difference between being helped by the welfare system and not,” CAP said.

This, now called ‘digital exclusion’ is a growing problem.

More on this report:

With one million people already claiming Universal Credit and another seven million still to transition, now is a key time to check in with these early claimants.

This series of papers explores the problems and hardship experienced by claimants and highlights areas where policymakers’ attention is needed.

The roll-out is a huge task and there have been changes made to improve the transition for many people (see CAP’s policy note here, but there is more to do. Download the papers below to read about the impact that claiming Universal Credit has had on people

Applying and waiting for Universal Credit


(December 2018)
Download now

  • Digital exclusion is a significant challenge, with access as well as capability a key issue.
  • Waiting for payments to start causes financial hardship and emotional distress.
  • There is considerable vulnerability amongst early Universal Credit claimants

Is the government listening?

Like hell – pardon padre – they are.

The Tory Government’s responses to us over Universal Credit are scarcely believable

Liverpool Echo.

When we asked about the fears and concerns of residents in the deprived areas of West Derby and Everton – where UC is rolling out this month – Work and Pensions Minister Alok Sharma painted a very rosy picture, stating: “Universal Credit is central to our commitment to help families improve their lives by moving into work.

“We know it’s working – with Universal Credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

“And now we are rolling it out to a wider range of people in a safe and controlled way.

“In Everton and West Derby single jobseekers are already receiving support from their dedicated work coach to find employment or increase their hours and earnings.

“Now, all types of claimants will be able to benefit from the improved, personalised, one-to-one support that Universal Credit offers.”

The Echo, to their credit had done some serious digging into the dirt.

The problems with UC have been well documented and include delays in handing over vital cash, sanctions for simple mistakes and there simply not being enough money in the system.

We have told you about the man forced to eat out of supermarket bins because the jobcentre messed up his appointment.

Then there was the Bootle mum who suffers with agoraphobia – and doesn’t want to wake up most mornings because she can’t afford to feed her kids.

The problems with UC have been well documented and include delays in handing over vital cash, sanctions for simple mistakes and there simply not being enough money in the system.

We have told you about the man forced to eat out of supermarket bins because the jobcentre messed up his appointment.

Then there was the Bootle mum who suffers with agoraphobia – and doesn’t want to wake up most mornings because she can’t afford to feed her kids.

Their comment, in these conditions, is pretty mild,

Written by Andrew Coates

December 13, 2018 at 4:23 pm

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

with 44 comments

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!

 

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.

with 22 comments

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.

with 49 comments

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.

with 33 comments

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.

with 6 comments

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.

with 51 comments

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.

with 78 comments

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…..

with 29 comments

 

“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.

with 38 comments

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.

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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.

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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.

with 20 comments

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.

with 23 comments

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.

with 65 comments

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.

with 38 comments

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