Welfare Reform: Iain Duncan Smith Trumpets Success.

Some of those ‘Benefiting’ from Iain Duncan Smith’s Reforms.

Welfare reform has improved lives claims Iain Duncan Smith

Saturday April 25th. Express and Star, Wolverhampton.

The architect of the controversial ‘bedroom tax’ has insisted low and middle earners have benefited from his welfare reforms.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith slashed millions from the welfare bill as the coalition government sought to balance the books.

But he claimed these savings, alongside the falling number of people claiming certain benefits, had allowed the coalition to introduce tax cuts for those on low pay.

From this month the tax-free personal allowance threshold on income tax increased to £10,600.

Speaking in Walsall, Mr Duncan Smith said: “What I have been doing now for a number of years is reforming welfare as a means to making more people better off.

“The reforms have not just saved tax payers money, including those on low and middle incomes, we have actually been able to give them tax cuts by raising the threshold on the personal allowance on income tax.

“We have been able to afford that because more people have got back into work as a result of our reforms.”

Mr Duncan Smith, who led the Conservatives for two years during Tony Blair’s New Labour government, was at Nova Training in Goscote where unemployed young people are taught skills to help them secure work.

Evidence of this success…

Fuel voucher for families who use prepayment meters will be available to those in crisis referred to food banks by welfare advice agencies, GPs and social workers.

Families in poverty who are forced to switch off their gas and electricity supply because they are unable afford spiralling energy bills will be offered free charity fuel vouchers under a pilot scheme. The so-called “fuel banks” initiative will provide a £49 credit for struggling families who use prepayment meters in a move designed to address the austerity-era dilemma of “heat or eat”. It is being run by energy firm nPower and poverty charities including the food bank network Trussell trust.

The vouchers, which will provide enough credit to restore power, and keep lights and heating on for up to two weeks, will be available to people in crisis referred to food banks by welfare advice agencies, GPs and social workers.

 

Labour Pledge to Stop ‘Trivial’ Benefit Sanctions.

April 23, 2015 73 comments

Pledge on benefits sanctions ahead of election (22nd April).

LABOUR has pledged to stop people being stripped of benefits for “trivial” reasons, blaming the practice for the surging numbers at food banks.

The Opposition said it would abolish targets allegedly introduced at jobcentres for the number of sanctions – claiming that was leading to unfair punishments.

And it promised clear guidance to ensure vulnerable people – carers, pregnant women, the mentally-ill and people at risk of domestic violence – do not lose benefits.

The latest figures show almost 19,000 sanctions were imposed in Bradford in just two years, since the rules were toughened, normally for four weeks for a first offence.

Ministers say the punishments target people who dodge jobcentre appointments or avoid finding a job, to tackle a “something for nothing” culture.

But MPs have highlighted examples of claimants who have been docked money after missing appointments because they were bereaved, sick, or looking after children.

Interviewed by the Telegraph & Argus, Rachel Reeves, Labour’s work and pensions spokesman, said: “When staff have pressure to sanction people, to reach their numbers, then you end up with sanctions for trivial reasons.

“That’s why we will get rid of targets and we will also give jobcentres guidance about vulnerable people.

“So, if it is a pregnant woman, or a mum with young kids, or someone with mental health problems, those people should not be sanctioned.”

Ministers have denied there are targets for sanctions, but do record the number imposed in each jobcentre district – with a “direction of travel” column, comparing to the previous month.

A Conservative spokesman defended sanctions, arguing the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies had found tighter conditions for benefit claimants had had “some success” in encouraging work.

But the Liberal Democrat manifesto also promises changes, saying: “We will ensure there are no league tables or targets for sanctions issued by jobcentres and introduce a ‘yellow card’ warning, so people are only sanctioned if they deliberately and repeatedly break the rules.”

This does not go far enough.

We need an end to the whole Sanctions Regime.

Stop Workfare!

Get rid of the Unemployment Business!

But it’s a start……

David Ellesmere, Labour Candidate for Ipswich, backing March anti-Sanctions Picket at Ipswich Jobcentre.

Benefit-Related Suicides: DWP Forced to Open up?

April 21, 2015 64 comments

Not to Escape Responsibility for Deaths. 

A Few Days ago:

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing an investigation into its refusal to publish ‘secret’ reviews into 49 benefit-related deaths, it has been reported today.

Welfare News.

The investigation was launched by the Information Commissioners Office following a complaint from Disability News Service (DNS).

A number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, including from DNS, demanding that the DWP publish its reviews into benefit-related deaths have been rebuffed by the department.

Officials have since admitted that of the 49 reviews the DWP has carried out so far, 33 included a recommendation to make improvements and 40 were made in response to an apparent suicide.

The DWP says publishing the reviews could represent a breach of section 44 of the Freedom of Information Act; which states that it would be an offence for a DWP employee to, “disclose without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of that employment and which relates to a particular person”.

A complaint from DNS has now sparked an investigation by the information watchdog.

Just now we learn: Information commissioner to force DWP to be transparent about investigation into benefit-related suicides. Third Force News.

England’s information commissioner is to launch an investigation into the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “refusal” to reveal reviews into 49 benefit-related deaths.

It comes after the DWP refused several requests to publish the information saying publishing the reviews could represent a breach of section 44 of the Freedom of Information Act.

The act states it would be an offence for a DWP employee to “disclose without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of that employment and which relates to a particular person”.

However, a complaint by campaign group Disability News Service (DNS) has launched an investigation by the watchdog.

Campaigners believe sanctions and cuts to benefits have been so severe many claimants – especially those with mental health problems – have taken their own lives.

The investigation will take a number of months to conclude but in the event investigators rule against the DWP the decision can be appealed.

A spokesman for the information commissioner’s office said: “The focus of my investigation will be to determine whether the DWP is entitled to rely on section 44 as a basis for refusing to provide the information you requested.

“Should it not be a valid refusal of your request the commissioner will also determine what information can be provided within the appropriate cost limit.”

We should make it clear:  CO not ‘investigating’ DWP on suicide reports, is assessing if FOI Act refusal justified

Refuted added,

Still,

As the so-called opinion polls saying that 99.9% of people back sending unemployment out to clean the streets with their toothbrushes and beg for charity in Food Banks cover the pages of the Sun, the Mail and Express, spare a thought for the poor bastards who’d had enough of all that – and ended up in these “events”.

Break the Election Silence: Fight Sanctions and Workfare!

April 19, 2015 78 comments

 

No workfare. No sanctions. Whoever wins we will resist!

As the general election campaign gets underway we are already seeing politicians calling for more of the same policies. More workfare. More sanctions. Yet we know that these policies have been a total disaster. It is shameful that workfare and sanctions are supported by all the main political parties. This is why we are holding a week of action in the week before the election. We need your help to expose and challenge workfare and sanctions policies and the political lies that underpin them.

Workfare undermines paid jobs and wages and results in sanctions. It does nothing to improve the chances of people finding a job and exploits those forced to carry it out. Last year over half a million people had their benefits sanctioned. The number of benefit sanctions imposed by the DWP now exceeds the number of fines imposed by the courts. People are being left with nothing for up to three years. There is now overwhelming evidence of the harm being caused by sanctions. Sanctions are damaging the health of claimants and leading to hunger, homelessness and deaths.

Your actions have already had a huge impact in challenging these policies. Dozens of organisations have withdrawn from the schemes following public pressure. Over 500 voluntary sector organisations have now signed the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement to say they oppose workfare and sanctions and will not be involved. 25 councils have also said they will boycott the schemes. All this means it is getting harder and harder for the government’s private providers to find workfare placements. Hundreds of placements have been cancelled and your actions have made a real difference.

The week of action is a chance for everyone who opposes workfare and sanctions to demand an end to these cruel policies. However you can contribute join us to take action from 25 April – 2 May

More details on site here: Boycott Workfare.

At least some of the issues created by government policies on social security and welfare are coming to the fore:

Figures from the Trussell Trust, the biggest provider of emergency food aid with more than 400 food banks in the UK, will be seen as evidence that families on low incomes are not sharing in the benefits of economic recovery. The statistics could puncture the Conservatives’ optimism on the economy after official figures yesterday showed there are two million more people in work than in 2010, and 557,000 more than a year ago.

Labour will target David Cameron on food poverty, accusing him of being out of touch. The Prime Minister looked uncomfortable when questioned by Jeremy Paxman on the issue last month in the first of four TV election debates.

The number of people given three days’ emergency food by the Trussell Trust rose from 2,814 in the 2005-06 financial year to 61,468 in 2010-11, 346,992 in 2012-13 before jumping sharply to 913,138 in 2013-14 – including 582,933 adults and 330,205 children. Its figures for 2014-15 are due to be published on Wednesday and are expected to show a continuing rise despite the upturn in the economy.

The issue is also sensitive for the Conservatives because Trussell Trust surveys show that the most common reason for people being referred to it are delays in receiving state benefits. Changes to benefits also rank highly.

Last night Labour challenged Mr Cameron to sign up to a pledge to reduce the number who rely on food banks in the 2015-20 parliament. In a letter to the Prime Minister, Rachel Reeves, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said the 618 per cent rise in the number receiving emergency food aid from the trust in the past three years was “shocking”.

Independent (as signaled by Enigma).

 

We deserve a voice too!

No to Sanctions!

No to Workfare!

No to Maximus!

No to the whole rotten Work Programme!

Bring the Unemployment Business to a Halt!

UK Poor are Worst off in Western Europe, Closer to Poor in Former Eastern Bloc.

April 16, 2015 71 comments

Future for the Poor Under Tory Rule.

This story by Danny Dorling deserves wide attention.

The Tories will reduce UK public spending to Estonian levels (Guardian)

In the main parties’ election manifestos published this week, public spending is still public enemy number one. The Conservatives insist that a further £12bn in cuts to the welfare budget must be found over the course of the next parliament. If it isn’t, they warn, then the hordes of so-called skivers who receive unemployment benefit, child support, or disability benefits will keep draining Britain dry.

What is the reality of life for the worse off in the UK?

One case stands out.

The Guardian talks of the “UK’s now punitive benefit sanctions regime and benefits are not simply designed for subsistence or below. “

It’s part of a pattern:

The High Pay Centre says,

Analysis of OECD figures suggests the poorest fifth of the UK population are the poorest in Western Europe

The poorest fifth of the UK population are significantly worse off than the poorest fifth in other Western European countries, according to analysis of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data published by the High Pay Centre think-tank today.

The High Pay Centre examined the ‘OECD Better Life Index’ which estimates the average net disposable household income for the world’s richest economies, as well as the average for the poorest and richest 20% of the population in each country.

In the UK, the poorest fifth of the population have an average income of just $9,530, much lower than the poorest fifth in other North West European countries such as Germany ($13,381), France ($12,653), Denmark ($12, 183) or the Netherlands ($11,274).

In fact, the poorest people in the UK are closer to the poorest in former Eastern bloc countries Slovenia and the Czech Republic than to the poor in Western Europe. This is despite the fact that the OECD estimates average incomes in the UK ($25,828) are similar to Denmark ($25,172) and the Netherlands ($25,697). The UK’s average is inflated by the incomes of the top 20% of the population  – at around $54,000, the third highest in the EU. In Belgium, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, the top 20% make between $44,000 and $49,000.

High Pay Centre Director Deborah Hargreaves said: These figures suggest we need to be more concerned about inequality and how prosperity is shared, as well as average incomes or aggregate measures like GDP. The fact that the rich are richer in the UK than many other countries hides the fact that the poor are poorer.

Most people think our living standards in the UK are similar to economies like France and Germany, but being poor in the UK is more like being poor in the former Soviet Bloc than in Western Europe.

The High Pay Centre analysis also notes that if the UK’s total income of around £1 trillion was divided in the same way as total incomes in Denmark or the Netherlands, 99% of UK households would be better off by around £2,700 per year.

Dorling concludes,

…the government’s plans to rapidly reduce the proportion of GDP spent on public services to 38% by 2019 mean that after 2015, the UK would leave the second division of European countries by public spending and enter the third division alongside Ireland, Estonia and the Slovak Republic. A UK in this league would become more similar to these countries. It could become a place from which the young try to emigrate and in which the old are not well cared for, in which people on average live shorter, more brutal and less valued lives.

Conservatives: Failed Work Programme Model for the ‘Big Society’.

April 14, 2015 58 comments

Mr Cestoda:  Official Tory Spokesperson on Welfare Reform. 

The Tory Manifesto is out.

These are the main points that concern Ipswich Unemployed Action.

 Welfare:
  • Welfare Reform: A Conservative government would continue to pursue Iain Duncan Smith’s reform agenda and ensure that work paid better than welfare.
  • Cap Spending: Overall welfare spending would be capped, and the household benefit cap reduced to £23,000.
  • Immigration: Reform of welfare rules will be utilised to apply indirect controls to immigration from within the European Union.

 

A welfare system that is fair  to those who need it, and fair to those who pay for it too: stopping benefit cheats and ending welfare abuse

We will cap the UK’s overall welfare spending, to save you money We will keep a check on the growth of welfare spending, enabling us to provide a system that is fair to those who need it, and fair to those who pay for it too.

Our overall welfare cap will limit the amount that government can spend on certain social security benefits in the five years from 2015-16. We will freeze working age benefits for two years from April 2016, with exemptions for disability and pensioner benefits – as at present – as well as maternity allowance, statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay, statutory adoption pay and statutory sick pay

We will deliver Universal Credit, in order to provide the right incentives for people to work; target support at those who need it most; reduce fraud and error; and streamline administration of the welfare system.

Many a rash promise made in haste, and never delivered….

This is of interest,

Helping you build the Big Society.
We will innovate in how we deliver public services We have pioneered ways to deliver high-quality public services, including through getting the voluntary sector more involved.”

Comment: What do they mean by the ‘voluntary sector? What kind of ‘model’ does it offer?

 

A clue: 

For example, our Work Programme has helped harness the talent and energy of charities to help people turn their lives around and find their way back into work. We will examine ways to build on this type of innovative approach in the future

 

They’re ‘aving a bleein’ larf!

Obviously they mean a system riddled with incompetent bunglers, fellow-tape worm parasites (aka: ‘providers’ the unemployment ‘bizniz’), chancers, unable to deliver the goods….

Apparently this is all said straight-faced.

What is this then?

We have also pioneered the use of social impact bonds and payment-by-results, and we will look to scale these up in the future, focusing on youth unemployment, mental health and homelessness

Sounds like another tape-wormy plan to feed off the public.

Still: you too can help the Tories run society and grind down the poor:

We will help you volunteer and support action to help the vulnerable We will support the Prince of Wales’ Step Up To Serve initiative, encouraging young people to serve in their community”

And we will make volunteering for three days a year a workplace entitlement for people working in large companies and the public sector. People could, for example, volunteer for a local charity or serve as a school teacher, refuse collector, fire fighter, park keeper, surgeon, nurse or carer.

 

(actually I made the later examples up….)

 

The Tories live in fucking Narnia wonderland.

Labour Promise to Review Universal Credit, New Programme for the Dole, and Job ‘Guarantees’.

April 13, 2015 32 comments

 

Labour has launched its Manifesto, Britain Can Be Better.

Relevant points for the Unemployed.

They begin,

“An inclusive wealth-creating economy works when there is a shared sense of responsibility, so we will be a government that is both pro-business and pro-worker. We value all our businesses as organisations of innovation and wealth production, and we will work strategically with them to create wealth. We value our trade unions as an essential force for a decent society and as guarantors of skills and fair wages.”

“Britain’s route to prosperity and higher living standards is through more secure and better paid jobs. But Conservative policies are causing whole sectors of the economy to be dragged into a race to the bottom on wages and skills.

The Government has weakened employment rights and promoted a hire-and-fire culture. Labour believes our economy can only succeed in a race to the top – competing in the world with better work, better pay and better skills.Too many people do a hard day’s work but remain dependent on benefits.

We will raise the National Minimum Wage to more than £8 an hour by October 2019, bringing it closer to average earnings. We will give local authorities a role in strengthening enforcement against those paying less than the legal amount. And we will support employers to pay more by using government procurement to promote the Living Wage, alongside wider social impact considerations. Our Make Work Pay contracts will give tax rebates to businesses who sign up to paying the Living Wage in the first year of a Labour Government. Publicly listed companies will be required to report on whether or not they pay the Living Wage.”

And,

It is hard for Britain to succeed when employees feel insecure and employers are undercut by those using exploitative working practices. Labour will ban exploitative zero-hours contracts.

Those who work regular hours for more than12 weeks will have a right to a regular contract. We will abolish the loophole that allows firms to undercut permanent staff by using agency workers on lower pay.

The Conservatives have introduced fees of up to £1,200 for employment tribunal claimants, creating a significant barrier to workplace justice. We will abolish the Government’s employment tribunal fee system as part of wider reforms to make sure that affordability is not a barrier to workers having proper access to justice,employers get a quicker resolution, and the costs to the tax payer do not rise.

This raises a lot of questions,

 We will introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, paid for by a bank bonus tax. It will provide a paid starter job for every young person unemployed for over a year, a job which they will have to take or lose benefits.

This also raises a lot of questions,
Labour believes in rewarding work and in restoring contribution to the heart of our system. So we will not cut tax credits. We want everyone who can to have the chance to contribute through paid work, so we will create a more tailored back-to-work system that helps people secure and keep jobs.
We will do more to help unemployed people get the skills they need for work, testing jobseekers’ Maths, English and IT skills within six weeks of them claiming benefits. They will be required to take up training where this will improve their chances of getting a job. We support the principle behind Universal Credit – that there should be a smooth transition into work – but it must be affordable and fit for purpose,so we will pause and review the programme.
There will be a guaranteed, paid job for all young people who have been out of work for one year, and for all those over 25 years old and out of work for two years. It will be a job that they have to take, or lose their benefits.
And we will commission a replacement for the Work Programme at a more local level, working with local authorities to join up support for the long-term unemployed. We will introduce a higher rate of Job Seekers Allowance for those who have contributed over years. It will be funded by extending the length of time people need to have worked to qualify.

Then this,

Alongside strong and responsive public services, the social security system plays an important role in supporting many disabled people to live independently,and must always treat sick and disabled people with dignity.
Half a million families have been hit by the Bedroom Tax, and two thirds of those affected are disabled, or have a disabled family member. It is cruel, and we will abolish it.
We will reform the Work Capability Assessment and focus it on the support disabled people need to get into work. We will give an independent scrutiny group of disabled people a central role in monitoring it. And we will introduce a specialist support programme to ensure that disabled people who can work get more tailored help.
Let’s bear in the mind that the Tories want the unemployed out cleaning the streets with toothbrushes and begging for their supper in Food Banks.
But what with Labour will the unemployment have?
  • No Bedroom Tax.
  • A Promise to ‘review’ Universal Credit.
  • Yet another scheme to ‘replace’ the Work programme. This time with lots of fluffy words about being ‘tailored’ and  involving local councils and the rest of the ‘local’ crew (aka, the Unemployment Bizniz under new names) no doubt eager to jump in as well.
  • Monitoring/Review of the back to work process for the disabled.
  • A wholly ill-thought ‘guaranteed job’ promise.

We will examine this job guarantee in more detail later but for the moment we ask:

  1. What choice will we have about the work we take up?
  2. Will it be at the Living Wage?
  3. What happens if we lose this job?

What we do not have:

  • Abolition of the sanctions regime.
  • An end to the  ‘unemployment industry’ doing little but fill their own pockets,
  • A raise in benefits to the ‘Living Benefit’ level that Ipswich Unemployment Action will set.
  • Stop to to claimants paying Council Tax.
  • Independent Medical Experts involved in assessing the disabled.
  • Clear Abolition of  ALL FORMS OF  WORKFARE.

More in the Guardian

Disabled People Against Cuts: Revenge Tour. Watch Out IDS and Esther McVey!

April 11, 2015 29 comments

From Disabled People Against Cuts. (signaled via the Void)

Disabled People Against Cuts have called a Revenge Tour beginning on April 18th and including visits to the constituencies of Esther McVey and Iain Duncan Smith.  Please help spread the word.  From their website:

A fortnight of Fight Back and telling politicians throughout the UK what we think of them and what they MUST do if they want our votes.

Everywhere from April 18th – May3rd. Select your favourite politician or issue to campaign on.

Some funding is available for travel bursaries with priority given to members.

April 23rd (Thursday) National DPAC will be going to Wirral West constituency to visit Esther McVey. Meet noon at the Job Centre, Market Road, Hoylake.

Esther’s constituency is very marginal and at the moment she looks set to lose her seat. We want to help facilitate that.

April 25th (Saturday) National DPAC will be going to Chingford to visit Iain Duncan Smith. Meet 2pm outside Chingford Rail station. Trains from Liverpool Street.

Please get in touch with us at mail@dpac.uk.net to let us know if you want to go to one or more of these events or would like help with travel costs.

Please also arrange your own events and send us details.

Join and share the facebok page.

Embedded image permalink

DPAC Protest in Ipswich with Suffolk People’s Assembly.

Sanctions Equal Food Banks.

April 9, 2015 47 comments

Embedded image permalink

 Picture  above Via:I'm a JSA claimant

 Tuesday 24th of March 2014. Independent.

Iain Duncan Smith has refused to meet with Britain’s biggest food bank charity for over a year – but has instead held discussions with an American investment bank about tackling child poverty.

The Trussell Trust confirmed again today that its chairman Chris Mould had still not been granted a meeting with Iain Duncan Smith, despite reports as far back as 2013 that he had requested one.

But this week the Department for Work and Pensions disclosed under government transparency rules that Mr Duncan Smith had held a meeting about child poverty with the US investment bank JP Morgan Chase.

Thursday 9th April 2015.

Food Banks Concentrated In Areas Hit Hardest By Benefit Sanctions, Study Finds (Guardian).

Austerity policies such as cuts to welfare and local services are driving the rapid spread of food banks in the UK, according to an academic study.

The Oxford University research shows emergency food aid is most concentrated in areas where there are high levels of joblessness and benefit sanctions.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition persistently refused to acknowledge a link between its economic and social security policies and the explosion in food banks.

But the Oxford study, published in the British Medical Journal, shows demand for food parcels is strongest where poverty is accompanied by restrictions on, and reductions in, social assistance.

It concludes: “More food banks are opening in areas experiencing greater cuts in spending on local services and central welfare benefits and higher unemployment rates.”

The study, which uses data supplied by the UK’s biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust, finds food banks operated in 20 UK council areas in 2009-10. By 2013-14 they existed in 251 areas.

At the same time, the rate of food aid distribution tripled between 2010 and 2013 from about 0.6 food parcels per 100 people to 2.2 per 100.

There were stark variations between local areas, from a low of less than 0.1 food parcels per 100 people in Lichfield, Staffordshire, to a high of eight parcels per 100 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

These in part reflected the fact that some areas had more or longer-established food banks, the study found.

Even taking this into account, higher rates of food parcel distribution were still “significantly associated” with welfare cuts and austerity measures.

In particular, the prevalence in an area of benefit sanctions – where unemployed claimants who do not meet jobcentre rules have their payments stopped for at least four weeks – was a strong indicator of food parcel use.

“Food parcel distribution is higher in areas where food banks are more common and better established, but our data also show that the local authorities with greater rates of sanctions and austerity are experiencing greater rates of people seeking emergency food assistance.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The government spends £94bn a year on working-age benefits and provides a wide range of advice and assistance for anyone in need of additional support.

“The vast majority of benefits are processed on time with improvements being made year on year and the number of sanctions has actually gone down.”

The lead author of the study, Rachel Loopstra, said it was likely to have “underestimated the true burden of food insecurity in the UK” because food aid provision is patchy and data collection is relatively crude.

She called for further research to capture the full extent of food insecurity and food bank use in the UK. One of the last acts of the coalition was to reject a cross-party call for the government to collect robust data on food poverty.

The study is the latest in a string of separate reports linking welfare reform to food bank use, from poverty charities, churches, MPs, and food banks.

Council Tax Benefit Scrapped: Half a Million More Face Courts.

April 7, 2015 45 comments

After the scandal of Pension Pots, comes the legacy of the Man who ate all the Pies, Eric PicklesSecretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Grinding the Faces of the Poor into Mincemeat.

Pickles (pictured above) removed Council Tax Benefit with these aims in mind:

  • To make life more difficult for anybody on benefit.
  • To give a shot in the arm to pawn shops, loan sharks (legal and illegal).
  • Lengthen Food Bank queues.
  • To attack the finances of local authorities under Labour control – where unemployment and benefit claimants are most numerous – worse.
  • To make everybody suitable for work and increase employment opportunities (okay I made that last one up).

He did this by the simple means of making your Council responsible for deciding whether to make claimants pay Council Tax, and at what rate they should pay it.

All funding for this is now their responsibility.

No surprises for learning that under many Tory councils (though unfortunately not exclusively) claimants pay massive Council Tax Bills.

The result?

Read and gnarl. 

Half a million more people were summoned to court last year over unpaid council tax, after benefits protecting low-income families from paying it were scrapped.

Almost three million people in England were taken to court by local authorities in 2013-14 because they had not paid council tax. This was an increase of more than 25 per cent on the previous tax year, according to the figures obtained via Freedom of Information by False Economy, which is brought to you by local campaigners about the cuts and their effects.

The Coalition abolished council tax benefit in 2013, replacing it with a new support scheme administered locally with a 10 per cent smaller budget. The old benefit used to mean that unemployed people or those on very low incomes did not pay council tax, but now most local authorities charge everyone.

Reports the Independent.

It continues,

Chaminda Jayanetti, a researcher at False Economy, said: “Council tax support cuts have caused chaos for households, and for councils. They are leaving people out of pocket and in debt, which is also bad for local firms depending on them as customers.

“Councils are now pursuing people through the courts for money they do not have. It is a shambles made by a cabinet of millionaires in a government that has been completely out of touch with reality.”

For those eligible for council tax support, many of whom would before have had nothing to pay at all, the annual increase in court summons was more than 400 per cent.

Councils have to decide whether to charge their lowest-income households or not – but since their budget to cover the tax for the poorest has been slashed by £490m, most do. Of 326 local authorities in England, 244 introduced minimum payments that even the jobless have to pay.

Kris Hopkins, minister for local government, said: “Council tax bills doubled under Labour, and … council tax benefit soared. Welfare reform has been vital to tackle Labour’s budget deficit.

“Our reforms to localise council tax support now give councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people into work.”

Local Government carries the same story,

Half a million more people have been summoned to court over unpaid council tax in the past year, figures reveal.

Freedom of Information requests from group False Economy show three million people were taken to court by England’s town halls over 2013/14 because they had not paid council tax, a 25% increase on the previous tax year – the Independent reports.

Campaigners blamed the rise on the abolition of council tax benefits, which previously protected the poor or unemployed from paying the levy. Local authorities saw the national system replaced with locally devised council tax support (CTS) two years ago, as funding was devolved and cut by 10%.

The data came as a report from the New Policy Institute found council tax discounts being offered to poorer households were being cut by local authorities for the third year running. Over two million of the lowest earning families are now thought to be paying £167 more every year in council tax than they were in 2010.

I paid my Council Tax installment last week.

It rankled.

Retirees who raid pensions will be blocked from state benefits

April 7, 2015 10 comments

Andrew Coates:

Obviously somebody has been thinking about this.

Very quickly the DWP’s jumped in.

The whole pensions ‘pot’ thing is open-season for scams – but they’ll make damm sure that the lower orders won’t benefit.

This is a very important issue, which cannot be hidden by all the talk about the “freedom” this move will mean.

Holiday firms set sights on billions from pension pots

Up to 75% of people planning to withdraw money under new changes are considering spending some of it on travel.

Pension freedom reforms are now giving more than half a million over-55s the opportunity to take control of their own retirement savings and spend, save or invest them as they wish.

The huge overhaul allows older savers unrestricted access to their whole pension pots, and removes the need to buy an annuity to provide guaranteed income for life.

But pension experts warn the freedom reforms bring big and serious risks, like fraudsters stealing people’s life savings, baffled retirees paying far too much tax, and the possibility of some treating their savings like a cash windfall and blowing them too fast.

The real ‘freedom’ will be for the ‘financial services industry’ to make money……out of money.

Originally posted on Benefit tales:

Retirees who purposefully exhaust their pension pots and fall back on the state will not be given means-tested benefits, the government has confirmed.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has clarified how it would deal with those who spend their pension and then expect the state to fund their retirement, which many were concerned would add extra pressure on taxpayers.

It has now confirmed that if someone spends or gives away their pension fund, the DWP will treat them as if they still have that pension fund when calculating entitlement to means-tested benefits. Individuals will have to tell DWP and their local authority, which pays out some benefits directly, that they have accessed their pension pots.

The DWP uses pension credit – which is used to top up the incomes of the poorest pensioners – to illustrate its point.

It said in a document: ‘Once you (or your partner)…

View original 238 more words

Categories: DWP, Food Banks, Fraud, Government Tags: , ,

No Mandatory Requirement for a Claimant to sign on electronically.

April 4, 2015 78 comments

Not Mandatory to Sign.

Hat-Tip: Obi Wan Kenobi.

Given the wave of obligations claimants are now shouldering this is intresting:

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) 
Central Freedom of Information Team 

[DWP request email]

Our reference: VTR 1201
Date: 2 April 2015

Dear P Baker 
 
Thank you for your Freedom of Information request received on 26 March
2015. You asked:

Digital signature pads have been installed nationwide in Jobcentres & records
biometric information such as rhythm, speed, pressure, acceleration &
movement. The BBC & the manufacturer of the product SIGNificant ColorPad
6 available from xyzmod.com or Icon UK Limited advertises this product as an
equivalent to comparing fingerprints where more than just the signature is
extracted from its use.

Is there any information about a mandatory requirement for claimants to sign
using the digital signature pad which records personal biometrics comparable
to a fingerprint?

What information do you have on what gives JCP or DWP the authority to
terminate a claim or cease payment if a claimant refuses to sign using the
digital signature pad but the claimant is willing to sign in ink?

What information explains or authorises the use of these digital signature
pads without requesting a claimants consent?

You are correct in that the biometric software we use captures not just what
the signature looks like but also how it has been written, including the angle of
the stylus used, the pressure on the signing pad and the speed at which it is
written.  However, we don’t compare it to a fingerprint or use it as such – we
just check that the signature captured when a claimant signs on the pad is
validated by the system.  There are a number of benefits to this, including
reducing the scope for fraud.

There is no mandatory requirement for a claimant to sign electronically,
although we would encourage them to do so.  We do reassure anyone who is
not sure of why we are now using the signing pads and what it means for
them, but if they refuse, we do not insist.  A claim would not be terminated or
payment stopped if a claimant refused to sign electronically.

Providing signatures for both enrolment on the system and regularly signing
the electronic version of the declaration that they are actively seeking
employment is treated as their consent to using the system.


If you have any queries about this letter please contact me quoting the
reference number above.

Yours sincerely,

DWP Central FoI Team

 

Iain Duncan Smith Insults Disabled Workers Facing Unemployment.

April 1, 2015 76 comments

Welfare minister accused of ‘insulting’ workers at factory facing closure

Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 01, 2015

Work and Pensions  Secretary Iain Duncan Smith became embroiled in a row over job cuts at a Devon factory helping disabled people get work.

He Just Can’t Help Himself…’

“Exeter’s Labour candidate Ben Bradshaw said it was “extraordinarily insensitive” for the Cabinet minister to visit Pluss, based in the city, amid its upheaval.

Mr Duncan Smith, in charge of the Government’s controversial welfare reforms, visited Cornwall on Monday and Devon yesterday.

The proposed closure of Pluss factories in Exeter and Bridgwater, Somerset, which may result in up to 75 redundancies, could follow “changes in commercial contracts and funding from local authorities”, the social enterprise said.

Mr Bradshaw criticised the minister for not talking to staff losing their jobs.

“What an insult for Iain Duncan Smith to visit without speaking to staff and ignorant of the fact they’re losing their jobs. Some have worked there since the 1970s and will find it impossible to find other jobs,” he said.

But Dom Morris, the Conservative candidate in Exeter, said Mr Duncan Smith met some of those who have been helped by Pluss before speaking to the management.

He criticised Labour for using the visit as a “political football”.

He said: “I am disappointed that such a productive visit to a fantastic organisation that changes people’s lives has been kicked around like a political football.

“As Pluss have said themselves, the organisation is going through changes that will enable them to increase the number of people they support each year and turn more people’s lives around.

“Pluss does great work getting disabled people into jobs here in Exeter.

“We visited at the invitation of Pluss and met with people that have had their lives turned around by the Government’s Work Choice Programme.

“Put simply, we were there to celebrate the great work that Pluss does changing people’s lives.”

Its plant in Exeter makes cushions for wheelchairs and car upholstery. Many of the factory workers have disabilities or learning difficulties. Bosses fear they would struggle to find employment elsewhere.

Pluss, which is owned by four councils in the South West – Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay – over 50% of staff have a disability.”

The Mirror adds,

“Mr Gallin, of the Community Union, said: “Workers are devastated they face losing their jobs.

“It will be incredibly difficult for them to find another job, if not impossible.

“These are very vulnerable people who come here not only to work, but to meet people.”

Mr Gallin, who has worked for Pluss for 28 years, added: “If Iain Duncan Smith had come here and seen for himself how this factory runs, maybe it would have helped.”

Pluss, which is owned by four councils in the south west – Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay – said in a statement: “We are a ‘social firm’ and as such over 50% of our staff have a disability.

“Due to accumulation of a range of changes in commercial contracts and funding from local authorities, the company has commenced consultations on a range of proposals that deal with the challenges these pose.

“These include the potential closure of our manufacturing operations in Marsh Barton, Exeter and Huntworth Gate in Bridgwater, and rationalisation of corporate services.

“These proposals could result in up to 75 redundancies. The company will be looking to achieve these reductions through voluntary means wherever possible.

“These changes are aimed at increasing the number of people we support each year through more effective use of resources.

“As with all changes, Pluss recognises this will be bad news for those staff affected and we intend to put in place a range of mechanisms to support staff through this difficult period.”

Mr Duncan Smith’s spokeswoman said: “Iain and Dom met with disabled people who have been supported into work by Pluss – an organisation doing fantastic work in the local area.” ”

One assumes that the local Tories behind inviting this enemy of the disabled simply did this to “celebrate” these achievements, and that it had noting to the electoral campaign now in full swing.

See: Work choice: a drop in a leaky bucket.

Whilst Work Choice is a worthy programme, its modesty makes it incapable of even beginning to address the scale of the challenge. Indeed, the Government’s whole approach on disability and employment is flawed. All their energies and resources are focused on “supporting” disabled people to become more “employable” and confident – or “job ready” to use the correct jargon. This rather perniciously suggests that it is disabled people who need to change to adapt to the demands of the workplace. The reality, as we all know, is rather different. Where change is required is with society, and with the endurance of inaccessible workplaces, unavailable transport and the ongoing culture of stigma, discrimination and low expectations of the capabilities and expertise of disabled people. If the Government really wants to support the missing million, it must take radical action to create a more equal and accessible workplace for all. Work Transformation not Work Choice is what is required.

Tags:

Ben Gummer, Ipswich Tory Candidate, Backs Sanctions Regime for Claimants.

March 30, 2015 67 comments

Gummer LetterGum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Gummer Raises a Pint to Punishing the Poor.

 

Gummer Backs Sanctions Regime.

In reply to a recent letter (23rd of March – above) protesting at the sanctions regime for Benefit claimants Mr Ben Gummer, Ipswich MP and now parliamentary candidate for Ipswich (Conservative) says this:

“I must be honest with you from the outset, however, I support the changes the current government has made to welfare, including sanctioning those who break the conditions for Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA).”

Gummer talks of how the “sanctions regime has been made as fair as possible.” He asserts that, “it is not designed to catch people out or to make life unreasonably difficult.” It will, apparently, “ encourage behaviour that is ultimately in the claimant’s interest”. Why? It “will help the get a job – by discouraging behaviour unhelpful to their prospects”.

There is, he continues, an equitable punishment system in place. People get one level of reprimand for being late for an appointment, another for not turning up the Mandatory Activity Scheme.

Gummer sugars the pill: “small mistakes are therefore relatively lightly dealt with”, and that “all decisions are based on impartial facts”, by a decision-makers high above the Work Coaches.

DWP judges, no doubt schooled in the tradition of King Solomon, and Tribonian (I add the latter as Gummer is both a gentleman and a classical scholar), are in charge of the process.

There is an “appeals” system to boot. The fact that “about 40% “ of the sanctions decision are “revoked” demonstrates how fair the initial decision-making process is.

Gummer believes that the sanctions regime’s aim is to “get people into work by encouraging the kind of behaviour that will make an employer wants them”. He asks, “Why should working people in Ipswich keep funding someone who has the chance to get a job but who simply decides not to work?”

Indeed: not only are the DWP the wisest of lords of the law, but they also have the ability to see that when somebody turns up late for an appointment it’s because they have decided “not to work”. Perhaps they look a certain way, shifty, out to get funding from ‘hard working families’.

Punishment works. Honestly. Among with other (unspecified) “measures” “are succeeding in getting people into employment”. They save people from a “life of unemployment” and let them “fulfil their potential”.

Ipswich Food Banks are full of people fulfilling their potential…..

Ben Gummer’s Direct Link to the DWP:

Message to the Labour Party: We need to Get rid of the Benefits Sanctions Regime. Full Stop.

March 26, 2015 103 comments

Hat-tips: Another Fine Mess and Enigma.

Labour Pledges on Benefits:

A Labour government would tackle the root causes of the increase in the use of food banks across the UK, with the party to pledge that they “can never be allowed to become a permanent feature of British society”. Shadow ministers will promise to solve jobcentre benefit delays, halt the proliferation of benefit sanctions, and address low pay in a five-point plan aimed at reducing the number of people forced to turn to food banks.

They will cite Trussell Trust statistics showing that nearly a million people used food banks in 2013-14, figures that are generally assumed to underestimate the number of people who went hungry as a result of food insecurity over the period.

Labour will promise a cross-government approach to end what it calls the “chaos of food policy” under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and will say that a Labour administration will make tackling food bank dependency a specific ministerial responsibility.

A target would be set to reduce the number of people who cite delays in benefits being processed as the prime reason for using food banks. Benefits typically take around 16 working days to process, although backlogs mean many disability benefit claimants have waited for several months.

Studies have shown that benefit sanctions – when payments are stopped for alleged rule infringements – are the prime reason for between 10% and 30% of food bank users being referred for food aid.

Labour says it will abolish jobcentre targets for increasing sanctions, and make hardship funds more quickly available for those who are sanctioned. The party has a longstanding commitment to abolish the bedroom tax, which is also driving food bank use in some areas of the UK.

It has also promised to address low pay, by raising the minimum wage to at least £8 an hour before 2020, promoting a Living Wage and ending zero-hours contracts, so that working people do not suffer the humiliation of being referred to food banks to put meals on the table.

Ending ‘targets’ (which the DWP under their Masters’ instructions lie their way away out of existence in any case), and a vague commitment to deal with ‘benefit sanctions’ is not enough.

What is wrong is not just their ‘proliferation’ but the rotten system that has left one in five claimants punished.

Frankly we don’t need reassuring bed-time words that, “Labour will take a strategic and joined-up approach to food policy to ensure that everybody has the chance to eat safe, nutritious and affordable food, now and in the future. Emergency food aid should remain just that – food banks can never be allowed to become a permanent feature of British society.”

What we need: The benefit sanctions regime should be scrapped

(we appreciate that Frances uses Ipswich Unemployed Action’s phrase, benefit sanctions regime)…

I am not sure how we reached the point where we need an inquiry to establish that stopping a person’s benefits to the level that they can’t feed themselves or their children may be wrong. But here we are, it seems. The recent MPs’ inquiry into the coalition’s benefits sanction system released its findings on Tuesday – a catalogue of cruelty with footnotes to add details of the claimants who have been starved.

The report is damning. As it should be. We have watched a system develop in which it is normal for ordinary men and women to be thrown by their own government into financial and psychological crisis. The scale is staggering. More than 1 million jobseekers had their unemployment benefits stopped last year – and, as the report states, the government has failed to prove this is not “purely punitive”.

Who exactly are we punishing? A disabled, single mother described to the committee the day she was sanctioned for missing an appointment because a flare-up of her hip condition meant she was physically unable to walk or drive. Despite explaining this to The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), she was told she’d receive no money for four weeks. The sanction remained in place for almost three months.

Exactly right: we should boil with rage that somebody is left at her wits’ end because of a punishment more that’s more like a court’s fine for criminal activates than the workings of a welfare system.

This is not being done to the middle classes with savings in the bank. Or those with power who are used to navigating a complex system. It is being done to the people who are already struggling – where a hardship fund exists but the application process is designed to be too difficult for vulnerable people to understand. Or, as the report states, making it so “the people potentially most in need of the hardship system were the least likely to be able to access it”.

Doubleplus right: this is being inflicted on people (and most of us know them, or are them) who have no resources. The bastards are making our sisters and brothers suffer to fit in with Iain Duncan Smith’s plans to ‘reduce’ welfare dependency’. They are pawns in his game.

The MPs’ call that an “independent review of benefit sanctions is urgently needed” seems almost polite for what is going on here. People are literally starving and their crime is that they dare to be poor and unemployed.

It is no surprise that the report concludes there is limited evidence that benefit sanctions actually help people find work. A jobseeker system that has sanctions at its centre is founded on the lie that the unemployed are too lazy to look for work unless they are threatened. The DWP acts as if it is training disobedient dogs.

Stopping the money people need in order to eat is not the purpose of government. The benefit sanctions regime should be scrapped – but let’s not stop there. The culture that created them needs shredding to pieces.

This is the kind of ‘equality’ we are now living in: “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.” (Anatole France).

To conclude the article of Frances Ryan:

Tripleplus right: Get rid of the regime and bring the authors of this system to justice!

 

 

Complete Review of Vicious and Arbitrary Benefit Sanctions Needed Says MPs’ Report.

March 24, 2015 41 comments

Get Rid of the Sanction Regime!

The report below in today’s Guardian shows that nobody can ignore the crisis caused by the ‘Sanctions Regime’.

A drive to ‘get’ benefit claimants, to make their lives a misery, to ‘force’ them into jobs that are not there, to spy on our every move,  has meant what?

It’s meant acts of wanton cruelty, people left without the basics of life, food shelter, their children hungry and distressed, people driven to despair…

That’s the Liberal-Conservative Coalition’s most enduring legacy.

We call for an expansion of this review to include the prosecution of those responsible for causing great hardship to claimants, the criminal investigation of those committing fraud against claimants in the DWP, and for the government Ministers in charge of the sanctions regime to be brought to Justice.

Independent review of benefit sanctions urgently needed, say MPs

Cross-party report comes amid concerns that financial penalties have been issued inappropriately and caused hardship and destitution.

A wide-ranging independent review of the government’s controversial benefit sanctions regime is urgently needed to address widespread concerns that it is unfair, excessively punitive, and does little to help people get into work, according to a cross-party committee of MPs.

The MPs’ report follows a short inquiry undertaken amid public concern that sanctions were being imposed inappropriately, causing hardship, destitution and ill-health, and routinely forcing jobseekers to rely on food banks to survive.

Sanctions are financial penalties, stopping claimants’ benefit payments for at least four weeks for apparent breaches of jobcentre rules, such as missing appointments or failing to carry out enough job searches.

The committee chair, Dame Anne Begg, said: “No claimant should have their benefit payment reduced to zero where they are at risk of severe financial hardship to the extent of not being able to feed themselves or their families, or pay their rent.”

The committee also recommends the creation of a body similar to the Independent Police Complaints Commission which would investigate all cases where an individual dies or kills themselves while in receipt of working-age benefit. The inquiry was set up partly in response to a petition signed by over 200,000 people shocked by the death of diabetic former soldier David Clapson, who died penniless in July 2014, 18 days after sanctions were imposed on him.

Comment here: Work and Pensions Committee finds no evidence that sanctions help benefit claimants into work

More directly: Benefit sanctions: the 10 trivial breaches and administrative errors.

Read this and Weep:

The recent MPs’ inquiry into sanctions heard copious evidence of claimants being docked hundreds of pounds and pitched into financial crisis for often absurdly trivial breaches of benefit conditions, or for administrative errors beyond their control.

A typical example is the following anonymised list of sanctions reported by food bank clients to the Trussell trust charity:

  1. Man who missed appointment due to being at hospital with his partner, who had just had a stillborn child.
  2. Man sanctioned for missing an appointment at the jobcentre on the day of his brother’s unexpected death. He had tried to phone Jobcentre Plus to explain, but could not get through and left a message which was consequently not relayed to the appropriate person.
  3. Man who carried out 60 job searches but missed one which matched his profile.
  4. Man had an appointment at the jobcentre on the Tuesday, was taken to hospital with a suspected heart attack that day, missed the appointment and was sanctioned for nine weeks.
  5. Man who secured employment and was due to start in three weeks. He was sanctioned in the interim period because JCP told him he was still duty bound to send his CV to other companies.
  6. Young couple who had not received any letters regarding an appointment that was thus subsequently missed. Their address at the Department for Work and Pensions was wrongly recorded. They were left with no money for over a month.
  7. One case where the claimant’s wife went into premature labour and had to go to hospital. This caused the claimant to miss an appointment. No leeway given.
  8. One man sanctioned for attending a job interview instead of Jobcentre Plus – he got the job so did not pursue grievance against the JCP.
  9. Man who requested permission to attend the funeral of his best friend; permission declined; sanctioned when he went anyway.
  10. A diabetic sanctioned and unable to buy food was sent to hospital by GP as a consequence.

Sometimes sanctions have a bizarre, nightmarish quality, such as this one, reported by Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea food bank and cited in a recent Church Action on Poverty report:

We had a number of customers who had been sanctioned including one guy who had been sanctioned for being late for his appointment at the jobcentre because the queue was so long it took him to past his appointment time to be seen. He was sanctioned even though he had arrived at the jobcentre in plenty of time.

Or this one, cited on the A Selection Of Especially Stupid Benefit Sanctions tumblr website (and taken from a local newspaper report)

You apply for three jobs one week and three jobs the following Sunday and Monday. Because the jobcentre week starts on a Tuesday it treats this as applying for six jobs in one week and none the following week. You are sanctioned for 13 weeks for failing to apply for three jobs each week.

The consequences, however can be severe. One claimant, Glenn McDougall, recalled his experience of being sanctioned three times in written evidence to the work and pensions committee inquiry:

On the first occasion I cancelled a jobcentre appointment to go to a job interview. It was short notice however I phoned the jobcentre to inform them and was assured on the phone that it was ok. I was sanctioned two weeks JSA. I appealed this and was found to be in the right and the money was paid to me, which was great, but in the interim I had to go two weeks without a penny to my name. I missed other job interviews because I had no money for transport and went without food, electric and heating for some of that time. It was a cruel punishment issued arbitrarily, had a negative impact on my jobseeking and diminished my respect for the benefit system massively.

The committee heard that claimants with learning difficulties, were especially vulnerable to sanctioning. Here’s an example provided by the charity Mencap:

AP has a learning disability and was given 30 job searching actions every week after he applied for JSA. These actions included accessing UJM [universal job match] every week. However, he did not have the IT skills necessary to do this and was not given support by JCP [Jobcentre Plus] to do this. He had, however, still been pro-active in applying for jobs. He showed the JCP several pages of handwritten job notes. They would not accept these as they were handwritten and not using UJM. He was then sanctioned. Given his lack of IT skills and the lack of IT support by JCP, Mencap argues that handwritten notes are a reasonable adjustment. He had already been sanctioned by JCP several times.

More on site.

It makes you boil with rage.

Rip-off 0845 Helplines.

March 23, 2015 23 comments

Premium Rates for Claimants.

One of the many annoying things about benefits is that when you make inquiries you now have to use the phone: there’s nobody you can see in person.

Transfer not made?

Phone.

Query about your claim.

Phone.

Housing Benefit claim worry.

Phone.

Council Tax (now we all to pay a percentage, a cut in our benefits nobody seems to talk about).

Phone.

Many unemployed people do not have a land-line and use their mobiles.

This can often mean a long-wait at a high charge.

Now we know that these prices still provide a nice little earner for those offering the ‘service’…..

Welfare Weekly reports today.

Millions of Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable people are being “fleeced” by rip-off 0845 helplines, it has been reported today.

According to a report by the Daily Mirror, figures uncovered by Labour MP Frank Field show than pensioners, carers and benefit claimants are still being charged for higher rate calls, despite promises from the government two years ago that it would phase out 0845 helpline numbers.

Since 2012, the Pension Service has received around 12 million 0845 prefix calls, including 2.5 million over the last year.

2.9 million 0845 calls were made to the Carer’s Allowance helpline, while more than 530,000 people called for advice about Winter Fuel Payments and 360,439 higher rate calls were made about Bereavement Benefits.

0845 calls can cost anywhere from between 1p and 12p a minute from a landline and from 5p to 40p if calling from a mobile phone.

Callers spent a combined total of £56 million from using 0845 helplines in 2012 alone.

Frank Field said: “At the very point in their lives when millions of people are most in need, they are being fleeced by the Government and the phone companies.

“Ministers promised over a year ago that these rip-off lines would be scrapped. Might they now sanction such a move as quickly as they sanction claimants?”

The Cabinet Office issued guidance in 2013, stating it was “inappropriate” for “vulnerable and low-income groups” to pay “substantial charges for accessing core public services”.

Two years later the Department for Work and Pensions is still “in the process of replacing all its 0845 number prefixes in use for its national helplines”.

A DWP spokesperson added: “We introduced 0345 numbers for DWP national helpline service numbers – this is alongside an 0845 option, which can currently be cheaper for some dependent on their telephony provider.”

Against Benefit Sanctions: National Protests take off

March 20, 2015 88 comments

Ipswich Protest Outside JobCentre.

What struck protestors immediately is how many people talked to us about being sanctioned, having to survive on practically no money, and how impossible the appeal system is.

You don’t have to do any extensive research to find out about the hardship the system is causing – not only to claimants, but to their children, as one person told us in sad detail.

We need to get rid of the arbitrary power of the Work Coaches, and the whole sanctions regime.

Anti-cuts activists protesting outside the DWP offices on Chesterton Road, Cambridge. Cambridge News

Protestors gathered outside the Jobcentre in Williamson Square to oppose the cuts implemented by the Government.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Photo by James Maloney

Protestors gathered outside the Jobcentre in Williamson Square to oppose the benefits sanctions implemented by the Government (Liverpool Echo).

Sanction demonstrators in Wesley Square.

Hartlepool.

Southampton.

More (a lot more!)  on National Day of Action Against Sanctions Facebook.

Friday 20th  Peter Lazenby

TRADE unionists and activists targeted dozens of jobcentres yesterday in a national day of action to protest against appalling coalition benefits sanctions which have thrown 1.2 million people into destitution.

Demonstrators took to the streets across Britain to protest against a system which persecutes the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people — driving dozens to suicide.

The protests were organised by Unite Community, a section of the general union for people not in traditional workplaces, which said it was delighted with the response.

And the union was joined by supporters of other anti-sanctions campaigns, including the People’s Assembly.Unite Community national organiser Liane Groves said 78 actions took place across the country.

In Teesside in England campaigners staged a rolling programme of protests targeting jobcentres in Redcar, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Thornaby and Hartlepool.

Speaking in Middlesbrough, Tracy Harvey, Unite Community equality officer for Teesside, said: “Thousands of people are being sanctioned every month.

“Suicide rates are skyrocketing as people struggle with debts.”In Chesterfield 60 protesters staged a “die-in” at the town’s jobcentre.

A protest also took place on Merseyside, where trade unionists are campaigning for the ousting at the general election of West Wirral Tory MP and Employment Minister Esther McVey, who has been responsible for implementing benefit sanctions.

Wirral TUC secretary Alec McFadden said his branch “fully supports the day of action to stop benefit sanctions.

“We also redouble our efforts to sack Esther McVey.”Other centres targeted included Birmingham, Hartlepool, Leeds, Halifax, Merthyr, Kent, Cardiff, Manchester and Liverpool.

In London a series of events culminated in a two-hour demonstration at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) at Caxton House.

Gill Thompson, sister of ex-soldier David Clapson who died starving and destitute in 2013 after being sanctioned for missing a meeting, handed in a 211,822-name petition at the DWP urging the Prime Minister to investigate benefit sanctions.

She said: “I want to know how ministers who state everything is done to support the vulnerable can justify their actions leaving people destitute, driving them to foodbanks, and leading to starvation and death. “Do we want to live in a society where the vulnerable are victimised? I certainly do not.”At many of the jobcentre protests victims of sanctions told of their experiences.

After yesterday’s London demonstration at the DWP, Liane Groves said: “We have been able to highlight the cruelty of sanctions and the effects they are having on the lives of ordinary people.

“One hundred thousand children are in families where their parents have been sanctioned and in the sixth-richest country in the world it is totally unacceptable that children are going hungry because their parents are unemployed.”

Morning Star.

Day of action against Sanctions Thursday 19th March.

March 17, 2015 48 comments

 

In Ipswich there is this:

Day of action against Sanctions Thursday 19th March.

Ipswich Job Centre plus, St Felix House, Silent Street, Ipswich, Suffolk IP1 1TF – 12.30pm.

Protest and leafleting.

Supported by UNITE, Suffolk Disabled People Against Cuts and Suffolk Peoples Assembly

More Bad News for Universal Credit as Crack-Down Budget Looms.

March 15, 2015 71 comments

Job-Search Post-Budget.

Universal Credit could take 10 YEARS to finish, says Labour MP

The government’s disastrous £700m Universal Credit programme could take up to 10 years to complete, Labour MP Stephen Timms informed El Reg on Thursday.

“I’ve been reliably told by someone formerly working on the programme that it will take ten years to complete. Based on the evidence, I have no reason not to believe that time-scale,” Timms said.

Timms’ source had been working on the project until recently, he said.

The National Audit Office has said just £34m of project’s IT investment could be re-usable. Currently just 0.3 per cent of the eligible population are using it.

In a letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, Timms pointed out that the earliest completion date is now 2021.

“In 2011, you said the transition to Universal Credit would be complete by 2017,” he wrote. “Now we are told that the transition to Universal Credit will be completed by 2021 at the earliest, a date which is six years away.”

A spokesman from the DWP said by 2017 the last new claims to legacy benefits will be accepted and we will migrate remaining cases to Universal Credit. The current business plan assumes the bulk of this will be complete by 2019, she added.

“Our current plan is on track and we are making good progress. By this time next year, Universal Credit will be in every Jobcentre in the country.

Universal Credit is a UK welfare benefit launched in 2013 to replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits.

The Labour party has promised to conduct a review of the programme to determine if it can be salvaged or should be scrapped, if it gains power in the May general election. ®

Meanwhile in Housing Benefit land the Independent reports today,

Housing benefit bill rose by £2.4-billion under coalition as Labour claim new homes needed

New analysis of a report on housing benefit shows that the total bill has risen by £2.4-billion since the coalition took power in 2010 – despite a pre-election promise to be tough on handouts.

The figures from the Department of Work and Pensions show that the cost rose to £24.6-billion in 2013-2014, up from £22.99-billion when they took power in 2010, with nearly half a million more people relying on the state handout, bringing the total to around five million.

We expect the coming budget to full of talks of crack-downs on claimants, cutting our already miserable levels of benefit, and increased surveillance by the Nosey-Parkers of the DWP.

I for one do not like this idea of having a DWP leant computer watching our every job-seeking move…….

Mentally Ill Lose Disability Benefits and Face Life on Sanctioned-ruled JSA.

March 12, 2015 87 comments

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions by disability.

‘Punishments’ for benefits claimants with mental health issues rocket, figures show (January 2005).


Today: Urgent inquiry needed into impact of 100k mentally ill people losing disability benefits, says ex-health minister

Thanks to Enigma for flagging this up.

Note: I see people with mental health issues every single day in Ipswich Central Library.

Many of them are doing “job Search” – swearing and behaving oddly.

I have been on so-called ‘courses’ with people with these problems.

On one occasion a person with such severe difficulties (not just for himself but creataing trouble for others, particularity women) that he is subjected to multiple restraining orders.

Now we learn the situation is getting dramatically worse.

As this article points out people with these conditions do not always conform to the rule of ‘Coaches.’

Yet the same Coachy-Coachys have effectively judicial powers over whether they should eat, and whether they should have a safe place to live – food and shelter (for more on this see: Benefit sanctions: Britain’s secret penal system:Benefits claimants are subjected to an ‘amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system’, writes Dr David Webster of the University of Glasgow.)

It is an absolute scandal.

Daily Mirror.

A former health minister today slammed the Government for refusing to investigate why people with mental health problems are the largest group to lose incapacity benefits.

Paul Burstow, Minister for Care Services from 2011 to 2012, launched a stinging attack on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), saying it has “absolutely no idea” of the impact of benefit cuts on mentally ill people.

The Lib Dem MP claims more than 100,000 people with mental health problems who lost their benefits have been “forgotten about” by the Government.

Mental health charity Mind today accused the DWP of not taking the issues seriously, and said the department is delaying in releasing the precise numbers of those with such illnesses affected by sanctions.

Speaking exclusively to Mirror Online, Mr Burstow said: “We know almost half of people taken off incapacity benefit, assessed, and found apparently ‘fit to work’ have mental health problems, and the Department responsible have absolutely no idea what’s happened to them.

“We have heard time and again that assessors had no real grasp of mental illness and its impact.

“We know that people with mental health problems need support and encouragement to get back into work and there is overwhelming evidence that people with mental health problems face discrimination in the job market.

“But over 100,000 people with mental health problems have been summarily put on Job Seekers Allowance and forgotten about.

“We don’t know if they have got jobs, we don’t know if they have been sanctioned, and we don’t know the impact of sanctions on their mental health.

“All we do know is that the Department don’t know and don’t seem to care.”

Research published by the Methodist Church last month showed people who receive the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because of a long-term mental health problem are being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day.

According to the DWP data, the most common reason for being sanctioned is that a person has been late or not turned up for a Work Programme appointment.

Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church, said in January: “Sanctioning someone with a mental health problem for being late for a meeting is like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for limping.

“The fact that this system punishes people for the symptoms of their illness is a clear and worrying sign that it is fundamentally flawed.”

“Churches have increasingly seen people in desperate need because they have been sanctioned.

“The suffering and injustice we have seen caused by the sanctions system deserves serious scrutiny.”

Last week, the Minster for Disabilities Mark Harper refused to investigate why the largest category of people transferred from incapacity benefit to the fit-to-work group have been people with mental health issues.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind said: “It’s really worrying that you are more likely to receive a benefits sanction if you have a mental health problem than another health condition but we don’t have access to all the information about how often and why this is happening.

Universal Credit Scandals Exposed by Benefits Britain.

March 10, 2015 72 comments

Not Much has changed since the Above.

Ipswich Unemployed Action was going to give a detailed account of last night’s Channel Four’s Benefit Britain on Universal Credit.

It was excellent and there’s no need to give our own notes, except to say that the programme gave an indication of the personal suffering the new system is causing.

The job has been done, by the Daily Mirror.

Universal Credit ‘adviser’ told not to tell claimants about cash fund for clothes and bus fares

A reporter posing as a Universal Credit adviser trainee was told not to tell claimants about a vital cash fund for clothes, bus fares or other expenses to help them into work.

The undercover journalist spent seven weeks working at the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Bolton Universal Credit contact centre.

He was told by trainers not to bring up same-day advance payments for those struggling to make ends meet while they wait five weeks for the their first Universal Credit payment. These are among a number of extra changes benefits claimants can ask for – find out the full range here.

The reporter, working for Channel 4 Dispatches programme, was also told not to tell claimants about the Flexible Support Fund unless they specifically asked about it.

When the reporter questioned this, a trainer replied: “If we did, everybody would want one, yeah, and it’s a very small budget, so we don’t talk about it.

“It’s a bit like Fight Club – we don’t discuss what happens in Fight Club. So you don’t talk about flexible support fund either… so the work coaches usually bring this up…”

Universal Credit is a wide-ranging shake up of the benefits system. It has been criticised by domestic abuse charities for paying funds to couples, rather than individuals. It is feared this could lead to financial abuse in the relationship.

But the reporter was told not to draw attention to hardship fund payments, which are available for claimants to apply for once they have been sanctioned.

A trainer said: “You don’t offer it unless you think they’re in dire straits…. Again… the whole idea is the punishment, that’s what you’ve got to suffer but if you can’t manage, we’ll consider doing something for you.

“So they’ve got to say, ‘well I can’t manage without my standard allowance, so I need some help’ and you go ‘right, there is a hardship possibility’.

“You don’t advertise it but if they say, ‘I can’t manage’, they don’t have to say, ‘I need a hardship payment’, they say ‘I can’t manage’ and you say, ‘well I can’.”

There were also problems with IT systems during the reporter’s spell at the centre.

For 20 days, he was in rooms connected to the office loudspeaker and on nine of those days he saw computer programmes crashing and heard messages broadcast warning staff that computer programmes had gone down – once for the whole day.

On training, a DWP spokesman said: “The overall feedback from staff is their training is effective and more importantly they feel supported and confident in delivering this major welfare reform.

“This was the first induction course run for new external recruits in Bolton service centre and the first time the trainer had run this new training package.”

On same-day advance payments, the spokesman said: “Service centre workers are there to provide administrative support over the phone, not to build the close relationship with the claimant that our work coaches in Jobcentres do.

“At a new claim interview our work coaches inform claimants that budgeting advances are available “

On the Flexible Support Fund, he added: “Work coaches can identify if the locally-administered flexible support fund can help someone overcome barriers to work – not service centre workers.”

In respect of the hardship fund, the spokesman said conversations about availability take place in Jobcentres, not the service centre.

He also said that every letter sent out to claimants informing them that they have a sanction tells them about the fund and how to apply.

On IT, the spokesman said none of the examples of issues given to the department related specifically to Universal Credit.

He also said that at the beginning of last month, a planned upgrade impacted the service for three days but has since had no issues and resulted in an improved performance.

Defending the policy as a whole, the spokesman said: “Universal Credit replaces the complex myriad of means-tested benefits to simplify the system and make work pay.

“It is already transforming lives with claimants on Universal Credit moving into work faster and earning more.

“When fully rolled out it will make three million people better off with a £7 billion boost to the economy every year.”

The Government has reportedly spent £700 million on Universal Credit, one of its flagship reforms, but the roll-out is behind its original schedule and critics say the IT system is not fit for purpose.

You can find out when your local Jobcentre switches over here.

Then there is this, (Express and Star),

Universal Credit in disarray: union

Universal Credit, one of the Government’s flagship policies, is in “disarray”, suffering from a lack of staff, poor training and inadequate IT, according to a study.

A survey of around 400 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union showed that 90% believed expensive IT systems dealing with the benefit were less than adequate

Almost three quarters said working conditions were worse than in their previous role and four in five said the training was less than adequate to prepare them for working on the scheme.

Almost four out of five did not feel there were enough staff and two thirds said they were frequently asked to work overtime, said the union.

More than half said they did not think Universal Credit was an improvement for claimants.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “No one can trust Iain Duncan Smith (Work and Pensions Secretary) to tell the truth about Universal Credit so it falls to the staff to expose this wasteful and politically motivated shambles for what it is.

“It has long been obvious that staff are under-resourced and under-trained and that universal credit is at risk of collapse. The DWP cannot keep burying its head in the sand and hope these problems go away because they are only going to get worse if nothing is done.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “The PCS survey comprises of only 13% of our 2,700 staff working on Universal Credit. They chose to ignore staff in our Jobcentres when conducting this research providing a skewed unrepresentative sample of union members.

“The reality is Universal Credit is already transforming lives and our staff are passionate about the work they do.”

Universal Credit to hit the Low Paid as Scheme is in Shambles.

March 8, 2015 67 comments

More and more problems about the government’s welfare ‘reforms’ are coming up (Hat-tip Gazza and all posters).

Tomorrow Channel Four’s Dispatches focus on Universal Credit (8 pm).

The government say their flagship new benefit, Universal Credit, is working well and is helping people into work. Critics say it is a shambles. Dispatches goes undercover to investigate.

There are plenty of difficulties with the new system and our posters have not hesitated to point them out.
This is just one.

The following appeared in the Guardian in January.

Workers who claim benefits told to increase hours or lose universal credit

Nearly 1m people who are in work and claim benefits may be required to work longer, increase their earnings or face losing access to the new universal credit, two welfare ministers, Lord Freud and Mark Hoban, said on Monday.

The state’s capacity to ask more of those in work and those that are self-employed is likely to be transformed by the introduction of universal credit in April, the ministers said at a Policy Exchange event.

Lord Freud, the welfare minister, said: “The fact that those in work will come under the ambit of the JobCentre Plus for the first time as a result of universal credit gives the government radical new opportunities.

“Those in work currently face no obligations within the system to increase their hours in work and the system offers them no incentives to do so either. People on low wages can lose up to 96p in every £1 they earn as they increase their hours in work.”

He claimed that as a result employers told him their staff did not want to work longer hours for fear of losing benefits. He cited B&Q as one firm that had told him their staff repeatedly requested not to work longer hours for fear of losing benefit: “This conversation is replicated in company after company.”

He claimed work incentives under universal credit will be as much as 12 times more generous, as recipients will retain more of their extra income. Critics say that the system will penalise those who can’t increase their hours. Hoban said that as part of the drive to keep part-time workers in work for longer, he proposed these workers could receive monthly statements telling them how much better off they would be if they increased their hours, as well as receive texts telling them how much they will benefit from working longer hours, or getting better-paid work through developing higher skills.

He said new demands could also be placed on the self-employed, pointing out that the tax credit system as it stands allowed people to pursue hobbies, earn nothing and subsidise their income through state support “without any expectation that they will increase their earnings and move towards self-sufficiency. This flies in the face of a principled welfare system”.
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The latest phase in DWP thinking came as the thinktank Policy Network published separate comparative international polling showing little support in Britain for a shift away from a traditional welfare state to one more similar to Northern Europe, where spending is focused on supporting working families and early years.

The Policy Network paper, backed by YouGov polling, claims that a conservative bias in social attitudes to welfare – entrenched support for the traditional welfare state, promising higher pension payments, social security benefits, and public spending on health and education – has been reinforced by the financial crisis, while public support for welfare spending on new social risks such as gender equality childcare and skills has little support.

The DWP said: “Universal credit brings together a vast array of on- and out-of-work benefits, and is due to be spread across the UK by 2017. Currently, workers who claim tax credits or housing benefit have no expectations placed upon them to help them reduce their reliance on welfare. Under universal credit, working claimants who could reasonably be expected to increase their earnings will be expected to take action to do so.”

One in Five Jobseekers Suffer Benefit Sanctions.

March 5, 2015 74 comments

Many people have commented, rightly, that the Channel Four Dispatches programme, which was great, only scratched the surface of the problem of sanctions.

We all know people affected, I even know people who’ve been victims of the fake ‘appointment’ scam (not in Ipswich I must say).

A Tory Minister has joined the fray,

A Conservative minister has said there is an “inhuman inflexibility” to the way some welfare sanctions are applied.

Business Minister Nick Boles said the sanctions “do need to be looked at” and suggested a change after the election, the Grantham Journal reported. BBC.

Not that ‘looking at sanctions’ from his lot will improve matters.

So let’s get to grips with the problem and demand an end to the sanction regime.

If proof were needed of its injustice this has just been published:

One In Five Hammered By Benefit Sanctions, Says Expert. Welfare Weekly

Nearly one in five (18.4%) jobseekers were affected by punitive benefit sanctions in 2013-14, new analysis suggests.

Analysis of official Government figures by Dr David Webster, a researcher from the University of Glasgow, shows that 568,430 of the 3,097,630 individuals who claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) during 2013/14 were sanctioned – with some seeing their benefits stopped more than once.

Furthermore, 22.3% of the total 8,232,560 individuals who claimed JSA between 2009/10 to 2013/14 (inclusive) have seen their benefits removed. Equivalent to 1,833,035 people.

The findings draw into question claims from DWP ministers, who insist only a “tiny number” of people are sanctioned and that they are only ever used as a “last resort”.

Statistically, the percentage of JSA claimants sanctioned each month stands at an average 6.5%.

However, according to the analysis, this headline statistic fails to account for the cumulative effect of benefit sanctions, which can last for a few weeks or as long as three years.

“If 5-6% of claimants are being sanctioned every month, the proportion will grow as time goes on”, says Dr Webster.

His analysis also reveals that 30.9% of individual JSA claimants sanctioned in the year to June 2014 were hammered more than once, and 12.5% three times or more.

It’s bad news for sick and disabled people too. Dr Webster writes: “Over the six years of the ESA sanctions regime from October 2008 to September 2014, 21.0% out of a total of 85,292 sanctioned claimants received more than one sanction, and 7.6% three or more”.

To add insult to injury, no pun intended, the proportion of ESA sanctions overturned at appeal has fallen from around 35% to just 20% – since the introduction of ‘mandatory reconsideration’ into the appeals process.

Dr Webster says there is a “disturbing possibility” that vulnerable sick and disabled people are “unable to cope” with the new appeals process.

Claimants who disagree with a decision on benefit entitlement are now required to ask the DWP to ‘reconsider’, before they can appeal to an independent social security tribunal.

The proportion of JSA sanctions challenged by claimants has also fallen from 33% to around 20-25%.

Dr Webster’s analysis also reinforces views stressed by other experts: the Government’s controversial Work Programme “continues to deliver far more JSA sanctions than JSA job outcomes”, he says.

He added: “Up to 30 September 2014 there had been 575,399 JSA Work Programme sanctions and 345,640 JSA Work Programme job outcomes”.

You can download Dr Webster’s analysis here (pdf).

Fib all they like about “aspirations” for sanction levels the DWP can’t wriggle out of this.

Job Centre Notice Board (Justice4Jobseekers).

Sanctions: Channel Four Dispatches Blows the Lid on Attacks on the Vulnerable.

March 3, 2015 64 comments

Last Night’s Benefits Crackdown by Channel Four’s Dispatches was essential viewing.

It came as this report (signaled by Unemployed in Tyne and Wear) was published.

100,000 Children Affected By Benefit Sanctions In 2013/14

A new report from a coalition of major UK Churches has revealed that around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions in 2013/14.

It also shows that in the same period a total of nearly 7 million weeks of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.

The new data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, will feature in this evening’s episode of Channel 4’sDispatches, entitled ‘Britain’s Benefits Crackdown’.

The report, entitled Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, is published today by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It contains new data on the severity and length of sanctions under Welfare Reform, and on how sanctions affect vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.

More here.

The PCS Trade Union also issued a press release on Monday.

Cost to claimants of benefit sanctions rockets by 3,000%

The cost to claimants of having their social security payments stopped under this government’s controversial sanctions regime has rocketed by 3,000%, analysis by the Public and Commercial Services union shows.

Using Department for Work and Pensions data, the union has calculated the value of jobseeker’s allowance payments sanctioned in the year to September 2014 (the latest for which figures are available) was £355 million, compared to £11 million in 2009/2010.

This massive rise explains why sanctions have been so closely linked to the increase in the use of foodbanks, the union says.

The new figures come ahead of a Dispatches investigation to be broadcast this evening into the government’s sanctions regime that was stepped up in October 2012.

Under the stricter system, the length of time sanctions can be imposed for has increased, with the minimum set at four weeks, rising to 13 weeks and up to three years.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This government is imposing much harsher penalties on people who rely on social security at the same time as seeking to blame and vilify them for being out of work.

“Sanctions do nothing to help unemployed people find sustainable jobs. They only poison the relationship between claimants and jobcentre staff, and they should be scrapped immediately.”

ENDS

The Programme on Channel Four was very effective.

As the Mirror noted,

“In a probe for Channel 4’s Dispatches, two Job Centre whistleblowers tell how they were forced to “hammer” claimants with sanctions to meet Government targets. Alan Davies, who quit Leicester Job Centre, said: “They weren’t willing to look at them as human beings.”

There was also the case of a man, in considerable pain and previously on on Disability. Support Allowance, left to fend for himself on no money, after being sanctioned

Here is the information on the Dispatches site.

In October 2012, the coalition introduced a new stricter sanctions regime. Benefits can now be suspended for up to three years– or reduced indefinitely for people claiming Employment and Support Allowance.

Channel 4 Dispatches has investigated how the stricter sanctions regime affects some vulnerable claimants and has interviewed former Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff who claim that there are targets for sanctions despite the government’s constant assurances that there are no targets.

New exclusive figures:

  • Latest figures show 93,000 children were affected by sanctions over 12 months.[1](opens in a new window) The DWP told us they do not recognise these figures.
  • Of DWP ‘peer reviews’ of 49 deaths following sanctions or when claimants had their benefit cut, 40 were carried out following a suicide or apparent suicide.
  • 33 of those reviews/enquiries resulted in ‘recommendations’ at national or local level.

The DWP has refused to provide details of the individual cases or the recommendations. They told Channel 4 Dispatches that they carry out reviews to work out if anything should have done differently. They say, carrying out a review does not automatically mean the department was at fault and that it would be highly inappropriate to publish private documents containing extremely personal information.[2](opens in a new window)

Whistleblowers:
Channel 4 Dispatches has interviewed two whistleblowers from a Job Centre in Leicester who say they were subject to targets and had to “hammer” people. Both men have been named and identified on camera.
– Ian Wright, a former work coach, gave written evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee Inquiry.
– Alan Davies, a former personal adviser, has never spoken publicly before.

Ian was sacked by the Job Centre, while Alan resigned. Both were given Performance Improvement Plans for not giving claimants enough Job Seeker’s Directions. These are the ‘early warnings’ before sanctions are handed out.

Ian Wright says: “It was the management’s policy to drive up sanctions. From my experience they’re more interested in getting the paperwork right and meeting targets than helping the claimants get the benefits that Parliament decree they should do and sometimes sadly vulnerable people miss out.”

“There are or were certain advisors who would try and wind up customers, not give them the full information.”
Alan Davies says: “The pressure was enormous. I just felt that what they were asking me to do was totally wrong. They were asking me to hammer people who were quite, in their own way doing the best that they can to get a job.”

“Well sanction them, to make sure if you’re not doing exactly what we want, they weren’t willing to look at them as human beings.”
“I felt basically it was both ethically and morally wrong.”

The DWP told Channel 4 Dispatches: “There are no targets for sanctions – in fact the number of sanctions has gone down over the past year.”

The Channel Four site adds the facts which contradict this bald-faced lying:

Statistics

Since the tougher sanctions regime was introduced in October 2012, more than one and a half million benefit payments have been affected.[3](opens in a new window)

A DWP spokesperson told Channel 4 Dispatches:

“Every day Jobcentre Plus advisers work hard to help claimants into work – unemployment is falling and a record number of people are in work. Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who fail to take up the support which is on offer.”

We learnt then, from the DWP,  that there are no “targets” for sanctions, just “aspirations”.

 Ipswich Protest at New Sanction Factory: Maximus. 

Ipswich Protest Joins National Day of Action Against Maximus.

March 2, 2015 21 comments

Embedded image permalink  

St Felix House Silent Street Ipswich.2nd March.

Disabled People Against Cuts and Suffolk People’s Assembly. Protesters gathered outside DWP Job and Assessment Centres today to protest against Maximus, the new Work Capability Enforcer. On the first Day of their Contract there were actions and protests across the country.

A national day of action has been called on March 2nd 2015 against Maximus, the company set to take over from Atos running the despised Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) for sickness and disability benefits.

These crude and callous assessments have been used to strip benefits from hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people after a quick computer based test ruled them ‘fit for work’.  A growing number of suicides have been directly linked to this stressful regime, whilst charities, medical staff and claimants themselves have warned of the desperate consequences for those left with no money at all by the system.

DPAC

Here are some shots, pics and videos: Embedded image permalink Embedded image permalink      

TUC Welfare Conference: Action on Sanctions and Workfare!

February 28, 2015 69 comments

Embedded image permalink

Photo: 

TUC: Welfare Conference, called by the TUC Consultative Committee for Unemployed Workers’ Centres.

Up to a hundred activists came to the Welfare Conference, held on Friday in Congress House. As the introductory speakers made plain the Liberal-Conservative Coalition, assisted by large sections of the media, have launched a frontal assault ion the basic principles of an equitable benefit system.  Instead of helping people in need they have attacked the most vulnerable.

Eleanor Firman (Disabled People Against Cuts, DPAC and UNITE) illustrated what this has meant on the ground. As a result of cuts in housing benefit and the bedroom tax their group in Waltham Forest had had to defend those facing eviction.

She talked of how the Work Capability Assessment targeted disabled people. Those not meeting the government’s criteria – enforced through a flawed system run by private companies (ATOS and now Maximus), could expect to be treated with “harshness”, to the point of being left destitute. This was only one example of how welfare ‘reform’ was making people’s lives a misery. The answer was to challenge the DWP with the help of bodies like UNITE Community and, where they still exist, Law Centres.

Workshops covering benefit sanctions, the basis of the benefit system, unpaid work, and equality were held.

In the one I attended, on Sanctions, participants concentrated less on particular stories of injustice than on the nature of the arbitrary regime. We tried to bring together a rejection of all sanctions with proposals for realsocial security for all.  Disabled needed to be assessed not by private companies and computerised questionnaires, a source of many sanctions, but by clinical criteria, – the work of GPs. The power of ‘work coaches’ to decide to withdraw benefits – whether they should eat or have a home – should be removed.

There were fruitful discussions throughout the day. Groups talked through proposals for a universal minimum income, others investigated the socialisation of basic needs, “universal goods in kind’, proposed by the Greek party, Syriza. A group of us looked into the use of Blogging, Twitter and other social media to spread an alternative message to the media hate campaigns.

Others planned activities on Monday the 2nd of March Day of Action against Maximus and the 19th of March Day of Action Against Benefit Sanctions. Further protests against benefit sanctions are planned to coincide with May Day.

Stop Sanctions: A Priority.

In the afternoon Richard Exell, the TUC’s senior Policy Officer on these issues, spoke. He cast aside his prepared notes. Instead he talked of how public opinion had been swayed behind the Coalition’s polices. Cautious about demanding an end to all sanctions Richard observed, however, that the way they had left hundreds of thousands destitute may help to alter popular attitudes. The children of claimants, through no ‘fault’ of their own, were left hungry and dependent on food banks and charity. Now they will affect those in low-paid work who received benefits. There was a need to develop alternatives to this and to Universal Credit.

Paula from DPAC stated that the introduction of the new system, with its new complicated ‘claimants’ commitment’ spelled ‘Armageddon’ for those reliant on benefits.

A set of principles and demands – drawing on the Centres’ Charter for the Unemployed is being drawn up. It will include demands for a decent level of benefits, an end to sanctions, and opposition to all forms of workfare – to make volunteering really ‘voluntary’ – a higher minimum wage, rent controls, and decent jobs for all.

These will be put into a coherent form at a further meeting on the 25th of March. The finished programme will be designed to take into union bodies and wider afield.

People are urged to support Boycott Workfare.

In a speech that touched on the way activists can change government and party (Labour) policy Lynne Groves drew on the way the Bedroom Tax had been challenged, and cuts in social services opposed. Activists and the wider public were urged to get involved in UNITE Community Branches, open to all.

At the end of the meeting Kevin Flynn noted the seriousness and richness of the debates that had taken placed. Amongst other points he welcomed the “historic formation of the National Union of Bloggers”.

The breadth and depth of the experiences of those attending this meeting – about a hundred strong – were striking. The words ‘the labour movement’ really came to life. There was strong participation of the disabled, young people, women, and black people. Those attending came from a wide variety of work backgrounds: from heavy industry, clerical and service work, to the voluntary sector. Delegates attended from all over the country, from Newcastle, Liverpool to the West Country and even South London.

It was, as always, a real pleasure to hear Northern accents. The discussions were more than good natured and creative. Everybody had something to contribute. It was, in short, bloody great!

Universal Credit: MPs Say, Not Such a Brilliant Wheeze After all.

February 25, 2015 58 comments

Iain Duncan Smith Reacts to Criticism.

We are really getting into reading Welfare Weekly at the moment.

This is their latest:

Commenting on the publication of the latest Universal Credit progress report, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Margaret Hodge said:

“The Department for Work and Pensions has spent £700 million on Universal Credit since the programme began in 2010.

“However, very little progress has been achieved on the front line. Fewer than 18,000 people were claiming Universal Credit by October 2014, out of around seven million expected in the longer term – just 0.3% of the eligible population.

We hope the Department’s expectation that this number will rise significantly by February 2016 proves to be accurate.

“As the Department has justified this spending on the promise of benefits in the future – such as from higher employment – rather than on the actual delivery of benefits to date, we simply cannot judge the value for money of this expenditure at this stage.

“The IT infrastructure for Universal Credit continues to be of particular concern. The Department has spent £344 million with suppliers developing its ‘live’ service systems for claimants who have straightforward initial claims which do not involve all 6 benefits, yet it expects to re-use just £34 million worth of this IT in the longer term.

(NOTE as we all know thanks to Ipswich Unemployed Action posters)

“The live systems are technically limited and expensive to operate because they require manual intervention. The Department is developing and testing a new digital service, which it intends will deliver Universal Credit to all types of claimant in the long term.

“In the meantime it has adopted a ‘twin-track approach’ – running the two separate systems in parallel. This is complicated and expensive. The Department believes this will bring forward the anticipated benefits of the programme but it must ensure it does not allow the mixed, two-track approach to continue for longer than is required.

“Both the Department and HM Treasury now regard the live service as the programme’s de facto contingency, even though the Major Projects Authority told us last year that it doubted those systems were capable of handling the full range of claimants.

“The Department ‘reset’ the programme in early 2013 following a Major Projects Authority review which expressed serious concerns about the programme lacking detailed plans, and it has now put Universal Credit on a sounder footing. Since the reset, however, the Department has already fallen a further six months behind schedule for developing the digital service.

“The Office for Budget Responsibility already assumes a further six month delay to the digital service in its independent estimates, and the Major Projects Authority recently gave the programme an amber-red rating.

More on Welfare Weekly site.

Latest Progress Report on Universal Credit here.

I for one am really really not looking forward to this change.

Plus Crapita have got their oar in….

Capita to Run Universal Credit ‘Initial’ Stages.

February 22, 2015 132 comments

Thin-end of the wedge as ‘Crapita’ gets its hands on Universal Credit.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has condemned the Government’s decision to privatise part of the administration of Universal Credit.

Private firm Capita will be gifted with the responsibility for booking initial work search interviews for new Universal Credit claimants.

Capita is currently facing a second inquiry into a £1.5bn Whitehall jobs contract, which small companies claim could leave them facing financial ruin.

The outsourcing giant is also one of three firms to be recently awarded a £5bn NHS commissioning deal, as well as delivering disability benefit assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in parts of England and Wales.

A press release on the union’s website reads:

“Their intention is that the process for booking the appointment for a claimant’s initial work search interview will be handed to the private company Capita. No DWP staff will be transferred to Capita under this proposal.

“There is no justifiable business reason for doing this. DWP claim that Capita will be able to make these appointments at weekends for claimants who make a claim online at a weekend, but in practice the appointments could just as well be done by DWP staff the following Monday, as has happened up to now.

“Capita already have been handed the same task for claims to Jobseekers Allowance and this announcement extends that arrangement to Universal Credit claims.

“PCS has protested strongly to DWP about this decision. Seeing their work privatised is a kick in the teeth for our hard working members.

“Members will also be understandably concerned that this privatisation is a foretaste of further private sector involvement in the delivery of Universal Credit.

“PCS has also made the point to the department that Capita is consistently failing to meet its key targets in relation to JSA First Contact calls that are currently out sourced to them. This failure contrasts with the DWP staff in CCS who are consistently meeting the very same targets.

“Again the failure of the private sector to out-perform the public sector has been ignored as the tired, false dogma of ‘private sector good, public sector bad’ is wheeled out once again.

“PCS will continue to argue against all privatisation of DWP work and will continue to campaign for all privatised work to be brought back in-house where it belongs.

Welfare Weekly. Sunday 22nd February.

Wikipedia on Crapita:

Capita Group has not always been received well by the public and in the media. It has gained the nickname Crapita, particularly from the coverage in the satirical and current affairs magazine Private Eye, which routinely documents the company’s many failures and setbacks in the public sector.

Pindar himself has attracted criticism for complaining about being called a ‘fat cat‘, receiving a £770,000 per annum salary and driving around in an Aston Martin DB9. “It really takes the biscuit—especially when you consider his workers are fighting for a rise equivalent to just four pints of milk a week”, said a workers’ representative. The average Capita employee salary at the time was £28,000 per year.

It was revealed in January 2013 that Capita was embroiled in a scandal over misinforming people that they had to leave the U.K. as they had no valid visa. One such person was in fact the holder of a U.K. passport.

In 2014, a leak to The Guardian revealed that the DWP had to send civil servants in to help the company process personal independence payments for the seriously ill and the disabled. “Waiting times for assessment,” the newspaper noted, “have been so long that in some cases people with terminal conditions have died before receiving a penny.

Wasting police time – a new role for the Jobcentre ?

February 20, 2015 68 comments

Andrew Coates:

This is ridiculous if it weren’t abhorrent (via Enigma for noticing this on the always recommended Unemployed in Tyne and Wear Blog).

Originally posted on UNEMPLOYED IN TYNE & WEAR:

> The following was forwarded by email and is reproduced with permission.

Hi,I  enjoy reading your blog, I felt i had to write to someone to express my astonishment at the actions of Killingworth (North Tyneside)  job centre.

My son has just been sanctioned by them. He asked for a hardship form to get some kind of help.

I know he shouldn’t have done but in filling it in he said he might have to resort to shoplifting to survive !

Very much to my surprise at about 6.30pm tonight was a loud knock on the the door my partner answered to be confronted by 2 policemen.They asked for my son by name, they asked if he had written those things on the from.

He said he had because he was very annoyed with being sanctioned, they asked if he was intending to go shoplifting, he said no, they both…

View original 196 more words

Only 31,030 People Claiming Universal Credit, as IDS Launches Rival to the Desolation of Smaug.

February 18, 2015 35 comments

Universal Credit ‘Work Coach’. 

As the eagle-eyed posters on Ipswich Unemployed Action have noted, there are flaws a-plenty in Universal Credit.

Some have suggested that the Desolation of Smaug will look like happy days if the Tories manage to cling to power and implement all their schemes – from forced labour for the young unemployed, to permanent surveillance and sanctioning for the older out-of-work. We would like to thank our contributors for their posts. This stands out though, published today, Wednesday the 18th of February, by Welfare Weekly. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has discretely released dismal Universal Credit statistics on the same day as the latest unemployment figures are announced.

The figures reveal that there were just 31,030 people on Universal Credit by 8th January 2015.

This represents an increase of 17 per cent on the caseload compared to December 2014, but is still far short of the 1million (plus) originally promised by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith MP.

The Jobcentre Plus office with the largest caseload was Oldham with 2,640 Universal Credit claimants, followed by Wigan with 1,930.

Of the people on the caseload in January 2015, 32 per cent were in employment and 68 per cent were not in employment.

47 per cent of the Universal Credit caseload in January 2015 has been on the new benefit for less than three months, this compares to 52 per cent in December 2014, 55 per cent in November 2014 and 60 per cent in October 2014.

There are more males on the Universal Credit caseload than females (70 per cent compared to 30 per cent).

Males aged 20-24 make up 24 per cent of the total Universal Credit caseload

It’s Universal Credit Day – Hip Hip Hooray!

February 16, 2015 112 comments

Today (16 February 2015) the national roll out of Universal Credit begins.

Jobcentres, from the rural Highlands of Scotland, down through the Vale of York and into London, are moving over to the new benefit.

The church bells are ringing, the street urchins have a smile on their faces, and the unemployed are queuing up to congratulate the local Jobcentre for their hard work.

As part of the accelerated roll out announced by the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith in September, over 150 Jobcentres will come on board in the next 2 months. It will then be available in all Jobcentres by this time next year.

Sad faces have been seen at those not yet ‘on-line’ with Universal Credit!

And on the eve of this national roll out, new research shows that Universal Credit is getting people into work more quickly and so helping them to earn more.

Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith said:

This government’s welfare reforms have saved the taxpayer £50 billion and restored fairness to the system.

That Valentine’s gift Ipswich Unemployed Action sent Iain was money well spent!

The centrepiece of these reforms – Universal Credit – begins national roll out tomorrow. This landmark event is a key part of our long term economic plan, which guarantees you will always be better off in work than on benefits.

The evidence today shows that under Universal Credit, people move into work more quickly and earn more money, giving them increased financial security. It is very impressive that we have seen these results so soon and that this is having a real impact on people’s lives. This is a cultural change which will alter the landscape of work for a generation.

The evidence is there: lo and behold and, hey presto!

The research shows that, over a 4 month period, claimants are:

  • 13% more likely to have been in work than those on Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • earning more money

What an achievement!

Similar to previous findings, the report also confirms that new Universal Credit claimants in the expanded sites are more likely than Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants to:

  • believe the benefit system is encouraging them to find work
  • take any job they are able to do
  • spend more time looking for work

We believe, we truly believe!

Once fully rolled out, Universal Credit will boost the economy by £7 billion every year.

Touch us with some of this star-dust Iain!

Universal Credit eventually replaces 6 existing income-based benefits – Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Working and Child Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.

Nay-sayers may care to revisit this article: Universal Credit: the anatomy of a government failure.

“Despite years of wasted money, political turmoil, Whitehall infighting, failed IT and departmental chaos, universal credit is being claimed by less than 4,000 individuals in the UK. What went wrong with the government’s flagship welfare reform?”

This, to be published next week, promises to be interesting: The Coalition Effect (essay), Nicholas Timmins.

 

 

Fat People Told to Slim or Lose Benefits.

February 14, 2015 59 comments

Nicolas Soames: Tory MP, “According to one of Soames’ ex-lovers, however, having sex with Soames is like having a very large wardrobe with a small key fall on you.”

Sickness benefit review to consider obesity and drug problems.

Those of us on benefits are already the most observed, controlled, stamped, sanctioned and ordered-around people in the country.

We have to complete 35 hours a week ‘Job Search’ because “looking for work is a full-time job”.

Failure to comply with every dot and comma of our ‘agreements’ results in loss of benefit, trips to Food Banks, and the risk of becoming homeless.

Tobanem points out that even if you find a job you are at risk of being caught up in the punishment system if you don’t get enough hours.

From Speyejoe

work35 be sanctionedNow we have this,

Obese people without jobs will be forced to diet or lose their benefits under plans to be set out by David Cameron today. Alcoholics and drug addicts will also face being stripped of their benefits, worth about £100 a week, if they refuse to accept a recommended treatment plan. The move is the first salvo in the Conservatives’ week focusing on welfare and is designed to capitalise on widespread public unhappiness at the scale of benefit claims.

The Times from Conservative Home.

Which reminds me of this (Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government).

The BBC continues,

David Cameron has commissioned a health adviser to review whether people with obesity, alcohol or drug problems should have benefits cut if they refuse treatment to make them fit for work.

About 100,000 people with such long-term, yet treatable, conditions are claiming sickness benefits.

Prof Dame Carol Black will consider whether the welfare system fails to encourage them to get treatment.

The PM said it was unfair for workers to fund those who refuse such help.

“Some have drug or alcohol problems, but refuse treatment,” Mr Cameron said.

“In other cases people have problems with their weight that could be addressed, but instead a life on benefits rather than work becomes the choice.

From the BBC.

Iain Duncan Smith adds,

“In particular, I have asked her to consider whether people should face the threat of a reduction in benefits if they refuse to engage with a recommended treatment plan.

The Conservatives: the Party of Snoopers, Busy Bodies, and Grinders of the Faces of the Poor.

Iron Man Challenge with Iain Duncan Smith.

February 12, 2015 26 comments

Tories auction off an Iron Man challenge with Iain Duncan Smith (10th February).

Super-rich guests at the event in London last night were invited to bid on lots including an Iron Man challenge with Iain Duncan Smith, an early morning jog with Nicky Morgan, shoe shopping with Theresa May and a roast chicken dinner at home with Michael Gove.

Hedge-fund kings, City tycoons and captains of industry were among the 1,100 guests paying between £500 and £1,500 a ticket for the bash at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.

Mail.

The eagle-eyed newshounds of the Ilford Recorder give more details,

The secretary of state for work and pensions offered the opportunity for the lucky winner to join him for an “action-packed” race at the gala evening at the five-star Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair last night (Monday).

Guests paid up to £15,000 for a table at the event, with the party auctioning off items including a shoe-shopping trip with home secretary Theresa May, budget papers signed by chancellor George Osborne and a bronze statue of Margaret Thatcher.

A description of the Redbridge MP’s entry read: “Feeling adventurous? Join Iain Duncan Smith in this mini Iron Man style ‘Endeavour’.

“This 10km course will be action-packed, suitable for endurance race veterans or competitors who are looking for a challenge.

“You will encounter hills, woods, streams, hedges and hay bales as you seek the finish line in a bid to beat your team mate.”

I was just at the Dentist.

Reading Town and Country I learn that in the posher parts of London it’s £7,000 per square foot for flats and homes.

I might get me a half a foot out of a year’s JSA.

For reasons that are hard to explain Ipswich Unemployed Action was not invited to the  Grosvenor House Hotel.

But in Town and Country I notice this this delightful Valentine’s gift.

I shall send it to Iain Duncan Smith in appreciation for all his hard work.

 

Tax Fraud Flourishes as DWP Investigates “Benefit Fraud”.

February 10, 2015 45 comments

After I’d signed a new Jobseeker’s Agreement, to spend 35 hours a week looking for a job (‘looking for work is a full-time job’), this came to my attention.

Quote from Guardian ‘Opinion’ thread:

3250 – Number of staff at DWP investigating benefit fraud of £1.2 billion.(Source DWP)

300 – Number of staff at HMRC investigating tax evasion of £70 billion+(Source HMRC tax evasion report March 2012)

Cameron also cut the HMRC budget by £577 million, uncollected tax rose by £3 billion.

 

Michael Rosen.

With penalties so weak, tax evasion is worth the risk 

At last night’s Black and White ball to raise funds for the Conservatives, more than 500 phenomenally rich donors gathered in London’s Grosvenor House hotel – last year’s guests were worth £22bn. Paying £15,000 for dinner was peanuts compared to sums this assembly of plutocrats will donate to the party – no wonder there’s been a news lockdown. Are these the people who really run the country, buying an election to ensure government by their people, for their people? That’s for voters to consider in May: Cameron’s government has certainly been kind to its funders.

Benefit Sanctions – More Lies. Campaigning Against Them.

February 7, 2015 49 comments

From JAYNELINNEY

#Sanctions – #DWP Recruit over 1500 Decision Makers!

We’ve now suffered through the Lies from Esther McVey  Wednesday  04 February 2015 9:30 AM on “benefit sanctions policy” , with  her ‘assurances’ there are “categorically no targets set on how many claimants should be sanctioned”‘

Refuted yesterday offered more evidence that contradicts McVey with the DWP recruiting an extra 1600 Benefit Sanctions Decision Makers  since taking office!; They support these statistics with the comment “Whilst the DWP continually says it has noBenefit Sanctions Targets, despite irrefutable evidence, this view now seems even more implausible since today it published statistics that it show they nearly trebled the number of sanction decision makers?”

sanctiondecisionmakers

Lets not forget All these #Sanctions are made by unqualified people  there are no specific external qualifications required for the decision making role. All Decision Makers go through a training programme that supports the individual in their role. The Decision Maker consolidates this learning with mentor support” DWP February 3 2015.

#SanctionsCauseDEATH

SICK OF THIS SITUATION??? DEMAND #IDS ANSWERS FOR IT https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/investigate-ids-for-lies

Unite, the union, is campaigning against sanctions.

People have expressed various opinions on the Unite campaign.

It would be useful if they gave them to the Union – Contact Us.

Deadly sanctions

Parliament debates benefits sanctions and their fatal effects

Hajera Blagg, Friday, February 6th, 2015

The coalition government’s benefits sanctions regime has ravaged the nation, punishing vulnerable people up and down the country for the simple “crime” of being the victims of a failing economy, an economy the government itself has created.

These sanctions – which see claimants lose their benefits entitlements for often absurd reasons, such as turning up one minute late to a jobcentre appointment or missing an appointment to attend the funeral of a family member – are not only deeply unfair, they can often be fatal.

Freedom of information requests have recently revealed that the Department of Work and Pensions is currentlyinvestigating welfare payment decisions of 60 claimants shortly after their deaths, which is the first time the DWP itself has recognised that benefits sanctions can kill.

Benefits sanctions cut the only remaining lifeline that many unemployed people have – forcing them into the hundreds of food banks that now serve a quarter of a million people in this country, up from only a few thousand people before 2010.

As Unite Community moved to kick off its campaign against benefits sanctions on Tuesday (February 3), a House of Commons debate the following day examined growing poverty in the UK.

Scenes from Kafka

During the debate, Labour MP Lisa Nandy of Wigan argued that the poverty blighting the nation since the coalition government came to power could be seen as a direct result of a failing benefits system.

Indeed, as Nandy pointed out, benefits sanctions were the primary reason that people reported having to turn to food banks for emergency food aid.
Nandy likened the benefits sanctions regime to scenes from a Kafka novel, where claimants are punished for non-existent crimes.

She told of a man who had been sanctioned after finding temporary work over Christmas. Even though he’d called in to tell the jobcentre the start and finish dates of this work, he was sanctioned because he didn’t attend the appointment to tell jobcentre staff information he’d already given them.
The day of his appointment, the jobcentre was closed. Afterwards, in the month of January, his sanctioned benefits came out to 1p for the entire month, and £26 for the following month.

“How is someone in this country is meant to live on a penny a month?” Nandy asked.

These sorts of stories are no anomaly, as story after story emerges in which claimants are sanctioned for essentially no reason at all.

The absurdity of some of these sanctions – from not looking for work on Christmas Day to not being able to afford to travel to an interview, to even having a heart attack – are meted out in a high-pressure environment in whichjobcentre staff are allegedly being given sanctions targets.

According to evidence submitted by the PCS union, jobcentre management has subjected staff to performance reviews if they fail to instigate or approve enough sanctions.

As a former jobcentre adviser noted in the Guardian earlier this week:

The pressure was incredible. Advisers were actively encouraged to impose sanctions (along the lines of “sanction of the month”) to contribute to the points system that ranks jobcentre offices. It was often for stupid reasons.”

“And it was happening all the time, she added. “A customer maybe would be a little bit late or would phone in and the message wasn’t passed on. It was very distressing to have customers literally without food, without heat, without resources and these are unwell [and] disabled customers.

Out of touch

As the House of Commons debate raged on, Nandy told dozens of stories in which sanctioned claimants were unfairly cut off from food, heating and all of life’s essentials.

Meanwhile, Tory MPs showed their true colours and just how out of touch they are with the realities of vulnerable people.

Addressing Nandy, who had just recounted how a learning disabled man who is unable to tell the time was sanctioned for being four minutes to a jobcentre appointment, Conservative MP Mark Spencer retorted:

“It is important that those who are seeking employment learn the discipline of timekeeping, which is an important part of securing and keeping a job.”
Noting that several Tory MPs had turned up a few minutes late to the debate but were still allowed to participate, Nandy denounced Spencer’s condescending remarks.

It got only worse – Spencer later made the claim, dismissing Nandy’s concern that nutritious food is often unaffordable, that “carrots and potatoes are actually the cheapest sources of food avoidable.”

But in Toryland, comments like these are the norm – recall life peer Baroness Anne Jenkins pronouncement that poor people go hungry because they “don’t know how to cook”. Or when then-education secretary Michael Gove claimed food bank users had only themselves to blame for “not being able to manage their finances.”

Sending a message

The farce that’s become this government’s benefits sanctions regime must be stopped, argues Unite.

In an effort to raise awareness, Unite Community’s campaign launched this week will culminate in a national day of action on March 19.

“We want to send a message to Esther McVey and Westminster that the government is failing to support vulnerable people in our society,” said head of Unite Community Liane Groves. “More needs to be done to support us all in time of need – not make personal situations worse.

“Thursday 19 March is a national day of action to highlight the ‘shocking’ impact of government benefit sanctions – we must join forces to stop this now before more people are forced into poverty,” she added.

To find out more about how you can participate in the campaign, including signing a petition, sharing your story, and attending a March 19 event near you, click here.

Minister Confronted with Grieving Relative after Brazen Performance at Benefits Sanction Inquiry.

February 5, 2015 61 comments

Patrick Butler commented on Tuesday,

The House of Commons work and pensions select committee has not merely shed light on the grotesque brutalities of the current benefit sanctions regime in the past few weeks, but established an unlikely consensus among rightwing thinktanks, the welfare-to-work industry and leftwing trade union leaders that the system is hugely flawed.

So far 19 expert witnesses – academics, charity workers and welfare advisers – have come before the inquiry. All agreed that some form of conditionality – rules by which claimants agree to actively seek work in exchange for social security support – is necessary in return for the payment of unemployment benefits. But all have also concurred, to varying degrees, that the current conditions (the tightest ever imposed in the UK) are both disproportionately punitive and, in terms of helping jobless people back to work, counterproductive.

Rt Hon Esther Mcvey, Minister of State, and Chris Hayes, Director, Labour Market and International Affairs, Department for Work and Pensions gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee yesterday:

You can watch it here, Parliament TV.

And…

Grieving relative confronts DWP minister Esther McVey after benefit sanctions inquiry (New Statesman)

The sister of a diabetic who died after having his benefits cut wept after hearing the minister say there is state support for vulnerable people.

Esther McVey, the Employment Minister, was handed an image of David Clapson – the man found dead in his flat from diabetic ketoacidosis, two weeks after his benefits were suspended – following a select committee inquiry into benefits sanctions this afternoon.

In the emotional confrontation, Clapson’s younger sister, Gill Thomspon, presented the image to McVey and said: “A diabetic cannot wait two weeks.” A reference to the amount of time a Jobseeker’s Allowance claimant, when sanctioned, has to wait to receive a hardship payment.

When Thompson discovered her brother’s body in July 2013, she found his electricity had been cut off, meaning the fridge where he stored his insulin was no longer working. Speaking to the Guardian in 2014, Thompson said: “I don’t think anyone should die like that in this country, alone, hungry and penniless . . . They must know that sanctioning people with diabetes is very dangerous. I am upset with the system; they are treating everyone as statistics and numbers.”

This is worth noting, for its sheer effrontery,

Tensions escalated during the hearing, and at one point the committee member Paul Maynard, a Tory MP, appeared distressed by the opposition’s questioning of McVey and threatened to leave the committee hearing.

The Guardian Reports,

The employment minister has defended the government’s policy of removing people’s benefit payments when they fail to meet certain conditions.

Giving evidence to MPs on the work and pensions select committee, Esther McVey said international evidence pointed to the effectiveness of benefit sanctions, but warned that “no system is perfect” and ideally nobody would need to be sanctioned.

McVey argued that the purpose of the government’s welfare changes had been to make the system more personalised and to “understand the need of the individual”. She said that once claimants were sanctioned it acted as a red flag and alerted the authorities that a person was vulnerable and in need of help.
Very few people are sanctioned, the employment minister said, with only 0.00057% of those referred given the maximum three-year sanction.
Time to rethink these dysfunctional benefit sanctions

But the chair of the committee and MP for Aberdeen South, Dame Anne Begg, said it seemed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had no significant evidence that sanctions were working and that they affected a group of people who the minister admitted were particularly vulnerable. “Just because [the system is] working for the majority, if we are to accept your argument, doesn’t mean its working for that small group [who are sanctioned],” she said.

In June 2011, the coalition government introduced a series of welfare changes that included sanctions on benefits claimants who do not meet government conditions for actively seeking work, cutting their payments for a minimum of four weeks.

Esther McVey arrives at 10 Downing Street Esther McVey, who said only 0.00057% of those referred were given the maximum three-year sanction. Photograph: Reuters

Previous evidence given to the work and pensions select committee, which is investigating the effects of benefit sanctions, has suggested that sanctions are leaving people without enough money to live on, forcing them to use food banks, and that the DWP has failed to do the necessary research into the effects of the measure in order to justify the policy.

When asked whether she thought a good welfare system necessarily required sanctions, McVey said: “It’s not just me saying that. It’s been said since time began and all the international evidence is saying that.”

Responding to a study from the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which claimed that the majority of those who received benefit sanctions were not going into work, McVey said the researchers had used flawed logic, made “leaps in where they got the facts and figures, and they came to the conclusion they wanted to come to”.

The minister argued that according to a destination survey conducted by her department the number of people going into work after benefit sanctions was more like 70% and that people tended not to tell jobcentres when they had got a job, making the figures used by the researchers unreliable. The researchers suggested that their figure of 20% was probably too high because anecdotal evidence suggests that people working in jobcentres are encouraged to record those coming off benefits as having gone into employment.

“You seem to be very selective in the evidence you will accept,” Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, said.

McVey said there were categorically no targets set on how many claimants should be sanctioned, contradicting previous evidence given to the committee. “All of the things that the honourable lady is looking for and trying to find do not exist”, she said.

What a very, very honourable lady.

Iain Duncan Smith Goes for “Stout Denial”.

February 4, 2015 37 comments

IDF Adviser. 

Hauled up before the Bosher Street magistrate’s court, facing charges, Bertie Wooster, always adopted the tactic of “stout denial”.

His manservant, Jeeves, is said to be the source of this sound advice.

Comrade Jeeves always recommended getting your denial in quickly.

It seems that Iain Duncan Smith’s Gentleman’s Personal Gentleman has been giving his master the same tip.

Today we see this rebuttal of reality, just before the House of Commons Select Committee on Work and Pensions continues its investigation into the miserable shambles that is the DWP’s sanctions policy.

This is what Smify has just announced (Daily Mail),

I have slowed the soaring rate of increases in Britain’s benefit bill, boasts Iain Duncan Smith

  • Iain Duncan Smith will say that government reforms led to £50bn savings

  • He will claim people have been ‘transformed’ by pushing them into work
  • There is 1.75million more people in work despite Labour’s austerity claims

Britain’s benefits system is growing at the slowest rate since the inception of the welfare state, Iain Duncan Smith will say today.

The Work and Pensions Secretary will point to almost £50 billion of savings for the taxpayer thanks to government reforms.

He will hail a ‘momentous reversal of Labour’s reckless spending’ and claim that the lives of hundreds of thousands of people have been ‘transformed’ by pushing them into work.

Despite Labour’s claim that austerity measures would cost a million jobs, there are 1.75million more people in work, and 700,000 fewer people in workless households, he will say.

Mr Duncan Smith will attack the ‘accepted wisdom of the Left: that poverty is solely about money, and more state money solves it’.

Poverty is not about money…..

No doubt the riches of the heart shine more brightly than pennies, and that fuel and food bills can be paid with inner goodness. 

Work and Pensions Select Committee Hearing on Sanctions, this Wednesday.

February 3, 2015 39 comments

Right Hon Esther McVey MP looking a Right Sight.

Hat-tip: Obi.

 The Work and Pensions Select Committee announce the final oral evidence session for its inquiry into benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review.

Witnesses

At 9.30am, Wednesday 4 February 2015, Wilson Room, Portcullis House

Department for Work and Pensions:

  • Rt Hon Esther McVey MP, Minister of State for Employment
  • Chris Hayes, Director, Labour Market and International Affairs

Purpose of the session

The session is intended to explore the Government’s position on a range of issues highlighted during the inquiry, including

  • The development of benefit sanctions policy and the evidence base
  • The Government’s response to the Oakley Review and progress towards implementation of its recommendations
  • The setting of appropriate benefit conditions and the sanctions decision-making process
  • The culture around conditionality and sanctions within DWP/JCP and the case for an independent review
  • Protecting claimants against hardship
  • The appropriateness of ESA sanctioning

Oakley sanctions review – responses from other organisations January 2014

From the PCS  response:

Target and expectation culture must be stopped

PCS is demanding that DWP must take action to stop the target and ‘expectation’ culture for sanction referrals, which is shown by 23% of those surveyed having an explicit target for sanction referrals, and 81% having an ‘expectation’ level. These levels are shocking as both DWP and Ministers claim that targets do not exist at all.

It is no longer acceptable for WSD Management to deny that there is a problem or claim that issues are just isolated incidents. They must take responsibility for the regime that sees 61% of surveyed members experiencing pressure to refer claimants where they believe it may be appropriate.

Performance action used to threaten staff

Worryingly 36% of members stated that they have been placed on Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), and 10% have gone through formal poor performance procedures for not making ‘enough’ referrals.

It’s clear that performance procedures are being used to push staff into making more and more referrals, rather than used to challenge staff who ‘refuse to sanction’ as DWP claim. Poor performance action can lead to dismissal, it is therefore a thinly veiled threat to your employment if you don’t make ‘enough’ referrals. Nor is there any evidence that staff who make an excessive number of referrals are challenged using the same procedures.

The specific PIP tool designed by WSD management to monitor sanction referrals completely contradicts the Employment Minister’s statement to Parliament on 24th January 2014 which said that “there are no sanction targets or expectations for numbers of referrals.”

The GEC will continue to challenge WSD management and provide advice to members on how they can resist this action. Members are encouraged to seek help and support from a PCS representative if they find themselves under threat of action.

And,

Social Consequence of sanctioning

We believe the survey results highlight the devastating impact the conditionality regime has on benefit claimants. 70% of members completing the survey did not believe that sanctioning has a positive impact on a claimant finding work, and 76% have seen an increase in foodbank referrals.

The government has stated that they make no assessment of the link between sanctioning and foodbank referrals. We believe that the Government must analyse and take responsibility for the effects of sanctioning on claimants and their families.

Campaigning

The GEC is working with the Unite Community branches and the Unemployed Workers Centre on joint work to raise claimants’ awareness of their rights and to produce campaign material. This survey shows that whilst some members may support some aspects of conditionality, the punitive regime with its target culture is opposed. PCS understand but do not accept the anger directed towards DWP staff because of sanctioning and other welfare reform issues. We will use the survey results to campaign against the regime, and also raise awareness of the views and feelings of our members.

From the previous discussion,

House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee report of 20 Jan 2014 on The Role of Jobcentre Plus in the Reformed Welfare System made the following recommendations on sanctions:

para. 97 We recommend that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by benefit sanctions, including by collecting, collating and publishing data on the number of claimants “signposted” to food aid by Jobcentres and the reasons for claimants’ need for assistance in these cases.

para. 100 It is important that JCP makes fair and proportionate sanction referrals and that the process is transparent. We welcome the current independent review which will focus on the clarity of communications between JCP and claimants in relation to the conditionality and sanctioning process; the availability of hardship payments for sanctioned claimants; and the clarity of the review and appeals process. We strongly believe that a further review is necessary and welcome the Minister’s commitment to launch a second and separate review into the broader operation of the sanctioning process.

para. 101 We recommend that the second review of sanctions investigate: whether sanction referrals are being made appropriately, fairly and proportionately, in accordance with the relevant Regulations and guidance, across the Jobcentre network; and the link between sanctioning and benefit off-flow, including whether benefit off-flow targets have an influence on sanctioning rates. We also recommend that this review consider whether, and to what extent, the use of sanctions is having the desired effect of encouraging claimants to engage more actively in job-seeking. We further recommend that this review is launched as a matter of urgency and reports before the end of 2014.

The Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee held an evidence session on sanctions on 1 April 2014.

The House of Commons had a debate on sanctions on Thursday 3 April, the following motion by Michael Meacher which was carried.

‘Resolved, That this House notes that there have been many cases of sanctions being wrongfully applied to benefit recipients; and calls on the Government to review the targeting, severity and impact of such sanctions.’ (col.1082)

The government published its reply to the Work & Pensions Committee report on 3 April 2014.

The government has gone back on the commitment to a further inquiry post-Oakley which was made to the Work and Pensions Committee by the Employment Minister Esther McVey on 20 November (Qu. 570-71) and reaffirmed in a letter of 1 February 2014.

Now, the government reply states:

‘We have already committed to an independent review by Matthew Oakley which will look primarily at the communications to claimants and offer recommendations to improve the operations of the sanctions process.And we will be publishing further information on sanctions through the forthcoming Work Programme Evaluation and the claimant commitment research to help inform our future strategy. We are fully committed to monitoring the current regime to ensure it continues to deliver the intended outcomes and will assess whether any further evaluation is needed once the current evaluation programmes have concluded.’

 

Day of Action, 2nd of March, Against Maximus.

January 30, 2015 73 comments

This is advance notice.

But I notice that  Johnny Void has just carried an excellent post on this particular scandal in the benefits system:

Looming Staffing Crisis In The NHS As Atos And Maximus Try To Steal All The Nurses

Iain Duncan Smith’s brutal and bungled welfare reforms could be set to the plunge the NHS into chaos as nurses and doctors are paid huge sums to carry out benefit-slashing assessments instead of working in our chronically understaffed hospitals.

Maximus Day of Action 2nd March A5 leaflet front and back 06

A national day of action has been called on March 2nd 2015 against Maximus, the company set to take over from Atos running the despised Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) for sickness and disability benefits.

These crude and callous assessments have been used to strip benefits from hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people after a quick computer based test ruled them ‘fit for work’.  A growing number of suicides have been directly linked to this stressful regime, whilst charities, medical staff and claimants themselves have warned of the desperate consequences for those left with no money at all by the system.

In a huge embarrassment for the DWP, the previous contractor Atos were chased out of the Work Capability Assessments after a sustained and militant campaign carried out by disabled people, benefit claimants and supporters.  In a panicky effort to save these vicious assessments Iain Duncan Smith hired US private healthcare company Maximus to take over from Atos this coming April.

This is not the only lucrative contract the Tories have awarded this company.  Maximus are also involved in helping to privatise the NHS, running the Fit for Work occupational health service designed to bully and harass people on sick leave into going back to work.  Maximus also run the notorious Work Programme in some parts of the UK, meaning that disabled people found fit for work by Maximus may then find themselves sent on workfare by Maximus.  There is no greater enemy to the lives of sick and disabled people in the UK today than this multi-national poverty profiteer who even are prepared to run welfare-to-work style schemes for the brutal Saudi Arabian government.

Maximus have boasted they will not face protests due to their involvement in the Work Capability Asessments and have even stooped as low as hiring one prominent former disability campaigner on a huge salary in an effort to quell protests against their activities.  We urgently need to show them how wrong they are and call for all disabled people, benefit claimants and supporters to organise against this vicious bunch of profiteering thugs.

Please organise in your local area and spread the word.

Disabled People Against Cuts.

Actions will be planned in our region.

Tories to Remove Housing Benefit for 18 to 21 Year olds.

January 27, 2015 71 comments

Young Homelessness: Set to Swell in Number Under a Conservative Government. 

Today’s news:

New welfare crackdown on workshy

Tens of thousands of families where no one works will have their benefits slashed, David Cameron is to pledge today.

The current £26,000 cap would be cut to £23,000 within days of the Tories winning the general election, the Prime Minister will say.

As the campaign enters its final 100 days with two polls showing his party has moved into a narrow lead, Mr Cameron is also promising tax relief for the middle classes.

He is determined to ensure welfare is no longer a ‘lifestyle choice’, while rewarding those who are in work. He will pledge that the Conservatives would reduce the limit on handouts to jobless families within a week of being re-elected.

Housing benefit would be removed from jobless 18 to 21-year-olds, meaning they will have to live with their parents like millions of youngsters starting out in a job.

Daily Mail.

There’s that stupid expression “life-style choice” – as if being on the Dole was like being a Hipster‘Shit, dude, my bad, awks’, ‘ Chillax!’

Very few people get £26,000 a year, per couple, in benefits.

Those that do have to pay massive rents. If they don’t get the benefits they will loses their homes.

So, more homeless.

Young people on Housing benefit have often left home because they cannot live there – for reasons that range from abusive parents, not enough room at home, to a simple wish to be indepdnent.

If their benefits are removed they will find themselves homeless.

The Conservatives, the party of homelessness. 

Note: detailed demolition of Cameron’s claims, David Cameron churns out another Benefit Cap lie  (Vox Political)

35 Hours JobSearch: We Publish the Mad DWP Guidelines.

January 23, 2015 95 comments

35 hours a week jobsearch tool-235 hours a week jobsearch tool-1

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From JJ.

 

Read closely: it is a ‘time and motion’ study designed to trap people in a remorseless set of tasks for 35 hours a week.

“Phoning employers may take one or two hours per day” – that’s an awful lot of nuisance calls!

Application forms – one to one and a half hours. That’s a lot of slow-paced filling-in.

Jobsearch on-line up to two hours a day – that’s a lot of time-wasting when you’re already registered with ULM and other sites.

And so it goes, in mind-bogglingly meticulous detail.

Down to competency based application forms, researching ‘volunteering’ and ‘work experience’.

Work Coachy is looking at your every move!

 

You are One and Half Times more likely to be Sanctioned on Work Programme than find a Job – BBC.

January 21, 2015 157 comments

Radio Four last night (you can listen to it via link).

Benefit sanctions are supposed to be part of a system helping people back to work. But critics say they penalise the vulnerable and are among the reasons for the growing use of food banks. So how fair is the Government’s system of withholding state payments for those who don’t comply with welfare rules? Allan Urry hears from whistleblowers who allege some JobCentrePlus staff are setting claimants up to fail in order to meet internal performance targets. Why did a recovering amputee lose his benefits because he didn’t answer the phone?

Reporter: Allan Urry Producer: Nicola Dowling.

 

The Radio Four programme began with the government’s claim that sanctions are part of a wider system of “support” for people on JSA and other benefits. But the report focused on a very different set of claims: that the Jobcentres were “setting claimants up to fail”. “Over-zealous staff” was, it is alleged, set targets by their line-managers, themselves under pressure to meet targets – of people sanctioned.

The broadcast began with the case of Danielle, a woman with dyslexia and learning difficulties. She had been instructed to complete 48 ‘actions’ to get work a fortnight. With her problems this was not easy. When once she had only done 47 acts she was sanctioned. She ended up dependent on food charities.

This, the BBC reporter noted, should be linked to a wider pattern of harsh treatment for those with a range of problems. It particularly affects those with mental health issues. The position has got so severe that on one estimate 100 people a day in this category are being punished.

The case of the amputee was equally tragic.

SEETEC (which has an Ipswich branch) has been implicated in the case of one woman, Sheila Holt, who was bipolar. They had sent her threatening letters even after a doctor had signed her off as ill. Her family attributed her death – after a major relapse – to this hounding. SETEEC washed their hands of any responsibility.

These punishments have led to a huge growth in the number of people using food banks. Perhaps as many as half those using them do so because of benefit withdrawal. Loss of full benefit, or any benefit at all, leaves people without resources. Appeals, such as they are, rarely take place in a proper independent tribunal. People rely on the DWP’s own internal system – which, it is estimated, is paralysingly slow.

With the evidence of a whistleblower the way DWP staff dealt with claimants was explored. It was said that “unreasonable requirements” were not the work of one or two individuals. They came from a culture in which advisers were encouraged to see the people singing-on as an “obstacle to performance”. They were deliberately given too many hurdles to jump through. It was claimed that one manager (and no doubt others) deliberately “made up appointments”, which they could not attend, with the intention of sanctioning them. The former DWP employee said that his complaints about the practice had been dismissed. Investigations continued.

It was noted that those on the Work Programme were one and a half times more likely to be sanctioned than to find a job.

In the concluding section the reporter tried to find out the levels of money saved by the DWP through sanctioning claimants. While the figures had been available in the past they were mysteriously unavailable for the last couple of years.

The government and the DWP deny all the charges, above all setting targets for sanctions. But they were unwilling to speak directly to the BBC.

The programme was an excellent example of real investigative journalism.

Hats off to those who made it.

It confirms what many of us know only all too well.

The Guardian adds,

Jobcentre ‘hit squads’ set up benefit claimants to fail, says former official

Bosses accused of setting targets for sanctions, while unscrupulous staff targeted weak and vulnerable customer
 Jobcentre staff were threatened with disciplinary action for missing sanctions targets, according to former official John Longden. 

Jobcentre bosses set up “hit squads” to target benefit claimants for sanctions and put pressure on them to sign off the dole, according to evidence presented to an inquiry by MPs.

The written statement, by a former jobcentre official, John Longden, says frontline staff were ordered to “agitate and inconvenience” customers so they fell foul of the rules, enabling staff to stop their benefits payments.

Staff who failed to meet sanctions targets each month were threatened with disciplinary action, he claims.

Longden says he was told by a manager that the message with regard to customers was: “Let’s set them up from day one.”

He adds: “Customers were being deliberately treated inappropriately in order to achieve [staff] performance [targets] without regard for natural justice and their welfare.”

Longden’s evidence covers events he says he witnessed at Salford and Rochdale jobcentres between 2011 and 2013. It has been lodged with the Commons work and pensions select committee, which is investigating benefit sanctions policy.

A sanction involves the stopping of claimants’ benefit payments for at least four weeks – equivalent to almost £300 – as a penalty for breach of benefit rules and conditions, typically failure to look for work or attend jobcentre appointments.

Ministers introduced tighter rules for claiming benefits in October 2012, saying sanctions were a “last resort” that would encourage claimants to “engage” with jobcentres. However, critics say jobcentres are increasingly neglecting to help claimants find jobs and are instead focusing on finding ways to impose financial penalties on them.

In further written evidence to the committee, another former Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) official accuses jobcentres of “bullying people off the [unemployment] register”.

Ian Wright, a former personal adviser at a Leicester jobcentre, says he was ordered by managers to send more claimants for sanction, and was threatened with disciplinary action when he questioned the policy.

Unscrupulous staff would target weak and vulnerable claimants for sanctions, he states. In one case a customer who could neither read nor write was formally directed to put their CV on a job match website. “Unsurprisingly they did not manage this task and were sanctioned.”

The PCS union, which represents jobcentre staff, said the evidence chimed with its own straw poll of members, which found almost two-thirds had experienced pressure to refer claimants for a sanction inappropriately, while more than a third had been placed on a formal performance improvement plan for not making enough referrals.

PCS is one of a number of witnesses giving evidence to the committee on Wednesday morning.

Longden claims that staff used several tricks to set up claimants. On several occasions jobcentre advisers purposefully booked job appointments without informing the claimant, ensuring they could be sanctioned when they failed to attend.

Claimants would be set unreasonable job search targets, referred for jobs for which they were clearly unsuited, or ordered to sign on every day in the hope they would fail in a task, miss an appointment or be late.

“The aim was to find an opportunity to make a referral to the decision maker [an official who decides whether to sanction a claimant] with the possibility of getting the customer sanctioned.

“It was distressing to see so many customers treated in such a way,” states Longden.

“One customer was made to attend daily for two months and eventually broke down and wept in the office.”

He adds: “Staff were threatened by the cluster manager that their jobs would be taken by other people if they didn’t do what they were told.”

Longden says he raised objections with his line manager more than once after witnessing staff take inappropriate action, but no action was taken.

He says staff “were being asked to behave in a manner that was against the [DWP’s] values of integrity and honesty”. The confrontational approach caused arguments with customers and sometimes police would have to be called to restore order.

Longden, who says he spent 23 years as a jobcentre adviser, states: “Sanctions of customers were encouraged by managers daily, with staff being told to look at every engagement with the customer as an opportunity to take sanction action.

“I was personally told by a manager to ‘agitate’ and ‘inconvenience’ customers in order to get them to leave the register.”

A DWP spokesman said: “Mr Longden’s allegations were thoroughly investigated and no evidence was found to substantiate them. Furthermore, the people named in the allegations strongly refute them.

“The reality is, sanctions are a necessary part of the benefits system but they are used as a last resort in a tiny minority of cases where people don’t play by the rules. Jobcentre Plus advisers work hard every day to help people into work. There are no targets for sanctions.”

Read more…

Is this How Jobcentres Operate? Beyond Belief Barely Covers it…..

January 19, 2015 109 comments

From written Parliamentary Evidence just out (Hat tip  NB).

 

John Longden –Personal Adviser

A Statement on events witnessed by me at Salford Jobcentre Plus and Rochdale Jobcentre Plus between 2011 and 2013

 

Summary

1.0              Managers at both district level and in the local office created a culture which encouraged staff to view the customer (benefit claimant) as an obstacle to performance. The Jobcentre operations became wholly performance led. Sanctions of customers were encouraged by managers daily, with staff being told to look at every engagement with the customer as an opportunity to take sanction action. I was personally told by a manager to “agitate” and “Inconvenience” customers in order to get them to leave the register. The staff performance management system was used inappropriately in order to increase submissions to the Decision Maker and therefore to increase sanctions on customers. Senior HR managers condoned this behaviour by refusing to issue guidelines on appropriate time limits on performance, which encouraged managers to look at short-term targets above staff development, fairness to customers and appropriate behaviour as set out in the departments own values.

Detail

2.0              Managers at Salford Jobcentre, created an environment where every action with a customer could lead to loss of benefits. They made the decision to mandate customers to all job programmes regardless of their suitability. They did this by applying a benefit direction on the customer to make them attend. The purpose was to increase the opportunity to sanction a customer, should they fail any part of the direction. My line manager reporting back from the district managers meeting stated that the message from the District Manager with regard to customers was –“let’s set them up from day 1”. Managers’ actions and words didn’t reflect the values and behaviours set down by department, they set the wrong examples and acted without any accountability.

2.1              There was an unhealthy and unprofessional working environment for staff. Managers created and encouraged a confrontational approach towards the customer and the office manager at Salford set up “DMA hit squads” to target customers for sanction action. Customers dealt with by these squads had their job search scrutinised at an almost forensic level in order to get a suspension of benefit. The Office manager would call the customer record of a job applications a “micky Mouse” job search and customers would often break down and cry or argue because they felt that they were being treated unfairly.

2.2              The office manager and her management team asked advisers to set unreasonable targets for customers to find work as part of their jobseekers agreements. This included asking customers to apply for a minimum of 6 jobs per week, regardless of their skills or experience. The aim was to find an opportunity to make a referral to the decision maker with the possibility of getting the customer sanctioned. It was distressing to see so many customers treated in such a way. The actions of the managers put the safety of staff at risk with arguments and incidents by customers a daily occurrence. Security was called frequently to restore order as were the police. Staff were asked to double the number of daily interviews they conducted in order to achieve targets and inconvenience the customer. This put stress on staff well-being and health.

2.3              Challenging targets for individual performance were used to cover ghost targets for Decision Maker. This led to perverse behaviour, such as making customers attend the jobcentre daily in the hope they would miss an appointment or be late. This would result in benefit being suspended or the claim closed. This was setting customers up to fail in order to reach targets.  Changes in the Personal Development rules gave scope for managers to threaten disciplinary action on staff who failed to make sufficient referrals to Decision Maker, rather than address any real issues about training. The Cluster manager at Rochdale Jobcentre issued office wide Performance Improvement Plans (PiP) to all staff in order to improve monthly performance figures on DMA, Programme referrals and MFA (More Frequent Attendance). I was issued with one of these PiPs to get more MFA referrals despite myself being an excellent performer. In my 23 years I had never had any PiPs or questions about my performance. I felt let down and demoralised as this was an insult to my efforts.  I was required to hit the same level of referrals to a Decision Maker each week – regardless of circumstances, or i would be marked as a poor performer. As an experienced adviser I would expect my referrals to go down over time, not go up, or stay at the same level.

2.4              Staff was told not just to increase referrals to the Decision Maker but also to focus on particular conditionality questions –such as Actively Seeking Employment, and Fail to Attend Adviser appointments as this would cause the maximum discomfort to the customer. I noticed that my own and other adviser appointments that were being booked where the customer was not informed.  These interviews had been booked by the office manager [name deleted] and by her assistant under her instruction, with the intention of closing down the claim and claiming an off-flow performance target or in order to take DMA action against the client. She had indicated clearly in the conversation box that the interview had been booked and the customer notified in person with a letter by hand, even though this could not have been the case. These fake interviews were clearly illegal action and gross misconduct. There were many instances of this happening with other advisers. I informed my line manager, [name deleted] but was accused of lying – even though I presented him with the evidence. No action taken and the bookings continued.

2.5              Staff were threatened by the cluster manager that their jobs would be taken by other people if they didn’t do what they were told. Staff were regularly told by managers to “agitate” and “inconvenience” customers. I notified the Whistleblower of these activities on more than one occasion but nothing changed.

2.6              Customers were being deliberately treated inappropriately in order to achieve performance without regard for natural justice and their welfare.  Daily signing was introduced across the board initially to anyone claiming over 6 months but gradually to include new claimants. This was done to inconvenience the customer. One customer was made to attend daily for two months and eventually broke down and wept in the office. Staff were being asked to behave in a manner that was against the departments’ values of integrity and honesty.  An environment was created where staffs’ own safety was at risk, and their respect, and professionalism was diminished.

 

 

A Timeline of some Events

3.0              Apr 2011 – summary of my personal development identified in my personal review states “John to apply DMA appropriately to attain 4% target on ASE, Availability, RE & MFA, to achieve minimum standard of 4% referral rate”.

3.1              06/05/11 – Team meeting was informed by [name deleted] (team Leader) that DMA referral target across the team was now to be 2.4% per month.

3.2              17/06/11 – Team Meeting was informed by [name deleted] that each adviser must do 2 Mandatory Work Activity referrals per month. Staff were asked to mandate customers to training by giving a direction. This was done to increase the prospect of sanctioning customers.

3.3              13/07/11 – attended culture workshop at Regional Office held by the Transformation Team. Issues raised by staff within the District were

•              Staff are expected to play the game and not rock the boat

•              Make sure all boxes are ticked rather than analyse the work we do

•              Good work is not recognised if it is not performance

•              No transparency or consistency in management behaviour

3.4              22/07/11 – managers at Salford office decide to withdraw flexi-credit for medical appointments for staff, in breach of well-being guidelines. Staff are told by Office manager [name deleted] that they are stealing money for time they are not working. This measure was confirmed by cluster manager [name deleted].

3.5              22/07/11 – spoke with my line manager [name deleted] about customer interviews that were being booked where the customer was not informed.  These interviews had been booked by the office manager [name deleted] for the intention of closing down the claim and claiming an off-flow performance target or to take DMA action against the client. She had indicated clearly in the conversation box that the interview had been booked and the customer notified in person with a letter by hand. This was clearly illegal action and gross misconduct. There were many instances of this happening with other advisers. [name deleted] accused me of lying – so showed him the evidence. No action taken and the bookings continued.

3.6              23/07/11 – I challenged the withdrawing of medical flexi-credit by raising the matter with the Senior HR Business Partner. She investigated it and found in my favour. Although she notified the district operations manager that the flexi-credit had to be restored, it was never notified to staff by any of the managers and I had to send an office communication to inform staff.

3.7              26/07/11 – Phoned the whistle-blower hotline to report the inappropriate booking of customer interviews. This action has now been assigned by [name deleted] to a member of staff whose purpose is to look at all adviser interviews across the office and rebook them at short notice for customers to attend on dates which may only be a couple of days after their last attendance – again with the intention of getting a Fail to Attend and closure of claim – to achieve high Off –Flow targets.

3.8              05/08/11 – team meeting [name deleted] reports back from the district managers meeting that DMA is falling behind the 2% target and in regard to our customers that we must “set them up from day one”.

3.9              24/08/11 – Office manager [name deleted] tells staff that any customer who attends late on their signing day is not to be signed but booked to come back in on the next day. This is to punish the customer –regardless of the reason for their late attendance- by delaying their payments sometimes by as much as 3 days

3.10              September 2011 – made aware by a member of staff that they have contacted the Whistle-blower hotline to report [name deleted] for asking staff in her team meeting to make customers sign daily so as to inconvenience them.

3.11              28/10/11 – rang RAD Whistle-blower Hotline to report that inappropriate booking of customer interviews was still continuing. Member of staff at RAD informed me that she didn’t feel that anything would be done about it, as the report went to the line manager of the person I was complaining about. They felt that this way things were able to be hushed up.

3.12              16/12/11- District Operations Manager – [name deleted] attends Salford Jobcentre. I attend a meeting with other staff in which we raised our concerns about being asked to set up customers to fail, the inappropriate booking of interviews and being asked to agitate customers. He got angry with us and said “you are hitting your targets but you don’t seem to care”. I asked how the district was planning on implementing the departments 7 cultural challenges.  [name deleted] said – “what are those?” when I explained them he said –“we do things differently in this district”. I asked him if he was aware of the way we were being told to behave to customers and he said –“I don’t see any complaints on my desk”. When I asked another question – he said “don’t get smart son”. It was one of the most dispiriting experiences I have encountered.

3.13              March 2012 – June 2012 Harassed by my line manager [name deleted] and physically threatened, which was over-heard by another member of staff.

3.14              27 June 2012 – Office Communications meeting attended by [name deleted] and [name deleted]. [name deleted] congratulates the office for their performance, he says “I live in Salford and I see the type of people you are dealing with, I see these people hanging around the precinct and shopping around town, lazy, drinking and taking drugs”. Such a bad example to set as a leader that he judges people by where they live and what they look like. [name deleted] then talks about the new sanction regime and says of the customers –“don’t forget these people are taking your money, you are civil servants, you are paid to do what you are told, if you don’t like it, someone else will take your job”.

3.15              05/07/2012 – new line manager [name deleted] tells me to stop phoning and emailing vacancies to customers and asks me to get them into the office. I ask why and she tells me that I need to “agitate” them. I ask her what she means by agitating and she says – we don’t want people to get comfortable claiming benefit, we want to inconvenience them so that they will sign off.

3.16              Sept 2012 – Start at new office Rochdale Jobcentre. Write a letter to [DWP Permanent Secretary] about the culture at Salford and how I was told to agitate customers.

3.17              Oct 2012 – Receive letter from [DWP Director of Work Services] stating that they are satisfied that there has been no inappropriate behaviour at Salford.

 

3.18              Feb 2013 – All but a handful of staff at Rochdale Jobcentre are put on Pre Performance Improvement Plans as a preliminary to disciplinary action. The PiPs are issued in order to hit monthly performance targets on programme referrals, DMA and MFA. The evidence can be checked on RM system. The instruction was made to managers by [name deleted] the cluster manager.

3.19              March 2013 – team meeting in which staff are told to increase the amount of submissions               to the Decision Maker and in particular to do more ASE (Actively Seeking Referrals).

 

People Mentioned in this document and their role

4.0              [names of DWP staff and managers deleted].

 

A Million Unemployed with no Welfare.

January 17, 2015 49 comments

A million unemployed people receiving no government help into work, councils warn

More than a million unemployed people are falling through cracks in national work schemes that are failing to reach some of the most vulnerable jobseekers, councils warn today.

Latest employment figures released in December show that the number of unemployed people not claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance has passed one million for the first time.

This means many of the hardest-to-reach jobseekers, such as young people or those with complex needs, are not receiving any government help into work with national schemes too focused on getting people off benefits rather than helping them into a job.

The challenge is growing rapidly, with a 28 per cent increase in the proportion of unemployed people not claiming benefits in the last 18 months.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils are being left to pick up the pieces to prevent more vulnerable people slipping further into long-term unemployment and disengagement.

I am not so sure about this,

Councils are warning that they cannot afford to continue resolving the failings of these national schemes in their communities without the appropriate funding. The LGA is calling for the next government to commit to devolving all nationally-run, education, skills and employment schemes to local areas so councils can join-up services to support their most vulnerable residents.

A report published today by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), commissioned by the LGA, explores in detail how a sample of councils across the country have provided a safety net for their most vulnerable and hardest to reach residents.

Working with employers, charities and voluntary groups, schools, colleges and housing associations, local schemes have provided one-to-one mentoring, training, work placements and apprenticeships. Specialist advice and guidance also supported people’s wider needs such as housing and childcare, critical to helping people get a job and keep it.

The schemes have had success with helping some of the hardest to reach residents into work, such as lone parents, ex-offenders and disabled people which has contributed to reductions in the number of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET), lower re-offending rates and less use of health and social services which helps save millions of pounds from the public purse.

The reason I am not sure is that I note that Indus Delta, the mouthpiece of the ‘Welfare to Work’ industry seems keen to highlight the report.

No doubt out of the pure disinterestedness of the business.

Government names and shames 37 National Minimum Wage offenders

January 15, 2015 70 comments

Business Minister Jo Swinson has today named another 37 employers failing to pay National Minimum Wage. This is in addition to a previous naming of 55 employers since October 2013.

These employers owe their employees £177,000 in wages and have been fined just over £51,000. Hardly a deterrent. The TUC claims 250,000 workers are paid less than the minimum wage.

Of particular interest is the lack of prosecution of employers flouting the National Minimum Wage. The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 came into force on 1st April 1999 – approximately 15 years ago. There has been enough time for employers to realise this wasn’t an April Fools prank.

Today, the National Minimum Wage is circumvented by workfare, unpaid internships and bogus apprenticeships paying a heavily reduced NMW rate. Something Ipswich Unemployed Action and many other groups are highlighting for many years. Read more…

Heating: a Real Problem for Working Poor and Unemployed.

January 12, 2015 64 comments

In the last few weeks I have met a number of people who say that they simply cannot afford to heat their flats or houses.

There are people now who sit in the cold.

This explains how widespread this is.

From the excellent Unemployed on Tyne and Wear site.

One Million Working Households Cannot Afford To Heat Their Homes

Nearly half of all households who cannot afford to heat their homes are in work, a shocking new report reveals.

Damning research from the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, reveals how the Government is spending less than half of the £1.2 billion needed to tackle fuel poverty in England.

The government is currently investing £490 million a year to move all fuel poor homes in England to a ‘Band C’ energy efficiency rating by 2030. However, Policy Exchange has estimated the true cost to be £1.2 billion a year, leaving a £700 million per year funding gap.

‘Despite some recent improvement, the UK’s housing stock remains woefully inefficient compared to other European countries’, says Policy Exchange.

Policy Exchange calculates that fuel poor households would need to spend up to £1,700 extra a year to heat their homes to a suitable level (between 18 and 20 degrees Celsius).

Just over 1.1 million working households in England are classed as ‘fuel poor’, with 10% of all households in England now living in fuel poverty. The problem is most severe in rural communities, where many homes are off the gas grid.

The research also shows that fuel poverty has been made worse by rising energy bills, with gas prices rising by 128% over the last 10 years.

The findings may play into the hands of the Labour Party, who have pledged to freeze energy prices for 20 months if they win the next general election. Labour claim the move could save average households £120, but cost energy companies around £4.5 billion.

Policy Exchange suggests three ways to meet the gap in current Government funding:

  1. Energy efficiency subsidies should be more focused on fuel poor households. At present, only 33% of fuel poverty funding actually benefits the fuel poor. Refocusing the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme on fuel poor households would raise £375million a year to allocate to fuel poor households.
  2. Only 10% of Winter Fuel Payment recipients are actually in fuel poverty. Introducing an ‘opt-in’ for the Winter Fuel Payment could save £400million a year which could be reallocated into energy efficiency measures for the fuel poor.
  3. Energy efficiency should be viewed as a ‘Top 40’ national infrastructure priority – utilising some of the government’s £100billion infrastructure budget over the next five years.

Author of the report, Richard Howard, said: “The facts paint a startling picture. There are over one million working households struggling to afford their energy bills, and living in under-heated homes.”

A government spokesperson said: “Fuel poverty has fallen year on year under this government, and we’re spending more than ever before to ensure more people stay warm this winter”.

Read the rest here.

Universal Jobmatch: Not Good Enough for Civil Service Jobs!!!

Ironic isn’t it? The Government ploughs millions of pounds of taxpayers money into ‘developing’ Universal Jobmatch by tendering it out to Monster who modified their pretty-poor job board (no, not the one they use for monster.co.uk, one even worse than that!) into “DirectGov” colours, just to add functionality of CV upload and tracking for jobseekers.

They replaced the ‘jobpoints’ with computers to enforce the use of Universal Jobmatch, no work coach mentions the words “job board” nowadays… the new buzz word is “Universal Jobmatch” (emphasis on new, its not new by a long chalk, excuse the pun!) and they are overly proud of this despite this matching “technology” being widely used for the last 10 years – back then the average broadband connection speed was just 512 kbit. The average Ipswich 3G speed is 4 times that. If advisers do not mention the DWP’s website 30 times an hour, they don’t get paid… (or that is what you could reasonably presume)

Except, that new “Work Coach” you see (unless you have that dinosaur hanging on until he or she can cash in their pension) more-than-likely got their job from the Civil Service Resourcing website.


 

The Civil Service knows that Universal Jobmatch is crap, which explains why they have additionally purchased the right to use identical functionality e-recruitment software called WCN-Public from WCN (or Worlds Career Network).

It doesn’t stop there, they provide a long range of e-recruitment solutions to the public sector from Government departments to police, colleges, fire services and even councils. Which raises the question of “Why didn’t they get WCN to do Universal Jobmatch?” (even if Universal Jobmatch was just a “friendly name” for WCN-Public software on that website)

Or even, my original question… Why is the Civil Service and these other departments not using Universal Jobmatch for their recruitment solutions? Keeping in mind that the website cost around £17m to produce (for Monster to customise the skin/look/design a little) and around £6m a year to host.

Universal Jobmatch is so last-gen…  WCN-Public is a “Next Generation Human Resources” (NGHR as an acronym) ” initiative for Government.  Is the Government looking to replace Universal Jobmatch already? Could NGHR be a pilot for whats to come?

For this money, DWP has universaljobmatch.co.uk but has never used this domain for the website… not even a redirect! Some adviser at Ipswich Jobcentre Plus was directing some unemployed person who was enquiring about benefits, and just improvised the address, basically… “Make sure you ring up today to make sure you get some money coming in. If you phone today your claim will start today.” (really good customer service… where could it go wrong?) “You should search for work on Universal Jobmatch…” (confidence dipping a bit, err… as the customer was writing it down) “www [pause] dot  [pause] uni-versal  [pause] job [pause] match  [pause] “. The man who spoke little English was a little surprised, expecting further words… (me too!) they have no idea the website address, surprised they didn’t just say “search for universal jobmatch in Google”. Would have been more correct.

WCN Public

From WCN’s website…

WCN is the leading supplier of Public Sector e-Recruitment systems, working with many clients over our 15 year history, including HM Revenue & Customs, Hampshire County Council, DFID (Department for International Development), Welsh Assembly Government plus many Universities, Police Forces and Fire and Rescue Services. WCN also provides the e-Recruitment technology for UK Central Government via the Next Generation Human Resources (NGHR) initiative working with organisations such as the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Work & Pensions.

Features include:-

  • Job posting to Intranet or Internet (or other sites)
  • Job specific online application forms
  • Vacancy authorisation process
  • Candidate ability to search and apply for vacancies
  • Candidate alerts
  • Talent banking
  • Standard pre-screen functionality including mandatory questions
  • Password protected candidate communication centre
  • CV uploading facility
  • Flag agency candidates
  • Selection panel functionality
  • Reference functionality
  • Calendar integration
  • Reporting suite, with ability to create own reports and download to Excel

Jobseekers Allowance 35 Hour Job Search: No legal requirement

A Freedom of Information request shines new light on Jobseekers Allowance 35hr mandatory Work Search Activity:-

DWP says “no legal requirement for Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants to undertake 35 hours of Work Search…each week”.

Therefore, no claimant of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) is required to undertake 35 hours of weekly jobsearch. Read more…

Ipswich MP, Ben Gummer, Stirs up hatred of Unemployed.

December 30, 2014 97 comments

Choosing Not To Work Must No Longer Be An Option

This is when Ben Gummer a few months back – there is no evidence that he changed his views since.

Apart from attempting to stir up divisions between migrant workers and  other people this is his conclusion,

Long term unemployment is falling too, but is still far too high: 740 people in Ipswich have been out of work for more than twelve months. For those that want to get a job, the amount of support they receive is now greater than ever before – in skills, in training, in interview practice and in work placements. But there is still a small number who are unwilling to make a go of it. Our benefit reforms have made it much harder for such people to choose to live on benefits – and the prime minster has promised that, should he win the next election, we will do more. I support this: when there is the possibility of work, everyone in this town should have the opportunity – and duty – to work. Otherwise, it is the rest of us – the low paid included – who must pay for that lifestyle decision.

I note this on his Twitter feed (17th December):

View image on Twitter

Gummer, who obviously has read some gibberish in a Tory press release rather than understood anything about long-term unemployment, feebly replied that there are lots of new jobs out there.

And there is this in Wikipedia,

 Gummer is the eldest child of former Conservative Cabinet Minister John Gummer, Baron Deben, and Penelope Jane Gardner. John Gummer was MP for Suffolk Coastal until the 2010 general election, when he moved to the House of Lords. Gummer attended St Saviour’s Church of England Primary School in Ealing, west London. Between 1987 and 1991 he was a chorister at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he sang under George Guest and Christopher Robinson. Gummer was a music scholar at Tonbridge School in Kent. Having won the Vellacott Historical Essay Prize he took a starred double first in History at Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he was an exhibitioner and scholar.

After graduating, Gummer became director of ICWL, a small engineering firm handling water-cooled refrigerators,[and between 2005 and 2010 was Managing Director of family-owned Sancroft International, a company set up and led by his father John Gummer; in his five-year tenure the company’s size more than doubled.

MP for the Ipswich constituency in the general election of 2010,

Mr Gummer is the author of the following:

The Scourging Angel: The Black Death in the British Isles. London: 2009.

In October 2013 he became PPS to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.When Gove became Chief Whip in the 2014 reshuffle, Gummer became PPS to Nicky Morgan.

Oh yes, he really has a lot in common with the low paid…..

He has indeed had a lot lifestyle choices as well.

 

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