Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

Universal Credit: What Fine Mess the Government is Ignoring.

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Universal Credit Still Surviving.

If you are of working age and in receipt of the following benefits, you will be moving to Universal Credit very soon.

  • JSA
  • ESA
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Housing Benefit
  • Income Support

When you claim Universal Credit, you could be waiting several weeks before you receive any money.

Use this Survival Guide to make sure you are ready to survive the first few months on Universal Credit.

Universal Credit Survival-kit

We understand that the government would prefer to ignore the mess it’s created with Universal Credit.

But the problems it’s caused, adding to their pile of woes, will not go away.

This is the latest.

We note that after the Grenfell Tragedy housing is top of the news:

Director General Neil Couling answers questions on Universal Credit APA Scheme 

Published on 20/06/2017

Many landlords are experiencing issues with Universal Credit. The communication is poor, landlords are putting in APAs, but unable to communicate with DWP to find out the process of the APA.

As a result many landlords have tenants with high rent arrears – the system needs changing as landlords seem to be punished for providing a much needed service to the social sector.

Bill Irvine has penned a very accurate letter to Neil Couling DWP, please read the interesting letter and feel free to tweet and forward to your peers.

Open letter to:

Mr Neil Couling
Director General
Universal Credit Implementation

Dear Mr Couling

Landlords, throughout Great Britain, are experiencing unsustainable rental loss as a direct result of Universal Credit, particularly, in relation to the way in which the “housing element” is being administered. Despite phoning, e-mailing and complaining to Jobcentre Plus and regional Complaints & Resolution teams, our collective efforts have proved fruitless, frustrating and disheartening. The situation is getting worse, especially in areas, like e.g. London, Great Yarmouth, Inverness and East Lothian, where “Full Service” Universal Credit is now operating and arrears are running at 90%. Landlords understandably fear that as Full Service expands throughout GB so will these worrying problems.

Nearly every single tenant owes rent, either through the delay in first payment, which can take 6-12 weeks to process. In some cases, tenants are simply misspending the housing element, rather than using the funds to reduce or extinguish their rental liabilities. When that occurs, landlords make application for redirection of the funds. Many of those applications are mislaid, take months to process or are simply ignored. In the most alarming cases, DWP has simply ignored the red flags and pleas, raised by landlords and continued to make payments to delinquent tenants in the full knowledge £000’s of public funds was being used inappropriately.

Not surprisingly, the RLA and NLA are both reporting an increasing number of private sector landlords and letting agents refusing to accommodate Universal Credit reliant tenants. Lenders are also stipulating, that funds will not be provided where tenancies are intended for benefit tenants.

Was the Alternative Payment Arrangement scheme (APAs) not designed to safeguard landlords from these very problems; avoid the problem of vulnerable tenants mismanaging their finances; and prevent delinquent tenants from misusing public funds, putting at jeopardy their tenancy and exposing them to the vagaries of homelessness?

As Director General, you must be acutely aware and surely worried by what’s happening?

Evidence of repeated misuse of public funds is building as “Full Service” roll out starts to bite. Landlords like Caridon Property Solutions have been copying you into exchanges with your staff, over many months, and, in the past week, have drawn your attention to two cases involving nearly £12, 000 in rent arrears, caused by your staff failing to respond appropriately to multiple APA requests by landlords and their agents.

DWP’s excuses to date have Included: “We can’t speak to Landlords or agents without the consent of the tenant.” ……………A “Special Payment” (as compensation for rental loss) is not merited in such cases as the tenant is the primary cause of the problem”…………..“This is essentially a civil dispute between tenant & landlord”

Frankly, none of these statements reflect the true cause of the problem. It’s unquestionably, DWP maladministration of its own scheme, accompanied by complete ambivalence to the predicament of landlords’ reliance on these funds for their livelihood and ability to pay lenders. Had your staff acted in accordance with the scheme you created, most of these substantial losses could have been avoided.

The APA scheme was designed specifically for landlords. It requires our members to apply using a Non-secure UC 47 form which can either be sent by e-mail or FREEPOST. This version of the form was designed to “start a dialogue with landlords and agents”. It’s supposed to prompt a call from your staff, during which, the landlords’ bank details and the merits of the application can be discussed. You also provide a telephone number for landlords to call when they’re seeking an update on the progress of their application. Given the above, its’ absurd to suggest you can’t speak to landlords, without the tenant’s consent.

Landlords, having complied with the scheme’s requirements, in all respects, are surely entitled to be able to ask for progress updates; reasons for refusal; reasons for later redirection back to tenants, without discussion. Your colleague Mike Baker, Operations Director, in August 2015 acknowledged the landlords’ rights in this respect and confirmed to me, in writing, that on receipt of an APA request the “housing element” would be immediately suspended, pending a decision on the question of to whom the payment should be made. His commitment has not been honoured.

Members have repeatedly raised with your staff, concerns over the lack of independence, impartiality and objectivity during the internal stages of your “Complaints Process”. In your responses to members, you claim that cases are considered on their individual merits. However, if you examine the common thread of each response, it’s really nothing other than a standard reply, crafted by someone in your Policy Unit. It was your Policy Unit who prescribed “Special Payments” were NOT to be used in landlord APA applications for compensation. Interference of this type completely undermines the notion of cases being considered on their individual merits and suggests more of a sham complaints process.

The third stage of the Complaints Process (Independent Case Examiner) is truly the first time the complaint is looked at independently. Past reports from ICE suggest 50% of complaints are fully supported with a further 25% partially supported. At first, this looked a promising way to prosecute a complaint but we’ve since found it takes 15 months, on average, from referral to conclusion stage. A classic case of justice delayed, justice denied!

As an ex COSLA advisor to the Housing Benefit Standing Committee, Westminster I’ve spent 20 years dealing with DWP hierarchy, including the Policy Unit team in the Adelphi, London. My colleagues and I had a very fruitful relationship with this team who demonstrated a high level of knowledge and commitment to tackling and resolving problems. I’ve yet to see anything like that from you and your support team with maybe 1 or 2 exceptions.

Five years ago, I wrote an article “Hitting the DWP brick wall” which was published by the SFHA and private sector magazines, predicting the biggest problem with Universal Credit would be your department’s remote and ambivalent administration of the scheme. If anything, I underestimated just how problematic it would be.

In my opinion, something drastic is needed to overhaul the current APA and associated Complaints Processes as both are currently unfit for purpose. Apart from traveling the country, speaking to staff in the new Full Service areas, what are you doing to address the legitimate concerns of landlords?

Bill Irvine.

Note this:

After weeks  of waiting for a response Neil Couling has finally responded to Bills comments.

Please Click Here to download letter of response from Neil Couling

In Neil’s response it appears that he fails to address many  of the points raised by Bill and acknowledge the issues raised. Interestingly, the House of Commons library produced a report this week, “Housing Costs in Universal Credit” – http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN06547#fullreport  referring the rent arrears increasing under Universal Credit.

The topic on communication was addressed briefly and advised that landlords should visit the DWP Frequently asked questions under Universal Credit.

In my opinion there still needs to be more done to on the whole process on APA and current reports and findings should be taken into account.

So, what is Gaukey doing about this?

Written by Andrew Coates

June 20, 2017 at 10:37 am

David Gauke, Work and Pensions Secretary: another Tory who Hates the Poor.

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David Gauke: Avoid Bumping into him in Dark Alleyways. 

The Grenfell Tragedy has brought to everybody’s attention the way the Tories treat the working class and poor.

If you thought Theresa May was bad enough there was this today (Mirror),

Shameless Tory council leader blames Grenfell Tower block residents for lack of sprinklers claiming they didn’t want ‘disruption’

A shameless Tory has blamed Grenfell Tower block residents for the lack of sprinklers in the building.

Nick Paget-Brown, the Conservative leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, claimed tenants didn’t want the ‘disruption’ of them being fitted.

So it’s no surprise that Theresa May has appointed this creature to run the DWP and ‘deal’ with those on those benefits.

David Gauke MP appointed Work and Pensions Secretary – see his voting record

Mr Gauke has been the Conservative member of parliament for South West Hertfordshire since 2005.

His voting record is unlikely to comfort people affected by years of social security cuts.

Written by Andrew Coates

June 16, 2017 at 3:18 pm

Damian Green to Bring Successful Management of Universal Credit to New Job as First Secretary of State.

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Damian Green

Damian: Knows How to Hold a Racket. 

Our old friend Damian Green is on the up.

As Work and Pensions secretary Damian (as mates, like ourselves call him) was distinguished by his ability to iron out the problems of Universal Credit and his dedication to raising the role of Charities in the welfare sector.

His outstanding legacy is not just celebrated in Food Banks and the Wye Tennis Club.

He is now destined for higher things.

The Financial Times reports,

Mr Green’s appointment as first secretary of state puts a trusted colleague at the heart of Mrs May’s new administration. He will work in the Cabinet Office, helping to fill a void left by the departure of the prime minister’s controversial co-chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy.

The former work and pensions secretary is a popular figure in the Conservative party and was a senior figure in last year’s Remain campaign. He is expected to be a powerful advocate for a “softer” Brexit, with a focus on securing a good deal for business and jobs.

The promotion of Mr Green, a contemporary of Mrs May at Oxford and a long-term ally at the Home Office, was the most eye-catching move in a limited post-election reshuffle that was constrained by Mrs May’s evaporating political authority.

This charmer is his replacement as Work and Pensions Secretary:

David Gauke, who has been appointed Works and Pensions Secretary, leaves 10 Downing Street in London. Picture: DAVID MIRZOEFF/PA Wire

Ipswich-born Conservative minister David Gauke appointed as work and pensions secretary

Reports the EADT,

 David Gauke, who was chief secretary to the treasury, has been appointed the new work and pensions secretary by Theresa May this afternoon.

Mr Gauke, who is widely regarded as one of the Government’s most effective performers, was called in to 10 Downing Street along with many other Tory MPs.

Following the news of his promotion, Mr Gauke smiled and thanked reporters as he left Number 10.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 12, 2017 at 10:10 am

Vote Labour, Vote Sandy Martin for Ipswich.

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This is not just a general appeal for vote Labour but a specific call to back Sandy Martin in Ipswich.

Sandy worked in the Ipswich Community Resource Centre, affiliated to the TUC Centres for the Unemployed, when it was in Old Foundry Road.

He has been a tireless campaigner for the rights of the unemployed, and for all those on benefits.

Sandy has joined the national days of action against Benefit Sanctions and participated in TUC events for welfare rights.

This is a picture of him in Ipswich, outside the JobCentre in Silent Street.

 

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Sandy Martin Joins Protest Against ATOS and Benefit Sanctions.

The Labour candidate for Ipswich has backed many other causes, from the campaign against Tory austerity, to the defence of the NHS, which have wide support.

 

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Demo for the NHS 2017.

This is after his candidacy was announced:

For many people their 60th birthday is time to look forward to new challenges – but for Sandy Martin the challenge is more daunting than most.

Because on the day he celebrated his landmark birthday he was formally chosen as his party’s candidate in the marginal Ipswich seat at the 2017 General Election.

He will be trying to overturn Conservative Ben Gummer’s 3,733 majority from 2015.

Mr Martin is leader of the Labour group on Suffolk County Council – and was also celebrating 20 years as a member of that authority on the same day. May 2 is clearly a significant date for him!

He has lived in Suffolk most of his life and moved to Ipswich from Halesworth in 1993 – and said he felt it was important that someone who really knew the town could represent it in Westminster.

He said: “Ipswich people want to be represented by someone who lives in Ipswich and is able to give all their attention to the issues that affect Ipswich. Partly because of my age I would not go to parliament with an ambition for ministerial office.”

Mr Martin is a regular campaigner with his Labour Party colleagues – and is seen as coming from the party’s mainstream tradition.

From his discussions on the doorsteps he said people in the town were most concerned about the everyday issues that directly affected them – especially health, education and housing.

He said: “The major concerns that people want to talk about have not changed much from last time.”

Mr Martin said the role of an MP was not just to support their party in Westminster – it was also to act as an ambassador for their constituency.

And he felt that Ipswich was in a very strong position: “When you look at the port and the Waterfront and the proximity of the town to London, we are in a very fortunate position.

“And compared with many other places Ipswich is still relatively affordable. It is a great place to live but it needs to be even better.”

He is unconvinced by the arguments for a new large bridge linking the east and west banks of the River Orwell – but backs proposals for new bridges to allow the development of the island site at the Waterfront.

And he feels the best way of easing traffic in the town centre would be to build the long-awaited northern by-pass.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 7, 2017 at 9:04 am

As Tories Campaign Against the Welfare State Tory MP Flounces Out of Hustings after saying Foodbank Users smoke and own 58 inch tellies.

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Vox Political carries this story:

Life imitates ‘fake’ as more Tory candidates go into meltdown and accuse the poor.

Well, now we have more evidence that Conservatives – and especially Conservative Parliamentary candidates – really do feel that way because Mark Pritchard, Tory candidate for the Wrekin in Shropshire, walked out of a hustings after causing outrage with comments about food bank users owning 58-inch TVs.

Locals said the Wrekin MP had made inflammatory comments about people using food banks having ’58 inch TVs’ and ‘smoking £10 packs of cigarettes’, which sparked fury from the room.

Mr Pritchard was filmed berating his constituents, telling them “some of you have let yourselves down tonight”, which prompted the audience to slow clap him until he left.

According to several people who attended the debate, hosted by Telford Trades Union Congress, Mr Pritchard was answering a question on Tory cuts to disability benefits from a member of the audience when he made the comments.

 

Tory MP walks out of hustings after sparking furious row about foodbank users smoking and owning ’58 inch TVs’.

Reports the Mirror.

Mark Pritchard, who is defending his seat in The Wrekin, is alleged to have complained people who use foodbanks also have 58 inch TVs and smoke cigarettes

Labour candidate Dylan Harrison told the Mirror: “Mark decided to turn it into a quite outrageous attack on people who use foodbanks.”And he started going on about a programme he’d watched on television and how this woman had been complaining about the fact that the baked beans she’d got from a foodbank weren’t Heinz, and she had a 58 inch television and was smoking cigarettes.”And he said she was “weight challenged”, as if she didn’t need the food.”

He added: “It was a nasty thing to say and it didn’t answer the question. It was deeply unpleasant and irrelevant.”Mr Pritchard berated the audience for their furious response, saying “I think some of you have let yourselves down tonight. It’s really sad.”Some of the audience then began to slow-clap him, as he said “if you want to resort to personal abuse, it weakens you all.”He went on: “I predicted what you would do. It was predictable. Enjoy your evening, God bless you all. I still believe in Unions, I just wish some of you would be a bit more courteous.”

Some in the audience began to complain as Mr Pritchard was leaving, but one voter shouted “If he wants to p*** off, let him p*** off.”As he was saying he would be happy to stay if the crowd calmed down, there was a further furious outburst from the floor, and Mr Pritchard started to leave the room, waving as he walked to the door.

The Mirror continues,

Lucy Allan, the other Tory MP for the region, was invited to the debate, but did not attend.The Mirror contacted Mr Pritchard by phone, text and email, but he had not responded at the time of publication.

In a later statement to the Shropshire Star, he said: “I raised the issue following constituents raising the issue with me. Food banks meet a real need and offer a valuable community service.

Meanwhile on the excellent Welfare Weekly. 

Killed by the state: how Tory policies have cost countless lives

There is a reason why the government refuse to publish the updated benefit-related death totals of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, writes Mo Stewart.

(This caught my attention immediately…)

Written by Andrew Coates

June 3, 2017 at 3:01 pm

American corporate ‘racketeers’ influencing UK welfare ‘reforms’.

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US Racketeers and Tories Plan to Smash Our Welfare State.

There are a number of sources for serious news about Social Security and Welfare.

Amongst those posting here, there’s Enigma, Doug, Ken, Marie,  and too many others to list.

There’s the Guardian, the Independent, and the Daily Mirror, not to mention specialist journals.

Welfare News has some of the best original articles and collects news from all over.

This really struck me yesterday.

It confirms what many people here have said, and just how serious the attempt to hand over welfare to organised thieving  is.

BBC News reports exposing how a US firm were influencing UK welfare reforms were inexplicably removed from their archives.

In November 2007, BBC News exposed the influence of Unum Insurance with the welfare reforms, and now the UK is perilously close to adopting private healthcare insurance to fund welfare as the Welfare State is demolished.

Almost ten years after the BBC News report chronically ill and disabled people, whose financial survival is dependent upon State funded finance, have paid a very high price for the influence of this American corporate giant with successive UK governments since 1992.

The report continues,

“A multinational insurance company accused of racketeering and cheating thousands of Americans out of welfare benefits, is giving advice to the British government on welfare reform. A BBC investigation has found that executives from Unum have held meetings with senior Whitehall officials to discuss changes to the benefit system”…

The above quote was the introduction by BBC News anchor Hew Edwards for an exclusive BBC News report, transmitted on 6th November, 2007.

Fortunately, some very wise researchers and activists downloaded the transcript of the report as, within a few short days, both the transcript and the BBC News video were inexplicably removed from the BBC News archives.

And,

Quite whose authority was used to rapidly remove this BBC News investigation remains a mystery. Presumably, the New Labour government didn’t want reference to Unum Insurance and their many court cases to be permanently available, or the $multi-million fines they paid out in America for refusing to honour their Income Protection Insurance policies.

In reality, Unum (Provident) Insurance worked with the British government from 1992, and were appointed as official government advisers for “welfare claims management” from 1994, to guide the then Conservative John Major government to eventually replace the Welfare State with healthcare insurance policies.

They link to this earlier story, (March the 5th)

Demolition of UK welfare state planned with corporate America

The ultimate ‘Thatcher Legacy’ covertly used to remove the welfare state.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

May 31, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Damian Green Tipped for Chancellor as Universal credit ‘must be halted’ – Scottish social security minister after Inverness meeting

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A few days ago..  Damian Green denies he will replace Philip Hammond as Chancellor

‘He is doing a great job…and I’m sure will continue to do so after the election’

Davidson caught out over ‘shameful’ child poverty claim

Scottish Conservatives leader accused of falsely claiming child poverty has fallen under the Tories.

Inverness Courier. 

HOW many people have to suffer before the UK Government freezes the roll out of problematic new benefit changes, a Scottish minister has asked.

The social security minister, Jeane Freeman, made her comments during a visit to Inverness where she heard of people going hungry and being plunged into debt as a result of universal credit.

The city, along with Nairn, Badenoch, Strathspey, Wester Ross and Ullapool, was one of the first places to feel the force of the new single benefit when a trial began last year. It replaces Jobseeker’s Allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit, and will be rolled out gradually across the UK over the coming years.

Claimants say they have been plagued with problems since the trial launched – from the complicated online application to a six-week benefits freeze any time a change of circumstances is reported.

On Monday Ms Freeman attended a working group of Highland Council, Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) and housing associations and was shocked by the hardship people have been left in.

“I heard a lot of detail about the practical difficulties of the roll out and the impact it has, not only on individuals but the local authorities and housing associations,” she said. “The Scottish Government has already asked the UK Government to halt the roll out until they get these problems fixed.

“Online is just one part which is causing problems because not everyone is confident working online. The information being asked for isn’t always clear and in many places in the Highlands you can easily lose signal. Even what can be done on the phone costs money and if benefits have been frozen money is something people don’t have.”

Highland Council is now owed more than £700,000 in rent arrears from people on the new benefits system, an increase of 82 per cent since September last year.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 27, 2017 at 2:14 pm

Labour Will Scrap Sanctions Regime amongst Raft of Good Policies on Social Security.

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Many people have commented, and will comment, and, who on earth  knows? will comment defavourably  on Labour’s policies .

This sticks out to me on this very sound Manifesto (full text here).

Both because these are policies that help  our people and because they are just, not to mention that us lot have campaigned on them for years.

Poverty in Britain is rising due to the Conservatives’ attempts to balance the books on the backs of the poorest. They have slashed social security over the last seven years, leaving more people in poverty, subject to a punitive sanctions regime, and reliant on food banks.

Labour will act immediately to end the worst excesses of the Conservative government’s changes. We will:

  • Scrap the punitive sanctions regime
  • Scrap the Bedroom Tax
  • Reinstate Housing Benefit for under-21s
  • Scrap cuts to Bereavement Support Payment.
  • The cuts to work allowances in Universal Credit (UC), and the decision to limit tax credit and UC payments to the first two children in a family, are an attack on low-income families and will increase child poverty. Labour will reform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment and the ‘rape clause’.

With nearly four million children currently living in poverty, the majority in working families, we will commit to tackle child poverty with a new Child Poverty Strategy.

The Tories have completely failed on their promise of making work pay and on tackling the barriers to work faced by people with disabilities.

Labour supports a social model of disability. People may have a condition or an impairment but they are disabled by society. We need to remove the barriers in society that restrict opportunities.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 16, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Welfare: The Big Silence of the General Election.

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This is what I got when I asked Mr Google about Labour’s policies on welfare.

Labour plans to reduce the number of people sleeping rough by doubling the number of homes available for use by homeless people. Four thousand new flats and homes would be ring-fenced for rough sleepers in cities such as Bristol, Liverpool and Birmingham. The carer’s allowance would be increased by an extra £10 a week – a 17% increase. The two-child limit on child benefit would be scrapped. The Winter Fuel Allowance and free bus passes for pensioners would be retained.

The Lib Dems want to end rough sleeping in Britain by placing long-term homeless people straight into independent homes rather than emergency shelters, and increasing grants to local authorities to fund homelessness prevention services more effectively. The party would also reverse cuts to universal credit, and abolish the work capability assessment. The party would also introduce civil partnerships for heterosexual couples.

Enigma writes,

“On welfare, Labour says it would scrap benefit sanctions and the so-called “bedroom tax” and restore housing benefit for people aged under 21.

Now this is good but I would like more detail, specifically about getting rid of the disaster that is Universal Credit.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 11, 2017 at 2:55 pm

Welfare Reform, “not only cruel but chaotic.”

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Social Injustice Warrior. 

Despite the fact that none of the main political debate has been about the future of work, unemployment, the dole, and the central issue of Universal Credit, which affects millions, stories keep cropping up

These are a number of articles that have caught people’s attention  in the last few days.

Ken highlights this one:  Universal credit doesn’t reward hard work. It makes the most vulnerable pay.  

Universal credit is, for example, already proving transformative for the claimants forced into new and desperate levels of poverty as a result of its six-week in-built delay before the administration of a first payment. Last week anti-poverty charity the Trussell Trust reported a 6.4% annual increase in administration of emergency food bundles at their food banks, with areas where universal credit has been fully rolled out showing referral rates at double the national average. In response, the trust has called explicitly for a reduction in waiting times.

This payment delay is only one feature built into the design and administration of universal credit that is already having a dangerous impact on claimants, particularly those already marginalised in myriad other ways. Take, for example, the stipulation that the benefit must be paid to a single head of household rather than to individual claimants. While this may reduce administration efforts and complications for the DWP, whose IT systems have already been dogged by universal credit-related glitches, it is also effective in disempowering women.

Enigma has brought up the issue of ‘self-employment’, which a Radio Four documentary, amongst other sources, has looked into (The Self-Employment Paradox).

Self-employment and the gig economy.

Conclusions and recommendations

The welfare safety net

2.Companies relying on self-employed workforces frequently promote the idea that flexible employment is contingent on self-employed status. But this is a fiction. Self-employment is genuinely flexible and rewarding for many, but people on employment contracts can and do work flexibly; flexibility is not the preserve of poorly paid, unstable contractors. Profit, not flexibility, is the motive for using self-employed labour in these cases. Businesses should of course be expected to seek out opportunities and exploit them. It is incumbent on government to close loopholes that incentivise exploitative behaviour by a minority of companies, not least because bogus self-employment passes the burden of safety net support to the welfare state at the same time as reducing tax revenue. (Paragraph 19)

https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmworpen/847/84708.htm#_idTextAnchor015

Today the Guardian publishes this: which indicates that Theresa May could not give a toss about welfare.

Welfare reform is not only cruel but chaotic. Theresa May must address this

The most charitable interpretation of Theresa May’s evasive responses to questioning on the impact of the government’s social security policy during TV appearances at the weekend is that on this topic she is clueless. She appears to have no idea what is happening in the chaotic new world of universal credit and the lower benefit cap. One might advise a little more prime ministerial curiosity: as the gruesome details emerge it is clear that the George Osborne-Iain Duncan Smith-era welfare reform, largely left untouched by May so far, is shaping up to be one of the great Conservative policy catastrophes.

It is a shame the imminent general election has forced the Commons work and pensions select committee to curtail its inquiries into the impact of these two policies before reaching a formal conclusion. But May could still read the evidence submitted to the committee from claimants, welfare advisers, housing associations and councils, which is brutally clear: the benefit cap is not just strikingly cruel but, predictably, an abject failure on its own terms of getting people into work; and that universal credit continues to be as expensively dysfunctional, poorly designed and complicated as many feared it would be.

Unsuprisingly, the committee heard that benefit-capped claimants were experiencing “drastic and abrupt” cuts to their income as a result of the new lower benefit cap limit of £20,000 a year (£23,000 in London). No surprise there. Instant impoverishment is supposed to be a cunning “incentive” to force people to move into work (freeing them from the cap) or into cheaper housing. Yet in the real world, too often claimants can’t work even if they want to – they have small children and no accessible childcare; they are ill (and in many cases have been found unfit to work); or there is nowhere cheaper to move to.

For these people, like the capped mentally ill woman in Dorset cited by Shelter in its evidence, the only practical options are debt and starvation. “In order to make rent repayments,” Shelter writes, “[our client] stopped eating and had lost so much weight that she was down to six stone.”

It will not surprise anyone familiar with universal credit that the 150-plus evidence submissions to the committee about the government’s flagship benefit reform programme raised a “near unanimous set of concerns” about its day-to-day operation. Briefly, these are: design flaws that make universal credit a turbo-generator of claimant debt and rent arrears; and profound problems of access caused by its digital-only nature, both for claimants trying to sign on or report changes, and for advisers and landlords trying to rectify its numerous faults and glitches. Cuts have stripped universal credit of the financial incentives that were originally meant to get people into work or work more hours, while design hubris has created an unresponsive system that, far from simplifying the benefits system, appears to have added fresh layers of complexity and delay.

Surveying the mess, committee chair Frank Field MP noted acidly: “Changes that actually did save money and help the strivers get into proper, gainful employment would be very welcome, but that is not what we are seeing.” Ministers might also note that the inquiry evidence suggests these policies actively undermine their aspirations to reduce homelessness.

To be credible as a social justice warrior, May needs to offer more than weary cliches about work being “the best route out of poverty”. The reality is much more complex, and as a start requires a measure of acceptance that, in its current manifestation, welfare reform – costly and largely ineffectual – isn’t working very well.

There is a simple answer to that one: she is a social injustice warrior!

The regional press has some proof on that one: Rugby & Lutterworth Observer.

Demand for emergency food in Rugby rises again (today)

ANOTHER huge rise in demand for emergency food supplies in Rugby has been blamed on government benefit reforms by volunteers at the town’s Foodbank.

The Foodbank says demand has rocketed by more than 60 per cent this year – and cites the rollout of Universal Credit as a major factor.

More than 4,000 emergency food parcels were distributed in 2016 – 30 per cent more than the previous year – with a third going to children.

But a further increase was recorded in the last six months, meaning foodbank use has increased by 61 per cent over the last 12 months.

Issues with benefits were the primary reason for getting help in 42 per cent of all cases in the last year, up from 36 per cent.

Foodbank manager Diana Mansell said: “It is deeply concerning we are still seeing an increase in the number of three-day emergency food supplies provided to local people in crisis in Rugby over the last year. The trend over the last six months has been particularly concerning – a 61 per cent increase compared to that of the previous financial year is very worrying.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 2, 2017 at 3:02 pm

Computer Experts Cast Doubt on Universal Credit Targets as DWP Hides Behind “Agile Development”.

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Mark Steel writes today in the favourite daily of the unemployed, the ‘I’ – that is apart from the Mirror .

The Government’s record of strength and stability

Mark talks of this, which we all know all too well,

I expect they’ll also refer every day to their universal credit scheme, which is five years behind schedule and cost £16bn. You have to be strong to lose that amount and not care. Weak people would get to £3-4bn and think “Oh dear, maybe we should stop”, but not if you’re strong and stable.

How we laughed….

Not only is Universal Credit a failure, a cause of misery, and a huge waste of money, but it looks unlikely to get going on time.

But there is this:

Can DWP meet its revised 2022 target for completion of Universal Credit?

In the run-up to the last UK general election in 2015, the Labour Party’s then shadow employment minister Stephen Timms pointed out that the target completion date for the Universal Credit welfare reform programme had “slipped four years in four years”.

They continue,

In July last year, the secretary of state for work and pensions, Damian Green, moved the completion date back to 2022five years later than the original 2017 target set at project launch in 2011. That makes about seven timescale slippages in all.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is still cautious when talking about future deadlines for the controversial benefits scheme – as shown by a recent freedom of information (FOI) request.

Independent IT programme manager and FOI campaigner John Slater has been a dogged thorn in the side of DWP for over five years, pushing the department through the courts to reveal unpublished documents in an effort to bring greater transparency to one of the highest-profile IT failures of the Coalition government.

Yet all seems to be going swimmingly – apart from those who’ve drowned in its snarl-ups that is,

 

Currently, Universal Credit seems to be going well – at least, compared to its troubled early stages. The “full service” version – formerly referred to as the “digital service” – is at last being rolled out country-wide. The previous version – the remnants of the system that was “reset” in 2013 at a cost of £130m – handled only the simplest of claims, whereas the full service covers the entire complexity of the scheme to replace six different in-work welfare benefits with a single payment.

Full-service roll-out is due to be completed by September 2018 – meaning that all new benefit claims will be handled through Universal Credit. A bigger challenge lies ahead – migrating about seven million claimants for the existing benefit schemes onto Universal Credit. The UK government – perhaps no government anywhere – has ever attempted such a large-scale data migration.

Yup.

 

But…

The DWP, however, claims that it no longer works with deadlines or targets, citing its use of agile development as the justification.

“The Universal Credit Programme deploys ‘agile’ techniques to ensure the system develops incrementally and this is how it is managed through its governance route. We work in short phases and, as explained before, ‘target dates’ are not features of agile programme management and are not how we run Universal Credit. We articulate the scale and structure of our delivery plans for Universal Credit in terms of phases of roll-out, to specific jobcentres and local authority areas,” said the DWP response to Slater’s FOI request.

Slater points out that this is perhaps stretching the definition of “agile” somewhat.

“The DWP is hiding behind this argument that agile means you don’t have a plan and this isn’t true,” he told Computer Weekly.

“At the programme level there should be some kind of high-level plan that sets expectations of when things need to be completed. Where agile has been applied to programmes rather than projects there is still a map/programme portfolio/goals/plan or whatever people want to call it that covers each of the projects or work-streams (depending on how the programme is structured) and when it needs to be completed.”

Given that the secretary of state has already told Parliament that Universal Credit has a 2022 target completion date, you can have some sympathy with Slater when he adds: “The response seems to confirm to me that the DWP is making it up as it goes along and doesn’t have any kind of credible plan showing how long it will take.”

Surely planning is socialist tyranny?

Prepare for some real obfuscation (word of the day) from the DWP:

DWP acknowledged to Slater that the 2021 target has been mentioned in documents supplied to the Universal Credit Programme Board, but stated the date has “yet to be confirmed”. It said:

“In line with agile methodology, the sooner the activity, the more detail there is.

These activity streams are called:

Governance and project management, which gives details of reviews and assessments that take place to review progress. This activity stream refers to a 2021 closure date, which is yet to be confirmed.

Transformation and planning, which looks at the interfaces and frameworks that need to be in place for Universal Credit to roll out. This looks at migration and refers to ESA/tax Credit claimant migration completed by 2021.

“UC product development, which describes the digital features Universal Credit will make use of. There is a reference to decommissioning legacy IT in 2021, which is yet to be confirmed.

We have not yet started to plan any activity around project closure or legacy decommissioning; nor have we started any significant planning for the ESA/tax credit stage of migration, which, as you may know, is now planned to complete in 2022.”

That’s answered him!

Still,

MPs have repeatedly criticised DWP for a “veil of secrecy” and lack of transparency over Universal Credit, and Slater’s experience suggests the department continues to take a highly cautious approach to what it reveals about project development and timescales.

Amazingly, given the programme has been going since 2011, the full business case for Universal Credit has still not been submitted or signed off by the Treasury – that’s due to take place in September this year.

At that time, perhaps DWP will finally reveal more detail about how it will avoid further delays during a three-year migration period that will present significant risks to Universal Credit roll-out.

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 28, 2017 at 3:19 pm

Universal Credit Chaos Shown in Trussell Trust Report Should be Top of Election Agenda.

with 107 comments

One item which should be top of the election agenda is the failure of Universal Credit.

People contributing to  this Blog have noted this (thanks Enigma) – we hope many more electors will take it seriously…not to mention politicians.

Food banks report record demand amid universal credit chaos

The Guardian reports.

Charity calls for immediate reduction in six-week wait for first benefit payment after handing out 1,182,954 emergency parcels.

Food banks handed out a record number of meals last year after the chaotic introduction of universal credit, the government’s flagship welfare overhaul, left claimants unable to afford meals when their benefits were delayed.

The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, announced that it provided 1,182,954 three-day emergency food parcels to people in crisis in 2016-17, up 6.4% on the previous year’s total of 1,109,000.

The trust said the standard six-week-plus waiting time for a first benefit payment faced by new universal credit claimants was behind the rise in demand for charity food. As well as reliance on food banks, benefit delays had also led to common adverse effects such as debt, mental illness, rent arrears and eviction, the trust said.

The trust called for an immediate reduction in the minimum six-week wait for a first payment, saying debt and uncertainty caused by being without income was a source of stress and anxiety for many clients, and had led some to lose their homes.

The problems were exacerbated by the lack of official support for both clients and charities encountering universal credit for the first time, the trust said. The move to a full digital approach to benefits administration made it difficult for claimants without internet access to easily make, adjust or follow up claims.

This is the Report:

primary-referral-causes-2016-2017

25 Apr 17

UK foodbank use continues to rise

UK foodbank use continues to rise as new report highlights growing impact of Universal Credit rollout on foodbanks.

One food bank quoted in the report said: “People are lost. They have no support at the Jobcentre Plus, and don’t know where to turn for help. Particularly worrying is the number of larger families with young children who are also struggling with low income and mental ill-health.”
  • Over 1,182,000 three day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in past year – 436,000 to children
  • New report on Universal Credit reveals adverse side effects on people claiming and foodbanks providing help
  • The Trussell Trust welcomes Damian Green’s willingness to work with frontline charities and calls for more flexibility and support to help people moving to Universal Credit

UK foodbank use continues to rise according to new data from anti-poverty charity, The Trussell Trust. Between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2017, The Trussell Trust’s Foodbank Network provided 1,182,954 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis compared to 1,109,309 in 2015-16. Of this number, 436,938went to children. This is a measure of volume rather than unique users, and on average, people needed two foodbank referrals in the last year.* [see notes to editor]

The charity’s new report, Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Foodbanks, highlights that although the rollout of the new Universal Credit system for administering benefits has been piecemeal so far, foodbanks in areas of partial or full rollout are reporting significant problems with its impact.

Key findings from the report reveal:

  • Foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout to single people, couples and families, have seen a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%.
  • The effect of a 6+ week waiting period for a first Universal Credit payment can be serious, leading to foodbank referrals, debt, mental health issues, rent arrears and eviction. These effects can last even after people receive their Universal Credit payments, as bills and debts pile up.
  • People in insecure or seasonal work are particularly affected, suggesting the work incentives in Universal Credit are not yet helping everyone.
  • Navigating the online system can be difficult for people struggling with computers or unable to afford telephone helplines. In some cases, the system does not register people’s claims correctly, invalidating it.
  • Foodbanks are working hard to stop people going hungry in areas of rollout, by providing food and support for more than two visits to the foodbank and working closely with other charities to provide holistic support. However, foodbanks have concerns about the extra pressure this puts on food donation stocks and volunteers’ time and emotional welfare.

Trussell Trust data also reveals that benefit delays and changes remain the biggest cause of referral to a foodbank, accounting for 43 percent of all referrals (26 percent benefit delay; 17 percent benefit change), a slight rise on last year’s 42 percent.  Low income has also risen as a referral cause from 23 percent to 26 percent.

The Full Report can be accessed here: Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Foodbanks.

Note this:

Key recommendations from the report:

  • Recent positive engagement between The Department for Work and Pensions and The Trussell Trust at a national level is welcome. However, more information about the shape and form of Universal Support locally, particularly ahead of full UC rollout in an area, would bring clarity to foodbanks.
  • A reduction of the six week waiting period for Universal Credit would make a significant difference to people’s ability to cope with no income. The ‘waiting period’, the time before the assessment period begins, could be reduced first.
  • More flexibility in the administration of Universal Credit is needed to support people moving onto the new system. For example, more support for people applying online who are unfamiliar with digital technology, and support to improve people’s ability to move into work and stay in work.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 25, 2017 at 9:59 am

Tory Election News You Probably Will Not Hear.

with 32 comments

Image result for Tories and welfare Theresa May

Always Looking for New Targets to Reach.

Callous Tory government targeting the most vulnerable in society’.

Welfare Weekly. 20th of April

Conservatives accused of “targeting the most vulnerable in society” with “callous” cuts to Employment and Support Allowance.

Labour MP John Cruddas has accused the Tory government of “targeting the most vulnerable in society” with draconian welfare cuts, which he claims will have a big impact on his poorest Dagenham and Rainham constituents.

The “callous” Conservatives are cutting £30 a week in Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments for up to 500,000 sick and disabled people, reducing the amount they receive from £102.15 to just £73.10 – the same amount as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) – despite those affected having been declared “unfit for work” following an assessment.

Bereaved families attend widowed parents’ allowance protest

Westminster demonstration takes place after change in rules dramatically reduces amount paid out after a death.

Widowed parents have attended a protest outside parliament after ministers pressed ahead with cuts that will leave some bereaved families more than £50,000 worse off.

One of the attendees said the decision, which came into place earlier this month, was equivalent to “punishing those who are living out most families’ worst nightmares”.

Scotland: Scottish Housing News.

Women ‘hardest hit’ by UK welfare cuts, says minister

Women are being unfairly impacted by recent UK government cuts to benefits and welfare eligibility, according to equalities secretary Angela Constance.

An estimated 20% of women’s income comes from benefits and child tax credits, compared to 10% of men’s. Meanwhile, of all in-work families receiving child tax credits, 87% of recipients were women. For in-work single parents, 94% of recipients were female.

By 2020-21 it is estimated around 50,000 Scottish households will be affected by the changes to child tax credits, which will be capped at two children. This means anyone with two children or more will no longer receive tax credits at the birth of their next child or subsequent children, unless an exception applies. The policy also affects those making a new Universal Credit claim.

In addition, new families will lose £545 a year from the removal of the ‘family element’ – an additional payment that applies to the birth of a first child.

Ms Constance said: “The latest welfare cuts are having a hugely damaging and disproportionate impact on women. It is, frankly, an appalling assault on the incomes of ordinary people already struggling to make ends meet.

“It is all the more concerning because in many households women are the primary, or even sole, carers of children – a massive step backwards for equality in our society.

“As usual we are seeing an alarming lack of understanding from the UK government about the impact of their ideologically-driven policies. This is most evident in the extremely ill-thought through ‘rape clause’, where – shockingly – women have to provide evidence they’ve been raped to access benefits.

“The UK government’s callous policies make our own efforts to eradicate child poverty even harder. We are spending some £100 million a year on welfare mitigation to protect the vulnerable and those on low incomes, which we would rather be investing in anti-poverty measures. The reality is we are tackling deep seated issues of inequality with one hand tied behind our back.

“These welfare cuts were also introduced at the same time the UK government reduced taxes for the most well off south of the border. In contrast, our approach to social security will be based on dignity and respect and listening to people’s views – that’s why we are recruiting 2,000 people to shape the new system through our Experience Panels.”

And just to cheer everybody up: from the Belfast Telegraph about our old friend, Universal Credit.

No Stormont deal could see welfare reform with hard edge

Without a deal to bring back devolution, the Assembly will be unable to bring in mitigation schemes to cushion the impact of the upheaval for vulnerable families and individuals.

Universal Credit, which replaces a number of major benefits, is to be rolled out across the province in just over four months.

If the Assembly is not restored in that time, Secretary of State James Brokenshire will be required to take unilateral action, that could bring the Government in for criticism from other parts of the UK if the mitigation measures are included.

Just over 18 months ago the DUP and Sinn Fein handed back responsibility for welfare to Westminster, after more than three years of deadlock over benefit reforms.

The result was the Northern Ireland Welfare Reform Act, which means the power to trigger Universal Credit changes is in place.

Around 300,000 households will be impacted, with official estimates that 126,000 will be worse off by an average of almost £40 a week.

A further 114,000 are expected to be an average of £29 better off a week, with 72,000 remaining unchanged.

The changes are to be phased in gradually across Northern Ireland staring with Limavady in September – if the current timetable can be adhered to – followed by Ballymoney, Magherafelt and Coleraine.

The full roll-out of the programme will take a year, finishing off with Cookstown, Ballynahinch and Newcastle by September of next year.

Universal Credit replaces a series of existing benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.

The Department for Communities, which is working with the Department for Work and Pensions in London following the handover of responsibilities, confirmed yesterday the Assembly had been expected to deal with legislation to extend mitigation payments central to the reforms here.

“Mitigation schemes are already in place for legacy benefits for example JSA and ESA. Further legislation will be required to extend these mitigation payments to Universal Credit,” a statement said.

“This legislation will be dealt with by the NI Assembly. If there was no return to devolved government then such legislation would be considered in line with whatever arrangements were put in place to deal with this and all other pending NI legislation.”

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph this month, benefits expert Professor Eileen Evason said more can be achieved through parties working together.

“What we have, limited as it is, is far in advance of what has been secured by other devolved governments and demonstrates what can be achieved through devolution when people work together,” she said.

Prof Evason, who chaired a Stormont working group charged with mitigating the impact of the reforms within the financial framework, added: “I am also very aware of the high level of social need that continues to scar so many households and communities and is most evident in the growing reliance on food banks.

“I have no doubt those working with the most vulnerable in our society are anxious to move forward, but here, as is the case on so many issues, it is difficult to see how progress can be made without resolution of the current political impasse.”

Belfast Telegraph

Written by Andrew Coates

April 21, 2017 at 12:13 pm

Calls to End Benefit Freeze.

with 61 comments

Image result for benefit freeze damian green

Furtive Looking Damian Green Under Pressure.

Chancellor Philip Hammond facing calls from own party to review four-year benefit freeze

reports the Independent.

This excellently researched report (which readers of the ‘I’ will have noted yesterday) is very welcome:

Exclusive: It comes after The Independent revealed earlier this month the Government had underestimated the severity of its four-year freeze on working-age benefits, with the cap now set to hit claimants by almost 50 per cent more than official estimates.

Chancellor Philip Hammond is facing calls from within his own party to review the four-year freeze on working-age benefits to alleviate the pressures on those with the lowest incomes in Britain.

It comes after The Independent revealed earlier this month the Government had grossly underestimated the severity of its four-year freeze on working-age benefits, with the cap now set to hit claimants by almost 50 per cent more than official estimates.

An analysis by the House of Commons Library showed that, due to rising inflation, the measure introduced last year is now expected to reduce support for those on low incomes by £13bn over the next four years, compared with the Government’s own forecast of £9bn.

Heidi Allen, a Conservative MP on the Work and Pensions Select Committee, told The Independent the Chancellor needed to look again at the policy.

“I see it principally because of Brexit that economically things were going to get turbulent, and that’s why we pushed so hard to get some money pumped back into universal credit, which as you’ll know we got a modest improvement on the taper rate – a couple of per cent,” she said.

“I remember saying it at the time: ‘We’re not through this yet’. If inflation picks up, people are going to be in trouble and that’s where we are.”

Asked whether she thought Mr Hammond should review the policy, Ms Allen replied: “I do.”

Ms Allen said the Chancellor has to look seriously at injecting money back either into the work allowances or the taper rates in universal credit in line with where inflation is heading. One possible solution would be redirecting the finances put into the raising of the tax threshold, she added.

“Otherwise while the raising of the tax threshold was great, it’s a bit of a headline because it affects absolutely everybody,” she said.

“It’s a pretty crude and blunt instrument in terms of having a positive impact on incomes because it doesn’t focus in on those who really need it.

We observe that inflation in the prices of basics is pretty visible, visit the supermarket for a start…

This is worth noting,

Debbie Abrahams, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said the four-year freeze in social security payments, coupled with the increase in inflation, will “feel like a cut to families who are already struggling”.

“Millions of people who rely on tax credits, universal credit, employment and support allowance and other forms of social security will see their living standards fall even further. Many more children and disabled people will face poverty,” she added.

Ms Abrahams also said Jeremy Corbyn’s party would reverse the cuts to in-work support that “will see 2.5 million families worse off by an average of £2,100 a year”.

A Government spokesperson said: “By cutting taxes for millions of people, giving the lowest earners a pay rise with the National Living Wage, doubling free childcare for nearly 400,000 parents and freezing fuel duty, we are helping people who need it most.”

Written by Andrew Coates

April 18, 2017 at 10:00 am

As Damian Green Idles his Time Away Flawed Thinking Behind Universal Credit IT System Comes Out.

with 98 comments

Image result for universal credit it

A Genius was paid good money to design this picture….

As Damian Green whiles away his time in office, without deigning to tell users of Universal Jobmatch what’s happening with the site, some disturbing facts are coming out about the fundamental flaws in the IT management of Universal Credit.

Since these have already created massive problems for claimants, on top of the cuts and miserly scheme, not to mention a range of crackpot ideas that go with Universal Credit, this is highly significant.

Social Policy carries this story:

John Slater explains the thinking behind the project management of Universal Credit

Paul Spiker.

John Slater has been responsible for a series of Freedom of Information requests about the Universal Credit fiasco.  Yesterday he sent me a copy of the project management plan  introduced by Howard Shiplee, who was responsible for the development of Universal Credit from May 2013 until his departure, following illness, in September 2014.  Shiplee had previously been responsible for building construction for the 2012 Olympic Games.

I was puzzled by the plan, and wrote back to John:

I’m baffled – I can see no relationship between the steps to be taken and the design of a social security system. It looks more like a plan for building a McDonalds outlet, where all the groundwork’s laid and you know exactly what you want to do, so it’s all about delegating tasks. … I think you’re a project manager, John – – can you explain it to me?

I found John’s response so marvellously clear and helpful that I asked him if I could share it on the blog.  Here it is.

“Hi Paul,

You are right my background is programme and project management (my first degree was IT so I understand that aspect as well). You aren’t far off with your McDonalds analogy.

The plan is a classic case of an organisation focusing on the IT side of a major change programme. UC is one of the biggest change programme ever undertaken and nothing I’ve ever seen produced by the DWP reflects this.

The 100 day plan is a classic example of people that have been on a training course (e.g. Prince2 or Management Successful Programmes) but have never done the job for real. If you look down the left hand side of the ‘plan’ you’ll see the following headings:

  1. Key dates & decisions
  2. BT – Business (I suspect BT means business transformation)
  3. BT – Service Design & Build (I suspect BT means business transformation)
  4. BT Interfaces (I suspect BT means business transformation)
  5. Pathfinder Day 2
  6. Programme Approach
  7. HR
  8. Finance
  9. Assurance
  10. Security
  11. Comms (Communications)
  12. Stakeholder
  13. Supplier

With the exception of point 1 these are typically referred to a work streams. The idea is that each of the workstreams goes along their merry way cooperating with each other to deliver the programme. The reality of this approach with any complex programme is that it always goes horribly wrong.

If you look at points 2 to 5 then it is utterly focused on the IT. The plan looks like something to produce a software product of some sort. There is no mention of culture change, process engineering (this should be done before any software is produced) and the biggest issue of all people! This covers the claimants, DWP employees, Council Employees, Welfare Advisors and so on. They are just expected to magically learn and make it work. The trouble is human beings don’t work that way.

Part of the issue is that the DWP employees working on UC at the time hadn’t ever done anything like this before so didn’t have a clue. The put people in roles (e.g. programme manager, programme office manager etc) but they hadn’t done it before and had just been sent on a training course.

I’ve been doing this stuff for 30 years and I would have struggled to get UC up and running (and I’m very good at this aspect of complex programmes). Bringing in someone like Howard Shiplee was always going to fail. I’ve run programmes involving a lot of construction and it’s a different world and a totally different mindset. I suspect if you looked at the approach used for construction during the London Olympic build it wouldn’t look dissimilar to this plan. With construction the focus is generally on design and then build (known as D&B). The key factor is the supply chain and can the main contractor get the materials and people on site on time and in the right order. If you look at the plan again I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see the left hand side of the dark vertical as ‘design’ and the right hand side as ‘build’. This is what Howard Shiplee understood and it was so deeply ingrained I doubt he could have done anything else.

In respect of the pathfinder system released at Wigan it was a cobbled together lobotomised version of the IT that would ultimately be required for the complete UC. At this stage of the programme IDS knew the IT was fundamentally flawed, hence the talk of large sums being written off at the time. He also knew that they had to start over again but couldn’t admit that as it would be politically disastrous. Therefore, they rolled out the lobotomised version that only covered a small subset of people claiming JSA and claimed success. While this version was being rolled out painfully slowly the DWP was working desperately to produce a brain new IT system that ultimately will be the UC IT System.

Personally I think the new IT system will also fail. The methodology (Agile) as it’s been used by the DWP means that too much has been done in isolation. The system is going to be extremely complex and as bugs appear I’m not convinced the DWP will be able to find out the cause and then develop a solution that doesn’t result and another problem.

Kind Regards

John”

Universal credit full service for all types of claimants continues to roll out to plan. It is now being delivered in 50 jobcentres and is the Department’s first fully digital service.

We have been exploring how this technology can, for the first time, offer a simple system of explicit consent (to protect the large amounts of claimant personal information held under universal credit) but which is easy to use and takes advantage of the opportunities a digital service can offer. Such a system can be used by third parties and stakeholders representing claimants’ interests, enhancing the service that they can provide for the most vulnerable.

However, it is clear MPs engaging on their constituents’ behalf need constant access to such a system through which they can help their constituents. Today, I have agreed that the implicit consent approach which operates well for all other DWP benefits can be extended to MPs representing the interests of their constituents who are engaging with or directly claiming universal credit. We can offer this because of our pre-existing relationships between MPs’ offices, district managers and their teams. This is something which cannot pertain for inquiries from other sources.

This means any correspondence—letter, email, or telephone inquiries—from MPs on behalf of a constituent relating to universal credit will be answered directly, without a requirement to seek explicit consent from their constituent. This will ensure consistency and clarity for MP offices, no matter what benefit the inquiry is about.

Extending this support for MPs and their constituents will continue to help enable the successful delivery of this key welfare reform programme.

[HCWS528]

Written by Andrew Coates

April 12, 2017 at 10:57 am

Universal Jobmatch Down Down Down….

with 25 comments

As people are already commenting Universal Jobmatch is not working, has not worked since yesterday, and is not matching the Job.

Feel free to comment further.

 

I can think of a few things to start with, hard to log in, hard to use, sanctions not to mention, weren’t there some kind of fraudulent jobs…

DWP draws up plans to ditch ridiculed jobs website

Universal Jobmatch likely to be jettisoned after it was found to be carrying a series of fake, repeat or fraudulent jobs ads.

The government has drawn up plans to scrap its official jobs website, Universal Jobmatch, after recognising it is too expensive and that its purpose is undermined by fake and repeat job entries, according to leaked internal communications from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).  Guardian March 2014.

A cache of documents seen by the Guardian details how the government’s main website for job hunters – which tens of thousands of unemployed people have been required by the DWP to sign up to – is likely to be jettisoned when the contract for the service comes up for renewal in two years.

A year and a half after its launch, Universal Jobmatch has been ridiculed for hosting numerous fake jobs, including one for an MI6 “target elimination specialist” and “international couriers” for CosaNostra Holdings, as well as listings for pornographic websites.

IMPORTANT UPDATE.

(NOT THAT THEY TOLD US LOT..).

Government is making changes to its Universal Jobmatch service to stop commercial job boards uploading vacancies in bulk.

In a statement sent to Recruiter, the Department for Work and Pensions revealed it will be limiting the bulk upload of job vacancies and will only allow employers to use Universal Jobmatch directly.

Commercial job boards will also be no longer able to daily refresh adverts to prioritise vacancies, while there will also be a drive to remove the duplication of job ads.

Recruiter understands the changes have been brought about due to frustration from jobseekers being redirected to other sites, as well as dealing with duplicate adverts. Three quarters of the 1.3m ads placed on the service come from commercial job boards, while SMEs and micro employers have found their adverts lost among the sheer volume of job board ads.

It is understood job boards have been given six weeks’ notice, with the changes set to come into effect on 22 May.

Commenting on the development, Minister for Employment, Damian Hinds said the changes have been brought about after user feedback, and will mean jobseekers can navigate the site more quickly and easily.

“With around 750,000 vacancies available across the UK at any one time, Universal Jobmatch remains a useful option for jobseekers and businesses alike,” he added.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 10, 2017 at 10:13 am

Posted in DWP, Fraud, Tories

Tagged with ,

From Benefit Cap to Universal Credit: Theresa May Spreads Misery.

with 86 comments

Image result for benefit cap campaign against

Last Night the BBC showed this programme:  BemThousands on 50p-a-week housing benefit, Panorama finds.

More than 7,500 households have lost their housing benefit and instead receive a nominal 50p a week because of the welfare cap, the BBC has found.

A Panorama survey of hundreds of councils shows at least 67,600 homes in England, Scotland and Wales have lost some money due to the policy.

The cap is £23,000 in London and £20,000 in the rest of the country.

The nominal amount is paid so that those households can claim access to an emergency fund if they need to.

They have to be in receipt of some housing benefit in order to be eligible to apply for discretionary housing payments, a special government fund set up for those particularly affected by the cap.

The cap is part of the government’s drive to get unemployed people back into employment by cutting out-of-work benefits.

The amount of money above the limit is taken from either housing benefit or Universal Credit.

The Mirror, a paper which has consistently stood up for us lot, reports on this,

Tories’ benefit cap leaves thousands of families left with just 50p a week for rent

People have been made homeless and separated from their children as a result of the new welfare rules, according to a BBC Panorama probe

And in a further story,

Unemployed mother-of-four receives just 50p A WEEK to cover rent after Tory housing benefit cap changes

Desperate Kim Carmichael was threatened with eviction at the start of the year and says her life has altered dramatically as a result of the government’s adjustments

They used to get £500 a week in benefits to look after their four children but their payments were cut by £120 in November under the changes.

They say their rent used to be covered by housing benefit but that has since been cut to the minimum amount.

Steve said: “Now it’s only 50p a week – so that’s £2 a month, which they may as well keep. It costs more to send a letter out.”

The family was threatened with eviction at the end of January because of their rent arrears.

They then got a payment from a special government fund set up to help those who have been affected by the cap.

But this payment also ran out at the end of March and they will now have to apply for more money. If they don’t get it, they could lose their home.

The government says the benefit cap tries to level up “the playing field between families who are in work and who are reliant on benefits.”

The misery the government is inflicting specifically through Universal Credit is spread wider.

Serious stories are appearing in the better regional papers.

This is from the Chronicle, Newcastle.

How much money do people claiming Universal Credit benefits actually get?

We look at how people live on the benefit, which has now been rolled out across Newcastle

Last week, we reported on Newcastle City Council’s fears over the impact of a new benefits system on some vulnerable people in the city.

The city is one of the first in the country where the Universal Credit system has been rolled out in full — but what does that actually mean for the people who rely on it?

The whole article is worth reading, but the concluding bit stands out,

According to DWP figures, in Newcastle there were just over 5,000 people claiming Universal Credit as of February 9.

Of these, the majority, around 2,717 were looking for work.

But 1,484 claimants were working.

On top of that, 488 people had no requirement to look for work, while a handful more were classed as “preparing for work” or “planning for work”.

But it’s not quite that simple

According to Donna, some people may be struggling to claim everything they’re entitled to.

One of the big problems is for those who’ve been used to claiming housing benefit, which goes directly to their landlords, and now have to pay themselves out of their monthly claim.

They may not have the right documents to show what they’re paying in rent – someone who signed a tenancy agreement ten years ago is unlikely to be paying the same amount now, for example.

Donna said: “Some people are putting themselves in financial hardship because they don’t know what they can claim. If you’re unsure, talk to your landlord.

On top of that, one of the major issues some claimants face is the up to six week wait before payments start – for people who’ve lost work and don’t have an alternative source of cash, this wait could prove a very difficult time, with people claiming food parcels or even racking up debts to tide them over.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 6, 2017 at 11:38 am

Tax Giveaway to Wealthy as Benefit changes ‘could push 200,000 children into poverty’.

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Image result for giveaway tax changes help rich osborne

Osborne’s Help the Rich Punish the Poor Policies Set to Get Worse.

Two stories, two worlds.

Sunday, the Observer.

Wealthy get 80% of rewards from tax and welfare changes introduced by George Osborne that begin to come into effect this week.

The richest will reap 80% of the rewards from the tax and benefit changes that start to come into effect this week, while the poorest will become worse off, according to detailed analysis by the Resolution Foundation.

The independent thinktank’s research shows that the effect of £2bn of income tax cuts and more than £1bn of welfare cuts will add up to a huge transfer of wealth from low- and middle-income households to richer ones.

The reforms, set in train by former chancellor George Osborne, run directly contrary to the political mantra of Theresa May, who has said she wants to govern in the interests of everyone and “not just the privileged few”.

The changes include raising the personal tax allowance from £11,000 to £11,500; lifting the threshold for higher-rate tax from £43,000 to £45,000; freezing all working-age benefits; removing the family element (£545) from tax credits and universal credit for new claims or births; and applying a two-child limit to new claims or births in the tax credit system.

David Finch, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The overall package amounts to a £1bn net giveaway from the public purse. But the skewed nature of this generosity means that better-off households will receive four-fifths of the gains, while the poorest third of households will be worse off overall.”

Finch said that reductions in the generosity of universal credit, which will have the effect of reducing work incentives, would affect relatively few families this year. But as millions more move on to the new system, the effects on the living standards of those on low incomes would become much clearer.

Today, from the BBC,

Benefit changes ‘could push 200,000 children into poverty’

Changes to benefit rules coming into force this week could push 200,000 more children into poverty, say campaigners.

From Thursday, payments for some benefits will be limited to the first two children in a family.

The Child Poverty Action Group and Institute for Public Policy Research say some families will be almost £3,000 a year worse off under the new rules.

Ministers say they are determined to tackle the root causes of disadvantage and make work pay.

The changes affect families who claim tax credits and Universal Credit – which is in the process of being rolled out and is due to replace tax credits completely by 2022.

The new rules mean that children born after Thursday 6 April into families where there are already two or more children will no longer be counted in benefit payments to their parents, under either tax credits or Universal Credit.

And from autumn 2018, families making new claims under Universal Credit will only receive payments for their first two children even if they were born before Thursday.

However, children already receiving Universal Credit or tax credit payments will not lose them for as long as their family’s existing claim continues.

And Child Benefit, which is separate, will be unaffected.

The latest official figures show that 872,000 families with more than two children were claiming tax credits in 2014-15.

And a similar number of families are likely to lose out under the changes, the researchers suggest.

In 2014-15, two thirds (65%) were working families and 68% had no more than three children, say the researchers.

Based on those figures, the researchers calculate that once the new policy is fully implemented an additional 100,000 adults and 200,000 children could face poverty.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 3, 2017 at 10:51 am

Day of Action Against Benefit Sanctions. Protests.

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Thursday: Outside Ipswich Jobcentre. 

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing and outdoor

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing, child and outdoor

Interviewed on Radio Suffolk.

Benefit sanctions must be fought against

These sanctions are cruel and handed out for ridiculous reasons such as:

  • Arriving minutes late to a meeting
  • Not applying for jobs when waiting to start a new job!
  • Missing an appointment on the day of the funeral of a close family member.

This has to stop.

Unite demonstration outside the Department of Work and Pensions in London watch the video here  – See more at: http://stagingui.unite.awsripple.com/growing-our-union/communitymembership/day-of-action-against-sanctions/default.aspx#sthash.QsxxyCRf.dpufTake other action
  • Share your story – we are looking for people who have been sanctioned to tell their story.
  • We want to show the reality and impact on people’s lives – show your support – share on Twitter and Facebook #No2Sanctions
JOIN US – Thursday 30 March

See More Here.

Welfare WeeklyThousands to protest against ‘cruel and ineffective’ benefit sanctions regime

Campaigners will target more than 80 jobcentres across the UK, as part of a ‘national day of action’ to stop benefit sanctions.

Activists from Britain’s biggest trade union Unite will tomorrow (Thursday) be protesting outside the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in London, calling on the UK Government to stop it’s “cruel and ineffective” benefit sanctions regime.

Campaigners will target more than 80 jobcentres across the UK, as part of a ‘national day of action‘ to stop benefit sanctions.

Since May 2010, over 3 million people have been referred for a sanction 8 million times. Over 318,000 people have had their benefits cut or stopped completely in the last year alone, often for punitive and unfair reasons – such as being late for appointments with the jobcentre, or being too sick to ‘actively seek work’.

According to the food bank charity Trussell Trust, more than 500,000 three day emergency food parcels were given to people in crisis in the first half of 2016/17, including over 188,500 to children, with the most common reason for referral being problems and delays with benefit payments.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 30, 2017 at 11:28 am

Posted in Damian Green, DWP, Ipswich, Sanctions, Suffolk

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Job Centre Closures: Lobby Today.

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The PCS Union announces.

Ahead of PCS’ lobby of parliament on Tuesday (28 March) opposing DWP office closures, MPs, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and others have been highlighting the negative impact that these closures will have on staff, users and the local community. Find out how you can join the lobby.

PCS has arranged the speaker meeting and lobby as part of our campaign to oppose office closures to over 100 DWP offices, including 74 jobcentres, representing more than 10% of the total. This will lead to at least 750 job losses. DWP plans to replace staff they make redundant with new staff, at further cost to the taxpayer.

The lobby will start with a speaker meeting in parliament at 1pm followed by a lobby from 2-4 pm in committee room 10, Houses of Parliament (St Stephen’s Gate Entrance) Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA.

And: 

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has said of the plans: “Jobcentres provide a lifeline for unemployed people and forcing them to travel further is not only unfair, it undermines support to get them back to work.”

Staff will face job losses, and in some cases, unreasonable travel journeys to and from work. Those with caring responsibilities, childcare commitments and access requirements will be particularly disadvantaged. Staff losses are coming at a time when Universal Credit is being rolled out, hampered by delays, IT failures and backlogs. DWP could redeploy staff to Universal Credit where resources are needed.

In Glasgow 50% of DWP offices are targeted for closure in an area where unemployment is higher than the national average.

Staff in Bishop Auckland, one of the offices targeted for closure, also contribute more than £100,000 a year to local businesses.

In Llanelli, £500,000 could be lost annually to local traders if the closure of the benefits office goes ahead.

We share many of the concerns raised by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who is “extremely concerned” by the plans and manner of consultation. The mayor has raised concerns with the minister for employment, Damian Hinds, including the impact of the closures, the lack of adequate time for consultation, the increased travel time and costs for users, the impact on disabled people, BAME communities and young people from low income families. The mayor states that “plans to close job centres…will hit the disadvantaged hardest”.

“Now, more than ever, the government should be focusing its efforts on creating new jobs and helping those most in need of support to access employment,” he said.

The government has not consulted claimants who use these job centres on the closure plans. Many are in areas of high unemployment and social deprivation. Disability claimants, staff/users with caring responsibilities and vulnerable users must be given due regard in terms of the equality impact assessment and the disadvantage that they will face if offices close or are relocated. Having to travel further as a result of these proposals also means some users are unfairly out of pocket and run the risk of being sanctioned for lateness. Equality impact assessments have not been carried out to assess the disadvantaged groups that will be hit by this campaign.

What you can do

Concerns have been raised by MPs in parliament and your local MP can also play a powerful role in this campaign; they need to hear from you to raise awareness and about the impact that this will have in the local community.  If you have never been to a lobby of parliament before, PCS will be on hand to support you on the day.

Make your voice heard – contact your MP now and arrange a meeting for 28 March.

Background Mirror:, 26th of January.

Reckless” plans to slash millions from the welfare department’s bill by shutting Jobcentres across the country have been revealed.

The Department for Work and Pensions today announced it wants to merge staff and facilities from 78 smaller Jobcentre Plus offices into larger ones.

It wants to move another 50 into council or other similar offices to create “one-stop shops”, and shut 27 back offices.

The DWP insisted the move – carried out to slash its bills by £180m a year – would employ “under-used” buildings more efficiently.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 28, 2017 at 11:52 am

Camden Council: “Claimants ‘stealing food’ to eat due to benefit delays.”

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Above: Mid-Suffolk and Babergh South Suffolk (Tory) Council Video……

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Damian Green sometimes spends time away from his taxing life in the bijou town of Ashford answering questions about ‘reforms’ to Personal Independence Payments.

Sample, 15th of March, Parliament, “I  am happy to confirm that to my hon. Friend. I think that he and I would agree that that was a significant step forward when it was introduced, and I am determined that we maintain progress in that direction so that people who have a disability—whether a physical or mental impairment—can lead as full a life as possible.”

We note that in reply to one question he said, “In his long and distinguished career, the hon. Gentleman has been shadow Leader of the House, so he knows perfectly well that such things are a matter for the usual channels. It is therefore somewhat above my pay grade.”

You wonder if the turmoil in his department’s botched scheme Universal Credit is ‘above’ both his ‘pay grade’ and ability to deal with…

These are some of the latest difficulties.

Universal Credit: Claimants ‘stealing food’ to eat due to benefit delays

Finance chief warns people are being forced into new debts

DESPERATE tenants faced with long delays in accessing new Universal Credit benefits are beginning to steal food to survive, the Town Hall has warned a parliamentary committee.

Camden Council told the Work and Pensions Select Committee that the new system – a single monthly, means-tested benefit – was backfiring due to delays in the system. This meant people were racking up debts and rent arrears before they had received any help. In some cases, people are waiting up to six weeks before claims are processed.

The Town Hall’s official submission to MPs said: “One tenant has confessed to a rent officer that they were stealing food to eat. It is common to hear that Universal Credit claimants are borrowing heavily from family and friends. The Department for Work and Pensions’ Universal Credit helpline set up to advise claimants on the progress of their claim is providing an unacceptable service. Telephone calls can cost up to 55p a minute from pay-as-you-go mobile phones, which are commonly used by people with lower incomes. Wait times to speak with an adviser can be very long – one claimant in Camden has reported that their phone bill for a month was over £140, used almost entirely on calls to the DWP.”

The council is one of a number of local authorities, volunteer groups and charities giving evidence to the committee investigating the effectiveness of the new benefit system, first devised by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

The reforms were meant to make the process of claiming benefits simpler through a single account, but the monthly cycle has left many struggling as they wait for a first payment. The council, meanwhile, fears that landlords will stop letting to those affected, particularly as many do not have savings to fall back on.

Around 230 people currently claim Universal Credit in Camden, but this figure could jump to 10,000 when the system is rolled out across the country this year.

Camden’s submission to the committee added: “While we recognise there is much to support in a benefit system that encourages claimants to take responsibility for a personal budget and outgoings, we feel strongly that a system should not be set up in a way that potentially adds to the risk of vulnerable people losing their home.”

The ‘very long’ wait on the phone struck home.

This is more and more people’s experience of anything to do with the DWP, and all the rest, particularly the infamous ‘outsourced’ bits of the state, run by private racketeers. 

In sum the next story comes as no surprise:

Pressure mounts on UK government to halt universal credit. Third Force News.

Pressure is mounting on the UK government to ditch universal credit until its catalogue of problems are resolved.

Scotland’s social security secretary Angela Constance warned the Westminster-imposed system was no longer feasible in Scotland and is demanding UK ministers halt its introduction.

The minister’s demand comes after a Westminster committee launched an inquiry into universal credit amid concerns over delays in payments.

The new system – where people use an online account to manage their claim or apply for a benefit – is fully operational only in certain parts of the country.

Three Scottish councils, East Lothian, Highland and East Dunbartonshire, have it in place, with other areas piloting aspects of the full system.

Constance has written to Damian Green, UK work and pensions secretary, to ask for a “complete halt to full service roll-out of universal credit in Scotland with immediate effect”, stating it is “no longer feasible”.

She said people who are moved on to full service have to wait six weeks before receiving their first payment, resulting in tenants building up rent arrears.

As a result,

Delays in payments have seen landlords, including housing associations, reporting financial difficulties, with councils reporting record rent arrears,  Constance said.

“It is clear that the system simply isn’t working and the UK government is not prepared to make the necessary changes,” she said.

“The six-week delay in receiving a payment – with longer delays for some being experienced – is a completely unacceptable situation and one which has the potential to push low-income households into further hardship and homelessness.

“I was also shocked to hear reports that, in some areas, landlords are advertising properties as ‘No UC’ due to their experience with the system.

“Despite the UK government having these issues highlighted in the pilots for universal credit and by councils, charities, housing associations and parliamentarians, absolutely no meaningful reassurance has been received.

“I therefore cannot be confident that these issues are even close to being fully resolved and it is my view that it is simply not credible for the UK government to continue with the further roll-out of full service universal credit until these problems are fully resolved.”

Leading charities have backed the call.

As should we all.

Meanwhile the Rt Hon Damian finds time for this jaunty event on the 17th of March.

Damian Green MP

Ashford MP, Damian Green, has shown his support WWF’s tenth Earth Hour by making a special pledge to help protect the planet.  The world is changing fast, and it’s never been more important to show support for action on climate change.

Damian Green joined the WWF at the House of Commons this week to show they care about the future of our planet, ahead of the global lights out event, taking place on Saturday 25 March at 8:30pm.

Damian Green said: “I am delighted to support WWF’s Earth Hour this year to demonstrate how important it is that we take climate change seriously. I am proud to be a member of a parliament which has set ambitious targets to reduce our carbon emissions over the coming decades. The Government has outlined clear plans in order to live up to these ambitions.”

Each year, millions of people around the world come together to call to support Earth Hour. Last year a record 178 countries took part and iconic landmarks across the UK switched out their lights, from Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, to Brighton Pier, Edinburgh Castle and Caerphilly Castle. This year is set to be the biggest yet as it’s the 10 year anniversary of Earth Hour. With 2016 breaking temperature records for the third consecutive year, it’s never been more important to tackle climate change.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

March 24, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Day of Action Against Benefit Sanctions (30 March) as Scottish Challenges to Tory Social Security Regime Grow.

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New Component

Thursday 30 March 2017  National Day of Action Against Sanctions (UNITE the Union).

JOIN US
More and more people are facing benefit sanctions. Half a million people have had their benefits suddenly stopped by sanctions in the last 12 months.
That’s half a million people, many of whom have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat. How is this meant to help prepare people for work?

Benefit sanctions must be fought against

Please join an event near you on Thursday 30 March to stop benefit sanctions in your community.

We will continue to add new actions on a regular basis, so please check back.

For further information please email your Unite community coordinator (see here).

 

You often wish that politicians, that is Westminster politicians, took these issues as seriously as they do in Scotland.

Morning Star (today)

SCOTTISH Labour unveiled plans yesterday to “kick the private sector out of our social security system,” branding the treatment of disabled and long term-ill benefit claimants under the Tory welfare regime “inhumane.”

The party will table amendments to the forthcoming Social Security Bill to use the Scottish Parliament’s new powers to rule out the involvement of the private sector and has urged the SNP to support its proposals.

Labour says that thousands of disabled people have experienced punitive assessments for the Tories’ personal independence payments (PIP), adding that the SNP’s decision to delay the devolution of welfare powers will mean that 140,000 Scots will still be assessed under the current system.

Last month, a Scottish government consultation on social security revealed a “strong consensus that services should not be delivered through the private sector or profit-making agencies, with the majority of respondents in agreement that social security should be delivered through existing public-sector or thirdsector organisations.”

Labour social security spokesman Mark Griffin said his party will seek to “use the new social security powers of the Scottish Parliament to kick the private sector out of our social security system.”

He laid into “these cruel and inhumane [PIP] assessments that have piled misery on vulnerable Scots.”

“Nicola Sturgeon failed to mention poverty once in her speech to the SNP conference. That tells you everything you need to know about her priorities,” he said.

He urged the First Minister to “work with Labour to use the new powers of our parliament” and abandon her preoccupation with Scottish independence.

Welfare Weekly (March the 17th) reports,

SNP Conference: Calls to scrap ‘draconian’ benefit sanctions regime

“The SNP does not believe we should be attacking the most disadvantaged in our society and completely rejects this benefits sanctions regime.

“The Tories need to realise this is the devastating consequences that removing the only source of income available has on real people and their families.

“It is extremely concerning that the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society, including those at risk of homelessness, those with caring responsibilities and those with mental ill health issues, are the most likely to be punished by the draconian regime.

“The UK government must urgently scrap this punitive sanctions regime. The shocking findings of the National Audit Office illustrate the sheer unfairness and ineffectiveness of sanctions.

“The SNP has consistently done everything it can to mitigate the worst impacts of Tory welfare cuts spending £100m on protecting people – money we would rather invest in pulling people out of poverty.

“Our Government in Scotland continue to fight against the regime, for instance the Scottish Government have already secured agreement from the UK Government that the Scottish employment programme will not facilitate their benefits sanctions system.

“Scottish Ministers have been crystal clear that our services in Scotland must be seen as an opportunity, not a threat.”

The full text of the resolution reads:

“Conference rejects the punitive Tory benefit sanction regime; commends the creators of I, Daniel Blake for bringing the public’s attention to the cruel and callous reality facing tens of thousands of disadvantaged people across the UK; further notes with the concern the shocking findings of the National Audit Office of the scale and ineffectiveness of the sanctions regime; is concerned that the most vulnerable including those at risk of homelessness, those with caring responsibilities and those with mental ill health are the most likely to be punished by the draconian regime, welcomes the decision of the Scottish Government to make sure that the new Employment Programme, effective from April 2017, does not facilitate the UK Government’s sanctions system, and calls for the UKG to move urgently to scrap the unfair sanctions regime.”


This in an official press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Written by Andrew Coates

March 21, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Universal Credit Brings Hardship – Work and Pensions Committee.

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Related image

Damian Green DWP Minister (who?): Still on Holiday.

I, like many of us, am in two minds about posting this: Frank Field is pretty dodgy, and Pretty Dodgy is Frank Field.

But here goes.

This story follows this:

MPs launch investigation into ‘punishing’ Universal Credit rollout

Follows inquiry last year which congratulated Government on ‘revolutionary innovation’ Independent 23rd February.

DWP in denial about Universal Credit hardship, says Work and Pensions Committee.

From Welfare Weekly 16th of March.

Work and Pensions Committee Chair, Frank Field MP, says the DWP have their “head in the sand” about hardship caused by Universal Credit.

The Work and Pensions Committee has accused the government of having their “head in the sand” about problems with the roll-out of Universal Credit, which is replacing a number of existing benefits with one single monthly payment.

The committee says it has heard “compelling evidence” about “serious knock-on effects” caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit around the country, including rising rent arrears and problems resulting from “a built-in six-week delay” between someone applying for the new benefit and receiving th

Recent research warned the government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme is causing significant anxiety and leaving many claimants reliant on the generosity of food banks to get by.

A study commissioned by Community Housing Cymru (CHC) found that rent arrears among Welsh Universal Credit claimants was more than three-times higher than the UK average – £450 compared to £131.

Commenting on the research, Frank Field MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee said: “Huge delays in people receiving payments from universal credit have resulted in claimants falling into debt and rent arrears, caused health problems and led to many having to rely on food banks.”

He added: “It is bad enough that UC has a built-in six-week wait between someone applying and receiving their first payment, but we have heard that many have to wait much longer than this.

“The adverse impact on claimants, local authorities, landlords and charities is entirely disproportionate to the small numbers currently claiming UC, yet Lord Freud has told us he thinks it will take decades to optimise the system.

“We have therefore felt compelled to investigate UC yet again. We will examine what its impact is on claimants and those local bodies which deal with them, and what government needs to do to ease the pressure on those worst affected.”

Former Welfare Minister Lord Freud told the Committee in an evidence session that Universal Credit might take “decades to optimise”.

But despite mounting evidence that UC is causing severe hardship for many people, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continues to claim that rent arrears associated with UC will be short-lived and should not present an insurmountable obstacle to landlords.

Frank Field said: “Despite a growing body of evidence about the very real hardship the rollout of Universal Credit is creating for some, often the most vulnerable, claimants – and the struggles it is creating for local authorities trying to fulfil their responsibilities – it is flabbergasting that the Government continues to keep its head in the sand.

“There is no urgency in the Government’s attempts to solve, for example, the incompatibility between Universal Credit and a council’s duties to those in emergency temporary accommodation.

“This is affecting some of society’s most vulnerable people, at a point of crisis, yet the Government appears unwilling to take the action it could to solve this and simply remove these people from the Universal Credit system.”

The Report cited above:

Tenants given a platform to voice their opinions on the impact of Universal Credit

The first-ever Welsh research report into the impact of Universal Credit (UC) from the tenants’ perspective will be launched in Cardiff today (Thursday, 9th March).

Community Housing Cymru (CHC), the membership body for Welsh housing associations, commissioned Cardiff Metropolitan University to carry out the research with Welsh social housing tenants as part of its Welfare Defence Programme.

Cardiff Metropolitan University worked with tenants by enabling them to design the research question and undertake the research themselves, using focus groups made up of their peers.The independent research, funded by the Oak Foundation, explores tenants’ experiences of UC, barriers to engaging with their landlord and solutions to overcome these barriers.

The report found that:

  • There can be 4-8 week delays in payments, causing significant anxiety and forcing several people to access food banks to get by.
  • Tenants often rely on their peers for support and information. A huge barrier for some tenants engaging with their landlord and the DWP was due to confidence ,literacy issues and the personal cost of contacting these organisations.
  •  Generic rent arrears letters were not seen as effective.
  • Participants wanted more communication between their landlord and the DWP as they had no way of knowing if rent increase charges had been taken into account as part of their new UC payment.

The UK average for rent arrears is £131. However, this more than trebles in Wales to £450 under UC which emphasises the importance of this piece of research.

Stuart Ropke, Chief Executive of Community Housing Cymru, welcomed the report’s findings. He said: “This report is the first of its kind about the impact of Universal Credit (UC) from tenants’ perspectives, uniquely undertaken by tenants themselves. CHC’s members are actively working to mitigate the impact of UC and, while it’s heartening to read the praise for support staff from tenants, there is a lot we can learn from this research.”

Stuart added: “UC has created a vacuum between tenants and landlords. Under the current system, many landlords do not know if their tenants are on UC and are therefore having to pay their rent themselves. They are often only alerted to the fact that they are on UC when they fall into arrears.

Paul Langley, Head of Business Development for CHC’s Your Benefits are Changing project added:‘We currently do not have automatic access to information about which tenants are on UC and we are working with the DWP on a solution to improve this. The landlord portal, once rolled out, will improve data sharing to enable a personalised approach which is essential to ensure that we support tenants moving on to UC.”

Amanda Protheroe, one of the report’s authors said: “Our hope is that this report reflects the experiences of tenants who are dealing with the issues around Universal Credit. Tenants were clear about issues and barriers to their communicating with both the DWP and their landlords but were most keen to discuss solutions. The overarching message was around the quality of relationships tenants had with these organisations with kindness being mentioned as something the tenants really valued.”

You can read the report here.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 17, 2017 at 2:23 pm

Rent Arrears Soar in Universal Credit Pilot Scheme.

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Rise in Homeless Numbers Threat from Universal Credit.

This morning the BBC news had a story about homeless people.

It covered the case, a happy case, of a man who’d been helped into accommodation.

The idea that getting somewhere to live is the first step to getting back on your feet is not, perhaps, original, but this may help many people in a desperate situation.

But as it is, and as the report noted, the number of rough sleepers has not stopped growing.

I only have to walk a few metres from the library in Ipswich to see those affected.

One reason?

The broadcaster did not fail to mention that people blamed the tough conditions imposed on Jobseekers, the Claimant Commitment, proof of looking for work, and all the rest that we know all too well.

Not always easy to fulfil for many people, they become extremely hard for anybody with the kind of problems associated with those on the streets.

If they could get JSA under any conditions.

With the menace of sanctions to deal with as well.

Now the threat of living without a roof over your head hovers over a whole new set of people, as the Scottish paper, the Herald reports.

You can guess where this one comes from.

Warning as rent arrears soar after Universal Credit pilot is rolled out in Scotland

A LEADING Scots housing body has warned that increasing numbers of people on benefits are at greater risk of homelessness as rent arrears soar under a controversial new benefits pilot scheme being rolled out across Scotland.

The Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland (CIH Scotland) has warned that the new Universal Credit to date has led to tenants finding it increasingly difficult to pay their rent.

And the organisation has also raised fears of a return to the old ‘No DSS’ culture that restricted access to the private rented sector for many benefit claimants during the 1980’s.

Welfare Reform Impact, a recent report published by the HouseMark consultancy group showed the average rent arrear debt of a Universal Credit claimant was £618 compared to average non-UC arrears of £131.

MPs have already launched an official inquiry into Universal Credit amid growing concerns that design flaws in the new benefits system are leaving thousands of low-income claimants facing eviction and reliant on food banks.

Holyrood’s Social Security Committee has already met with administrative staff and claimants in the Musselburgh pilot area and heard about unacceptable delays of eight or nine weeks in being paid benefits, pushing people into rent arrears. Committee members also heard local jobcentres are ill-equipped to effectively support claimants.

The single payment replaces six benefits – income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit – and is paid directly to claimants.

I doubt if this has escaped our Newshounds either:

Landlords are more likely to accept potential renters who own pets than people claiming benefits, a BBC investigation has found.

Analysis of some 11,000 online listings for spare rooms found all but a few hundred stated benefit claimants were not welcome.

Campaign groups say it is “naked discrimination” and are calling for a change in the law.

Landlords say more social housing needs to be built.

The BBC England data unit analysed listings on the website SpareRoom, looking at London and 18 other towns and cities across England.

  • Out of 11,806 adverts for rooms to let, just 2% were open to people on benefits.
  • The website’s listings showed not a single vacancy for a benefit claimant in Bournemouth, Exeter, Leicester, Liverpool, Norwich, Oxford or Reading.
  • Plymouth had the highest rate of acceptance, but even that was just 10% of rooms, 15 out of 144.
  • Across the 19 areas with the most available rooms, there were twice as many lets that accepted pets as accepted housing benefit claimants.

It is a similar pattern on a letting agent website.

On OpenRent.co.uk, just 580 out of 3,342 listings accepted people on benefits.

The websites specify “No to DSS” in flatmate preferences. DSS is the acronym for the Department of Social Security, which was replaced in 2001 by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Important Update:

Written by Andrew Coates

March 13, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Welfare Cuts as Universal Credit Founders.

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“No Spending Spree…..”

There was a flicker of a chart on Channel Four News last night about the effects of the Welfare cuts on people.

I suspect that’s about the most, a very brief most, that most people – unlike us lot – will register about the issue.

The so-called Minister, Work and Pensions Secretary, Damian Green, has been quieter than the quietest mouse recently.

He did find time for this, “Our Man – Advice and Supports Services

Thursday, 23 February, 2017 (Latest Web site date).

On the whole by any reasonable measure Ashford is a prosperous town set in the middle of a generally prosperous county. But we should all be aware that even in the middle of this generally comfortable existence live people with real problems.

And he did, very curtly, respond to this.

Billions of pounds of PIP cuts ‘will put lives at risk.

The announcement of billions of pounds of cuts to the government’s new disability benefit is a discriminatory attack on people with mental health problems, will push many of them further into poverty and isolation, and will put lives at risk, say disabled activists.

Protests about the cuts to personal independence payment (PIP) have already been announced, with one due to take place outside parliament on Tuesday (7 March), the day before the spring budget.

Disability News Service is also aware of discussions among at least two groups about possible legal action over the cuts.

Work and pensions secretary Damian Green said he had made the decision to amend regulations to tighten eligibility for PIP because of two tribunal decisions that ruled against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

But nothing, as yet, on the Budget...

This is how the New Statesman’s admirable Anoosh Chakelian  sums up the post-Budget position on Welfare,

What welfare changes did Philip Hammond make in his Budget 2017?

The welfare cap is still there. The four-year freeze of working-age benefits continues. This means those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, income support, housing benefit, Universal Credit, child tax credits, working tax credits and child benefit will be worse off, as inflation increases but their benefits remain flat. Child tax credits and child benefit through Universal Credit will be limited to two children, and the government recently announced its plan to remove the entitlement to housing benefit for some 18-21 year olds. Hammond’s only offer to those depending on the state to boost their income is to reduce the taper rate at which your benefits through Universal Credit are withdrawn as you begin to earn more – from 65 per cent to 63 per cent.Hammond’s only offer to those depending on the state to boost their income is to reduce the taper rate at which your benefits through Universal Credit are withdrawn as you begin to earn more – from 65 per cent to 63 per cent. The Chancellor announced this in his Autumn Statement last November and has made no new announcements about benefits since. In fact, his only reference to welfare in his Spring Budget speech was to repeat his softening of the taper rate.

Yet…

“…remember, this isn’t giving more money to claimants .

It’s very slightly reducing the amount Universal Credit is being cut.

According to the Independent, the planned £3bn-a-year reduction in the work allowance..

has only really been reduced by about £700m by Hammond.”

People in Liverpool are not happy,

New research published today reveals the government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme is causing significant anxiety…..

and leaving many claimants reliant on the generosity of food banks to get by.

Sometimes you wish politicians and the media would concentrate more on these stories….

Written by Andrew Coates

March 10, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Budget’s Expected Impact on Welfare.

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Budget 2017 for benefits: what welfare changes is Philip Hammond planning? Everything we know so far about the Chancellor’s plans for the benefits system. ANOOSH CHAKELIAN New Statesman.

This timely article outline some very bad news:

The Chancellor Philip Hammond will announce changes to welfare when he delivers his Budget. What do we know?

How has Theresa May’s government approached welfare so far?

Outside No 10 on 13 July 2016, Theresa May put equality at the heart of her first statement as Prime Minister. She claimed that she would put herself, “squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people”. She dedicated her speech to those who, “can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school”, telling the nation: “If you’re just managing, I want to address you directly.”

This meant that progressives looked to the first Autumn Statement from her Chancellor Philip Hammond last year to see if she would turn her rhetoric into action.

There wasn’t much, however, for the “just about managing” (nicknamed “Jams”) when the new government announced its first plan for Britain’s finances. The Chancellor eased the planned cuts to Universal Credit slightly, by slowing the pace at which your benefits are reduced the higher above the allowance you earn. He said the welfare cap would remain, but promised there would be no more welfare cuts this parliament.

A four-year freeze on tax credits and benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance and income support has been in place since April 2016 last year, and £12bn worth of cuts to the welfare budget were planned for this parliament in the 2015 Tory manifesto pledge. The government wants to stick to making these savings. A £3bn-a-year reduction in the work allowance – the amount benefit claimants can earn before their benefits start being withdrawn – has only really been reduced by about £700m by Hammond.

Hammond inherited harsh welfare policies from George Osborne’s regime, whose austerity programme hit low-income households the hardest – cutting working-age benefits to add to the burden of wage stagnation and rising living costs. He’s not done much so far to ease this pain.

So what are they planning for the Budget?

We can’t expect a huge amount of easing up on benefit freezes in the coming Budget. Here’s what we’re likely to see:

Jobseeker’s Allowance freeze

This is an Osborne legacy, but the unemployment benefit will continue to be frozen at £57.90 a week for under-25s, and £73.10 for those who are 25 and older. Since April 2013, this went up 1 per cent a year. The freeze was announced in the 2015 budget, and came into force last year. Remember, the rate of inflation is increasing, so this could be a big squeeze in the next year.

(Note: This is beginning to really bite.)

No automatic entitlement to housing benefit

The government recently announced its plan to remove the entitlement to housing benefit for some 18-21 year olds. Centrepoint warns that this could lead to 9,000 young people being unable to access accommodation and at risk of homelessness. The Guardian suggests Hammond might u-turn on this.

(Note: Mean-spirited is the least of it. Expect more rough sleepers everywhere)

Child benefit freeze

Another continued freeze, at the existing rate of £20.70 a week for the first child and £13.70 for ensuing children. Again, inflation going up means this will feel increasingly tighter. Another part of the Osborne plan.

(Note: the plan to hit ordinary people.)

Child tax credit limited to two children

If you want to claim child tax credits for children born on or after 6 April 2017, you can only do so for two children. If you already claim them, your claims won’t be affected. You also won’t receive what’s known as the “family element” (around £40.40 a month) if your children are born after that date. This is another Osborne policy, announced in 2015 to start this year.

Universal Credit freeze

Universal Credit rates will be frozen for 2017-18. The Osborne plan was the cut the work allowance by £3bn each year – a plan Hammond slightly softened by reducing the taper rate in the Autumn Statement.

(Note: another kick in the face for the less well off, in work.)

So that’s a huge squeeze on living standards for May’s beloved “ordinary, working-class people” then?

As we already notice in our bills and shopping, this will hit us hard.

Hard up working families face a “double whammy” of benefits freezes and rising inflation to the tune of billions of pounds, a new study has warned. 

Analysis from thinktank the Resolution Foundation found that a total of £3.6bn will be taken from the worst off households by 2020 thanks to the freeze in tax credit and working age benefits.

Their calculations suggest a single earner family with two children could lose £680 a year once inflation is factored in.

The Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, warned the Office for Budget Responsibility could revise up its inflation forecast to 2.6% for both this year and 2018.

That would see real pay falling by the end of this year as prices start to outstrip only modest wage growth.

“The effect of a renewed pay squeeze would be broadly felt across the population,” Mr Bell told the Guardian.

“But in many ways the worst affected group might be those ‘ordinary working families’ on lower incomes who will face a double whammy of lower pay growth and benefit cuts.”

 

Written by Andrew Coates

March 7, 2017 at 11:11 am

More Spiteful Rules for Claimants Trying to Get Help with Benefit Problems from MPs.

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Always makes “decisions in the best interests of the claimant.”

New rules restricting MPs from intervening with officials directly to resolve benefit payment problems on behalf of constituents are a major barrier to justice, ministers have been warned. ( Guardian).

(Without detracting from the details what this means is that you will have to mount a quasi-legal case to involve a MP *and* let the DWP, who always have our best interests at heart, know what you are doing…”The DWP has told MPs it will not discuss individual cases with them unless they have the explicit online consent of claimants..”)

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has told MPs it will not discuss individual universal credit cases with them unless the claimant has given formal “explicit consent” by issuing detailed instructions via their online DWP account.

MPs said the restrictions will create a fresh layer of bureaucracy and pile extra pressure on vulnerable people who have approached their MP as a last resort to resolve problems such as non-payment of benefits.

Up to now, MPs have been able to contact the Department for Work and Pensions directly to deal with benefit problems on the basis that they had the “implicit consent” of the claimant who raised the issue with them.

“It [the restriction] makes the job more tiresome, slows it down, and creates more work for constituents. It’s barmy and unnecessary, and it’s a major barrier to justice,” said Frank Field, the chairman of the work and pensions select committee.

Welfare rights advisers have also raised the issue, warning the DWP last year that restrictions around “explicit consent” made it near-impossible for them to resolve benefit issues on behalf of some vulnerable clients, including for example those with learning disabilities, or those gravely ill in hospital beds who are unable to access their online DWP accounts.

Field said he had raised the issue in person recently with the work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, who Field said was sympathetic. However, this week, a caseworker in Field’s constituency office trying to resolve a benefits issue on behalf of a constituent was refused by the DWP.

The DWP’s alternative News Factory replied,

A DWP spokesman said: “This issue has been raised with the department and we are actively looking into it. The DWP always takes steps to protect personal data and make decisions in the best interests of the claimant.”

But….

Karen Buck MP said: “People come to me because we [MPs] are the only named people in the system they can find. If we have to turn people away, asking them to jump through hoops before we can help them, it is only going to make people feel disempowered.”

She added: “The more complex the demands we put on vulnerable people, the easier it should be for representatives to intervene on their behalf.”

The note to MPs, sent in February, says that before MPs become involved in a case constituents must provide the DWP “with the specific details of the issues they would like us to discuss with you” via their online journal, through which all their universal credit business is transacted.

The DWP’s director general of universal credit, Neil Couling wrote to welfare advisers in January arguing that explicit consent was necessary because of the risk of that disclosure of material to third parities would breach data protection rules.

He wrote: “I realise that as bona fide advisers this may seem unduly cautious, but we face regular attempts by unscrupulous organisations and individuals to access information from us and we need to take all reasonable steps to protect the position of claimants and their data which we hold.”

The explicit consent rule applies to claimants on the full service universal credit, of which there are around 450,000 in the UK. It does not apply to people claiming legacy benefits such as housing benefit.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 6, 2017 at 1:17 pm

Theresa May, from “no” more Welfare Cuts, to…..Cuts.

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Those with memories as long as fruit flies, that is pre-Brexit honest healthy fruit-flies fed on EU straight bananas, not the cheap and nasty type now breeding on rotten apples in the Tory-Trump Brexit land and driven to work till they are 92 years old, may remember this:

No more welfare cuts to come under Theresa May, says minister. Independent. 18th of September 2016.

Damian Green, the work and pensions secretary, hints at end to austerity agenda, promising no further raids on benefits.There will be no more welfare cuts under Theresa May’s government after those have already been announced, the work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, has announced.

Strongly hinting that the government’s austerity agenda was over, Green told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show planned cuts would continue but there would be no further raids on benefits.

Today we have this,

A recent report from the left-leaning Resolution Foundation think tank warned Tory policies are causing “the biggest increase in inequality since Thatcher”. Their research found that the rollout of more than £12bn of welfare cuts, coupled with poor wage growth, means household incomes after housing costs are set to grow by just 0.5% a year between now and 2020.

The Resolution Foundation also warned that the incomes of the poorest half of households are set to fall by an average 3%, while the richest look set to see income gains of around 4% over the remainder of this parliament.”

Then,

Commenting on the research, Torsten Bell, Director of the Resolution Foundation, said at the time: “Britain has enjoyed a welcome mini-boom in living standards in recent years. But that boom is slowing rapidly as inflation rises, productivity flatlines and employment growth slows.

“The squeeze in the wake of the financial crisis tended to hit richer households the most. But this time around it’s low and middle income families with kids who are set to be worst affected.

“This could leave Britain with the worst of both worlds on living standards – the weak income growth of the last parliament and rising inequality from the time Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street.”

And a couple of days ago this:

£3.7bn in cuts to disability benefits needed to help cut the deficit, says cabinet minister

Despite cuts Conservative chairman Patrick McLoughlin claimed ‘we do very proudly in this country’ at helping disabled people

A cabinet minister has rebuffed calls to cancel more than £3.7bn worth of cuts to a disability benefit, setting the scene for a showdown in Parliament.

Patrick McLoughlin said ministers had to view the funding, which would go to people with conditions including epilepsy, diabetes and dementia, in the context of a wider need to reduce the UK’s budget deficit.

Ministers have said the Government will introduce emergency legislation to tighten the criteria of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) after they were ordered at tribunal to cover a broader spectrum of claimants, leading to the £3.7bn in extra spending by 2022.

While charities have warned of the impacts of the cuts, Tory party chairman Mr McLoughlin told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We are spending as a country over £50bn a year supporting people who have got disabilities in this country.

“I think we give, overall, very generous schemes. There are changes that come about as a result of tribunals and we have to look at that.

“But as far as supporting disabled people, I think overall we do very proudly in this country.”

Asked again about the changes, Mr McLoughlin said: “We will obviously listen to what people say and look at the proposals that come forward, but overall we are still spending as a country over £60bn more each year than we are getting in as a country and we have got to look at trying to balance that budget and reduce that deficit.”

Disability benefit change shows Tories are still ‘nasty party’, says Corbyn Guardian.

Labour leader accuses government of ‘sneaking out’ news that it was overturning tribunal rulings on personal independence payments

Jeremy Corbyn has accused Theresa May of turning the Conservatives back into “the nasty party” by quietly announcing a change to rules on disability benefits.

The Labour leader told prime minister’s questions that the government had “sneaked” out the announcement that it was overturning two tribunal rulings on personal independence payments, including one that found people with extreme anxiety should be given the same status as those who are blind.

May responded by saying the pensions secretary, Damian Green, had made a written statement to parliament, briefed officials and called the office of his Labour shadow, Debbie Abrahams, only to get no answer or any response for four days.

Corbyn responded by disputing that anyone had tried to contact Abrahams’ office, and called the decision over the personal independence payments, known as PIPs, “shameful”.

Recalling May’s speech to the 2002 Conservative conference, when she warned it must shed its reputation as “the nasty party”, Corbyn noted comments over the weekend by George Freeman, the Tory MP who heads May’s policy unit.

Freeman said PIP benefits should go to “really disabled people” rather than those with mental health problems. Corbyn asked: “Isn’t that proof the nasty party is still around?”

May stressed Freeman had apologised for his comments. And she argued repeatedly that the reversal of the tribunal decisions did not amount to any sort of cut.

Expect a cut in some people’s potential benefits.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 1, 2017 at 5:05 pm

Welfare ‘Reform’: More Misery, More Hardship, and More Deaths.

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More details: National day of action against benefit sanctions Thursday 30 March 2017 at 07:00-20:00.


Psychologists say sanctions regime is “undermining mental health and wellbeing” and causing destitution, hardship, and widespread anxiety. Reports Welfare Weekly.

The British Psychological Society (BPS) has joined forces with other psychological bodies to call on the UK Government to suspend its cruel and degrading benefit sanctions regime.

BPS says the benefit sanctions regime, where vulnerable people can have payments docked for weeks or months at a time for failing to adhere to often unreasonable requirements, does not help people back to work and damages their mental health.

The call comes in response to the Government’s ‘Improving Lives’ consultation and following a recent report from the National Audit Office, which found there is little evidence to prove sanctions encourage people to look for work or offer value for money to taxpayers.

Benefit sanctions can also result in destitution, hardship, widespread anxiety and feelings of disempowerment, the psychologists say.

Welfare Weekly also reports,

Welfare reform is killing people, but the Tory press don’t want you to know

Rising numbers of deaths all linked to the ongoing welfare reforms remain unreported.

The manipulation of the British public is not difficult to achieve when the entire national press and media resist alerting the nation to the realities behind the ongoing welfare reforms.

The future demolition of the UK welfare state was planned long ago by a previous Tory government, and the 2008 banking crisis was simply the excuse needed to permit the demolition of the welfare state to begin.

Introduced in the UK by Thatcher, toxic neoliberal politics has swept the world where cash, not care, is deemed to be a virtue and the driver of national success, regardless of human consequences.

What remains unreported are the rising numbers of deaths all linked to the ongoing welfare reforms, numbering in excess of 100,000 chronically sick and disabled people since January 2011, as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) once again refuse to publish the updated mortality totals.

One aspect of the sanctions regime that is extremely cruel is its use against disabled people, which comes as part of a ‘package’ of regressive measures.

This article from the Guardian is a timely reminder,

The truth behind rising disabled employment: cuts, death and zero-hour contracts

 The disability employment gap is narrowing, but this is against a backdrop of sanctions, funding cuts and insecure employment.

2016 figures showed that more than half of disabled people who appealed their “fit to work” assessment eventually got the decision overturned.

“We’re still seeing some really worrying things coming out of those assessments,” says Ayaz Manji from the mental health charity Mind. “There’s a lot of really poor decision-making. Lots of the people who make those assessments don’t understand mental health.

“We’ve seen people who’ve been denied the benefit because they’ve been described as ‘well-groomed’, or ‘able to look somebody in the eye’. But obviously those things aren’t a good indication of whether someone has a serious mental health problem that’s affecting their ability to work. Often the support that people get is quite generic and doesn’t really take their mental health into account.”

Employment gap

The chaos surrounding the assessments comes amid a government drive to get more disabled people into work. But although charities and activists share that ambition, they accuse the government of acting counterproductively, with a punitive agenda of sanctions and funding cuts.

In 2015, the Treasury claimed: “increasing employment levels among people with disabilities and health conditions is a key part of the government’s aim to achieve full employment.” Specifically, the government aims to “halve the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people”.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 25, 2017 at 10:39 am

Sanctions Regime Has Not Gone Away.

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The Guardian today:

Benefit claimants are subjected to an unacceptable “postcode lottery” that can determine whether or not they are driven into poverty by sanctions, MPs have said.

A report by the public accounts committee found that some Work Programme providers and jobcentres withhold payments to twice as many people as others in the same area.

Sanctions are a punishment applied to benefit claimants adjudged to have infringed jobcentre rules. If claimants fail to turn up for appointments or to apply for enough jobs, officials effectively fine them by stopping their benefit payments for a minimum of four weeks, equal to about £300 for a claimant ov

The report by parliament’s spending watchdog, published on Tuesday, urges the government to review the use of financial penalties, which it finds “have increased in severity in recent years and can have serious consequences” such as forcing claimants into homelessness.

It says the Department for Work and Pensions has poor data with which to evaluate what works and is unable to estimate the wider impact of sanctions – including their overall cost or benefit to the public purse.

The MPs write: “There is an unacceptable amount of unexplained variation in the department’s use of sanctions, so claimants are being treated differently depending on where they live. It does not know whether vulnerable people are protected as they are meant to be. Nor can it estimate the wider effects of sanctions on people and their overall cost, or benefit, to government.”

A scathing report in November by the National Audit Office found sanctions varied “substantially” across the country.

BBC,

Benefits claimants face “unacceptable” variations in the number of payments being docked or removed entirely, depending on where in the UK they live, MPs have said.

The Public Accounts Committee said those penalised for missing job centre appointments or other failings often faced an “appalling situation”.

It urged the Department for Work and Pensions to monitor variations closely.

The DWP Alternative News Factory  went into mass production:

The DWP said policies were “under constant review” to ensure fairness.

It added that recent figures showed the number of jobseeker’s allowance recipients facing sanctions had fallen by more than half in the past year.

Meanwhile, less than 1% of those receiving employment and support allowance had been penalised.

Meanwhile,

More than a million unemployed benefits claimants have to meet certain conditions, such as showing they are looking for work, to receive their payments.

An estimated 400,000 sanctions were imposed in 2015.

The committee said penalties had increased in severity and could have “serious consequences” such as homelessness.

It found the system encouraged some people into jobs but the DWP could not be confident about what sanctions worked best because its data was poor.

The committee’s report said: “There is an unacceptable amount of unexplained variation in the department’s use of sanctions, so claimants are being treated differently depending on where they live.

“It [the DWP] does not know whether vulnerable people are protected as they are meant to be.

“Nor can it estimate the wider effects of sanctions on people and their overall cost, or benefit, to government.”

Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, said: “Benefit sanctions have been used as a blunt instrument by government.

“It is an article of faith for the Department for Work and Pensions that sanctions encourage people into work.

“The reality is far more complex and the potential consequences severe.”

She added: “Some people who receive sanctions stop claiming without finding work, adding to pressures on other services.

“Suspending people’s benefit payments can lead them into debt, rent arrears and homelessness, which can undermine their efforts to find work.”

The DWP produced alternative facts,

A DWP spokesman said: “Our sanctions guidance is the same right across the UK, and the fact is the number of sanctions has more than halved in recent years.

“Sanctions are an important part of our benefits system, and are only used in a very small percentage of cases as a last resort when people don’t fulfil their commitment to find work.”

The DWP added: “We keep our policies under constant review to ensure that they continue to function effectively and fairly, and where we identify an issue, we act quickly to put it right.”

 Meanwhile,

Ministers accused of ‘sending vulnerable people to food banks’ by failing to act on promise to curb benefit sanctions

A trial of a ‘yellow card’ early warning system helped hundreds avoid a loss of benefits – but the Government has not agreed to extending it across the country.

Ministers have been accused of sending desperate jobless and disabled people to food banks by stalling on a promised reform to cut the huge number of benefit sanctions.

A “yellow card” system, which gives claimants 14 days to challenge a decision to dock their benefits rather than imposing the punishment immediately, was pledged way back in October 2015.

A trial in parts of Scotland led to almost 500 people successfully explaining why they did not deserve the punishment after being accused of failing to meet commitments to actively look for work.

Yet the Department for Work and Pensions has refused to commit to introducing the early warning system across the country, insisting more research is needed.

Independent.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 21, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Universal Credit: The Epic Failure Continues.

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Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

I have heard from people who have done temporary jobs over Christmas and into the New Year that it is all too easy to get in difficulties with Universal Credit when you sign back on – the money you have earned in one part of a month means that you lose out in reduced  benefits for the rest of the month.

So, the government  advice seems to be, don’t do the right thing and sign off for a short while to work.

Oh, and don’t, really don’t get involved in trying to sort things out, that only bothers the people running the system who have far more important things to do.

As we can see, as the epic disaster that is Universal Credit continues to chunder along,

Universal Credit: from benefits panacea to government blunder, Dan Finn

Problems piling up

Critics, however, quickly pointed to design flaws and the erroneous assumptions made about the circumstances, employment capacity and budgeting skills of vulnerable individuals, poor families and low-paid workers. Incremental reforms have been made to administrative processes but mounting evidence, gathered by MPs on the Work and Pensions Select Committee, illustrates the problems experienced in the transition to the new system.

Local authorities, welfare agencies and landlords highlight slow and inaccurate payments, administrative complexity and poor communications, increased rent arrears and risks of eviction. Claimants have been subject to inappropriate job search requirements and sanctions. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) acknowledges some problems but anticipates that most will be resolved through ameliorative measures, such as the provision of “money advice” and “alternative payment arrangements”. The select committee is unconvinced and, in February, submitted 20 detailed concerns and questions to the minister. And these problems have occurred before the DWP even starts to migrate millions of existing benefit households into the new system.

A series of reports from the Public Accounts Committee have catalogued problems that have beset the implementation of Universal Credit. These include over-optimistic and untested assumptions, weak management, ineffective project control and poor governance. In his valedictory evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee in February, Lord Freud, who for five years was responsible for implementation of Universal Credit, acknowledged it had been “harder than anticipated”, blaming the high turnover of senior civil servants and the loss of in-house expertise to design the IT system.

The practical result was a major “reset” of the project in 2013 with the DWP utilising a “twin track” approach. This presently comprises the national expansion of a more limited live service, where Universal Credit claims are made online, with other transactions managed by phone and post. Over time, there will be a gradual roll out of the more complex, full digital service, which has now been developed in-house. Freud asserted that this will allow for a more considered implementation. He also claimed that reported problems currently experienced by Universal Credit claimants are exaggerated, not directly caused by the new system (as with some rent arrears), and will be offset as minor adjustments are made, people settle in the system and increase their earned income.

More people will lose out

Whatever the merits of the original Universal Credit design, its capacity to deliver the outcomes promised has been further compromised by a plethora of other welfare reforms eroding the living standards of claimants. Universal Credit payment rates have been frozen for four years, and the full roll out will now be associated with benefit cuts and delayed tax credit related reductions. New claimants on Universal Credit have already been hit by some of these reductions, which have been incorporated into the design of the new system. Existing benefit claimants – not yet on Universal Credit – enjoy some transitional protection but will lose this if their circumstances change.

Note: see above….

The cumulative impact is that Universal Credit has become a tool for delivering welfare cuts rather than improving living standards. The new benefit now creates more losers than gainers and, when combined with the reduced value of work allowances, there are now fewer incentives for lone parents and second earners to work. Equally concerning, much of the increased employment secured by those who do gain will be in “mini-jobs” where families will combine work and welfare rather than move from welfare to work.

Early findings show that although, within nine months, the first wave of largely childless, single Universal Credit recipients worked 12 days more than comparable claimants, the primary change had simply been to make “it more worthwhile and easier for them to do small amounts of work”.

Note:  See above.

Always attentive to our needs this has been announced.

Universal credit recipients to get money advice James Richards 15 Feb 17

Universal credit claimants can now receive free support for their personal finances through an online money management tool.

The money manager has been launched by the Money Advice Service in collaboration with the Department for Work and Pensions.

It is an interactive tool that offers personalised advice for Universal Credit claimants on a range of money topics, such as opening a bank account, paying bills and dealing with debt.

The service has been designed to help people make the transition from Universal Credit to the world of work.

Damian Hinds, employment minister at DWP, said: “Universal Credit gives people back control of their own lives and finances, and makes the transition into work much smoother.

“Our work coaches offer budgeting support to all new claimants and this tool will help more people get all the skills they need to manage their money.”

Claimants will be able to find personalised information about bank accounts, help with setting up direct payments to landlords, budgeting, and saving money on regular bills.

 While we’re living to dream in this world of alternative facts….on which Benefit rates are frozen.

UK inflation hits two-year high of 1.6%

Air fares, imported raw materials, food and petrol price rises plus Brexit-fuelled fall in pound will squeeze family finances in 2017

Written by Andrew Coates

February 18, 2017 at 11:08 am

Life on Benefits and Television Poverty Porn.

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Like many people here I watch serious documentaries (such as last night’s Channel Four documentary, Undercover: Britain’s Homeless Scandal: Channel 4 Dispatches).

I do not watch the endless series of entertainment programmes about people on the Dole.

Such as this one, The Great British Benefits Handout, described by the Mirror, “Channel 5 is still baiting the unemployed with yet another show about benefits. The show’s ‘experiment’, which gives three jobless families £26,000 to change their lives, is a smokescreen for inviting ridicule and vitriol”.

That is, from “the channel that brought us The Big Benefits Row Live , The Great Big Benefits Wedding Live, My Big Benefits Family, Celebs on Benefits: Fame to Claim, Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole, Benefits: The Millionaire Shoplifter and Benefits: Can’t Work, Won’t Work.”

So whatever goes on during their latest,  BENEFITS BRITAIN: LIFE ON THE DOLE, has passed me by.

Not that it’s only Channel Five.

The British television programme The Hardest Grafter illustrates this as it portrays 25 of Britain’s “poorest workers”, all having the shared ultimate objective of winning £15,000 through the completion of various tasks. In this case, the contestants’ poverty attracts a television audience, which was, before the show even started, contested as various petitions were made in order to stop what was believed to be a “perverted audience and profit making operation”. It is considered to not only be perverted, but also discriminatory as the contestants can only be poor.

BBC Two replied to these accusations by affirming that it would be a “serious social experiment to show just how hard those part of the low-wage economy work” as well as “tackling some of the most pressing issues of our time: why is British productivity low?”.

A spokesman from the show’s production company, Twenty Twenty stated that: “the show will challenge and shatter all sorts of myths surrounding the low-paid and unemployed sector”.

Broome, a reality TV show creator, states that it exposes the hardship of some families and their ability to keep on going through values, love and communication. He assures that he would much prefer create these shows rather than those like Jersey Shore which depicts “a group of strangers from New Jersey as they party throughout six seasons”.

Wikipedia. Poverty Porn. 

I sometimes wonder not just about the effect these gruesome shows have on people with well paid jobs, to bait and hate the poor, but on those on benefits.

In letter to the Guardian Ruth Patrick covers that angle.

Zoe Williams asks – somewhat rhetorically – what might be the impact of the endless growth of “poverty porn” on those who rely on benefits for all or most of their income (TV’s fixation with people on benefits breeds suspicion, 9 February). What my research with out-of-work benefit claimants shows – see policypress.co.uk/for-whose-benefit – is the ways in which the stereotypical, demeaning and one-dimensional characterisations that such shows so often feature contribute to a climate in which claimants feel that their behaviours and actions are being endlessly critiqued and found wanting.

The individuals I spoke to had often internalised negative descriptors – self-describing as a “scrounger” or “a bum” – even where they were hard at work caring for children, looking for employment or adapting to independent life after a childhood in care.

Living with poverty and benefits stigma had detrimental consequences for individuals’ self-esteem, mental health and citizenship status. “Poverty porn” and shows like The Moorside may be successfully recasting poverty as light entertainment, but their impact on those struggling to get by on benefits is anything but.
Dr Ruth Patrick
Postdoctoral researcher, School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool

Guardian

This is what Ruth Patrick wrote in 2015.

The realities of living on welfare are significantly different from government and media characterisations

What is often missing from these characterisations is the lived experiences of those who rely on benefits for all or most of their income. Admittedly, the explosion of ‘Poverty Porn’ does purport to provide such firsthand accounts. However, these are mediated by editing processes aimed at generating watchable, controversial content; processes which perhaps do not lend themselves to detailed pictures of the lived realities of ‘getting by’ on benefits during times of welfare reform.

Since 2010, I’ve been conducting small-scale research which has sought to explore these lived realities, with an explicit aim of considering the extent of (mis)match between Government and media rhetoric and lived experiences for those directly affected by welfare reform. By speaking to single parents and young jobseekers affected by the extended welfare conditionality and sanctions regime, as well as disabled people being moved off Incapacity Benefit and onto Employment and Support Allowance, I have been able to explore experiences of both welfare reform and the day-to-day realities of reliance on benefits in Britain today. Over a two year period, I interviewed participants three times, enabling me to explore both the absence and presence of change in people’s accounts as the welfare reforms took effect and individuals negotiated complex relationships with benefits and paid employment.

What this research has demonstrated is the very hard ‘work’ which ‘getting by’ on benefits entails, ‘work’ which is not represented in government and media characterisations of claimants as passive and inactive. This ‘work’ includes very tight budgeting practices, frequently having to make tough choices (such as to heat or eat), as well as creative ways of trying to eke out a little extra income, for example by scavenging for scrap in nearby streets. People repeatedly spoke of shopping daily so as to take advantage of the reduced shelves, and going to several shops in order to get the best deals. Parents often went without in order to ensure their children were well looked after. As single parent Chloe explained:

“I go without my meals sometimes.  I have to save meals for me kids. So I’ll have a slice of toast and they’ll have a full meal.”

There was also substantial evidence of participants engaging in other forms of socially valuable contribution such as volunteering and caring.  Adrian, a young Jobseeker, described why he valued the voluntary work he did at the homeless hostel where he used to live:

“I proper love it. You feel satisfaction as well if someone’s coming in really hungry. Give them some food, at least they’ve eaten for the night.”

With the Government’s endless emphasis on paid work as the primary responsibility of the dutiful citizen, these important forms of contribution often go unrecognised and under-valued. Importantly, too, the whole thrust of the Government’s welfare reform approach, like New Labour’s before it, places policy emphasis on moving people from ‘welfare dependency’ into paid employment, which can cause significant problems for those who want to prioritise these other forms of contribution.

The welfare reform policy agenda, with its sustained emphasis on welfare conditions and sanctions also suggests that people need the threat of sanctions to encourage – even compel them – to make the transition from benefits reliance to paid employment. The emphasis is placed firmly on the supply-side of the labour market, on the steps individual claimants need to be compelled to take to become employable, and to move into paid work. Repeatedly, a contrast is drawn between ‘hard working families’ and ‘welfare dependents’, with the latter needing these tough interventions to be ‘responsibilized’ into hard working citizens.

But, this research, like so much of the literature in this field (see, for example, recent articles on this blog) questioned the salience of such static groupings, instead finding participants with strong aspirations to work, where this was a realistic goal. It also found individuals who typically had worked in the past, with several moving in and out of work, during the time of the research, characteristic of the low-pay, no-pay cycle. Those who were not currently in paid employment had often internalised negative characterisations of claimants, with inevitable consequences for their self-confidence, self-esteem, and ironically future job prospects. Sam, a young jobseeker and recent care leaver explained why she wanted a job:

“I need a job; because I’m sick of scrounging. That’s how I think of it anyway, I’m sick of scrounging.”

When asked about the idea of benefits as a lifestyle choice, participants in this study were angry, even disbelieving, of the notion that they would ‘choose’ to rely on out-of-work benefits, instead emphasising the various factors, often linked to impairments, caring responsibilities and demand-side barriers to paid employment, which had led to their current situation. As single parent, Sophie put it:

“People don’t choose to live on benefits – it’s not our choice. It’s just the way that things have happened. We don’t choose to live on benefits, we don’t want to live on benefits.”

Young jobseeker James described why, for him, being on benefits would never be a choice

“[benefits] is enough for you to live off o’, but you haven’t got one bit of luxury left in your life. You’re not living, you’re existing. And that’s how it feels.”

Attending to the lived experiences of welfare reform is critical in helping us to understand the day-to-day realities of ‘getting by’ in contemporary Britain. These realities are significantly different from the government and media characterisations, with inevitable consequences for the likely success of the ongoing programme of welfare reforms. In particular, these realities undermine the logic for a pervasive emphasis on welfare conditionality, while also hinting at the very real financial hardship, and emotional and relational damage caused by welfare reform. If we want to understand more about benefits, and how processes of welfare reform are impacting on people, it is essential that we place far more emphasis on listening to what those directly affected have to say.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 14, 2017 at 11:15 am

Universal Credit Failures: the main issue, “the government’s attitude to managing IT projects.”

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IT Failure After Failure. 

It has long been the view of this Blog that, aside from the mean-spirited government approach to claimants, its unleashing of lawless ‘sanctions’, miserable benefit cuts, the pandering to a growing group of “outsourced” parasitical companies running ‘programmes’ for the out-of-work and testing the disabled, who make a pretty penny out of people’s suffering, there is something wrong with Universal Credit’s computer boffin side.

The Civil Service News (which is a serious and respected  journal, despite its Alternative Fact sounding name) agrees.

Or rather it reports his Lordship Freud saying “it’s not my fault gov,  it’s them there Government’s way of dealing with them IT projects.”

The minister tasked with overseeing the creation of the Universal Credit programme has admitted Whitehall’s outsourcing of IT was a “fundamental mistake” and that government needs to work to attract more digital talent.

Giving evidence to MPs on the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Conservative peer Lord Freud – who resigned from his position as minister for welfare reform in December last year – said that government “has to bring IT back in”.

The introduction of Universal Credit, the brainchild of Iain Duncan Smith, has been beset with problems and has repeatedly seen target implementation dates pushed back.

The programme’s aim was to combine six in-work and out-of-work benefits into a single, simpler system, but poor planning, repeated changes of senior civil servant leadership and a lack of understanding of the underlying IT requirements led to it running years behind its initial schedule.

Freud has previously said that both his team and the Government Digital Service team that was later helicoptered in to assist were “naïve” about the complexities of building the service.

In his evidence to MPs, however, Freud indicated that the main issue was the government’s attitude to managing IT projects.

“What I didn’t know, and I don’t think anyone knew, was how bad a mistake it had been for all of government to have sent out its IT,” Freud said.

“It happened in the 1990s and early 2000s. You went to these big firms to build your IT. And I think that was a most fundamental mistake, right across government and probably across governments in the western world.”

He said it had resulted in the Department for Work and Pensions having not an IT department, but an “IT commissioning department” that didn’t know how to do the work required for the project.

“The civil service thought it had the capacity because it could commission the big firms to do it. They didn’t see it as a problem – government as a whole didn’t see it as a problem,” Freud said. “It’s only when you get into it that you realise what a big problem it was.”

Freud added that the DWP had worked to bring that knowledge back in-house, and urged other departments to do the same.

However, he said it was hard to do this because the “image of government with the IT industry is not great”, particularly with uncompetitive pay scales. This, he said, was something that IT has in common with the specialisms of running contracts and project management.

“We need, in government, to be able to pay for those specialisms if we are to pay for those projects.”

After the 2013 reset of the Universal Credit programme, the department took a “twin-track” approach.

This involved rolling out the “live service” – a programme that allowed people to register online but with all further transactions being done over the phone or by post – while continuing to develop the ‘digital’ service that would allow all interaction online.

In his evidence, Freud said that he would have built something smaller, earlier so the team had something to test and learn from.

“It’s impossible to envisage how it will work, something as big as that,” he said, adding that it was very difficult to manage something that was “just conceptual”.

Instead, Freud said, organisations need something to coalesce around and start progressing – even if it isn’t perfect at the start.

Another issue Freud identified in his evidence was a lack of continuity on the civil service side, with six senior responsible officers and six project managers in his first five years on Universal Credit.

About the author

Rebecca Hill is the online editor of PublicTechnology, where a version of this story first appear.

While Freud says “it wasn’t me!” this is happening:

Universal Credit “serious risk” to West Dunbartonshire tenants

A council officer made the claim last week as councillors agreed to purchase software, which will predict which tenants will struggle to settle their bills

Fears have been raised over the “serious risk” Universal Credit poses to tenants’ ability to pay their rent.

West Dunbartonshire Council’s Strategic Lead for Housing and Communities, Peter Barry made the frightening claim last week as councillors agreed to go ahead with the purchase of software which, it is hoped, will predict which tenants will struggle to settle their bills.

Members of the authority’s housing and communities committee gave the green light to officers to spend £50,000 on RentSense which analyses two years worth of data identifying tenants who may be liable to default on payments.

Council officers stressed that this will allow support to be given to tenants in financial need at an early stage.

Mr Barry said: “The biggest risk for us is Universal Credit. The risk to council tax and rent collection rates are a serious risk.

“To be able to address that before it becomes a problem is critical for us.

“The software is directed at contacting people who are in rent arrears.

“We still need to make better analysis rather than waiting on rent issues becoming a problem. We have got to get into these households when they are in week one or week two to get a payment plan in place. The software allows us to do it.”

Written by Andrew Coates

February 10, 2017 at 4:19 pm

Lord Freud Questioned about Universal Credit Cock-ups.

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His Lordship Appears Today Before the Work and Pension Committee.

Last night Channel Four News reported that Lord Freud will appear today before Parliament’s Work and Pension Committee for their Inquiry into Universal Credit.

8 February 2017 9:30 am

Oral Evidence Session

Witness(es)

Lord Freud, former Minister of State for Welfare Reform, Department for Work and Pensions

Location

The Wilson Room, Portcullis House.

Channel Four News covered many of the flaws of Universal Credit highlighted in the Guardian article below (thanks to people posting this in the comments).

 Freud, “the architect of the controversial universal credit system”, who stepped down as Minister last December,  will be asked about these ‘difficulties’.

According to well-establish rumour Freud once got out of hand in Trafalgar Square, with his pal Bertie Wooster, on Boat Race Night.

His credible claim was that it was Bertie who nicked the Copper’s helmet and spent the night in the cells, appearing before the Beak under the name of Leon Trotski.

Bertie’s defence of “stout denial” is, nevertheless, thought to be the strategy his Lordship intends to follow.

Universal credit flaws pushing claimants towards debt and eviction    and

Guardian 7th of February. 

Recipients falling into rent arrears because of payment delays, forcing them to turn to food banks, Guardian investigation reveals.

Thousands of benefit claimants are facing debt, rent arrears and eviction as a result of policy design flaws in universal credit, according to landlords and politicians, who are demanding an overhaul of the system.

They have warned that UC rules that require claimants to wait at least six weeks for a first benefit payment mean many are going without basic living essentials, forcing them to turn to food banks and loan sharks.

Ministers are being urged to slow down the national rollout and to increase support for vulnerable claimants who are struggling to cope with the demands of monthly payments and an increasingly online-only system.

The findings have emerged during an investigation by the Guardian, which has also revealed that:

  • Eight out of 10 social housing tenants moved on to UC are falling into rent arrears or increasing the level of pre-existing arrears.
  • Families unable to manage the regulation 42-day wait for a first payment are regularly referred to food banks by housing associations or local MPs.
  • Some claimants are waiting as long as 60 days for an initial payment because of processing delays on top of the formal wait.
  • Uncertainty about the system has contributed to a dramatic decline in the number of private landlords willing to take on benefit recipients, even if they are in work.

Organisations representing more than 1m council households said that UC claim processing problems had notably worsened over the past few months. The National Federation of Almos, which represents arm’s length organisations running council housing, and the Association of Retained Council Housing called for payment waits to be reduced.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 8, 2017 at 10:58 am

Universal Credit Puts Vulnerable Homeless into Debt.

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DWP News HQ: “claimants are comfortably managing”.

If people scroll through to the end of this article they will see that the Factory for Alternative Facts has been hard at work offering a reply.

How do you get a job with this flourishing branch of the DWP?

Suspension is growing that the work is outsourced to a busy team circling the earth in rebooted Roswell Flying Saucers.

EVERY tenant of homeless accommodation in the Highlands has been plunged into debt by the roll out of a controversial new benefits system.

Reports the excellent Ross-shire Journal.

The “terrifying” situation, which has been blamed on universal credit, means Highland Council is now owed £704,347 from claimants of the new benefit alone. This has increased by 82 per cent from £317,000 since September last year.

More than half of this comes from Inverness, where £473,227 is owed.

The local authority is owed around £1.3 million for all unpaid rent.

Universal credit is a single benefit to replace job seeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit.

It has been widely criticised for leaving people worse off, as well as implementing a benefits freeze of a minimum six weeks while applications are processed.

Any new application or change of circumstances, including a new job, change of address or birth of a baby will result in the freeze, leaving people unable to pay rent.

“Live service” universal credit is applicable all over the Highlands and only applies to new claims but “full service” is currently being trialled in Inverness, where claimants have reported benefits freezes of four months, leaving them penniless and unable to pay rent or buy food.

Council leader Margaret Davidson said the missed payments have a knock on impact on the council’s ability to provide housing and predicts the situation getting worse.

“In Highland all of the people in homeless accommodation are in rent arrears, that is just awful,” she said.

“They don’t get any money for at least six weeks so they are always starting on a negative and a lot of them never get enough to be able to pay it back.

“It is already a major problem and it is going to get worse.

“We have to deal with not getting that rent income and bear that financial burden which then impacts on the rest of our housing stock because we don’t have enough money for repairs and new builds.”

The full service system is due to be rolled out to the rest of the Highlands in the summer but Inverness MP Drew Hendry has called for an immediate halt until the system can be managed more efficiently.

“These benefit cuts are lining the pockets of the UK Treasury while people living in temporary accommodation, along with working families, lone parents, those in receipt of disability benefits and job seekers are left without enough to make ends meet,” he said.

“The Scottish Government is also paying to mitigate bedroom tax in addition to other measures and now, thanks to this shambolic roll out, local authorities have to foot the bill for arrears. It is not on.

“The situation is now at crisis point and I have asked ministers to undertake an immediate consultation of the situation, with a pause on any further roll out in the meantime.”

Mr Hendry also described a constituent, who has been named only as Gavin, who receives just £60 per week for housing benefit on universal credit, despite his homeless accommodation costing £175 per week.

“Even if he gave up food, heat, light and everything else, if he spent every single penny on rent, he would still be short,” said Mr Hendry.

“It is Highland Council left carrying the debt of the money Gavin and others simply don’t have.”

Mr Hendry’s staff have been working with the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and the council’s welfare support team to help people who have been left without money.

He urged anyone who has been affected to contact one of these organisations for help.

But Inverness Ness-side councillor Alasdair Christie, who also manages the Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey CAB, pointed out CAB grants are being slashed at a time when more people than ever before need help.

“More than half of the people who approach CAB do so because they need benefits advice,” he said.

“More and more people are coming to us with issues with universal credit. It is a complex system which is difficult to use and even once they get the money a lot of people are getting far less than before.

“It has been a really rapid increase for us because it is such a challenging system.

“We are seeing more vulnerable people through the door than ever before but at a time when we are facing funding cuts ourselves.”

Cllr Christie added that people often miss appointments or have to hitch hike because they can’t afford the travel cost.

“We have seen people come to us when they have lost money because they haven’t been able to keep job centre appointments because they haven’t even got the bus fare to get there,” he said.

“Others have had to hitch hike from Aviemore, it is a very unsympathetic system.

“It is putting a strain on everything – the council, CAB, local MPs.

“In terms of housing arrears, people get into arrears quickly because they have no income and it fast becomes unmanageable.

“The council then bears that burden and that is not sustainable.”

The Roswell News Satellite responds with some alternative facts.

But a spokesman for the UK Department for Work and Pensions said universal credit claimants are “comfortably managing”.

“The reasons for rent arrears are complex and to link it to welfare reform is misleading,” he said.

“In many cases tenants are already behind with their rent before they move onto universal credit.

“Our research shows that the majority of Universal Credit claimants are comfortable managing their budgets, and that after four months, the proportion of claimants we surveyed, who were in arrears at the start of their claim, fell by a third.”

Written by Andrew Coates

February 4, 2017 at 10:27 am

Universal Credit Cock-ups: the Computer Industry Speaks.

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“Basic flaw rests in the idea that we can “personalise” benefits for millions of people. There are just too many moving parts; and in a system with millions of iterations, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. “

Following the advice of many people on this Blog, I have been looking at what the chaps and chapettes in the Computer industry have to say about the piss-poor Universal Credit scheme.

It’s with little doubt that the Macedonian News Factory, the ‘alterative facts’ of the DWP will say otherwise but these are some of their views;

Department for Work and Pensions to spend £90m enhancing heavily criticised Universal Credit IT system – much of which will be thrown away

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is to spend a further £90m on enhancing the heavily criticised IT system developed for Universal Credit – much of which will eventually be thrown away.

But the new “twin-track” approach to the project – which involves developing a new digital system largely in-house with little or no contribution from the existing IT contractors – is budgeted to cut the overall IT costs by £135m.

The figures are revealed in the latest draft Universal Credit business case, excerpts of which have been seen by Computer Weekly.

The document shows that the total IT investment cost for the government’s flagship welfare reform programme is expected to be £535m – down from the £670m forecast in a previous business case in late 2012.

The largest element of that cost is £397m for the existing system– the previous total of £670m was entirely attributed to this element of the project – with £307m of that figure already spent.

“Costs reflect actuals of £307m and future expenditure of £90m to cover the stabilisation of the existing live service in Pathfinder, development of the service to accept claims from couples in Spring 2014, families in later 2014 and tax credit claimants in Jan [stet] 2015,” said the draft business case document.

The department admitted in December last year that it was writing off £40.1m of the IT work already completed on Universal Credit, with a further £91m to be written off over a five-year period instead of 15 years as previously planned. This means that by the time Universal Credit is fully rolled out in 2017/2018, at least £131.1m of the planned £397m IT spend on the current system will have been thrown away.

Most of the overall decrease in budget appears to come from the change in approach that sees a new “end-state” digital solution being developed in parallel with enhancements to the existing system, which is currently being used to support the Pathfinder trials for Universal Credit.

As revealed by Computer Weekly earlier this week, the four big IT suppliers working on the existing system – HP, Accenture, IBM and BT – will have “significantly less” involvement in the digital system, with in-house DWP resources preferred.

Building the “end-state solution” will cost £106m based on the latest assessments, according to the business case document. That figure includes external IT costs of £69m and the in-house “Design and Build” team at £37m.

Computer Weekly. 8th of January.

In the same Computer Weekly Paul Spicker comments,

It is easy to blame the IT when things go wrong, but when people are asked to do impossible things, it is not surprising if they do not deliver

The government’s Universal Credit scheme has been bedevilled by a series of disasters. The problems are nowhere more visible than in the Department for Work and Pensions’ failure to set up the IT.
After three and a half years, the systems the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) needs to make the benefit work do not yet exist. Much of what has been produced has been written off as useless; pilots have been repeatedly delayed; the implementation depends heavily on temporary stop-gaps and manual processing; the continuity of management has been blighted by illness and staff leaving.

It is easy to blame the IT when things go wrong, but when people are asked to do impossible things, it should not be surprising if they do not deliver.

Universal Credit (UC) is supposed to combine a range of existing benefits into one, simpler system. Those benefits include:

  • Jobseekers Allowance, for the unemployed;
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), for those too ill to work;
  • Housing Benefit, for tenants on low incomes;
  • Child Tax Credit, for families in and out of work;
  • Working Tax Credit, for people on low wages; and
  • Income Support, for others (such as lone parents and people with disabilities) on very low incomes.

Benefits are complicated for good reasons. They are trying to do lots of different things, in lots of different circumstances. UC won’t make the system markedly less complex. All the component elements will still be there, fortified by a clutch of extra rules.

The big idea was that UC would deliver “personalised” benefits in “real time”. There were obviously difficult IT issues that needed to be resolved – such as matching up records from the DWP, local authorities and HM Revenue & Customs for people in different jobs – and they haven’t been fixed. However, the problems are more fundamental.

Any computer system could only ever hope to go as fast as the information that goes into it. People whose lives are constantly changing often can’t give clear answers to straight questions. Many current claimants are working in “flexible”, insecure employment, but people who are working casually often don’t know if they’re really employed or if they’re going to be paid.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants has warned that many of the self-employed people they work with find it hard to give a sensible account of their income once a year, let alone once a month. People whose relationships are breaking up, or being newly formed, don’t know what their status is. A DWP minister has tried to explain how complicated UC becomes when two divorced people join their families together – the claim has to be dealt with manually.

A recent survey of people with disabilities – all eligible for benefits – found that 62% of respondents did not think of themselves as disabled. Of the rest, 11% said they were disabled “sometimes”.

The problems of benefits have been extensively researched.

People don’t understand the rules. They don’t know when they’re entitled to, or when they stop being entitled. Many people don’t claim benefits they are supposed to receive. There are particular difficulties associated with means-testing – setting up rules that can be enforced, trying to balance equity and incentives and all while trying to keep tabs on fluctuating incomes and constantly changing circumstances.

The most complicated benefits, such as Pension Credit and ESA, are dogged by “fraud and error”, a tally mainly made up of mistakes by claimants and staff.

Past governments have presided over a long series of administrative fiascos. There was Unified Housing Benefit, which relied on a complex calculation and an arcane set of rules. There was the Child Support Agency, which asked for the current income, liabilities and household circumstances of two families. There was the Tax Credit scheme, condemned by the Ombudsman as being unsuited to the needs of people on low incomes.

UC incorporates just about every design feature that hasn’t worked in the course of the last 30 years. And it adds others, such as:

  • “Digital by default”, which can’t work because of basic security requirements – it has already been given up as hopeless:
  • Applying conditions to couples jointly, which means that declarations by one person are never enough;
  • Setting impossible conditions for job search, which can’t be complied with or policed effectively; and imposing sanctions that cut people off benefits for arbitrary fixed periods.

The most basic flaw rests in the idea that we can “personalise” benefits for millions of people. There are just too many moving parts; and in a system with millions of iterations, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. 

To be able to manage, benefit claimants need secure, predictable incomes. A benefit system needs to be simpler, less individual, slower to change and less intrusive. This one is collapsing under the weight of its overweening.

Bear this in mind!

Written by Andrew Coates

January 31, 2017 at 12:13 pm

One in Ten Job Centres to Close as “Claimants go Digital”

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1 in 10 to Close…

Following our warning that the Glasgow Jobcentre closures looked like the start of a wider programme, this flickered on the telly this morning…

Jobcentres close as claimants go online

One in ten centres in England, Wales and Scotland will shut, union officials have said; the Department for Work and Pensions claimed the number of redundancies would be small

Jobcentres are due to close under reforms to deal with “under-used” buildings, putting thousands of staff jobs at risk as benefit claimants move online.

One in ten centres in England, Wales and Scotland will shut, union officials have said, in a move that Labour called “reckless at best and perverse at worst”.

The Department for Work and Pensions said that four out of five claims for jobseeker’s allowance and 99 per cent of applicants for universal credit now submitted claims online. The number of redundancies would be small, it added.

Since this is the Times I recommend instead reading instead the Mirror report (a paper that stands up for us lot)

“Reckless” plans to slash millions from the welfare department’s bill by shutting Jobcentres across the country have been revealed.

The Department for Work and Pensions today announced it wants to merge staff and facilities from 78 smaller Jobcentre Plus offices into larger ones.

It wants to move another 50 into council or other similar offices to create “one-stop shops”, and shut 27 back offices.

The DWP insisted the move – carried out to slash its bills by £180m a year – would employ “under-used” buildings more efficiently.

But the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents DWP staff, warned jobless people will have to travel further to sign on – and claimed tho

The PCS union warned more than one in ten Jobcentres in England, Wales and Scotland was set to close.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Jobcentres provide a lifeline for unemployed people, and forcing them to travel further is not only unfair, it undermines support to get them back to work.

“We are opposed to these closures and will vigorously fight any attempt to force DWP workers out of their jobs.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams branded the closures “reckless at best and perverse at worst”.

She added: “Only this government’s distorted austerity agenda could lead to such contradictory policies. Either the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing, or they are both acting together to make working people’s lives harder.

“This Tory Government’s decision to close Jobcentres across the country shows they are not serious about helping people to find decent, secure and well-paid work.”

It comes after previous plans to shut half the Jobcentre sites in Glasgow prompted fury from the PCS and SNP MPs.

The spur for the closures is that, ” because a 20-year contract for most of the DWP’s 900 sites with property firm Telereal Trillium expires in March 2018.

The Macedonian News Factory has already issued its alternative facts: 

A DWP source claimed a figure of thousands of job losses was “completely wrong” but estimated around 750 jobs were at risk.

A DWP source said help was available for vulnerable or disabled people who face travelling further for face-to-face appointments.

Mr Hinds added: “Where we are proposing closing a site we will take all possible precautions to minimise disruption for claimants, and vulnerable people will receive home visits and postal claims.”

In a statement issued by the DWP press team he said: “We will always make sure that people have the support they need to get into and progress within work, that’s why we are recruiting 2,500 more work coaches to help those who need it most.

“The way the world works has changed rapidly in the last 20 years and the welfare state needs to keep pace. As more people access their benefits through the internet, many of our buildings are under-used. We are concentrating our resources on what we know best helps people into work.

“The changes we’ve announced today will help ensure that the way we deliver our services reflect the reality of today’s welfare system.”

The Mirror publishes;

….a full list of Jobcentres earmarked to be “divested” – it’s thought in most cases this will mean moving its services into another Jobcentre nearby. Others not on this list are earmarked for ‘co-location’ in council or other offices. This list also does not include previously-announced closures or back office sites that are set to shut. For the full list please click the link above to the government’s website.

It’s already happening not just in Glasgow but elsewhere in Scotland,

More Scottish Jobcentre closures announced by UK Government (STV)

The cuts come in addition to the 13 Jobcentres closures, eight of them in Glasgow alone, announced last month by the DWP.

Two other Jobcentres, Lanark and Wick, will move into existing Jobcentres under the plans.

 The UK Government say the closures across the UK will save taxpayers £180m each year over the next decade.

Planned closures

  • Inverness – DWP assessment centre
  • Aberdeen, Greyfriars House – DWP administration centre
  • Alexandria – Jobcentre
  • Broxburn – Jobcentre
  • Coatbridge – DWP administration centre
  • Edinburgh, St Andrew Street – Jobcentre
  • Glasgow Portcullis House – DWP administration centre
  • Inverness, Church Street – Jobcentre and DWP administration centre
  • Larkhall – Jobcentre
  • Paisley, Lonend – DWP administration centre.
  • Port Glasgow – Jobcentre
  • Benbecula, Jobcentre
  • Cumnock – DWP administration centre
  • Glasgow, Corunna House – DWP administration centre
  • Wick, Girnigoe – Jobcentre to move to Caithness House.
  • Lanark – Jobcentre to move to South Lanarkshire Council office, South Vennel

It is said that ” four out of five claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance and 99% of applicants for Universal Credit submit claims online.”

Written by Andrew Coates

January 27, 2017 at 10:55 am

Universal Credit: Twelve Week Wait for Any Payment.

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Talking to somebody in the library I learnt that some people round here are already on Universal Credit (and the horrors of ‘Job Search’ at the notorious SEETEC).

Writing posts about the failings of Universal Credit has become a duty.

But not a hard one since a story emerges every couple of days.

This is the latest (Daily Mirror)

People who move onto the Tories’ flagship welfare scheme are waiting nearly three months for payments to roll in – putting them at risk of eviction, a town hall boss has said.

The stark warning came tonight from Croydon Council in south London, a key pilot area for the “full digital service” of Universal Credit.

The system rolls six benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit and Child Tax Credit into one payment and is slowly being phased in across the UK after several delays.

But analysts have claimed millions will face overall cuts due to changes in “work allowances” under the new system.

Mark Fowler, Croydon Council’s director of welfare, said some single people under 35 had their payments cut from £155 a week to just £72 in the new scheme.

He told MPs on the Commons Work and Pensions Committee: “We have seen in Croydon, on average, it’s about 12 weeks before any form of payment is awarded, which is creating considerable pressures as you can understand.

“Then even when this customer cohort are awarded money, that’s still a difference [between] £72 [and] £155 a week.

“So that’s an immediate pressure and immediate potential for eviction as well.”

MPs pointed out the time lag was so long that landlords could begin evictions for unpaid rent.

Mr Fowler agreed, adding: “You have got people moving from one system to another. Most people pay their rent in advance, not in arrears.

“What we have also found is people in emergency accommodation – so people who are incredibly vulnerable, fleeing domestic violence, mental health issues, single parents, English isn’t their first language – are particularly hit by the approach to Universal Credit.”

He said the council had a duty to move some people out of emergency housing within six weeks – but benefit payments only start when they’ve been in place for six weeks.

Nick Atkin, chief executive of the Halton Housing Trust, urged the rollout to be slowed down and blamed poor communication within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

He said Universal Credit claimants had just 9% of all Halton’s tenancies but 37% of all its arrears.

And they were four times as likely to have been served an eviction notice compared to other claimants.

He added: “There’s an increased risk for those people of losing their homes.”

Being fair chaps the Mirror then presents “alternative facts” from the DWP’s Macedonian News Factory.

 A DWP spokesman said: “The best way to help people pay their rent is to help them into work, and under Universal Credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

“Universal Credit is designed to mirror the world of work by giving people responsibility over their lives, and paying Housing Benefit directly to claimants is an important part of this process.

“Budgeting advice, direct rent payments to landlords and benefit advances can be provided for those who need them.”

Written by Andrew Coates

January 25, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Job Centre Closures.

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Job Centre closures in Scotland were announced a few months ago.

 

Today (Welfare Weekly):

The Scottish National Party has condemned Scottish Secretary David Mundell for ‘failing to lift a finger’ to prevent the UK Government from shutting half of the job centres in Glasgow, as the campaign against closures gathers pace.

A consultation on closing 8 of the city’s 16 job centres – first revealed last month – comes to a close at the end of January. The SNP’s MPs, MSPs and councillors in Glasgow are encouraging the public to sign a petition against the plans.

A cross-party letter to David Mundell asking the Scottish Secretary to back the campaign – whose signatories include all of Glasgow’s MPs and MSPs except the two Conservative MSPs – has gone unanswered.

Repeatedly pressed on the issue in the House of Commons this week, Mr Mundell failed to give any commitment to lobby the DWP to halt the closures, and could only say that he hoped that they would not impact on service users.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson called David Mundell’s failure to speak out against the closures a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” – and questioned what the purpose of the Scottish Secretary was if not to speak up for Scotland at the Cabinet table.

Commenting Angus Robertson MP said: “Tory plans to close half of Glasgow’s jobcentres are wrong-headed and completely counterproductive – and their flawed consultation process only adds insult to injury.

“The SNP has been actively opposing this issue – and just this week we led debates in both the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament – but our attempts to get the Scottish Secretary to join us in calling on the DWP to halt these plans have fallen on deaf ears.

“In fact, there is no evidence that David Mundell has so much as lifted a finger to prevent these closures – or even soften the blow.

“Given the potentially devastating effect that these closures will have on some very vulnerable people in Glasgow, his failure to speak out is frankly a disgraceful dereliction of duty.

“It is completely unacceptable that Glasgow, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, is set to be the first part of the UK to have job centre closures imposed on it – and at a disproportionately high level.

“We will not accept being dragged back to the bad old days of Tory governments – with no mandate north of the border – treating Scotland as a guinea pig for their unpopular policies and doing anything they want.

“But there is also a wider issue here. If Mr Mundell has – as is evident – done so little to fight Scotland’s corner on the issue of job centre closures, then what hope do we have that he has done anything behind the scenes to keep Scotland in the single market as part of the Brexit negotiations?

“The Scottish Secretary should be fighting for Scotland’s interests in Cabinet – not the other way around – and if Mr Mundell is unwilling to do that, then you have to wonder what the point is in there being a Scottish Secretary.”

This is an official press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP). Opinions are those of the author only.

PCS:

DWP/MB/064/16 gave details of DWP’s announcement on 7 December of its proposals to close 50% of the job centres in Glasgow, as part of DWP’s People and Location Programme. Since then the GEC has been working closely with the local branches in Glasgow to build the campaign against these closures.

Some of the campaigning activities that the GEC and local reps have been involved in include:

  • Members meetings at each site on the day of the announcement with a GEC member or Full time officer present on every site threatened with closure
  • Briefing local press and radio that delivered same day coverage of the announcement in the Daily Record and other media outlets in Scotland
  • Sustained press interest in this story ensuring there is ongoing press coverage on the proposed closures.
  • Meeting and briefing local Glasgow MPs, resulting in a question being put at Prime minister’s questions on the day of the closure announcement. Also briefing the shadow Labour minister on the closures.
  • Public meetings being held in locations close to the threatened job centres
  • Organising a city wide public meeting on the closures
  • A full debate on the closures in the House of Commons, called by the chair of the PCS Parliamentary Group, SNP MP Chris Stephens and a meeting between the government minister and the Glasgow MPs.
  • Hold further meetings with members on the sites threatened with closure to get their feedback and to discuss the next steps.

PCS has pressed hard for a meeting with DWP management where we will continue to fight to protect members’ jobs and conditions and to make the case for expanding local job centre provision not closing it. DWP have agreed to further discussions with us on 10th January. No further announcements of the future of DWP offices will be made in the meantime.

The GEC is also working with the Glasgow branches on preparing a detailed response to the consultation on the proposed closures.

Further announcements of closures in other parts of the country are still expected. The GEC will work closely with branches and regions in protecting our members and defending services to the public, both on announcements that have already been made and on ones still to come.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 22, 2017 at 11:54 am

Universal Credit, “Shambolic”.

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The saga of the love child of Ian Duncan Smith (now an enthusiastic Brexiter) continues.

Background: a brief history of cock-ups with Universal Credit.

First, it was a whole set of problems about their computer systems.”Universal Credit has been dogged by IT problems. A DWP whistleblower told Channel 4’s Dispatches in 2014 that the computer system was “completely unworkable”, “badly designed” and “out of date”.[48] A survey of Universal Credit staff found that 90% considered the IT system inadequate.” (Wikipedia)

…..experts say that the project was never truly agile in the first place. This was due to the way contracts with fixed features were set up with major IT suppliers such as  IBM, Accenture, Atos and Hewlett-Packard, and the requirements for a “big bang” launch in October 2013 (a deadline which, of course, it missed).

Senior civil servants pitch the current total losses between £161m to almost the entire amount spent so far (which ranges from £312m to almost £700m depending on who you ask, and Labour says equates to just over £190,000 per claimant). During a Public Accounts Committee session in September, DWP finance director Mike Driver said £161m was his “best assessment” of likely total losses, while the Major Projects Authority director Dr Norma Wood said that much of the £303m invested in IT by that point was “not fit for purpose”.New Statesman)

Then there was the merry tale of on-line applications which led to  MP Ronnie Campbell, tabling this motion, “That this House notes that since only fifteen per cent of people in deprived areas have used a Government website in the last year, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) may find that more Universal Credit customers than expected will turn to face-to-face and telephone help from their local authority, DWP helplines, Government-funded welfare organisations, councillors and their Hon. Member as they find that the automated system is not able to deal with their individual questions, particular concerns and unique set of circumstances”.

Next it was the five-week delay between making a claim and receiving money.

Then it was direct payment of housing benefit to tenants when it used to go (for example for social tenants) directly to the landlords. This has already led to people getting into arrears, as they, not unexp[ecrtably., spend the money on luxuries like gas and electricity bills, not to mention food, before paying the rent.

Next was the complicated system’s impact on work. “A House of Commons Library briefing note raises the concern that Universal Credit might make people reluctant to take more hours at work:

There is concern that families transferring to Universal Credit as part of the managed migration whose entitlement to UC is substantially lower than their existing benefits and tax credits might be reluctant to move into work or increase their hours if this would trigger a loss of transitional protection, thereby undermining the UC incentives structure.

Finally we learnt (Guardian. July 2016)

The government’s universal credit scheme has once again slipped behind schedule and will now not be completed until 2022, five years behind its original projected finish date, officials have admitted.

Critics said the latest rescheduling – which adds 12 months to the last published planned completion date and is the seventh reset since 2013 – raised the question of whether the much-criticised welfare programme was fit for purpose.

Ironically, the delay will have the effect of providing temporary respite for millions of claimants who stood to lose thousands of pounds a year when they were removed across to universal credit from the tax credits system after July 2018.

Now there is this…..

DWP slammed for “shambolic” Universal Credit roll-out. TFN News.

An MP has blamed the DWP for creating homelessness over its “incompetent” processing of Universal Credit claims.

It emerged last week in a Glasgow City Council report into the impact the scheme was having on its services that homeless people in the city has been placed on the new scheme in error by the DWP.

Now Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, is demanding answers from the DWP as to how many more homeless people across the UK have been placed on the controversial scheme in error.

The report, published by the Glasgow City Joint Integration Board, found that 73 homeless people have been put on Universal Credit, despite DWP guidance instructing homeless people being exempt from the new scheme.

Thewliss said: “The experience of the 73 homeless claimants in Glasgow, who have been added to Universal Credit in error, show that homelessness services across the UK are likely to take a serious financial hit once Universal Credit is fully rolled out.

“The suggestion from the Minister that Discretionary Housing Payment is used to top this up completely misses the point. With local authorities forced to cover the arrears of their tenants, which means less money to provide vital services which people rely on in times of need.

“The UK government needs to wake up to the reality that DWP actions are cutting the safety net of Council homelessness services, deeply undermining their stated aim of helping people into work.

“They can take the first step to head off this problem by halting the deeply flawed implementation of Universal Credit.”

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “Welfare reform has already had a significant impact on our budget for homelessness services.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 19, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Brexit: Welfare Under Attack.

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As Teresa May speaks on Brexit today we will hear a lot about how the free movement of labour in Europe will be ended. That it is has helped create unemployment.

We will hear about ” building a “stronger” and a “fairer” country and creating a “truly Global Britain”.

This is the reality of what is what is happening and what they plan for the unemployed.

The Mirror reported this a couple of days ago.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said the UK could change its economic model towards a US-style low tax, low welfare one as a result of Brexit .

His comments came after Theresa May angered Remainers by pushing for a hard Brexit that will take us out of the single market and customs union.

This is already happening.

And this:

Universal Credit has pushed 86% of claimants in council housing into rent arrears Welfare Weekly.

Shocking research reveals Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship benefit has left almost 9 in 10 claimants living in council housing in rent arrears.

Joint research from the NFA and ARCH reveals almost nine in ten Universal Credit (UC) claimants living in council housing are in rent arrears, two and a half years after Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship new benefit was introduced.

The research charted the impact of UC on the rent arrears of claimants living in council owned homes and found 86% are in arrears, up from 79% in March 2016, with 59% of these more than a month behind on their rent.

Although 63% of UC tenants in arrears had pre-existing arrears before their UC claim only 44% of them are on APAs (alternative payment arrangements with direct payment from DWP).

The average value of rent arrears owed by UC claimants living in council housing has almost doubled since 31 March 2016, from £321 to £615.

  • With the Benefit Freeze we will see people increasingly unable to cope with rising prices.
  • With Universal Credit we will see more and more people falling into arrears and debt: Food Banks will become a normal part of the ‘welfare’ state.
  • With the Work and Health Programme we will see more bogus courses, more dodgy people from the welfare-to-work industry making a pile, and more sanctions.

Some fairer society!

As James Bloodworth says:

Written by Andrew Coates

January 17, 2017 at 10:53 am

Government shakeout of welfare to work: what will it mean for benefit claimants?

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What they didn’t mention on above…

Thousands of jobs to go in government shakeout of welfare to work sector The Guardian (just now).

“The sector is said to be preparing for a ‘bloodbath’.”

Funding to shrink by 75% from March when work programme is replaced by much smaller work and health programme.

Thousands of experienced employment coaches are expected to lose their jobs over the next few weeks as ministers trigger the first stage of a massive shakeout of the government-funded welfare to work sector that will see it shrink by 75%.

The employment services industry is preparing for what one insider called “a bloodbath” as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) moves to replace the work programme with the much smaller work and health programme.

Background (from here).

In the November 2015 spending review the government announced that the current work programme, due to end in March 2017, will be replaced by a ‘work and health’ programme.

Currently central government, through the Department for Work & Pensions, delivers the current work programme, which is a universal programme for the long-term unemployed. That has run for nearly five years and it will continue to run now until 31 March 2017.

The aim of the new Work and Health programme is to shift the focus from what might be termed “orthodox unemployment” to people with physical and psychological barriers to employment.  The work and health programme therefore will focus on the very long-term unemployed – two years-plus of unemployment – as one element of the client group and then another element, the health element, will be those citizens that have health barriers.

Localism, integration and devolution are significant factors in the development of the new Work & Health Programme. The government is specifically talking about co-design and co-commissioning with certain authorities: Manchester, London, Sheffield, Tees Valley, the North East, Liverpool and the West Midlands, relating to devolution deals.

Then (October)

DWP have today published more details about its commissioning model for its new Umbrella Agreement for the provision of Employment & Health Related Services (UAEHRS), the framework through which it will appoint providers for the new Work & Health Programme, as well as other potential DWP contracts.

The UAEHRS will account for £1.77 billion of DWP spend on contracted provision over 4 years, although it is not clear how much of this will be allocated to the Work & Health Programme. The UAEHRS will be divided into 7 Lot areas, based on Jobcentre Plus operational boundaries, namely: Central England, North East England, North West England, Southern England, Home Counties England, Wales, and a national England & Wales Lot. It is not clear from this whether or not the two co-commissioned Work & Health Programme areas, London and Manchester, are included under the UAERS arrangement. It is equally unclear whether or not the proposed Lot areas will also be applied as the final Contract Package Areas for the Work & Health Programme.

Only 5 providers will be accepted onto each regional UAEHRS Lot, although this may be extended if there is a tie-break for fifth place. Providers securing a place on two or more Lots will automatically be included within the national England & Wales Lot. The competition to select providers onto the UAEHRS will test providers against a number of criteria, including economic and financial standing, previous contract performance, supply chain management, service integration, implementation, delivery challenges, and stakeholder engagement. At the time of writing, the UAEHRS competition documents have not yet been released. This is, however, expected imminently, with a response deadline of the 9th November. Full details can be accessed at dwp.bravosolution.co.uk.

More details:

Documents seen by the Guardian reveal that seven of the 15 work programme prime contractors, including big private sector names such as Serco and Maximus, have not made it on to the initial shortlist for the new scheme.

The work and health programme shortlist, which is to be officially announced next week, begins a process in which the remaining eight work programme firms will compete with three new entrants for just six new regional contracts.

The final outcome, expected when contracts are awarded in late spring, could result in some firms being forced to abandon the market, or diversify into other contracted out public service areas, such as criminal justice or apprenticeships.

“This decimates the welfare to work industry. It represents the unravelling of nearly 20 years of unemployment support experience,” one industry insider told the Guardian.

Work coaches provide long-term unemployed clients with help to acquire a range of employment and life skills designed to increase their chances of finding work, such as CV writing, IT skills and literacy, as well as liaising with potential employers.

Thousands of work coach jobs are expected to be lost. “This means large job losses among really experienced frontline advisers, the majority of which are in charities,” said Kirsty McHugh, the chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association.

The work and health programme is expected to start in the autumn and aims to provide specialist support for long-term unemployed people, especially those with health conditions or a disability.

Funding will be about £100m a year over four years. This is about a quarter of the current annual spending on the work programme, which closes at the end of March, and work choice, which will continue for a few months longer.

This is the bit which we’re particularly interested in.

The work programme – which was launched in 2011 by the then secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith – achieved mixed results and was fiercely criticised for the low numbers of disabled and chronically ill people it succeeded in supporting into work.

It was also dogged by controversy over alleged misconduct by work coaches, and the high salaries earned by top executives. Emma Harrison, the founder of A4E, was criticised for paying herself dividends of £8.6m in 2011, on top of a £365,000 annual salary.

Harrison, who had a brief spell as former prime minister David Cameron’s “families tsar” sold her personal stake in A4E to Staffline group in 2015 for a reported £20m. The relaunched company, PeoplePlus, is shortlisted in all six work and health programme areas.

Industry insiders expressed surprise that Maximus – which has gained notoriety as the provider of the DWP’s controversial “fit for work” tests – failed to make the shortlist as it had been seen as one of the best performing work programme providers in terms of getting long-term jobless people into sustainable jobs.

Much as we may weep at the fate of coachies and ‘providers’ we note an absence of information on what this latest scheme will mean for people who’ll be obliged to be on it.

Will there still be obligatory  ‘volunteering’, work ‘placements’ (free labour for  employers and the ‘voluntary sector’) and the rest of the rigmarole?

Will the usual ‘courses’ be on?

We have no idea whatsoever.

Universal Credit, “unmitigated disaster”.

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Universal Credit system is increasingly Kafka-esque.

The Herald reports today,

Since it was first mooted by then Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith back in in 2010, Universal Credit has rarely been out of the news.

This major reform of the welfare system – which replaces six separate benefits and tax credits with one payment – was supposed to improve a number of things, not least making work pay for the lowest earners and streamlining a system that has been creaking under the strain for some time.

Three years after the roll-out of the policy, however, it’s fair to say neither of these things have come to pass; indeed many would argue that the introduction of Universal Credit has been an unmitigated disaster.

Among them is likely to be Glasgow City Council which, like local authorities up and down the land, is left to pick up the pieces when mistakes are made.

A recent document revealed Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff mistakenly transferred 73 homeless claimants on to the new benefit, despite the fact they are supposed to be exempt until 2018. One of the consequences of this has been that each of these claimants now has an average of £2,000 in housing arrears each, creating a deficit of almost £145,000 for the council.

The DWP says its system does not allow a change of status for those involved, meaning the claimants in question are locked-in to Universal Credit through no fault of their own.

The Council will have to pick up the tab, and the longer this goes on, the more serious the financial loss will be for a body already facing swingeing austerity cuts to its budgets. According to some, cuts to both service provision and jobs are now on the cards to pay for the deficit. Not even Franz Kafka could have made up this level of bureaucratic incompetence; it’s surely time for the DWP to take responsibility for its mistakes and focus on services for those on Universal Credit rather than extending another failing system.

This is the document they refer to:

Homeless people on new benefit owe Glasgow £144,000

HOMELESS individuals and families on the UK Government’s controversial Universal Credit scheme are racking up huge arrears putting services and jobs at risk in Scotland’s largest city, according to a new report.

In a report detailing the impact of the new benefit on homeless people in the city, the council says Glasgow City Council said errors by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been compounding the problem by mistakenly transferring homeless people on to the initiative.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 11, 2017 at 10:46 am

Universal basic income trials in Scotland

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Universal basic income trials being considered in Scotland.

Comment: I am not convinced of this.

We had a debate in France back in the 1980s on the idea, promoted by amongst others, the journalist and theorist André  Gorz.

Carried on the by New Economics Foundation in the UK.

We then posed some simple arguments  against it:

  • If universal basic income is available to all then why restrict it to nationals of one country?
  • How exactly will it cover things like the rent, electricity bills and the gas charges?
  • Will it actually pay the bills?

Labour’s key economist,  the ‘sovereigntist’  economist and pro-Brexit  James Meadway (former chief economist at the New Economics Foundation) comes from this Basic Income supporting background.

Anyway this is the story:

Two councils, Fife and Glasgow, are investigating idea of offering everyone a fixed income regardless of earnings.

Scotland looks set to be the first part of the UK to pilot a basic income for every citizen, as councils in Fife and Glasgow investigate trial schemes in 2017.

The councillor Matt Kerr has been championing the idea through the ornate halls of Glasgow City Chambers, and is frank about the challenges it poses.

“Like a lot of people, I was interested in the idea but never completely convinced,” he said. But working as Labour’s anti-poverty lead on the council, Kerr says that he “kept coming back to the basic income”.

Kerr sees the basic income as a way of simplifying the UK’s byzantine welfare system. “But it is also about solidarity: it says that everyone is valued and the government will support you. It changes the relationship between the individual and the state.”

The concept of a universal basic income revolves around the idea of offering every individual, regardless of existing welfare benefits or earned income, a non-conditional flat-rate payment, with any income earned above that taxed progressively. The intention is to provide a basic economic platform on which people can build their lives, whether they choose to earn, learn, care or set up a business.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has suggested that it is likely to appear in his party’s next manifesto, while there has been a groundswell of interest among anti-poverty groups who see it as a means of changing not only the relationship between people and the state, but between workers and increasingly insecure employment in the gig economy.

Scotland was recently added to the list of “places to watch” for basic income activity by the Basic Income Earth Network, founded by the radical economist Guy Standing, whose hugely influential book The Precariat identified an emerging social class suffering the worst of job insecurity and most likely to be attracted to rightwing populism.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 6, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Posted in DWP, Suffolk, Tories, TV Shows on Unemployed

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Rising homelessness.

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This sticks in the craw.

Families and disabled people ‘hit worse by rising homelessness’ Welfare Weekly.

Theresa May’s claim to lead a government that protects the most vulnerable is undermined by figures showing that families and disabled people have been disproportionately hit by increasing homelessness, Labour has said.

John Healey, the shadow housing minister, said on Friday that while homelessness generally had gone up 41% since 2010, people who might expect extra care from the government were doing even worse.

 Healey based his claim on figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government showing that from 2010 to 2016 the overall number of households accepted as being homeless by local authorities in England went up from 42,390 to almost 60,000.

But the increase was disproportionately high for homeless households classed as vulnerable through mental illness, where homelessness went up 53%, and for those classed as vulnerable through physical disability, where it rose 49%.

And there was a particularly sharp increase in the number of homeless households with vulnerable children, up from 25,350 in 2010 to 41,010 – a rise of 62%.

Healey said the figures undermined the claim in the Conservative party 2015 manifesto that “we measure our success not just in how we show our strength abroad but in how we care for the weakest and most vulnerable at home”.

He added: “It’s a scandal that after six years of failure on housing, falling homelessness under Labour has turned into rising homelessness under the Tories.

“Since 2010, homelessness has risen dramatically on all fronts with almost 60,000 households becoming homeless last year. These figures show that some vulnerable groups have been particularly hard hit.

“Ministers urgently need to get a grip, back Labour’s plans to end rough sleeping and build thousands more affordable homes.”

Labour wants to revive the rough sleepers initiative, which it says was successful at tackling rough sleeping in the 1990s.

A spokesman for the communities department said the government was committed to supporting the most vulnerable.

“That’s why we’re investing over £550m to tackle and reduce homelessness, on top of supporting Bob Blackman’s homelessness reduction bill to prevent more people from becoming homeless in the first place,” he said.

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Written by Andrew Coates

December 24, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Cuts, Damian Green, DWP, Food Banks

Tagged with ,

No Halt to Sanctions Over Christmas.

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Oor Wullie on the DWP. 

As Woody reminds us, the 35 Hours a week Job Search – one of the more cretinous demands people on JSA face – has to be carried out over Christmas.

The Government has created a special web page to make sure you toe the line.

Guidance

Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions: how to keep your benefit payment.

This includes making sure you:

  • are available for work and agree to do the things in your Claimant Commitment (Jobseeker’s Agreement )
  • go to meetings on time with your work coach and take part in interviews
  • apply for suitable jobs your work coach tells you about
  • do everything your work coach tells you to do to find work, such as attending a training course or updating your CV
  • take part in employment schemes when your work coach tells you to – you’ll need to:
    • meet your employment scheme provider on time and do the things they tell you to do to find work
    • still meet your work coach and do what they tell you to do
  • do all you can to find work.

Under Universal Credit:

Your Claimant Commitment

When you claim Universal Credit you will need to accept your Claimant Commitment.

In most cases your Claimant Commitment will be drawn up during a conversation with your work coach at your local jobcentre.

Your Claimant Commitment will set out what you have agreed to do to prepare for and look for work, or to increase your earnings if you are already working. It will be based on your personal circumstances and will be reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. Each time it is updated, you will need to accept a new Claimant Commitment to keep receiving Universal Credit.

Tailored to your situation

Universal Credit changes as things change in your life. Your responsibilities will vary depending on such things as your family, your health and your potential for future earnings.

For example:

If you are earning as much as can be expected You will receive financial support without any other conditions to increase your earnings.
If you are able and available for work You will need to do everything you reasonably can to give yourself the best chance of finding work. Preparing for and getting a job must be your full time focus. If you do not do this without a good reason, you will have a cut to your Universal Credit, known as a sanction.
If you currently have limited capability for work, related to a disability or health condition, but this is expected to change over time You will be supported until your circumstances improve and you can work. You will be expected to prepare for work so far as you are able.
If you have a disability or health condition which prevents you from working You will not be asked to work, and will be supported through Universal Credit.

This is what can happen if somebody decides you have not fulfilled this:

WELFARE Secretary Damien Green has refused to halt benefit sanctions over Christmas, despite pleas for hard-pressed families to get “a little breathing space”.

Hannah Bardell, the SNP MP for Livingston, wrote to the senior Tory begging him to put the punitive regime on hold after a heart-breaking visit to a foodbank in her constituency.

She is calling on the UK Government to display “some level of compassion” by reinstating a period of clemency at Christmas – a policy which was officially abandoned last year – as thousands of Scottish families are living on the breadline this December.

She said: “This week I visited a local food bank, which was a timely yet devastating reminder of the impact sanctions have on the people who rely on these services both, in my own constituency of Livingston, as well as other places up and down the country.

“Over 70% of constituents who have come to me with benefits sanctions cases have had their decisions overturned, but the mental and emotional impact is distressing and longer lasting for those affected. At Christmas time, the impact is even more acute.”

The Department for Work and Pensions can sanction those claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit or Income Support if staff deem that person has not done enough to look for work.

But the MP said many claimants are the working poor, just getting by on low-paid jobs. She said Christmas should not be “business as usual” for DWP because emotions are running high for Scottish families and cash is desperately short.

The MP also said she has also spoken to senior Job Centre sources who voiced fears for the safety of staff forced to cut benefits over the holidays.

“So I plead with you [Mr Green], you take the time to consider what it would be like for a family or vulnerable person who were sanctioned at Christmas,” she said.

“Putting in place special measures to ensure no one is sanctioned over the Christmas period is sensible and fair. It will give people, be them DWP workers or claimants, a little breathing space. It would show at least some level of compassion.

“We heard much in Parliament this year about the punitive sanctions and the impact on the people in our communities. My party and I have challenged your sanctions at every turn from my colleague Mhairi Black MP’s recent Private Member’s Bill to attempting to amend the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.”

But the DWP said last night it was not prepared to consider a few days of clemency over the season of good will.

Sunday Post.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 21, 2016 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Cuts, Damian Green, DWP, Sanctions

Tagged with , ,

Rent Arrears Grow 5 Times under Universal Credit.

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Image result for universal credit cartoon

Happy Christmas Message!

Some of our regulars have suggested that we will soon face a withered JobCentre, information technology supplied by Nintendo, outsourcing of Housing Benefit to Abbots Lettings, payments turned in loans run by BrightHouse, and ‘advice’ services provided by William Hill Racing Consultants.

Jest ye not….

Meanwhile,

The average rent arrears of a tenant receiving Universal Credit is almost five times the average of those not in receipt of the welfare payment, according to new research.

Data and insight provider HouseMark carried out a detailed analysis of benchmarking data submitted by its members to examine the impact of changes in welfare benefits on social landlords’ income, arrears and collection costs.

While rent collection rates have improved over the five-year period, the report also found that more money is being spent on collecting rent each year.

The Welfare Reform Impact Report collected data from a cross-section of members managing up to 2.5 million properties and includes figures from April 2011 up to March 2016.

In October 2016 HouseMark surveyed members of its Welfare Reform Impact Club on the effect of Universal Credit on arrears rates. It found that the average rent arrears debt of a Universal Credit claimant is £618, compared to average non-Universal Credit arrears of £131 per property.

With average social rents around £96 per week, this Universal Credit debt equates to six to seven weeks’ rent.

Across each quartile, rent collection rates have improved over the five years between 2011/2012 and 2015/2016. In spite of this overall improvement, performance in the years 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 worsened before picking up. These years coincide with the introduction of many welfare reforms that affected tenants’ ability to pay the rent.

Using estimates based on members’ data, HouseMark found that more money is being spent on collecting rent each year, and this expenditure is rising faster than inflation. It estimates that UK social landlords spent over £720 million collecting rent in 2015/2016, a real terms rise of over £100m from 2011/2012.

The data suggests that the rise in expenditure on managing rent arrears and collection is driven by an increase in human resources – i.e. more people being employed to collect rent and manage arrears rather an increase in average pay costs.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 17, 2016 at 11:10 am

Rise in Homeless Numbers set to Accelerate with Benefit Cuts.

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Image result for homeless in ipswich

A Common Sight these Days.

The number of people sleeping rough is at a five year high – so how big is Ipswich’s homelessness problem? Ipswich Star (end of November).

The number of people sleeping rough in Ipswich has hit its highest level for at least five years.

Latest figures show there were 16 people regularly living on the streets, compared to just five in 2013.

And 19 vulnerable people with housing issues are believed to have died in the town in just 16 months.

We were saddened but not surprised to learn that,

Many of these 19 deaths were down to mental health concerns, or drug and alcohol issues, Miss Raychaudri said, but changes to the benefits system have also pushed people in Ipswich into crisis.

Note this for those who have difficulties:

In a bid to curb the growing problem, more than 40 agencies came to together four years ago to form the Ipswich Locality Homelessness Partnership. The aim is to work side by side to rid the town of rough sleeping and to prevent vulnerable people from losing their homes.

At the heart of this partnership is the Chapman Centre, based in Black Horse Lane.

I suspect, since I see people in the streets every day, that the figures in Ipswich the 16 people regularly sleeping rough, are the tip of a homeless iceberg, with much much greater numbers in shelters,  temporary accommodation, shifting from friend’s place to friend’s place,

London’s homelessness count continues to rise said the Guardian earlier this month.

However you cut the numbers, the capital’s struggle to house its vulnerable people is getting harder

London dominates estimates of national homelessness newly published by Shelter. This, of course, is no surprise. Neither are high levels of homelessness anything new in the capital. In his book London: The Heartless City, published in 1977, David Wilcox reported that “by the end of 1976, 15,000 families were recognised as homeless”. And that was 10 years after Cathy Come Home.

Has anything improved? Shelter calculates that 170,000 people are homeless in London today. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has told the Guardian it does not recognise Shelter’s figures and provided one of 52,820 homeless households in temporary accommodation in London as of the 30 June. However, as households frequently comprise more than one person and Shelter’s figures are mostly drawn from the DCLG’s own data on temporary accommodation and rough sleeping, the difference between the two might not be so great.

Now we have this: 

Thousands of families teetering on brink of homelessness this Christmas after benefit changes, reports the Mirror.

Labour MPs and town hall leaders say the savage Tory government cut will leave vulnerable families at breaking point just as they are most stretched.

Thousands of Britain’s poorest families could be left on the brink of homelessness this Christmas due to a ‘disgraceful’ new benefit cap.

Labour MPs and town hall leaders say the savage Tory government cut – introduced today – will leave vulnerable families at breaking point just as they are most stretched.

Under the new rules, the maximum benefits that can be claimed by couples and lone parents is set to drop by £6,000.
The article goes on to explain,
 While some will struggle this Christmas, the full impact is not expect to hit until the New Year. The cap will also hit affect full and part-time carers.It covers most benefits, including Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Jobseekers’ Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and Universal Credit.

The new rate will be £20,000 a year – £384.62 a week – for couples and families outside London, down from £26,000. Some families will lose up to £115 a week.

Department for Work and Pensions bosses say the measure will stop families getting huge payouts without working, but campaigners have dubbed it a ‘cruel’ attack on vulnerable people.

It is a cruel system that needs getting rid of, now!

Written by Andrew Coates

December 14, 2016 at 12:17 pm

The unaffordable cost of benefits sanctions.

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Image result for benefits sanctions protests

 

This has appeared in the Guardian.

We can only endorse it.

We all know people who’ve suffered from the sanctions-rgime.

It’s time to get rid of it!

The benefit sanctions system is a damaging, expensive failure. Churches, as well as charities, see daily the human cost of this failure in people left without enough money to buy the very basics of life. The recent National Audit Office report has now shown that taxpayers also bear a financial cost for this failure (Report, 30 November). There is no evidence that the UK sanctions regime is cost-effective. In 2015 our report Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions revealed that each day 100 people unfit for work because of mental health problems received a sanction – mainly for missing appointments with work programme providers.

We have seen the harm these sanctions caused and have met people who were scarred by their experiences. The NAO now tells us that, on average, these sanctions actually reduced people’s short and long-term job prospects and led to reduced earnings for those who subsequently got work. The government has repeatedly stated that sanctions improve employment prospects. The NAO confirmed that the Department for Work and Pensions had no direct evidence for this. Moreover, we now know that the DWP held data that could show whether the sanctions system was working or not. Not only did the department fail to analyse this data, it refused to share it with other researchers. It also discouraged its contractors from assisting these researchers. In effect the DWP appears to have deliberately made itself blind to the failures of the sanctions regime.

As church leaders we are deeply concerned that without proper investigation of the consequences harsh punishments are given to people in already difficult circumstances. We again add our voices to the many government, charity, church and parliamentary bodies calling urgently for a full independent review of the benefit sanctions regime.
Alan Yates General assembly moderator, United Reformed Church
Rev Dr Richard Frazer Church and Society Council convenor, Church of Scotland
Rev Lynn Green General secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain
Right Rev John Davies Bishop of Swansea and Brecon
Rev Dr Roger Walton President of the Methodist Conference
Rachel Lampard Vicepresident of the Methodist Conference
Niall Cooper Director, Church Action on Poverty

Written by Andrew Coates

December 11, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Damian Green, DWP, Sanctions, Tories

Tagged with ,

Job Centre Closures in Glasgow: More Loom.

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Image result for job centre closures

Devastation writes,

SERIOUSLY BAD NEWS

Sharp readers will remember the plan announced in 2015 to shrink the “estate” of the DWP by 20% over the next few years.

Well, here are some examples of this move in Glasgow – where a whopping HALF of all Jobcentres will close!!!!!!

This is devastating news, because thousands of claimants will now have to travel many expensive miles and miles to their nearest designated Jobcentre – and woe betide them if they’re late!!!!!!

Even if claimants are fit enough to walk in order to save on travel costs – and many aren’t – what happens in bad weather? Trudging through rain, hail or snow on a 7 or 8 miles return trip will be no easy task.

The BBC says (just now)

Half Glasgow’s Jobcentre Plus services to close under DWP plans.

Benefit claimants in Glasgow may have to travel further for employment services under UK government plans to close half the city’s 16 job centres.

The Scottish National Party described the proposal as “morally outrageous”.

It said those from the poorest areas would face higher travel and phone costs, making it harder to seek work.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the closures would save public money and reflected an increase in use of online and telephone services.

Under the plans, there would be no job losses among Jobcentre Plus staff and claimants would not have to travel further than four miles or 40 minutes.

Denise Horsfall, DWP work services director for Scotland, said it was now easier for claimants to access Jobcentre services “whether that be in person, online or over phone”.

“By bringing together a number of neighbouring jobcentres we’re continuing to modernise our operations while ensuring that our premises provide best value to the taxpayer,” she said.

The DWP said there would be a public consultation in areas where customers had to travel more than three miles or more than 20 minutes.

Is this, people ask, the foretaste of a full on-line service?

Damien Green’s future of no “stable hours, holiday pay, sick pay, pensions..” or accessible Jobcentres? Or indeed JSA?

In the meantime closures mean long journeys, already a problem in rural East Anglia.

And not every is on-line.

Full story.

Eight job centres to shut in Glasgow as Tories use Scotland as ‘guinea pig’ for callous cuts.

The Tory government has been accused of using Scotland as a “guinea pig” for more callous attacks on the poor.

The Record can reveal that plans are afoot to shut down eight Jobcentre plus offices in Glasgow,including those in some of the UK’s most deprived areas.

The move appear to contradict DWP guidelines which say that job centre closures should not take place unless alternative premises are less than three miles away or no more than 20 minutes in public transport.

Opponents believe the closures will lead to further misery for those already facing draconian benefit sanctions as the Tories drive home crippling austerity measures.

And whistleblowers who contacted the Record believe Glasgow is being used as a template by the Government amid secret plans to roll out similar closures UK-wide.

Chris Stephens MP for Glasgow South West said: “This decision is simply morally outrageous. It will result in the poorest communities not being serviced by a job centre and make it even harder for those seeking employment to get support.

“Thousands of people will now have to travel further at additional cost to attend their appointments.

“Approximately 68,000 people in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance and Universal Credit in Glasgow will be impacted by these closures.

“Given the brutal sanctions regime this will mean that the numbers facing sanctions will undoubtedly increase.

“It will also mean that those seeking assistance from the Department for Work and Pensions will have to call expensive 0345 numbers – the so-called “telephone tax” – to speak to an advisor about their claim which places the cost of Job Centre closures onto the people it should be assisting.

These plans make Glasgow the guinea pig, as I fear the closures announced will be used as a template for further closures across Scotland and the UK.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 7, 2016 at 12:49 pm