Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

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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Image result for homeless uk

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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Image result for welfare cuts 2017

“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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Image result for budget box

 

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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Image result for dwp

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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Image result for welfare cuts

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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Image result for benefit sanctions campaign

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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Image result for poverty porn

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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Image result for work and health programme

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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Image result for kafkaesque

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

Tagged with

Rising homelessness.

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Image result for homeless

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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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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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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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

Attempt to Reform Benefits Sanctions – Private Member’s Bill Shelved.

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Friday, (BBC)

Work and Pensions Minister Damian Hinds is now answering the second reading debate on the Benefit Claimants Sanctions (Required Assessment) Bill.

Evidence does show that sanctions have a positive effect, he says.

The government ensures that claimants are made aware of the availability of hardship payments, and that these are made within three days, he says.

Mr Hinds says the existing legislation refers to “causes” rather than “reasonable causes” so that discretion can be used to assess whether a person has failed to comply with a condition of their benefits.

As he launches into a line by line response to the bill, the Deputy Speaker calls the debate to order.

Debate on the bill ceases at this point, and although Ms Black asks debate to resume in February, it is unlikely there will be any private members’ time left to return to the bill.

Welfare Weekly reports.

SNP MP Mhairi Black will today (Friday) issue a heartfelt plea to all MPs to put party politics aside and support her initiative to reform the UK Government’s “cruel and damaging” benefits sanctions regime.

The Benefits Sanctions (Required Assessment) Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons today and Mhairi Black, the youngest MP in the Commons, is the second SNP MP to ever bring forward a Private Member’s Bill.

The legislation will ensure that Department for Work and Pensions staff in Jobcentres across the UK would be required to consider whether personal circumstances such as caring commitments, whether a person is at risk of homelessness or whether they suffer from a mental ill-health condition that could be exacerbated by a benefit sanction before one can be issued.

Director Ken Loach, whose film I, Daniel Blake deals with the effects of benefits sanctions, gave his support to the Bill earlier this week and also urged others to give it their backing.

Mhairi Black MP (pictured) said: “Today we have an important opportunity to make the cruel and damaging benefits sanctions regime fairer. This is about real people, real lives and the real and devastating consequences that sanctions have on individuals and their families.

“My bill will introduce a process of assessing a person’s circumstances such as their caring commitments, whether they are at risk of homelessness or whether they suffer from a mental ill-health condition that could be exacerbated by a sanction.

“If I could scrap sanctions completely I would do it in a heartbeat but I can’t and so I’m making this small ask in the hope that it will improve the lives of people who simply cannot afford to have their safety net stripped from them when they need it most.

“I call on MPs from all parties – Labour in particular – to prove that they can stand up for their constituents and support my Bill today.”

Update: Bill was shelved after MPs spoke for so long there wasn’t enough time for the government to respond.

Note: the Mirror reports.

SNP law to reform benefit sanctions runs out of time after long speeches by Tories… and the SNP

The clock ran out on Mhairi Black’s bid to stop Jobcentres unfairly penalising carers, the homeless and the mentally ill.

However, he prompted a row by complaining he only had eight minutes to talk after other people’s speeches – the longest of which was from Ms Black, Westminster’s youngest MP.

“She spoke for one hour and 15 minutes and I have very little time,” he told MPs. “I’m not going to be able to get through all the contents of the Bill.”

Before he stood up in the House of Commons, four SNP MPs talked for 2 hours and 29 minutes; three Tory MPs talked for an hour and 40 minutes; and Labour’s shadow minister talked for 20 minutes.

But SNP MP John Nicolson – whose own law to pardon 50,000 gay men was “talked out” by a Tory minister weeks ago – defended Ms Black and said her law would have been blocked regardless.

“The minister would have talked it out had she spoken for 5 seconds,” he tweeted. “It’s all pre-arranged on Tory benches with whips.

“They do this every Friday whether speeches are long or short. It’s government policy.”

The SNP tweeted: “While Mhairi Black’s bill was talked out by the Tory minister, the SNP will never stop fighting for a more just society.”

The Private Member’s Bill – not backed the government – was governed by out-of-date rules which put a time limit on the overall debate, but not individual speeches.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 4, 2016 at 12:24 pm

Benefit Sanctions Don’t Work: National Audit Office.

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“Sanctions on benefits have a high opportunity cost, not only for those who are dependent on those benefits if sanctions are applied, but for the efficient use of public resources. “We acknowledge the department’s effort to reduce its error rate on sanctions, but we think there is more to do in terms of reducing them further, and in reducing the notable differences in sanctions applications between comparable localities.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 30 November 2016 *

The New Statesman has just tweeted on this report,

Damning proof that the government has no evidence benefits sanctions work ALISON GARNHAM

Anyone remember evidence-based policymaking? For the DWP, it appears from today’s National Audit Office (NAO) report on sanctions, it is at best a dim and distant memory.

When the Department made substantial changes to sanction rules in 2012 – marking a step-change in their scope and severity – it could not quantify the financial impact of the changes, and it said it could not predict whether the changes would create savings. Since then, it has made no attempt to track the actual costs and benefits of the changes.

As one reads through the NAO’s report, it becomes increasingly clear how their task – to assess the value for money of sanctions policy – is thwarted at every turn by lack of evidence. The words “the Department does not know”, and mentions of data that the Department does not analyse or collect, recur throughout. The government is evidently operating blind, on an issue that could scarcely be more important: the decision actively to remove from already-poor individuals and households the basic means of their subsistence.

Disturbingly, there are several indications that this ignorance is wilful. The DWP has administrative data on individual benefit histories, sanctions and employment, and data on local sanction rates and performance, but it chooses not to use this body of evidence to evaluate the impacts of sanctions. The government, via the Economic and Social Research Council, has funded a £2m research project from 2013 to 2018 to understand the role and impact of conditionality in social security. In 2015, the DWP advised its Work Programme providers not to take part in focus groups for the project. And, in March 2015, the Work and Pensions Committee called on the DWP to commission “a broad independent review of benefit conditionality and sanctions, to investigate whether sanctions are being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately”. After taking seven months to respond, the Department refused.

What we do know beyond doubt is that sanctions cause immense hardship to those who are subjected to them. This is in a sense a question of simple logic – take away a person’s primary, meagre source of sustenance, and they will suffer. Indeed, that is the Department’s stated intention: its own guidance to decision makers acknowledges that ‘it would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health’ if left without income for two weeks (JSA sanctions start at twice this duration). Decision makers assessing potential hardship payments should be looking only at those who would “suffer a greater decline in health than a normal healthy adult” [original emphasis]. But it is also reflected in a range of direct evidence, not least of which is the link between sanctions and food bank use: research by Child Poverty Action Group and others found that between 19 and 29 per cent of visits to the food banks we studied were caused by sanctions.

If that’s bad enough, there’s this.

Meanwhile, for Work Programme providers, on average, higher use of sanctions is associated with lower performance in terms of employment outcomes. Though this does not prove causality – it could be, for example, that weak Work Programme providers may use sanctions more because they are ineffective with their other approaches – it may suggest that differences in deterrence effects of sanctions are weaker than other factors explaining performance. Again, no evidence in favour of sanctions here.

Read the full article at the New Statesman.

The Guardian says,

Sanctions on welfare payments which have allegedly caused thousands of claimants to fall into hardship and depression are being handed out without evidence that they actually work, Whitehall’s official spending watchdog has found.

The Department for Work and Pensions is also failing to monitor thousands of people whose benefits are being cut or withheld while many are being pushed outside the benefits system, said the National Audit Office.

Auditors concluded there has been a failure to measure whether the government is saving money while the application of the sanctions regime varies across the country and from job centre to job centre.

The report, issued on Wednesday, has been seized upon by critics of the government’s sanctions regime who say it is punitive, wasteful and not aimed at finding people work.

The findings could cause difficulties for Damian Green, the welfare secretary, who insisted this week that the sanctions contributed to a fairer society and were an important part of the benefits system.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the public accounts committee, said: “Benefit sanctions punish some of the poorest people in the country. But despite the anxiety and misery they cause, it seems to be pot luck who gets sanctioned.

“While studies suggest sanctions do encourage some people back into work, other people stop claiming but do not start working and the Department for Work and Pensions has no record of them. If vulnerable people fall through the safety net, what happens to them?”

More than 1 million unemployed benefits claimants have to meet certain conditions, such as showing they are looking for work, to receive jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, universal credit and income support.

Almost a quarter of claimants (24%) between 2010 and 2015 received a sanction, the report said. A four-week penalty can mean a claimant over-25 losing £300.

In 2015, 800,000 claimants were referred to the DWP for possible sanctions, the report said. Of those, half were then sanctioned across at least one of four benefits.

National Audit Office. Benefit Sanctions.

Press Release.

The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) is not doing enough to find out how sanctions affect people on benefits, according to today’s report from the National Audit Office.

A benefit sanction is a penalty imposed on a claimant meaning a loss of income when someone does not meet conditions like attending jobcentre appointments. Sanctions are not rare: 24% of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants received at least one between 2010 and 2015. Use of sanctions varies substantially, with some Work Programme providers referring twice as many people for sanctions as other providers in the same area.

Today’s report finds that jobcentres’ monthly sanction referral rate for Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants rose to 11% in March 2011 then fell to 3% in December 2015. There are many reasons for this variation but it cannot be fully explained by changes in claimant behaviour. The NAO concludes it is likely that management focus and local work coach discretion have had a substantial influence on whether or not people are sanctioned.

Today’s report recommends that the Department for Work & Pensions carries out a wide-ranging review of benefit sanctions, particularly as it introduces further changes to labour market support such as Universal Credit. The DWP has commissioned independent reviews and taken steps to improve processes but rejected previous calls for a wider review. The NAO finds that the previous government increased the scope and severity of sanctions in 2012, and recognised that these changes would affect claimants’ behaviour in ways that were difficult to predict.

The NAO report finds that the Department is meeting target timescales for most sanction decisions but is missing its Universal Credit targets. In August 2016, 42% of decisions about Universal Credit sanctions took longer than 28 working days.

International studies show people who receive sanctions are more likely to get work, but the effect can be short-lived, lead to lower wages and increase the number of people moving off benefits into inactivity. The DWP has not used its own data to evaluate the impact of sanctions in the UK. The NAO undertook preliminary analysis of the impact of Work Programme sanctions on employment, inactivity and earnings. The results show the Department should do more to understand these sanctions outcomes.

Sanctions have costs, for people who receive them and for the government. The Department does not track the costs and benefits of sanctions, but estimates that it spends £30-50 million a year applying sanctions, and around £200 million monitoring the conditions it sets for claimants. The NAO estimates the Department withheld £132 million from claimants due to sanctions in 2015, and paid them £35 million in hardship payments. The overall impact of sanctions on wider public spending is unknown.

From, “Key Findings”:

10. Designing sanctions 10 How people respond to sanctions is uncertain. The Department expects most claimants will not be sanctioned and that the deterrence effect of sanctions will encourage them to comply with conditions. However, the Department has limited evidence on how people respond to the possibility of receiving a sanction, or how large this deterrent effect is in practice. Direct effects on people who receive sanctions will also be important; we found 24% of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants receive a sanction at some point (paragraphs 1.8 to 1.10 and Figures 4 and 5).

11 The previous government increased the scope and severity of sanctions. The 2012 reforms expanded the range of claimants subject to conditions and increased the maximum length of Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions from 26 to 156 weeks. When it made the changes the Department recognised that they would affect claimants’ behaviour in ways that were difficult to predict (paragraphs 1.11 to 1.13 and Figure 6.

12 The Department’s changes to employment support have introduced risks for its use of sanctions. The Department has changed its employment support and approach to sanctions in response to identified problems. For example it has put more emphasis on one-to-one relationships between staff and claimants to encourage more appropriate conditions. Changes introduce new risks. While greater flexibility for jobcentre staff to tailor conditions can make them more appropriate, it also increases the risk of inconsistency in how sanctions are used (paragraphs 1.14 to 1.18 and Figure 7).

21 The Department does not track the costs and benefits of sanctions. Potential benefits include increased and faster entry into employment leading to lower benefit spending and higher tax revenues. Possible wider costs include the direct impact on people who get sanctioned, such as financial hardship or depression. Supporting them may lead to higher public spending in areas such as local authority funded welfare support. The Department does not know these wider costs and benefits (paragraphs 3.14 to 3.20 and Figure 23).

Unfortunately the recommendations are far from satisfactory.

Recommendations

24 As the Department introduces further changes to labour market support, we recommend it carries out a wide-ranging review of sanctions.

In particular: a The Department should support better understanding of the impact of sanctions. It should use its data – including real time information on earnings – to track the direct and indirect impact of sanctions on the likelihood, duration and quality of employment, including for those with barriers to work. It should adopt an open and collaborative approach to working with academic researchers and third-party organisations.

b The Department should assess the wider cost of sanctions to central and local government. It should track how sanctions affect demand for publicly funded services.

c The Department should use information to continuously improve its approach to sanctions. The Department has mechanisms for learning and improvement. It should expand its use of feedback from each stage of the sanctions process to fix recurring problems that lead to unnecessary referrals and overturned decisions.

d The Department should improve both internal management information and published statistics about sanction processes, variation and trends. It should demonstrate that it has satisfied the UK Statistics Authority that it has met all recommendations on its published statistics.

e The Department should model future demand for Universal Credit decisions. A large decision backlog already exists. The Department needs to understand likely growth in demand and decision-makers’ capacity to meet it.

f The Department should explore ways to reduce variation in referrals from providers. The Department needs to better manage variation as it develops new programmes such as the Work and Health Programme.

Get Rid of the Sanctions Regime!

Written by Andrew Coates

November 30, 2016 at 4:08 pm

Pension Age to Rise – Yet Again. “Basically a Huge Tax Rise”.

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Image result for MInister of state for pensions Richard Harrington MP

Harrington Smiles at Prospect of Pension Age Rise.

Some years ago I heard that people I knew were being transferred from JSA to Pension Credit.

They were just over 60 years old.

Some years ago I heard that these people had received the same rate of benefit as pensioners – a lot more than JSA.

Some years ago I heard that the retirement age was due to rise.

That all this credit stuff had been got rid of.

A few years later I heard that there were moves afoot to raise the pension age – apparently the country couldn’t afford to keep on paying pensions unless young people worked until they were seventy.

Young people – people who if they went to University have to spend a lifetime paying off their loan and fee debt to the state’s usurers, and who are in hock, if they are lucky, to mortgage lenders half their lives – have to drudge until this age.

Young people, who, under the magic age of 25 are expected to live on less benefit than everybody else, and get a special rate of minium pay:

Over 25 £7.20
21 to 24 £6.95
18 to 20 £5.55
Under 18 £4.00
Apprentice* £3.40

Now they will have to wait longer to be pensioners.

And there is this (thanks to people signaling it in the comments):

‘Basically a huge tax increase’: readers on proposed pension age rise

Former pensions minister Steve Webb says the government is considering raising pension age sooner than previously planned

Tens of millions of workers under the age of 55 could be affected by changes to pension age sooner than previously planned, according to a former minister.

Steve Webb, pensions minister in the coalition government between 2010-15, says documents produced by the Department of Work and Pensions suggest the government is preparing a “more aggressive” timetable on state pension age changes.

Pension age may be about to rise again, says former minister (Guardian)

Steve Webb says government considering faster timetable for higher state pension age of 70, affecting millions of workers

The government may be preparing to increase the official state pension age to 70 for millions of people currently in their 20s, a former minister has claimed.

Steve Webb said documents produced by the Department for Work and Pensions suggested a “more aggressive” timetable on state pension age (SPA) increases than previously planned was being prepared.

This could affect tens of millions of workers aged under 55, and bring a pension age of 70 into the official timetable for the first time for people currently aged between 22 and 30, he added. The current official SPA for people in their 20s is 68, though under the existing schedule it could be expected to rise to 69.

The SPA is the earliest age someone can start receiving their state pension, and is due to rise to 66 between 2018 and 2020, to 67 between 2026 and 2028, and then to 68 between 2044 and 2046.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 28, 2016 at 4:51 pm

Food Banks, ‘Ethical’ Lords and Lady Bountiful Rush to Help.

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Image result for food banks

Get Rid of System that Creates Food Bank Demand. 

I might be alone in this – though this is doubtful – but isn’t this distasteful?

A Tyneside company is aiming to turn Black Friday into Give Back Friday with a donation to a food bank on orders received during the discounting period.

EthicalSuperstore.com will donate a grocery item to the Newcastle West End food bank for every order it receives over £30 on Friday.

The Gateshead firm is hoping to repeat the success of a similar offer it ran last year, when it donated a total of 1,576 grocery items worth more than £1,500 to the busy food bank.

Peter Leatherland, of EthicalSuperstore.com, said: “Black Friday has become synonymous with crowds of people clamouring to get discounted technology products at well-known high street stores and supermarkets, but we want to do something a little different.

“Our feel-good Friday provides customers with 20% off products as well as giving something back to the community through donations, helping those families who truly need it.

“We want to raise awareness of food banks, hopefully encouraging our customers to think about others and perhaps donate to their own local food banks and good causes whilst hunting for bargains during Black Friday.”

More in the Chronicle.

Nobody doubts the scale of the problem:

More than 500,000 three day emergency food parcels have been distributed to people in crisis in the first half of 2016/17 – over 188,500 to children.

Between April and September 2016, Trussell Trust foodbanks across the UK distributed 519,342 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis compared to 506,369 during the same period last year. 188,584 of these went to children.

Trussell Trust CEO, David McAuley says: “As the number of emergency food parcels provided to people by foodbanks rises once again, it’s clear that more can be done to get people back on their feet faster.”

But why does it exist?

Oh Yes…

Benefit sanctions forcing people to use food banks, study confirms

Oxford University research shows link between sanctions and use of charity parcels, a pattern ministers refuse to accept

Guardian 27th of October. 

This was Damian – ‘Gig economy’ – Green’s response (FT November the 16th),

Under the existing system, hardship payments are available to cover day-to-day living costs but for many jobseekers they cannot be claimed until 14 days after a sanction has been applied.

Only certain categories of people can claim those payments, for example if they have children or a long-term health condition. Mr Green’s initiative will add homeless people and those with a mental health condition — an estimated 10,000 — to those who can claim straight away.

We need sanctions, and I don’t agree with those who would abolish them,” he said. “But I am always keen to improve the system.”

If you want to reduce the demand for Food Banks start by getting Labour to make getting rid of sanctions a priority.

Abolish the Sanctions System!

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 25, 2016 at 3:59 pm

Suffolk Libraries – a Key Resource for the Unemployed – Face Cuts.

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Image result for libraries under threat protests

Libraries are a key resource for the unemployed.

We use them to do our Jobsearch (part of the 35 hours we have to carry out as part of our ‘Jobseekers Agreement’.

We use their Internet services (where they are available) to write CVs, to upload CVs, apply for jobs and look around the web for posts.

We use them for books on how to do this, and for help from staff about the best way to do it.

This resource is under threat.

Libraries lose a quarter of staff as hundreds close. BBC.

Almost 8,000 jobs in UK libraries have disappeared in six years, about a quarter of the overall total, an investigation by the BBC has revealed.

Over the same period, some 15,500 volunteers have been recruited and 343 libraries have closed, leading to fears over the future of the profession.

Children’s author Alan Gibbons said the public library service faced the “greatest crisis in its history”.

The government said it funded the roll-out of wi-fi to help libraries adapt.

The BBC has compiled data from 207 authorities responsible for running libraries through the Freedom of Information Act. Our analysis shows:

  • Some 343 libraries closed. Of those, 132 were mobile services, while 207 were based in buildings (and there were four others, such as home delivery services)
  • The number of closures in England is higher than the government’s official estimate of 110 buildings shut
  • A further 111 closures are planned this year
  • The number of paid staff in libraries fell from 31,977 in 2010 to 24,044 now, a drop of 7,933 (25%) for the 182 library authorities that provided comparable data
  • A further 174 libraries have been transferred to community groups, while 50 have been handed to external organisations to run. In some areas, such as Lincolnshire and Surrey, the move has led to legal challenges and protests from residents.

Now we have this in Suffolk.

Suffolk Libraries face £230,000 budget cut as bosses call for more public support to save all 44 branches

Anybody who uses Ipswich central Library knows the strain they are already under.

To say the least there are ‘problems’ about the Net service.

How people who rely on smaller libraries manage is hard to tell, it must be hard.

Tory-run Suffolk County Council seems determined to make our lives worse:

Suffolk County Council’s Scrutiny Committee will be discussing the council’s budget proposals on 30 November.

These proposals include a further reduction to the Suffolk Libraries budget of £230,000 for 2017-18. This follows a cut of £350,000 for the current year (2016-2017) which Suffolk Libraries accepted with reluctance.

Alison Wheeler, Chief Executive of Suffolk Libraries, said: “We recognise that public-sector funding is decreasing, and in response Suffolk Libraries has since 2011, with stringencies and economies, saved more than 30% of the original library budget without affecting local services.”

“In terms of relative cost – for every £1 spent by the Council, less than 1 penny is spent on the library service. The library service actively contributes to several of the county’s key priorities which include support for vulnerable people, raising educational attainment, supporting small businesses and empowering communities.”

“Suffolk Libraries is now in its fifth year of operation and each year it has lived within its means and saved increasing amounts of council tax. This has only been done with the sustained hard work of library staff, help from community groups, local volunteers and support from library customers.”

“With this extraordinary support, we have together ensured that all Suffolk libraries are still open, local library opening hours have been sustained and the services people enjoy, and which we know make a difference to people’s lives, have continued to flourish.”

Tony Brown, Chair of Suffolk Libraries Board added “Over the past year we have made it clear that it would be impossible to make further cuts without having an effect on services. We pledged to work constructively with the council on the longer-term future of the county’s library service and offered them a plan in June in which we suggested ways we could save money over a longer period, and which would allow us to keep library opening hours intact.”

“Five months later, it’s disappointing to see that the council’s budget proposals do not reflect the alternative plans we presented. The larger sums required will almost certainly mean we can’t carry on providing the library service in the same way.”

“However, we are still in discussion about the final sum. People will be consulted on any changes and we will strive to minimise the impact on customers, and ensure that people will still have access to the same wide range of services and activities in their community.”

“Suffolk Libraries’ Board is committed to keeping libraries open and for local services to flourish. The Suffolk community has shown a huge amount of support for local libraries over the past few years, and this has never been more needed, or valued.”

Want to show your support for your library service? Email us at help@suffolklibraries.co.uk, tweet @suffolklibrary or comment on our Facebook page. You can also contact Suffolk County Council.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 23, 2016 at 11:44 am

Sacked Work and Pensions Secretary, Stephen Crabb: “Plan to Slash Benefits Offends Everyone’s Sense of Social Justice”.

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Crabb: Offended.

Former minister Stephen Crabb: Government plan to slash welfare offends everyone’s sense of social justice.

Reports the Independent, just now. 

Former Conservative cabinet minister has said a plan to slash welfare “offends everyone’s sense of social justice” and called on the Government to help those affected.

Stephen Crabb said Chancellor Philip Hammond should introduce measures to “soften the blow” of cuts to Universal Credit, when he makes his Autumn Statement speech this week.

The former Work and Pensions Secretary also said the Government will have to review the pensions triple lock introduced by David Cameron, which guarantees payments rise each year, if it wants to do more to help working families.

Mr Crabb, who himself presided over cuts to some benefits while pensions secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour there was a “problem” with plans to reduce the Universal Credit.

He said: “When you look at the distributional impact for the changes from the Budget in March, there is an S-curve on the graph which basically shows that people on the lowest incomes effectively lose money from the changes, people on the highest incomes effectively gain. I think the Chancellor is going to have to have something to say about that.

“I think looking at that graph to see that people on lower incomes will be losing money offends everyone’s sense of social justice. But it doesn’t mean he needs to ‘reverse ferret’ on those proposed cuts. There are other things he can do to soften the impact of that.”

The Huffington Post adds,

Just what, if anything, Hammond will do about welfare cuts this week is a pressing issue. On Radio 4’s Westminster Hour last night, former Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb pointed out the Chancellor will already have to explain where he’s going to find the £4bn lost (but not forgotten) in his own personal independence payment reforms axed after IDS’s departure.

On the vexed topic of Universal Credit cuts – cuts that critics say will hit many ‘just managing’ people in low-income work – Crabb said ‘I think that offends everyone’s sense of justice”. But he suggested Hammond would address it with broader help for people on low incomes rather than by reversing another welfare cut.

Continuing his rational approach to policy, Crabb also became the latest senior Tory politician to suggest that the state pension ‘triple lock’ could end after the next election. It has “served its purpose” and “there will be a case after 2020 to look again at that”. Damian Green has Work and Pensions Questions today – will he offer up similar thoughts?

One Tory MP leading calls for welfare cuts to be eased is Heidi Allen. But on Pienaar’s Politics she went perhaps a step too far for her colleagues. Asked if she’d ‘snog, marry or avoid’ Ed Balls, she replied “Maybe snog…I like a man who can move to music.” Viewers’ votes meant the former Shadow Chancellor survived again on Strictly last night despite the judges’ disdain. Popular with the people, unsupported by the experts…how very 2016.

Former DWP minister Stephen Crabb admits disability benefit test is ‘traumatic’.

Reported the Independent on the 8th of November. 

Ex-Work and Pensions Secretary urges the Government to ‘fix’ the assessment process for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs).

A former Cabinet minister who was responsible for a controversial disability benefit test has admitted it is “traumatic” for applicants.

Stephen Crabb, who was sacked as Work and Pensions Secretary in July, said the Government needed to “fix” the assessment process for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs).

In a TV interview, the former Conservative leadership contender said there had to be system of benefit tests “when you’re giving out taxpayers’ money”.

But he added: “The way it has been done – I see this in my surgeries, every single MP in their surgery sees this – people who felt that the assessment procedure has been traumatic, intrusive, hasn’t been a comfortable experience at all. And that’s what we’ve got to fix.

Stephen Crabb on October the 5th.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 21, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Labour Shadow, Debbie Abrahams, urges the government to end its “shirker, scrounger rhetoric” but post-Brexit new Benefit shake up Looms.

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Image result for shirkers and scroungers

Hate Speech in Millionaires’ far-Right Press. 

Parliament today (BBC):

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams urges the government to end its “shirker, scrounger rhetoric”.

She calls for cuts to the Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group to be reversed, arguing that they target sick and disabled people.

She tells the House that the country is becoming “more and more unequal” and attacks the government for giving tax breaks to the “highest earners”.

 Followed by:

Work and Pensions Minister Penny Mordaunt tells MPs that government is helping people to get out of their jobless situation “not just to endure it”.

She says that new money from the Treasury will be used to extend a hardship fund and adds that the government will help jobseekers with “work related costs”.

The debate comes to an end and MPs vote on Labour’s motion.

The result is expected at approximately 4.20pm.

I think we know already what that will be…..

Debbie Adams MP has already written this:   No more “shirkers” or “scroungers” – let’s overhaul the culture of the benefits system (6th of October)

I’ve been campaigning to stop the Government’s punitive sanctions regime for nearly four years now, ever since the Coalition government introduced their new sanctions regime in 2012. I have quizzed the former secretary of state for work & pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, specifically on this issue, and have worked with people who have been affected by sanctions. These include Gill Thompson, whose brother, David Clapson, died after being sanctioned.

In January 2015, I managed to get the work and pensions select committee to agree to hold an inquiry on sanctions. The evidence was shocking. We heard of the sudden rise in sanctions, with 3.2m alone occurring between October 2012 and June 2014. Sanctions to people who were sick or disabled on Employment Support Allowance increased five-fold.

We heard from Jobcentre Plus advisers of sanction “targets” in order to get claimants “off-flow”, in benefits speak, which distorted the unemployment claimant count in the process. And we heard of the dramatic rise in foodbank use, with more than1m foodbank parcels in 2014, primarily as a result of sanctions. We heard in turn of the effects on the physical and mental health of claimants and their families.

The select committee made more than 20 recommendations, including stopping financial sanctions for people who were sick or disabled on ESA, or vulnerable in other ways, and setting up an independent body to investigate deaths associated with sanctions.

Unfortunately, the government refused to accept the select committee’s recommendations.

Since the inquiry, the government has been compelled to publish details of 49 claimants who died between 2012 and 2014, 10 of whom died following a sanction. It is still to publish reports on another nine claimant deaths since 2014. We have discovered that the government is watering down the guidance to jobcentre staff to identify and protect vulnerable claimants.

Meanwhile the following is worth thinking about.

Everything Theresa May planned for the benefits system needs to change because of what Brexit Britain will look like

 Reports Andrew Grice in the Independent this afternoon.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies calculates that 11.5 million families, who were originally due to lose an average of £260 a year, are now likely to lose £360 because of higher inflation. The Government will save £4.6bn instead of £3.6bn.

Damian Green, the One Nation Conservative appointed Work and Pensions Secretary by Theresa May, has started to smooth some of the rougher edges of what can be a tough benefits system – as anyone who has seen Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake knows.

People with the most severe health conditions on Employment and Support Allowance will no longer face reassessments. On Wednesday, Green announced that jobseekers who are homeless or have a mental health condition will have immediate access to hardship payments if they are hit by a benefit sanction.

(NOTE: this leaves everybody else still at risk from the arbitary “police of JobCentre Plus).

 While these are welcome steps, the big picture emerging under the May Government is less flattering. We will know more about its intentions towards those on benefits next week when Philip Hammond delivers his Autumn Statement, the first economic update since the Brexit vote.

May pressed the Chancellor to do something for the “just managing” classes she promised to champion on becoming Prime Minister. After some tense negotiations, measures such as a freeze in fuel duty, cuts to air passenger duty and more help with childcare costs seem to be on the agenda.

Green has promised no further welfare cuts before the next general election. But that is not as generous as it sounds because £12bn of cuts are already in the pipeline. They include almost £3bn from reducing work allowances under Universal Credit – the amount families can earn before their benefits are scaled back. About three million people will lose an average of £1,000 a year, reducing the incentive to work for those striving that May wants to help.

Regarding these people as “claimants” misses the point; about two in three children growing up in poverty have at least one parent in work. The biggest challenge on welfare is in-work poverty, not so-called scroungers.

Hammond should stop the cut to work allowances by switching some of the £8bn earmarked for income tax cuts for the middle classes, which are likely to go ahead because they were promised in last year’s Tory manifesto. By 2020, the threshold for the 40p higher rate will rise to £50,000 and the personal allowance to about £12,500.

Then this…

Written by Andrew Coates

November 16, 2016 at 4:29 pm

Work and Pensions Committee : ‘Concerns’ over “Policemen” Work Coaches and Work and Health Programme.

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Image result for jobcentre plus work coach I'm daniel Blake

Job Coach Client.

Work Coaches: A personalised in-work service.

Work Coaches are front-line DWP staff based in Jobcentres. Their main role is to support claimants into work by challenging, motivating, providing personalised advice and using knowledge of local labour markets. This involves conducting work-focused interviews and agreeing tailored “Claimant Commitments”.70 A job description is shown in Appendix 1. At February 2016, 11,000 whole-time equivalent Work Coaches71 supported nearly 745,000 out-of-work claimants across Great Britain.72 Each Work Coach is responsible for a caseload of around 100 unemployed claimants and conducts 10 to 20 claimant interviews per day.73

Job Centre Plus reforms currently ‘front-loaded for failure,’ MPs say.

A new approach to the role of work coaches in the Job Centre Plus (JCP) programme is needed as its approach shifts to helping more complex cases, the Work and Pensions Committee has said in a new report.

The report said that changes such as the introduction of the Work and Health Programme and Universal Credit mean that JCP will deal with more claimants ‘in-house’ instead of through contracted-out provision and with more claimants with complex needs, such as health problems and disabilities.

However, it said that these changing needs were combined with a move to a “generalist” model for work coaches.

Work and Pensions Committee says it has grave concerns over both the challenges faced by Work Coaches in Jobcentre Plus (JCP), and the flagship Work and Health Programme.

(Hat-tip to Benefit Tales.)

Committee Chair Frank Field said:

“The government is basing the future for the new Job Centre Plus advisers on too narrow a financial and administrative base. It is in danger of missing this opportunity to create a world-class first in respect of its job advisers, and a world-leading employment support programme for disabled people in Job Centre Pluses by not thinking through the demands to be made on what is, in reality, the same old system financed by a much reduced budget.”

Against the backdrop of a much changed labour market, the delayed roll-out of Universal Credit and the scaling down of contracted-out welfare-to-work programmes, JCP will be expected to provide employment support to a broader and more challenging caseload of claimants, including those with disabilities, mental health conditions, and the long-term unemployed.

Work Coaches

In the report summary this is well-worth noting,

Culturally, JCP must ensure that it becomes an inspirational place from which individuals find and succeed in work. JCP Work Coaches—front-line advisors—will play a pivotal role. Too often, JCP staff have been cast in the role of policemen rather than supporters who help people progress to and in work. Major changes will be required of Work Coaches. There is a case for some Work Coaches to specialise in helping specific claimant groups, while others take a higher caseload of more general cases. There should also be a clearer route for Work Coaches themselves to progress in their careers in providing tailored employment support, reflecting the increased demands of today’s labour market.

The success of the new Work Coach model will depend, in part, on Coaches’ awareness that they are not experts in all areas—including disability and health conditions. They must, therefore, embrace working alongside more knowledgeable third parties and charities. To make a success of its new, expanded role, JCP will have to ensure that it is open to working in ways that are increasingly flexible, adaptable and experimental. It must strengthen working relationships with employers and other external partners in order to ensure that specialist support is available to claimants when it is needed. It will also need to demonstrate an ability to learn on the job and adapt its provision, both to changing labour market circumstances and as it learns what works in supporting claimants. This new role will also need to be reflected in its opening hours.

Previously, many of these claimants would have been supported outside JCP, through the contracted-out Work Programme and Work Choice. Whether the employment support that the Department offers to these claimants is successful will largely depend on its Work Coaches – front-line support staff. The Committee identifies several concerns about this approach:

  • Work Coaches will increasingly have to provide positive coaching and address claimants’ barriers to work, yet many claimants currently view Coaches as “policemen” due to their role in administering sanctions: two potentially conflicting roles
  • Work Coaches will be generalists who support claimants with a wide range of needs. However, addressing their claimants’ barriers to work requires specialist skills and knowledge that many Work Coaches currently lack, and have little incentive to develop
  • To compensate for their lack of specialism, Work Coaches will be increasingly required to identify and refer their claimants to appropriate external support: for example, from charities and third parties. This, in itself, requires a level of specialist knowledge
  • The requirement to refer to third-party support, alongside the more complex caseloads and extended support role, will place increasing pressure on claimants’ appointment times with Work Coaches

The Committee is also concerned about the “manifold reduction” in external support that the Work and Health Programme represents. It will have a budget of £554m over its lifetime: substantially less than the estimated £1.5bn that was spent on disability employment through the Work Programme and Work Choice it replaces. Witnesses told the Committee that this reduction in programme capacity meant that many of those who might benefit from participating would be unable to access it. Given the Government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap, this is a disappointing development.

This is also worth noting:  Conclusions and recommendations.

3.We recommend the Department set out how it will support Work Coaches to strike the right balance between coaching and conditionality—potentially conflicting elements of their role. Work Coaches should be given more comprehensive guidance on how to adopt a flexible approach to conditionality for vulnerable groups of claimants, such as those with health conditions or housing problems. The guidance should include multiple examples illustrating the circumstances in which different levels of conditionality, including frequency of meetings, would be appropriate and effective. (Paragraph 22)

4.We recommend that the Department monitor the extent to which claimants consider Claimant Commitments personalised. This should include adding a question on this topic to the annual Claimant Experience survey. (Paragraph 23)

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The success of the Department’s approach will depend on supporting people who, in many cases, are long term unemployed or have substantial health issues back into work. Many of these may have seen Jobcentres as enforcement agencies, and their staff as police, and have been poorly served in the past. Instead of building on examples of successful programmes such as Work Choice, the Department is overseeing a massive reduction in the spending on the replacement Work and Health Programme. Compensating for this will require a massive cultural shift and practical shift in JCP, enabling it to become a place that supports real progress to, and in, work. We are not convinced that JCPs and Work Coaches will have the necessary resources, skills and expertise to do this, and especially not at the rapid and ambitious pace that the DWP is expecting.

The Government has expressed the need to reform capitalism, and to “make work pay”. We welcome the Department’s willingness to take a flexible approach to JCP’s services, and to try to support those who have been inadequately served by the current system. But we have grave concerns that shifting a raft of new, specialised demands and requirements onto JCPs, without significant training and preparation and with greatly reduced resources, is simply front-loading this brave new world for failure.”

Written by Andrew Coates

November 14, 2016 at 3:59 pm

Benefit Sanctions and UN Report on Disability Benefit ‘Reforms’: Abuse Continues.

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Image result for Sanctions benefits

News Seeker flags this important article.

I realise even the mice in my street are concerned about Trump but this goes on…

And on.

Benefit sanctions on North Wales job seekers ‘hitting most vulnerable’

Study reveals 17,596 of the 36,905 sanctions imposed were later overturned, with AM saying it raises questions about the accuracy of decisions

More than 17,000 people in North and Mid Wales had their benefits stopped forcing some to turn to food banks and loan sharks – only for the decision to be later overturned, it has been revealed.

A study by Plaid Cymru revealed 36,905 people were subjected to sanctions on their job seekers allowance (JSA) between 2012-2015 – but 17,596 of those sanctions were overturned on appeal or cancelled due to errors.

Plaid Cymru regional AM Llyr Gruffydd said the system meant often “vulnerable people” were being “left high and dry”.

Mr Gruffydd believes this questions the validity of the penalties, which are applied if claimants fail to complete agreed tasks with Job Centre staff.

These can range from not filling out enough job applications to failing to attend a prescribed number of interviews.

He said: “This relates to the Job Seekers’ Allowance as the Department of Work and Pensions has not released similar data on other benefits. However it paints a worrying picture of how sanctions – i.e. stopping benefits – can be applied without good cause and sometimes against people who are vulnerable and unable to represent themselves.

“These are the people who are then left high and dry, needing food banks, emergency loans or even loan sharks to tide them over. If more than half the cases end up without sanctions being applied it raises questions about the accuracy of the original decision.”

Between October 2012 and December 2015, 36,905 sanctions were applied in North and Mid Wales. Of those, 17,377 (47.1%) were cases where sanctions were actually enforced.

In a further 10,370 cases (28.1%) a decision was found in favour of the claimant and claims were reinstated. In 1,932 cases (5.2%) decisions were reserved because the claimant didn’t have a current claim and in 7,226 cases (19.5%) sanctions were cancelled due to errors, lack of information or the claimant stopped claiming before the sanction.

A recent Parliamentary select committee review of benefit sanctions heard from academics and employers.

One, Dr David Webster of the University of Glasgow, told MPs the DWP is sanctioning people “willy nilly”.

He added: “They say you have to apply for 30 jobs in a fortnight and you only apply for 29 and they sanction you. This is completely absurd.”

He also said it was unnecessary to run the system on the assumption most job seekers “don’t want to work”.

Mr Gruffydd added: “There’s plenty of evidence of people losing all their benefits at a stroke because of arbitrary sanctions.

“Job Centre staff have spoken out about being given targets in terms of sanctions and I’m concerned that the most vulnerable could be bearing the brunt of these.

“They are the easiest to sanction and are likely to have the least resources and support to fight back.”

And there is this as well (from the New Statesman, a good source of information and comment)

UN report finds UK disability benefit reforms “violate human rights”

The government’s welfare reforms show “grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities”, according to a UN report.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities painted a picture of a benefits system with a blunt mandate to get claimants back into work, but with little consideration of human rights.

Instead, people with disabilities have found their living conditions deteriorate due to a toxic cocktail of cuts to housing benefit, tightened budgets for local services, and blunt assessments that do not take into account complex needs. The Bedroom Tax also made it harder to find suitable accommodation.

But perhaps the most damning part of the report is the change in culture it observes.

Because disabled people are more likely to rely on some form of welfare support, they are also more likely to be a target of scapegoating, it noted.

As the government rolled out its welfare reforms, “high-ranking officers” issued statements telling the public the changes were supposed to make the welfare system fairer to taxpayers and reduce benefit fraud.

The report continued:

Persons with disabilities have been regularly portrayed negatively as being dependent or making a living out of benefits, committing fraud as benefit claimants, being lazy and putting a burden on taxpayers, who are paying “money for nothing”.

Its inquiry uncovered evidence that people with disabilities experience increasing hostility, aggressive behaviour and attacks. This was despite the fact there was nothing to suggest people with disabilities were any more likely to commit benefit fraud.

In response to the criticism, the government pointed to its campaigners to improve public awareness. But the UN committee is unconvinced.

It concluded that the government could have foreseen that its welfare reforms would have a negative impact on people with disabilities. But instead, those claimants undergoing assessments “felt that they were merely processed rather than being listened to or understood”.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 10, 2016 at 11:45 am

Questions about Tackling Fraud , Error in the Benefits System as Universal Credit System still ‘Undeveloped”.

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There is more to this than meets the initial headline.

Spending watchdog urges clearer plans for cutting benefit system fraud and error.

Reports Welfare Weekly.

Efforts to tackle fraud and error in the benefits system must be stepped up following the “meltdown” over Concentrix’s role in the tax credit system, the Commons spending watchdog has said.

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said fraud and error remained a “significant problem” for the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Outside contractor Concentrix was tasked with reducing fraud and error in the tax credits system but HMRC announced last month that its contract would not be renewed following complaints that claimants’ payments were wrongly cut.

The PAC welcomed some of the action taken by DWP and HMRC to tackle the problems in the benefits and tax credits systems, but demanded more action.

The report said: “While it is encouraging to see the departments targeting the causes of losses, such as misreported income, they also need clearer plans to reduce fraud and error in other challenging areas such as cohabitation and claimants pretending to live in the UK who live abroad.

“Recent issues relating to HMRC’s contract with Concentrix to investigate suspected fraud and error by tax credit claimants highlights the need to get these plans right.

“We remain disappointed by the absence of stretching targets for tackling fraud and error.”

So far so sadly predictable.

But Lo! there is this:

The committee also raised fresh concerns about the troubled Universal Credit programme, the Government’s flagship welfare reform aimed at simplifying a series of separate benefits into one payment.

The MPs warned that “systems underpinning Universal Credit are still underdeveloped and there are signs of pressure on staff”.

They also raised concerns that the “rigid” monthly assessment period could cause problems for claimants whose pay or rent were based on four-weekly cycles.

The report Universal Credit and fraud and error: progress review section on Universal Credit  says,

The Department started to roll out its “full service” version of Universal Credit to jobcentres in May 2016. It is rolling out at a rate of five centres a month and the Department had planned to scale up to 50 centres a month from February 2017. But on 20 July 2016, just hours before we took oral evidence on this inquiry, the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions released a written ministerial statement, outlining a further delay to the roll out of the programme.3 The statement outlined a slower roll-out of the Department’s full service systems, which would continue to roll-out to only five centres a month until June 2017, before increasing the speed of the roll-out. The Department now envisages that the full service will be available in every jobcentre by September 2018 rather than June 2018, and that the roll-out of Universal Credit will now be complete by March 2022, 12 months later than previously announced and four and a half years after October 2017, the planned completion date at the start of the programme.4

3.The Department attributed the delay in roll-out to scope changes following policies announced in the Summer Budget 2015. These include removing eligibility for housing elements from 18 to 21 year olds, reducing the “limited capability for work” element to zero and restricting the number of children that Universal Credit will pay for to a maximum of two.5 These policy changes were announced in July 2015; well before our last evidence session in December 2015, and before the Department submitted its Outline Business Case to HM Treasury for approval in September 2015.6 The Department has therefore had a long time already to consider how to apply the policy changes to its systems, and actually had 21 months in total to implement the changes before they come into force in April 2017.7

4.The Department for Work & Pensions denied that it was attributing wider operational problems to changes in policy, and told us that a recent internal review of the Universal Credit programme concluded that it would have been on track to deliver 50 jobcentres in February 2017, if the Department did not have its issue of new scope to deal with.8 The Department told us that this new timetable should be feasible if no further policy changes are announced.9 Universal Credit has often been described as simplifying the benefit system. But these new delays suggest that the systems underpinning Universal Credit’s design are not adaptable to changes in policy or entitlement, raising questions about the promised flexibility of the new systems.10

Note also,

14.The Department expects people who are in work that earn less than the equivalent of 35 hours per week at the minimum wage to look to work or earn more. This “in-work conditionality” regime is still at a very early stage of development and the Department is undertaking a national trial to see what the best ways are of intervening. Approximately 40% of the current Universal Credit caseload are in work (approximately 112,000 claimants) and are moving into the trial.38 But longer term, the majority of households likely to fall within these requirements will be the 4.4 million families currently in receipt of tax credits, who are not used to such conditions being attached to their entitlement.39 These requirements may lead to families being ‘sanctioned’, or facing a financial penalty, if they cannot demonstrate that they have been looking to increase earnings during their assessment month. The Department stressed to us that the idea of this is to encourage people to work more hours and increase their earnings, not to be a system of punishment, but the Department must be sensitive to individual families’ circumstances (for example varying shift patterns and overtime requests) if the system is to prove effective. The Work and Pensions Select Committee has looked into this area in depth and we will also continue to take an interest in this area as plans develop and in work claimant numbers increase.40

If you have a strong stomach this is worth reading: from the Conclusions,

The Department has not updated its assessment of the expected benefits of Universal Credit in the light of policy and operational changes. The Department has now spent £1.16 billion on implementing Universal Credit, which has a caseload of around 280,000, compared to the over 6 million claimants expected in the long term. Despite having previously estimated that a six month delay to the programme could reduce net benefits to the taxpayer by £2.3 billion, the Department now maintains that the net benefits of the programme have not changed significantly from the £20 billion quoted in its 2015 outline business case. The Department rejected the recommendation we made in February 2016 that it should explain how the business case has changed following changes in policy to Universal Credit and other working age benefits, on the grounds that revising a business case takes four months. However the Department told us that it does have ready-reckoners and is able to model the effect of changes quickly, suggesting that it should have been able to accept our recommendation without causing disproportionate extra work.

Recommendation: We reiterate our previous recommendation that the Department should set out clearly the changes to the business case for Universal Credit since its outline business case in 2015. It should include a brief summary of the policy changes and, using its ready-reckoners, a clear explanation of the impact on the programme’s costs and benefits.

3.Systems underpinning Universal Credit are still underdeveloped and there are signs of pressure on staff. We welcome the fact that the Department has changed its mind and has now accepted our recommendations and those made by the previous Committee concerning the need for better contingency planning. But the Department still has a long way to go before systems will be ready to scale up Universal Credit significantly; we heard, for example, that only 25% of claims in the new full service are paid automatically. We also received written evidence that staff are concerned about the lack of training and the pressures of work preventing adequate testing and learning within the new service.

Recommendation: Before the speed at which Universal Credit is rolled out is increased, the Department should ensure that there are sufficient opportunities for staff to engage in testing and learning processes, and set out for the Committee what it has done to address staff concerns. The Department should write to the Committee to inform it of action taken by May 2017.

4.Universal Credit’s rigid monthly assessment period causes difficulties for claimants whose pay or rent are based on four-weekly periods. Claimants whose pay or rent cycle does not match the monthly assessment period used for Universal Credit may experience difficulties, such as a drop in payment without warning. Similar issues arise when people are paid early for Christmas. The Department’s only solution appears to be to try and persuade employers and landlords to change their pay and rent practices, rather than seeking to make its own systems more flexible. With the number of employees and landlords the former is unlikely to be feasible.

Recommendation:The Department should ensure that claimants whose pay or rent cycles do not align with Universal Credit assessment periods are made aware of this issue and the potential consequences, and are informed of what support is available should this be needed. The Department should also examine what it can do to adapt its systems to cater for these circumstances or provide more information about what it is doing to secure change with employers and landlords.

6.The Department for Work & Pensions’ understanding of the level and causes of fraud and error in Universal Credit and some other benefits is incomplete, potentially undermining efforts to reduce losses. While the Department expects Universal Credit to reduce fraud and error overpayments by £1 billion a year when it is fully rolled out, initial estimates indicate that the level is currently higher than the Jobseeker’s Allowance that it is replacing. The Department attribute this to the difficulty of developing a suitable methodology to measure fraud and error in Universal Credit, as the new benefit is designed to support both those in work as well as those out of work, and to cases where the Department was unable to contact claimants to verify the payment made. The Department does not regularly measure fraud and error across all its other benefits; for example, fraud and error in the payment of Carer’s Allowance has not been measured for 20 years.

Recommendation: The Department for Work & Pensions should: establish and agree with the National Audit Office a robust method for estimating Universal Credit fraud and error; and undertake regular risk assessments to improve its understanding of the causes of fraud and error in those benefits where it has not been measured for some time or at all.

Our conclusion: there are problems about

  • “In-work conditionality” is “at a very early stage of development”:  that is they have no clear idea of what the hell it means and what the rules are.
  • There are new opportunities for – sanctions and “financial penalties”.
  • The system is not yet ready to cope with all claims.
  • Both potential Fraud and Error are a greater problem now for those on Universal Credit (” initial estimates indicate that the level is currently higher than the Jobseeker’s Allowance..”)
  • Rent and Pay cycles are not aligned with Universal Credit so that, claimants may “experience difficulties, such as a drop in payment without warning.”

Ho, ho ho!

Written by Andrew Coates

November 6, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Corbyn Tells PM May to See ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

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Image result for I daniel blake sloagn onw all

Corbyn Urges PM to See I, Daniel Blake.

During Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday this happened (BBC)

Jeremy Corbyn asked Theresa May why she was bringing in cuts to Universal Credit.

The Labour leader said her predecessor David Cameron had abandoned cuts to tax credits, but these changes were now being brought back via Universal Credit.

But the prime minister defended changes to benefits and she said it was “important to value work”, and that struggling families were struggling to pay for the benefits of others.

The Guardian summarises,

Today’s exchange was almost wholly around benefits. Jeremy Corbyn recommended that the prime minister should “support British cinema” by going to see Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake during a series of questions about benefit sanctions, universal credit cuts and cuts to the employment support allowance for disabled people. He accused Theresa May of “imposing poverty on people” under the guise of helping them find work. In response, May said Labour was in favour of no sanctions and no obligation on claimants to prove they were unfit for work, and that the benefits system needed to also be fair to the people who pay for it. She said Labour had lost touch with its working-class support and the Tories were now the true party of the working classes.

They add,

Memorable lines

It’s time we ended this institutional barbarity against the most vulnerable people in the system.

Jeremy Corbyn urges May to undo benefit sanctions.

The Labour party is drifting away from the views of working-class people. It is this party that knows how to support them.

May accuses Labour of abandoning its core supporters

The Mirror observes,

Prime Minister’s Questions. She got her knickers in a twist when she somehow called an MP Jeremy Corbyn’s son.

She then brazenly claimed the Tories were the party of the working class when she was told to end cruel benefit sanctions and watch hit film I, Daniel Blake.

The Guardian further reports,

Corbyn urges May to see I, Daniel Blake to gain insight to life on welfare.

Jeremy Corbyn is urging Labour members to attend a series of special screenings of the campaigning Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake, in the run-up to Philip Hammond’s autumn statement, in an effort to rally support against planned cuts to disability benefits.

The film, currently on release in cinemas, details Blake’s struggles with the complex bureaucracy of the benefits system, and was made after the director researched the lives of welfare claimants.

At Wednesday’s prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons, the Labour leader suggested May should “support British cinema” by watching the film, to give her an insight into the struggles faced by the “just managing” families she has pledged to help.

Corbyn will attend a special screening of the film on 17 November – less than a week before the autumn statement – as will a series of other frontbenchers, including shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, and shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

McDonnell said: “I, Daniel Blake was one of the most moving films I’ve ever seen so I’m very pleased we have teamed up with Ken Loach to urge people to go and watch it at these special screenings taking place before the autumn statement.

“We’re living in an I, Daniel Blake society as a result of having the Tories in power for six years. The government should be caring for sick and disabled people, not making their lives worse.

In particular, Labour is calling for Hammond to scrap cuts to the employment and support allowance. ESA, which goes to sick and disabled people, who either can’t work or are trying to find employment, is due to be reduced by £30 for some new claimants from April next year. Labour has said it would reverse the policy.

The ESA cut is one of a series of planned reductions in benefits for future years set out by George Osborne before he was removed as chancellor by May in June.

Damian Green, the new work and pensions secretary, has signalled that there will be no fresh cuts in the welfare budget; but his department have insisted they will go ahead with reductions set in train by Osborne, including £3bn a year due to be trimmed off the cost of universal credit.

Tory backbenchers have expressed concerns about the potential impact of some of the changes on poorer families, with backbencher Heidi Allen leading calls for the UC cuts to be reversed – a cause that has also won the support of Green’s predecessor, Iain Duncan Smith.

Duncan Smith has called on Hammond to use his autumn statement, which will reveal the first estimates from the independent office for budget responsibility of the economic impact of Brexit, to cancel planned tax cuts, and spend the money saved on making UC more generous.

Corbyn challenged the prime minister on the various benefits cuts in the House of Commons. She responded by claiming Labour would like to see “no assessments, no sanctions and unlimited welfare” – an assertion later denied by Corbyn’s spokesman

Work Capability Changes Announcement on Monday.

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Work Capability Assessment Campaigners. 

Earlier this year this happened,

Criticism as £30-a-week disability benefit cuts go ahead March.

Peers have backed down in their battle with MPs over cuts to disabled people’s benefits after ministers invoked special powers to push them through.

The government was twice defeated in the House of Lords over a £30 a week cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for certain claimants.

But it is set to go ahead after peers deferred to the elected Commons.

Ministers claimed “financial privilege” to assert the Commons’ right to have the final say on budgetary measures.

Ministers argue the changes will encourage people to get into work, but this is strongly disputed by opponents.

Then at the start of October this happened (BBC),

Tens of thousands of people claiming the main benefit for long-term sickness will no longer face repeated medical assessments to keep their payments.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green said it was pointless to re-test recipients of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) with severe conditions and no prospect of getting better.

More than two million people receive ESA, which is worth up to £109 a week.

The move has been welcomed by charities supporting those with severe illness.

Now this there is this:

Work capability assessment overhaul for disabled BBC.

The scheme that assesses claimants of disability benefits faces a major overhaul, following claims by a charity that it is “fundamentally flawed”.

A consultation on reforming the Work Capability Assessment will be announced on Monday.

Ministers want claimants to be assessed in a more “targeted and personalised” way to help more people find jobs.

The charity Scope, which had criticised the current assessment scheme, said it welcomed the planned changes.

It said disabled people needed “expert, tailored employment support”.

Both Employment Support Allowance, which is paid to more than two million people, and the assessment, were originally introduced by Labour and then expanded by the coalition government.

The consultation – to be launched by Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green on Monday – follows the announcement that people with severe conditions will no longer face reassessments for their benefits.

It will examine how people receiving ESA can be helped back into employment without having their benefits put at risk while they search for a job.

Note this is already problematic since nobody has yet been able to show exactly what this ‘help’ is. and how it….helps.

Mr Green said: “A disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life.

“No one wants a system where people are written off and forced to spend long periods of time on benefits when, actually, with the right support they could be getting back into work.

“The proposed changes… will focus on improving opportunities and raising aspirations while making sure those people who most need support from the government receive it.”

Former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who spearheaded the government’s welfare reforms for six years before resigning in March, said: “ESA is a part of the benefits system left over from the last Labour government and is in real need of reform.

“These proposals are directly taken from a full plan for reform that we at the DWP were close to completing before I resigned.

“The purpose was to get rid of the binary choice that you were fit for work or not fit for work. My plan covered all the areas announced today and went further in proposing some other positive changes.”

Note:  more bald faced lies from the man responsible for this:

 In September 2013 leaked documents showed that Duncan Smith was looking at “how to make it harder for sick and disabled people to claim benefits”. Duncan Smith was advised that it would be illegal to introduce secondary legislation, which does not require parliament’s approval, in order to give job centre staff more powers to make those who were claiming Employment and Support Allowance undertake more tests to prove that they were making a serious effort to come off benefits and find a job. The powers being discussed also included “forcing sick and disabled people to take up offers of work.” DWP staff would also have the power to strip claimants with serious, but time-limited health conditions, of benefits if they refuse the offer of work

Is this true?

BBC political correspondent Eleanor Garnier said the move signalled a clear change of approach from that of David Cameron’s government, which tightened and reduced welfare spending.

This certainly is.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams called for the assessments to be scrapped, saying they caused “needless misery and stress” for thousands of sick and disabled people.

She said the government’s approach was “ideologically driven with the sole purpose of targeting the most vulnerable in our society to pay for their austerity plans, painting disabled people as scroungers and shirkers, whilst making no impact on the disability employment gap”.

We await more comment from this quarter:

Citizens Advice said it dealt with 25,000 issues around Work Capability Assessments last year, saying the reforms should make the test “fair, consistent and right first time”.

MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “We are keen to help create a system that makes more sense.

“However, it must be recognised that many people with long-term progressive conditions will simply be too unwell to work and no amount of extra employment support will change that.”

Phil Reynolds, from the charity Parkinson’s UK, told BBC Radio 5 live he “cautiously welcomed” the new move, but that his organisation had been trying to highlight the issue for a long time.

“We continue to hear examples of people with really serious conditions, like Parkinsons, who are put in that ‘back to work’ group because the assessment fails to recognise that a person’s condition will only get worse,” he said.

“It’s really important that anything that comes out of this leads to positive improvements and a more sensitive assessment.”

Written by Andrew Coates

October 30, 2016 at 3:35 pm

New Study: Benefit sanctions forcing people to use food banks, which “should not become an informal substitution for the social safety net.”

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“Should not become an informal substitution for the social safety net” says Report.

Few things are more degrading than having to reply on food hand outs because of poverty, and specifically, as the result of having people’s benefits cut or stopped.

With benefit sanctions in the news, after the release of Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake, this is very timely.

Benefit sanctions, whereby social security claimants have their payments stopped for at least a month as a punishment for supposedly breaching strict jobcentre rules, are a key driver of hunger and food bank use, according to a study carried out by Oxford University academics.

Reports the Guardian.

The Trussell Trust, which funded the report, says today,

  • University of Oxford researchers analysed four years of Trussell Trust foodbank data and found an increase in 10 Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions per 100,000 adults was associated with five more adults needing foodbanks
  • In response, The Trussell Trust, which runs a network of over 420 foodbanks, calls for a true ‘yellow card’ warning system to stop people falling into crisis

Research by the University of Oxford, released today, finds a “strong, dynamic relationship” between sanctioning and food bank usage: there is a link between people having their benefit payments stopped and an increase in referrals to foodbanks.

Researchers analysing Trussell Trust foodbank data from across 259 local authorities between 2012 and 2015 found that as the rate of sanctioning increased within local authorities, the rate of foodbank use also increased.

Even after accounting for differences between local authorities, their modelling showed that for every 10 additional sanctions applied in each quarter of the year, on average five more adults would be referred to Trussell Trust foodbanks in the area. As sanctioning decreased, foodbank use also decreased, which the report suggests is evidence of a strong link between sanctioning and people not having enough money to meet basic needs.

The findings are from the first phase of a 16-month study into how trends in foodbank usage over the last four years relate to changes in the economy and welfare system. Looking across local authorities and over time using aggregated quarterly data, researchers examined whether changes in sanctioning rates within local authorities related to changes in foodbank usage.

Researchers built a longitudinal dataset of local authorities containing quarterly adult foodbank usage, data on foodbank operations, and government data on the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, the number of sanctions applied to Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, unemployment and employment rates, and population size. These models control for differences in characteristics between local authorities and time trends, ruling out other potential explanations for the relationship observed.

The report says foodbanks in The Trussell Trust network experienced a spike in numbers after 2013, when over one million sanctions were applied. Changes to the sanction regime and Jobseeker’s Allowance at this time included increasing benefit conditionality for claimants, sanctions imposed immediately for failure to meet these conditions, and longer sanctioning penalties, starting from a minimum of four weeks to up to three years*. Foodbanks distributed three times as much over the period – from just under 350,000 three-day emergency food supplies in 2012/13 to around 913,000 in 2013/14. Even after accounting for new foodbanks opening, this spike was evident across the network, says the research.

Report lead author Dr Rachel Loopstra, from the University of Oxford, said:

“These findings show clear evidence of sanctions being linked to economic hardship and hunger, as we see a close relationship between sanctioning rates and rates of foodbank usage across local authorities in the UK.’

In response to this new evidence, The Trussell Trust proposes changes to the current ‘yellow card’ warning being piloted by the Department for Work and Pensions in Scotland, and calls for the recommendations to be extended across the UK. Currently, the system in Scotland gives notice a sanction is pending and 14 days to appeal. The Trussell Trust recommend a warning system with a non-financial ‘yellow card’ penalty to first try and engage the person in a constructive dialogue without the immediate threat of financial penalty.

Adrian Curtis, Foodbank Network Director for The Trussell Trust, said today,

“The findings from this ground-breaking study by the University of Oxford tell us once and for all: the more people sanctioned, the more people need foodbanks. We now need to listen to the stories behind the statistics: families go hungry, debt spiral, and the heating doesn’t go on even as temperatures drop.

“There is much to be hopeful about – we’re very pleased to see sanctioning rates have decreased and that the new Secretary of State has announced that work capability re-assessments for ESA claimants with incurable or progressive illnesses have been scrapped. However, we still see people being referred to our foodbanks who have been sanctioned unfairly. A true ‘yellow card’ system, which gives people a non-financial warning first, would mean less people thrown into crisis and ultimately, less people needing foodbanks.”

You can see the paper here:  The impact of benefit sanctioning on food insecurity: a dynamic cross-area study of food bank usage in the UK

Household food security, which may be compromised by short-term income shocks, is a key determinant of health. Since 2012, the UK witnessed marked increases in the rate of ‘sanctions’ applied to unemployment insurance claimants, which stop payments to claimants for a minimum of four weeks. In 2013, over 1 million sanctions were applied, potentially leaving people facing economic hardship and driving them to use food banks. Here we test this hypothesis by linking data from the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network with records on sanctioning rates across 259 local authorities in the UK. After accounting for local authority differences and time trends, as the rate of sanctioning increased by 10 per 100,000 adults, the rate of adults fed by foodbanks by an additional 3.36 adults per 100,000 (95% CI: 1.71 to 5.01). The availability of food distribution sites affected how tightly sanctioning and food bank usage were associated (p<0.001 for interaction term), such that in areas with few distribution sites, rising sanctions led to smaller increases in Trussell Trust food bank usage. Sanctioning appears to be closely linked with rising need for emergency food assistance, but the impact of sanctioning on food insecurity is likely not fully reflected in available data. There is a need to monitor household food insecurity in the UK to fully understand the impact of government policies on this outcome.

These are  important parts of their conclusion:

The recent decline in sanctioning is a positive sign, and has likely contributed to the decline in the numbers of people using food banks within local authorities in 2015/16. Yet, in 2015, there were still about 358,000 sanctions applied to JSA claimants. We also observed that declines in sanctioning were not as strongly linked to declines in food bank usage, explaining why the decline in food bank usage has not been as fast as the decline in sanctions. This could be because experiences of sanctions trigger longer-term financial crises, such as debt accumulation.

And,

Our findings also highlight the limitations of any charitable food support network’s ability to eradicate food insecurity. These networks are increasingly relied upon to fill in the gaps in welfare support but, by relying on volunteers and donated food and space to operate, they will vary in their capacity to address hunger in their area. As such, they are not equipped to address these gaps in every part of the country and are less able to respond quickly to changes in need. Food banks are not an adequate solution to the problem of hunger, and they should not become an informal substitution for the social safety net.

The Independent notes,

The Department for Work and Pensions dismissed the findings as “misleading”.

“The reasons for food bank use are complex, and it is misleading to link them to any one issue,” said a government spokesperson.

“We’re clear that work is the best route out of poverty, and the number of people in employment is at a record high, up by 2.7 million since 2010.”

They said £90 billion was spent on working age benefits “to ensure a strong safety net”.

One further point:

Written by Andrew Coates

October 27, 2016 at 3:13 pm

Posted in DWP, Food Banks, Sanctions

Tagged with , ,

Behavioural “Insights” Team on Sanctions and “Identity-building activities.”

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Somewhere we hope never to go…

Most of us are familiar with the way the DWP Job Centre, and all the rest of the schemes we are on, are run on the basis of some kind of managerial theory which tries to ‘nudge’ (force) us to behave in order to fit into their idea of what we should do to get employment.

On the Work Programme this could involve being told to “get out of your comfort zone”, listening to heroic tales of how the trainers obtained their magnificent positions through hard work, or (job centre) somebody going through your Job Seeker’s Agreement with a fine tooth comb to find if you have spent every waking hour asking “giv us a job”.

People have made money out of theorising this practice, and no doubt drawing up the guidelines for DWP and Trainers to follow.

Indeed their is a whole ‘unit’, the Behavioural Insights Team, that produces hefty reports on such affairs.

There is a book, “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein” (2008) which has replaced How to Win Friends and Influence People” on every huckster’s book shelf.

This American text’s core message was summed up by the New York Review of Books as follows,

Nudging is about the self-conscious design of choice architecture. Put a certain choice architecture together with a certain heuristic and you will get a certain outcome. That’s the basic equation. So, if you want a person to reach a desirable outcome and you can’t change the heuristic she’s following, then you have to meddle with the choice architecture, setting up one that when matched with the given heuristic delivers the desirable outcome. That’s what we do when we nudge.

It’s all for your own Good. Jeremy Waldron.

Naturally the book came to the UK where this was the reception (Richard Reeves, Observer. 2008)

Nudge has become the ‘it’ book for politicos. Thaler is in the middle of a fortnight in the UK and is being courted and feted by the chattering, thinking, wonking classes. Everyone who is anyone has been nudged by the amiable prof (I bought him dinner). The Conservatives moved quickly to stake their claim to his brand of ‘libertarian paternalism’, seeing in it a way for the state to act non-coercively for the greater good.

The (gibberish sounding) Behavioural Insights Team) was the result.

The quality of the thinking, research and proposals of this merry crew is praised in the book, Inside the Nudge Unit: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference.  David Halpern. 2016.

You can judge for yourself (Review: Public Finance)

Human beings are amazingly complicated, so you do get surprises coming up on a regular basis even if you’re fairly expert,” Halpern says. He cites the example of a big discrepancy in the results of a judgment test sat by applicants to the police. “It’s an online test – there are no human beings involved – and yet there was a massive difference in the pass rate between white and ethnic minority candidates, 60% versus 40%,” he explains. “There were lots of hypotheses about why this might be – you can imagine some of the ideas.”

We can indeed.

People are really complicated.

Wow.

The Unit came up with wizard wheezes like “Giving a day’s salary to charity” “Using a lottery to increase electoral participation rates” and “Increasing fine payment rates through text messages.” (more see Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), also known unofficially as the “Nudge Unit“)

And….”.”Personal commitment devices in Jobcentres.”

Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP did not do “non-coercive”, so we had…sanctions to “nudge” us in the right direction.

As in, I, Daniel Blake.

Now we hear this from the Nudgers:

DWP must review welfare conditionality, policy unit set up by Downing Street says (Independent a few days ago)

The Government should review its practice of forcing benefit claimants to jump through hoops like attending Jobcentre meetings in order to claim benefits, a policy unit set up by Downing Street has recommended.

The Behavioral Insights Team, set up by David Cameron in 2010, said piling unemployed people with responsibilities on pain of sanction might actually be making it harder for them to get jobs.

The so-called Nudge Unit, which was part-privatised in 2014, warned that some Government policies were reducing so-called “cognitive bandwidth” or “headspace” of the people they were designed to help.

Is that all?

Not quite.

‘Nudge Unit’ u-turn on benefit sanctions could herald even more state intervention  replies Sue Jones in Welfare Weekly.

It’s very interesting that the Behavioural Insights Team now claim that the state using the threat of benefit sanctions may be “counterproductive”. The idea of increasing welfare conditionality and enlarging the scope and increasing the frequency of benefit sanctions originated from the behavioural economics theories of the Nudge Unit in the first place.

The increased use and rising severity of benefit sanctions became an integrated part of welfare “conditionality” in the Conservative’s Welfare “reform” Act, 2012. The current sanction regime is based on a principle borrowed from behavioural economics theory – an alleged cognitive bias we have called “loss aversion.” It refers to the idea that people’s tendency is to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. The idea is embedded in the use of sanctions to “nudge” people towards compliance with welfare rules of conditionality, by using a threat of punitive financial loss, since the longstanding, underpinning Conservative assumption is that people are unemployed because of alleged behavioural deficits and poor decision-making. Hence the need for policies that “rectify ” behaviour.

This is important,

….anyone curious as to how such tyrannical behaviour modification techniques like benefit sanctions arose from the bland language, inane, managementspeak acronyms and pseudo-scientific framework of “paternal libertarianism” – nudge – here is an interesting read: Employing BELIEF: Applying behavioural economics to welfare to work, which is focused almost exclusively on New Right small state obsessions. Pay particular attention to the part about the alleged cognitive bias called loss aversion, on page 7.

It gets worse.

A lot worse, drivel wise that is.

This is what they propose:

Work

1 Use identity-building activities in Jobcentres to cultivate intrinsic motivation for work in order to improve the quality and sustainability of jobs that people find.

2 Collect longer-term and more holistic outcome measures of labour market interventions to understand their full impact on poverty.

3 Develop a simple tool for Jobcentres to identify capital deficits in order to match interventions to individual job seeker needs.

Sue Jones states,

Proposals such as providing access to parenting programmes, “identity-building activities in Jobcentres to cultivate intrinsic motivation for work”, “rainy day “savings, and “develop a simple tool for Jobcentres to identify capital deficits in order to match interventions to individual job seeker needs” all sound like a New Right blame-storming exercise. Again, the problem of poverty is regarded as being intrinsic to the individual, rather than one that arises in a wider political, economic, cultural and social context.

People have to read the Welfare Weekly article in full.

But the impression I get is that this latest  jolly prank looks like subjecting claimants to more, endlessly more, attempts by this lot to shape our lives and tell us what to do.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 25, 2016 at 3:39 pm

I, Daniel Blake in Review: Will it Help Change Anything?

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As a measure of I, Daniel Blake’s impact, this weekend the  French daily, Le Monde, devoted a whole page to an interview with the sociologist of poverty Nicolas Duvoux. about Ken Loach’s film.

He noted just how much the French system had become like the nightmare described in the picture (it might help that the French word for “sanction” is, er, la sanction).

At the end the interviewer asked if Loach’s call for a debate on these system, and the misery caused by miserly social security, could take place in France.

The answer was that Duvoux doubted it: people had become blinded to the existence of poverty. They blame the poor for being poor.

UNITE the union says,

We are all Daniel Blake

Our hope is that this film will spark a national debate and build public support for a fairer social security system for people in and out of work – just like Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home shifted the political agenda on housing in this country in the 1960s.

The scary thing is that what happens to Daniel could happen to anyone of us. How would you cope with being made redundant? Or falling ill? How long would your savings last? The British welfare state has helped millions of people get back on their feet in times of need – a safety net for those that fall on hard times – to need it isn’t a moral failing #WeAreAllDanielBlake.

We note that the Evening Standard’s review is headed, “Ken Loach’s grim portrait of Britain tells us that state bureaucracy is a horror and that welfare rules humiliate claimants, but nothing that we didn’t know already, says David Sexton.”

Sexton peppers his article with further sneers,

Big-hearted Dan, forgetting his own troubles, takes them in hand, fixing their cistern, leaving them some money for the electric, putting up one of his mobiles, getting little Dylan talking. And he takes Katie to the local food bank, where the poor girl is so hungry she breaks down and, while scooping things off the shelves, opens a tin, possibly of spaghetti rings, there and then and begins eating it with her hands. Worse, when she finds the food bank doesn’t do sanitary towels, she shoplifts some — and the store’s security guard spots her as ripe for going on the game, a further neo-capitalist degradation. 

And,

Loach, 80 now, is such an undeviating and old-fashioned Marxist that it has been fascinating to observe the rapprochement between his own special Left purity, disregarding all contradictory history, and Jeremy Corbyn’s, ditto.

And lo! Corbyn went along to the premiere this very week, posing alongside Loach in front of boards saying “Deaths due to sanctions and benefit cuts RIP”, and kneeling to add his own graffiti to that of Daniel Blake. Next day, he posted on Facebook: “If there’s one thing you do this year, go and see I, Daniel Blake. I went to see it last night and it’s one of the most moving films I’ve seen.” Historically inevitable, really.

Yet, by contrast the Daily Telegraph has a sensitive and intelligent review,  Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is a quietly fearsome piece of drama.

At the age of 80, Loach is still calling things as he sees them – and a late speech delivered by a homeless ‘wise fool’ in front of a Jobcentre Plus, which takes in everything from food banks and the bedroom tax to “that baldy twat Iain Duncan Whatshisface”, lays out his manifesto with an appealing belligerence. This film treads fearsomely complex, splintery terrain – and the more complex it acknowledges it to be, the better.

Even the Sun comments,

While many people shudder at the thought of his gritty, sometimes sentimentalised portraits of working-class life, they often forget how funny the films can be.

There are jokes – Loach often casts comedians, including John Bishop and now Dave Johns – and uses laughter to lighten the drama.

UNITE, to continue, says,

1. Please go and see this film – and tell your friends to see it too, on general release on 21 October.

2. Share your story – if you’ve ever been sanctioned or affected by any of the issues in I,Daniel Blake then we want to hear from you. Please share your story in the form below.

3.Tell a Tory to see this film – every single MP needs to see this film, (particularly the Tories!). Help them understand that our benefits’ system isn’t working. Email and tweet yours now, enter your postcode below to get started.

4. Unite Community has been campaigning against benefit sanctions right from the start -to find out more about the campaign visit the NoSanctions page.

5. Spread the message on social media- everybody needs to see this film. Join the conversation on the I, Daniel Blake Facebook and Twitter pages tagging #WeareallDanielBlake

Apart from the numerous clips I have not yet seen I, Daniel Blake, for reasons which are pretty obvious.

Like lots of us lot I have seen too much of Daniel Blake in real life. 

But I hope from the depths of my guts that the film helps change things.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 24, 2016 at 9:40 am

Inflation to Hit Benefit Claimants Hard.

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Higher inflation rise will cost poor families extra £100 a year, warns IFS.  Inflation rose to 1 per cent in September, the highest level in almost two years.  Zlata Rodionova The Independent.

The Guardian.

Poor families hit as UK inflation rises to 1% – as it happened

Government’s freeze on in-work benefits means many families will suffer as the cost of living rises.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) states,

In the July 2015 Budget the Government announced that, as part of its attempt to cut annual social security spending by £12 billion, most working-age benefit and tax credit rates would be frozen in cash terms until March 2020.

This policy represented a significant takeaway from a large number of working age households. But it also represented a shifting of risk from the Government to benefit recipients. Previously, higher inflation was a risk to the public finances, increasing cash spending on benefits. Now the risk is borne by low-income households: unless policy changes higher inflation will reduce their real incomes.

 

Huffington Post.

UK Inflation Rises To Two-Year High Of 1.0% As Sterling Turmoil Hits Britain’s Poor

Article 50 hasn’t even been triggered yet.

The rising cost of everyday goods is “just the start” of a sustained rise in inflationthat will hit Britain’s poor hardest, experts have warned.

New figures from the ONS show that inflation in prices is now at the highest point for two years amid the falling value of Sterling following the Brexit vote.

And rising inflation will not only affect prices in supermarkets and high streets, but reduce the income of Britain’s poorest families, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Left Foot Forward.

Brexit: Tory benefit cuts £100 worse for 11.5 million families thanks to pound dive.

Since the British people ‘took back control’ and stuck it to the elites on June 23, the pound has fallen to a 31 year low. While the Brexit press has tried to spin this as a good thing, the facts tell a different story.

As the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) finds today, a weak pound means rising prices, which would be bad enough for low-income people. But since we have a Tory government, this inflation comes amid a freeze on benefits and tax credits, as part a £12 billion cut to social security spending.

This means 11.5 million families will see an even greater real terms cut to their incomes as a result of sterling’s nose dive. Thanks Brexit!

We know what this will mean when we go to the supermarket and do our shopping.

Already we have to watch what we spend, what we buy, wait for the cheap bread at the end of the day, or look in the reduced sections.

And that’s without mentioning our bills.

This is going to get worse, a lot worse.

 

The benefits freeze should be ended now!

Written by Andrew Coates

October 19, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Concentrix accused of ‘reign of terror’ against tax credits claimants as scandal grows amid job loses.

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Image result for tax farmers

Apparently “Tax farming is not synonymous with modern privatized tax collection, where private individuals or companies collect taxes and pass them to the state in return for a commission or fee, without bearing any risk consequent of default by the taxpayer. Tax farming is speculative, meaning that the tenant of the farm bears the full risk of defaulted debts. In addition, a tenant is often required as a term of the lease to make an early rent payment, which must be financed from his own resources until the revenue stream subject to the farm has started to be collected.”

Still less the same as Concentrix. 

But what on earth is the same as the mess this lot have created?

Concentrix accused of ‘reign of terror’ against tax credits claimants reports Welfare Weekly. 

A US outsourcing company has been accused of exercising a “reign of terror” over people who claim tax credits.

US outsourcing company, Concentrix, which was awarded a £75m contract by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) – the department responsible for collecting taxes and paying out certain benefits – has been accused of exercising a “reign of terror” over people who claim tax credits.

The private company was contracted to “reduce fraud and error” in the tax credit system, and to carry out “compliance checks” in a bid to save the government money. More than 500 civil servants have been deployed to help the private company resolve problems it caused by stopping people’s tax credit payments. This includes tax credit awards for the children of both in work and out of work parents, as well as child care payments.

The company has issued an apology for failures that have left many people with no benefit payments for up to two months, leaving them without money for essentials. The US firm has been accused of “incorrectly” withdrawing tax credits.

Officials from HM Revenue and Customs told a committee of MPs that a breakdown in customer services at Concentrix had resulted in only 10% of calls being answered on some days.

Many thousands of people had their tax credits stopped after Concentrix said they were making “fraudulent claims”. In what can at best be described as Kafkasque taunting, one poor woman was told she was in a relationship with a chain of newsagents, another with the philanthropist and poverty researcher, Joseph Rowntree, (who died in 1925,) according to a BBC report. A teenage single mum receiving tax credits was told she was married to a dead pensioner, after having her child tax credit withdrawn. Another mother was told she was living with the previous tenants of the house that she had lived alone in for two and a half years with her son, after her child tax credit was also withdrawn.

It’s difficult to conceive that these allegations could possibly have been made in genuine error. Mumsnet, an online forum for parents, has had over a thousand comments from parents who received letters from Concentrix demanding evidence out of the blue that they live alone. This was just on one page of ten on the site about the unreasonable demands for “compliance” that the company has been making of parents.

More on this story here.

Concentrix workers take to street as fears grow over job security reports the Belfast Telegraph today.

The employment security of up to 350 employees of Concentrix have been cast into doubt after HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) terminated its contract with the US-owned company.

Concentrix, which employs more than 1,800 people across a number of sites in Belfast, had been tasked with reducing claimant fraud in the benefit and tax credit system – but HMRC announced earlier this year the contract will not be renewed.

The move came after the Concentrix was accused of incorrectly withdrawing tax credits from hundreds of claimants, while it has also been claimed it answered only 10% of calls on some days.

Since losing the contract, Concentrix has already let go 150 temporary workers.

The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) staged a rally outside a Concentrix building in Belfast city centre yesterday afternoon to show support to the employees whose future with the company is unclear.

Speaking at the protest, which was attended by up to 50 people, Gayle Matthews, regional secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union, said: “We’re here in solidarity with the workers of Concentrix.

“There are really two victims here – the claimants who have been badly affected and the workers who were simply following orders from HMRC.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

October 15, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Damian Green lavishes praise on Iain Duncan Smith for ‘pouring his heart’ into job.

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Image result for iran duncan smith cartoons

Iain Duncan Smith: Very fond of hearts, preferably with a nice Chianti. 

Ipswich Unemployed Action posts this breaking news in the knowledge that us lot, here, do not exactly share this “appreciation”.

New Tory welfare chief Damian Green lavishes praise on Iain Duncan Smith for ‘pouring his heart’ into job

Says the Mirror,

The new Tory welfare chief has lavished praise on Bedroom Tax architect and sanctions defender Iain Duncan Smith.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green said Mr Duncan Smith “poured his heart” into changing the welfare system and should be honoured.

Mr Green said: “We’ve already started this journey. We are building on the record of Iain Duncan Smith, who over six years poured his heart into welfare reform – as did his successor Stephen Crabb.”We should thank both of them for the work they did.

“Our approach of reforming welfare, making work pay and supporting those who need the most help has transformed this country.”

He said a million more people were in work than in 2010, adding: “We should be proud of that record.”

And despite studies showing it will leave many thousands of pounds worse off, he said: “Universal Credit which sits at the heart of our welfare reforms ensures you will always be better off in work.”

Mr Green used the example of people with genetic conditions including Down’s Syndrome who he met doing jobs.

“Work is better for their self esteem, their sense of worth and their physical or mental health,” he said.

 

Just a minor point, the grammatically challenged Mr Green should note that the correct preposition is “Our approach to reforming Welfare”, the use of ‘of’ (as in his malapropism, ‘Our approach of reforming welfare’) which appears  the result of a distant memory of lessons on the objective genitive, is incorrect. 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

October 4, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Labour to End ‘fit for Work’ tests and ‘punitive’ Benefit Sanctions Regime. Now Labour Should Adopt the ‘Welfare Charter’.

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Image result for welfare charter TUC unemployed

Labour Should Now Adopt the Welfare Charter.

Labour pledge to scrap ‘discredited’ fit for work tests and ‘punitive’ benefit sanctions

Welfare Weekly.

Labour Conference: Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams MP, also said being on social security shouldn’t mean having to live in poverty.

“I want to change the culture of our social security system and how the public see it. I believe that, like the NHS, it is based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all, assuring us of our dignity and the basics of life were we to fall on hard times or become incapacitated, giving us a hand up, not a hand out.

“Work should always pay more than being on social security, but being in work shouldn’t mean living in poverty and neither should being on social security.

“The Labour Party has already pledged to get rid of the discriminatory and unfair Bedroom Tax. But I want to go further.

“I want to scrap the discredited Work Capability Assessment and replace it with a system based on personalised, holistic support, one that provides each individual with a tailored plan, building on their strengths and addressing barriers, whether skills, health, care, transport, or housing-related.

“This Government’s punitive sanctions system must go too, so Job Centre Plus and employment support providers’ performance will not just be assessed on how many people they get off their books.

“I want to see disabled people better supported into and at work. We will halve the Disability Employment Gap – and when we say it we mean it. And we will tackle other labour market inequalities too.

“I believe in a fair and just Britain, where everyone can get on and no-one is left behind.

Last year Abrahams said this,

Benefits Sanctions – Need for a full independent review

The Work and Pensions Committee, of which I am a member, has today published our report into benefit sanctions.  I have been asking the Government to hold an independent review into sanctions policy for nearly two years and after they refused, I persuaded colleagues on the Select Committee to instigate our own Inquiry.

Our report calls for a full independent review to be established in the new Parliament, to investigate whether benefit sanctions are being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately, across the Jobcentre Plus network.  Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves, has today stated that Labour accept in full all the Committee’s recommendations.

In the report we have reiterated our recommendation for a full review, originally made in January 2014 but rejected by the Government, in the light of new evidence which raises concerns about the approach being adopted in a number of individual Jobcentres, and more broadly, including concerns about whether targets for sanctions exist.

The report calls for the independent review also to examine the legislative framework for benefit sanctions policy, to ensure that the basis for sanctioning is well-defined, and that safeguards to protect the vulnerable are clearly set out.

Debate in the House of Commons on the welfare and Reform and Work Bill (Third Reading. October 28th).

Debbie Abrahams, “New clause 4 requires that the Government undertake a full independent review of their sanctions regime by 31 March 2016. It is with considerable regret that, after the Work and Pensions Committee’s report earlier this year, which also recommended an independent review of benefit conditionality and sanctions, the Government have failed to recognise the real concerns about their new sanctions regime, either in response to what was said in the Bill Committee or to that report.

I have been campaigning for an independent review of sanctions for nearly two years, and in that time constituents have come to me with their stories about how they have been sanctioned. One constituent was told while he was undergoing the work capability assessment that he was having a heart attack and should go to hospital, yet two weeks later he received a letter to say that he had been sanctioned. People up and down the country have also got in touch with their stories of how they have been sanctioned, for example, for being a few minutes late for an appointment with an adviser or work coach. Increasingly, people are being sanctioned unreasonably, for example, because they had attended their mother’s funeral, been hospitalised or gone to a job interview—this is absurd.

There was another category of reasons for being sanctioned. I still have the email from a constituent who had received a letter saying he had been sanctioned for non-attendance at a meeting with his adviser at the jobcentre, even though he had evidence that he had been there. The penny dropped when another constituent, who had worked in jobcentres across Greater Manchester for 20 years, came to me to tell me that as part of the new sanctions regime introduced at the end of 2012, the DWP had targets for sanctions. As he described it, claimants were being deliberately set up to fail, whether they had done anything wrong or not.

The Work and Pensions Committee also became concerned while conducting an inquiry in 2013 on “The role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system”. At that stage, it recommended the following:

“DWP should launch a second, broader, independent review of conditionality and sanctions, to include investigation of whether the process is being applied appropriately, fairly, proportionately and in accordance with the rules, across the Jobcentre network.””

September the 2nd 2016. Debbie Abrahams.

GOVERNMENT deceit over its campaign to drive people into low-paid work by cutting benefits was exposed yesterday after the Tories crowed over the number of its victims.

Figures from the government’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that the number of “workless” households has fallen by 189,000 from last year, still leaving 3.1 million households where no-one is employed.

Government ministers hailed the findings which they attributed to their benefit-slashing policies.

Employment Minister Damian Hinds said: “Welfare reforms like the benefit cap and universal credit are giving people clear incentives to move off benefits and into work so they can provide a brighter future for themselves and their families.”

But shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams MP said the figures actually expose the government’s deceit.

“By trying to shift the focus away from income to workless households, the Tories are claiming success on an issue that the ONS report shows has been declining since Labour took office in 1997,” she said.

Ms Abrahams added: “There are currently nearly seven million working families living in poverty, including 2.5 million children.

“If the government is serious about social reform, they should stop patting themselves on the back and start tackling the problems of low pay, insecurity and a lack of progression at the bottom end of the labour market.”

The Resolution Foundation, which works to improve living standards, said in a report in October that one in five British employees — or 5.5 million individuals — are low paid, and “extreme low pay” affected 2 per cent of employees.

 We say: Labour should now adopt the ‘Welfare Charter’.

These are the charter’s key points:

  1. A political commitment to full employment achieved with decent jobs. People are entitled to decent, stable and secure jobs that provide regular, guaranteed hours that allows them to also meet any caring responsibilities; not zero-hours contracts in precarious jobs.
  2. A wage you can live on for all and a social security system that works to end poverty. We need a National Living Wage that people can live on, not just survive on, that applies to all.
  3. No work conscription – keep volunteering voluntary. Forcing people to work for free on pain of losing benefits is simply providing free labour to organisations that should be paying workers proper wages.
  4. Representation for unemployed workers. Everyone should have access to an advocate to help them navigate the social security system and appeal adverse decisions.
  5. Appoint an ombudsman for claimants. A claimants ombudsman should be appointed to arbitrate on unresolved complaints, to ensure claimants are treated with respect and dignity.
  6. Equality in the labour market and workplace; equality in access to benefits. We need a labour market where structural inequalities are overturned and a benefit system that is accessible to people.
  7. An end to the sanctions regime and current work capability assessment – full maintenance for the unemployed and underemployed. We need a non-means tested, non-discriminatory benefit payable to all, with housing costs met. This must be allied with the wide provision of low-cost housing.
  8. State provision of high quality information, advice and guidance on employment, training and careers. There must be a supportive and independent careers service, not linked to conditionality or benefits, offering face-to-face advice.

More here.

 We add: End the unjust  Claimant ‘contribution’ to the Council Tax and Restore Full benefits.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 27, 2016 at 3:23 pm

Austerity Agenda Continues as Damian Green Takes Hold of DWP.

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Shifty Looking Damian Green Sidles into the DWP.

On Monday the Guardian published this article:

The austerity agenda isn’t over. More people will sink further into poverty

There will be “no new search for cuts in individual welfare benefits” the secretary of state for work and pensions, Damian Green, has pledged. Not much news there, then. Green’s predecessor, Stephen Crabb, made the same promise in March, as a jittery Treasury sought to placate the Tory backbench revolt over cuts to disability benefits. The former chancellor George Osborne may be gone, but his welfare spending strategy remains largely intact for now.

During his Andrew Marr Show interview at the weekend Green made it sound like his “no more benefit raids” pledge was a sign that the austerity agenda was over. But it is not. Green confirmed that inherited current and planned cuts, amounting to billions of pounds by the end of the decade, would go ahead.

The language of welfare may well be less abrasive under Green, and his compassionate conservative presentation of welfare reform may aspire to be softer, but without material change, the net effect of the cuts will be the same as it would have been had Osborne still been in post: the living standards of millions of “just managing” low-income working households will continue to suffer, and the very poorest and most vulnerable will become poorer.

Butler concluded,

There is plenty that can be done to make universal credit more operationally humane: Green could make a start on this by scrapping the notorious six-week wait for a first universal credit payment, a rule dubbed “a recruiting sergeant for food banks” by Frank Field MP for its unerring ability to pitch low-income claimants into avoidable debt, rent arrears and food poverty. Green may also want to look again at the potentially explosive plans, currently being trialled, to introduce conditionality for low-paid workers on universal credit. Fining a claimant for not turning up to a jobcentre interview because they were at work is not a convincing advert for “making work pay”.

Green and May will have to accept that the social security system is, as the Fabian Society recently pointed out, rapidly becoming unfit for purpose. There are huge imbalances in who benefits: between working age recipients (who have shouldered the austerity burden) and pensioners (relatively unscathed); and between those on low incomes (who took the biggest hit), and the wealthy (who, according to the Fabians will by 2020 receive more financial support from the state in the form of personal tax allowances than poorer families will on benefits).

Two days ago the Independent noted,

There is a major squeeze on public spending and welfare payments still to come over the next five years as a result of government decisions already taken – including the filleting of almost £9bn from the tax credit and working age benefits bill.

These will assuredly diminish the living standards of the less well-off. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has projected that those in the poorest tenth of the population will lose £800 a year by 2020 relative to those in the second poorest tenth at £1,500 a year and the third poorest tenth at £1,200 a year.

What is Damien Green’s background?

Damian Green was born in Barry, Wales. He grew up in Reading, Berkshire and was educated at Reading School and then at Balliol College, Oxford where he was awarded a BA degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics in 1977, followed by a MA degree. He was President of the Oxford Union in 1977 and was the vice-chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students (now known as Conservative Future) from 1980 until 1982.

Not, we suspect, the kind of education (Grammar school, Oxford) and politics – including at the top of the hard-right free-market Thatcher worshiping Federation of Conservative Students – that would signal out somebody for compassionate, or even moderate positions on social security and the welfare state.

in 1998 Green was – rightly – very critical of the New Deal for the Unemployed. He called it a waste of taxpayers’ money, unable to train people in a  way that made people attractive to employers, or, as he put it “providing suitable recruits. (The Four Failures of the New Deal, by Damian Green, 1998, Centre for Policy Studies.) Essentially this was cost-benefit analysis, which paid little attention to the needs of the out-of-work.

How will he stand on the use of private companies, known in academic circles as bands of thieves living off public money, by the DWP, for training the unemployed, for Universal credit, and so on?

We note this: “As Police Minister in the Coalition Government, Green called for increased partnerships between the police and the private sector.” from here).

As for austerity we also observe read this (Telegraph)

Damian Green, the new Work and Pensions Secretary, has indicated pensioner benefits may be cut after 2020 as he pledged to tackle “intergenerational fairness”.

In his first major interview since taking up the job, Mr Green defended the government’s current support for pensioners and heralded the fall in poverty among the elderly.

However he also said it was “absolutely” necessary to consider “over time” whether different generations are getting a fair share of the proceeds of economic growth.

It follows criticism of David Cameron’s decision to ring-fence pensioners from austerity cuts, introducing a “triple lock” on pensions and sticking with a promise of free bus passes and TV licenses.

Cutting benefits for pensioners will not mean better benefits for anybody else.

Just equality in misery, as he might have said as a Conservative Student.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 22, 2016 at 12:04 pm