Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

BBC Panorama Shows Tory Universal Credit Regime “setting up some claimants ‘to fail’ .”

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Ipswich Unemployed Action, and many of our contributors, have said that the issues around Universal Credit have not made much of an impact during the election.

Anybody who wants to know what Boris Johnson thinks of people less well-off or protected than himself – from NHS patients to us lot – could see the man himself in action yesterday.

Last night the BBC screened this programme, (originally it was listed for the week before) that went into how Universal Credit (UC) affects people’s lives.

The BBC faces criticisms for allowing the likes of Johnson ample room to spout his opinions. Some say that the media are slanted towards the Tories.

But Universal Credit – One Year On with Catrin Nye is a thorough, moving demolition of the Tory Universal Credit system, from the sanctions regime, to the mess it has left many claimants in.

At the start of the programme we were told that Universal Credit  is designed to simplify social security and other benefits.

It intends to “make work pay”.

What Catrin Nye showed is that UC is also made to make those out of work, disabled or unemployed, pay in financial misery.

It is made to make people out of well paid full time employment suffer.

It also illustrated how those in work who still need some help get trapped in a long list of difficulties.

Keith, who has mental health issues, came up with a topic many know all too well – how the all “on line” system is a barrier in itself.

Panorama looked at the reality behind the  massive increase in the numbers of  people paying off debts (from rent arrears to UC loans).

Case studies of those trapped in its clutches, reduced to scrambling for money, illustrated just how damaging UC is.

One striking thing was that advice agencies, like the CAB and Shelter, are now acting as full-time case workers to help those in need.

Families, not well off themselves,  are forced to come to the rescue.

These real life stories are probably more effective than any high-sounding political speech in showing what’s wrong with Universal Credit.

To put it simply, UC is, as many have claimed before, “setting people up to fail”.

The BBC is to be congratulated for this excellent programme. 

 

 

 

Universal credit is setting up some claimants “to fail”, charity staff have told BBC’s Panorama.

BBC.

Since October 2017, the Department for Work and Pensions says 60% of eligible new claimants have been given an advance or loan to help them manage the five-week wait for their first payment.

The DWP deducts money from claimants’ monthly benefit payment to repay this, as well as other debts they might have.

But after deductions are made, many say they are “struggling” to cope.

Housing charity Shelter says deductions for rent arrears are now double what they were under the old system.

The DWP says they have put safeguards in place to make sure repayments are affordable.

When universal credit was first announced in 2010, the then Work and Pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said it would replace a “complex, outdated and wildly expensive system”.

It combined six benefits – child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, jobseekers’ allowance, employment and support allowance and working tax credit – into one.

The government said the new system was designed to make work pay and encourage people, some of them the most vulnerable in society, to manage their own finances.

Flintshire in north Wales was one of the first areas to test the new system.

Last year, BBC Panorama visited the area and found people struggling to adjust.

Since then, the government has made changes and Panorama has returned to see how claimants are managing.

A year ago, Keith, who has mental health problems, was at risk of losing his home.

Universal credit encourages people to manage their own finances – including making their own rent payments – but he was struggling to cope and was behind with the rent on his council house.

Today, Keith has managed to hold onto his home after housing charity Shelter helped him change the way his benefits are paid.

The housing element of his benefit cheque now goes direct to his landlord, the council.

He is one of 2.6 million people on universal credit across the country

By the end of 2023, the Department for Work and Pensions says the system will be fully rolled out

It expects some seven million households to be claiming the new benefit.

Debt Repayment.

To repay the debts Keith built up to cover his rent, he has money deducted from his universal credit payments every month.

As a result, he has less to live on. He told BBC Panorama: “It’s a struggle”.

Victoria Tomlinson, the Shelter advisor who helped Keith with his rent arrears, says the system is routinely taking double the deductions compared to what happened previously.

She told Panorama that tenants with arrears should pay them back, but added, “you can’t make somebody pay something when they don’t have it”. If the repayments are too high “then you’re setting them up to fail”.

The programme met others who say they too are struggling with debt under universal credit.

Helen Barnard, deputy director of policy and partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, told the BBC many claimants can be out of pocket from the start because they have to wait for their first payment.

“This all starts really with the fact that there is a minimum five-week wait at the beginning of your claim before your income comes through, so what’s offered is an advance – which is a loan,” she said.

“So what that does is pulls people into debt right at the beginning of their claim.”

Rebecca and her young family moved into a council flat in north Wales in February last year and couldn’t afford a lot of the basics for their new home

Her partner is a chef but his work is irregular so the couple depend on benefits.

Family help

“We needed everything. The only thing we had was a bed and a cot, that was literally it.

“So I reached out to universal credit and I was like, well, I’m going to have to get a loan out,” Rebecca told the BBC.

She secured an advance and now around £90 is deducted from her benefits every month to repay it, and other debts.

The couple say this leaves them without enough money at the end of every month and they have to turn to Rebecca’s family for help.

The DWP says it has put safeguards in place to make sure repayments are affordable, adding that claimants can contact them to negotiate lower payments and have 12 months to pay back any advances.

But Ms Barnard says that unlike financial institutions, “the Department of Work and Pensions doesn’t have any standard affordability assessment” and the system “assumes” that the person applying for an advance understands how it works.

The DWP says that many tenants on universal credit have pre-existing rent arrears, but the proportion of people with arrears reduces over time

Written by Andrew Coates

December 10, 2019 at 10:03 am

Universal Credit System Breakdown, “Civil servants ‘ashamed’ to work for DWP”.

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A protester in a crime scene outfit crouches by a sign saying universal credit is a crime

This week there were people begging just near to Suffolk College.

They have moved from the Ipswich central shopping streets outwards.

I don’t want to see a country where people have to depend on the kindness of strangers but get decent benefits.

Generous strangers give £26k to Universal Credit mum with just 14p to her name

Mirror today

Hundreds of Britons have offered to help homeless mum Rachel Finn, from Grimsby, after she pulled 14p out of her pocket and said “that’s all our money”

The 39-year-old, who is staying in temporary accommodation with her 18-year-old son, Bradley, has been backed by the likes of pop star Lily Allen.

Her story captured the nation’s attention after she emptied her pockets and put down four 2p pieces and six 1p coins on a table – tearfully saying “that’s all our money” – for a BBC crew reporting on vulnerable and low-income voters in Grimsby.

This is the I today,

Jasmine Andersson

I’m a working single mother who receives Universal Credit, and I’ve had to take my daughter to friends’ houses so we can eat

Sporadic Universal Credit payments and nursery fees have landed her in thousands of pounds of debt.

A working single parent has been taking her daughter to friends’ houses to eat to because she can’t afford to meet the family’s living costs.

Ayo, 29, a communications worker, owes money to debtors, her family and friends because she cannot afford to cover nursery costs for her two-year-old daughter’s nursery bills.

Although Ayo returned to work after she gave birth to her daughter in 2017, her debt has been compounded by missed Universal Credit paymentsnursery fees and rent arrears, leaving her living pay-cheque to pay-cheque.

The young woman, who lives in Hammersmith, London, told i she fell into debt because of her childcare bills.

“When I fell pregnant, I was in a job for less than 26 weeks, so I was only entitled to statutory maternity pay. Because I was entitled to statutory maternity pay, I couldn’t receive any Universal Credit, so I couldn’t get a sure start grant to cover my childcare costs,” she said.

“I went back to work, so I had to find a nursery to look after my daughter. I had to pay a registration fee. I was lucky to pay just one nursery registration fee, because if there’s a waiting list, a lot of parents have to pay more. On top of that, I had to pay a month’s deposit, and a one month nursery fee in advance.

No wonder this is happening: (5th of December).

Civil servants described to colleagues how they were “ashamed” to work for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) because of the experiences of their own relatives when claiming universal credit, leaked documents have revealed.

The thoughts of DWP civil servants were shared with colleagues on the department’s intranet earlier this year, and they have now been passed to Disability News Service.

They appear to destroy DWP’s continuing insistence that UC “is a force for good” and that it has overwhelming support from its own staff.

In all, three separate civil servants used the DWP intranet in early May to criticise the way their own relatives had been treated while attempting to claim UC.

It comes as Labour has promised to scrap UC if it wins next week’s general election, as has the Green party, while the Conservatives have pledged to “continue the roll-out”, and the Liberal Democrats have said they would try to improve the system.

A DWP staff member who passed the comments to DNS said he wanted the public to know that many of his colleagues did not share the views of Conservative ministers like work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey, who insists that universal credit (UC) “provides a safeguard for the most vulnerable in our society”.

Instead, he said, many of his colleagues were concerned about the flaws in the system, which is gradually being rolled out by the government and has been described as “toxic” by disabled campaigners and linked to “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.

The comments were made on the DWP intranet, which is open to all staff members, in response to an update headlined “Universal Credit – the myth busters get to work”, which was posted by a senior member of staff on 2 May.

Soon after the discussion, a DWP memo was leaked to the media and led to widespread outrage when it revealed that the department was planning a national “myth-busting” campaign aimed at dealing with media “negativity and scaremongering” about UC.

The newly-leaked intranet comments appear to show what DWP members of staff really think about UC.

The update had explained how jobcentres had invited local reporters into their offices to “show the reality of the great service we provide within our community”.

But the post drew a scathing response from several staff members over the following week.

One civil servant told colleagues, less than an hour after the original post, that his brother’s experience on UC was “not made up or exaggerated”.

He added: “I was and still am ashamed to work for [a] department that could treat my Brother so poorly. I am sorry to say ‘myth busting’ is another name for propaganda when it comes to Universal Credit

Meanwhile the extreme-right pro-Brexit Express carries this story:

Universal Credit claimants could get £1,200 bonus money – how to get the tax-free cash

UNIVERSAL CREDIT recipients may be able to get additional help with savings under a government scheme. How does the Help to Save scheme work, and who is eligible for this bonus money?

This is what the Tories really think of those less fortunate than themselves:

Here’s what Labour thinks:

Written by Andrew Coates

December 6, 2019 at 12:22 pm

Universal Credit Raises Demand for Help, While Tories Cut, and Will Continue to Cut, Advice Funding.

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Universal credit

System that Tories Will Continue Doubles Demand for Advice and Help.

One of the ways the Tories have been running down this country is through cutting back on the money available for essential local services.

Citizens Advice (CAB)  is the last port of call for many people.

With Universal Credit, on-line only, you see libraries being used as, unfunded, a a source of help for people who need to apply through the net.

But anybody with more needs usually goes to the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, other advice services having been run by local government and other cuts in funding over the years.

A couple of years ago the Guardian published this,

More people are turning to Citizens Advice but there are fewer and fewer places I can refer them to and crisis grants from local authorities are disappearing

This year we saw this in Suffolk, a last minute rescue after the rural bigwigs who run Suffolk County Council cut the CAB funding.

Citizens Advice services in Suffolk thrown lifeline after Clinical Commissioning Groups step up to fill funding gap

Citizens Advice services in Suffolk have been thrown a lifeline after two clinical commissioning groups stepped up to pay the £187,000 that was due to be cut from their funding this year.

Suffolk County Council has proposed the 50 per cent cut to Citizens Advice funding in 2019/20, with a view to cutting it completely next year.

But the joint agreement between the county council, NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG and NHS West Suffolk CCG means that funding to the service for the coming year will total £374,000 – the same as last year.

The cuts are part of Suffolk County Council’s plans to save more than £11 million, with the 2019/20 budget due to be discussed at a full meeting on Thursday.

October saw this,

Colchester Citizens Advice centre has funds cut

AN advice centre says it is business as usual despite council funding cuts.

There are fears Citizens Advice Colchester could be forced to reduce services after cuts in Colchester Council’s Voluntary Welfare Grant funding.

The council announced its grant to the advice bureau year will be £25,000 – half of which has already been received.

Since then trustees have met to discuss future arrangements with volunteers.

However, Jo Blyth, operations manager at Citizens Advice Colchester, said nothing is changing yet.

This is happening across the country.

Yet….

Today the BBC reports that the need for CABs continues to grow.

Advice issued on universal credit more than doubled in Scotland in the last year, according to new data.

Citizens Advice Scotland gave guidance 40,000 times in 2018/19, its state of the nation report shows.

It comes as the charity demands the next government helps with the cost of living, especially for low-income households.

Chief executive Derek Mitchell said people were also struggling with debt, social security and energy.

The report also showed the charity gave more than 100,000 pieces of advice issued in relation to debt.

Meanwhile our one time boss is having a merry time:

Written by Andrew Coates

December 3, 2019 at 12:47 pm

Why isn’t this a Universal Credit Election?

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There are over 2,300,000 (latest figures, July 2019) people on Universal Credit.

There were 20 million people claiming DWP benefits at August 2018 alone (most recent full figures).

Benefits and Universal Credit should be key election issues.

To take two examples:

Housing benefit no longer enough for struggling families to afford any Ipswich rental properties

Ipswich Star, today,

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism could not find a single two bed property in Ipswich that was affordable on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) during a recent snapshot search.

The TBIJ research found that only one in 20 of the two-bed properties advertised for rent nationally were affordable on LHA. Across most Suffolk and Essex just a fraction of the properties advertised for rent would be affordable on LHA.

It means many families are having to make tough decisions to cope.

LHA is supposed to cover the cheapest 30% of properties in that area. But it was frozen in 2016 as a cost-cutting measure, intended to save £1.3 billion a year, rising to about £1.7 billion by 2020-21.

Although the number of affordable rent homes created in Suffolk has risen over recent years – reaching 500 for the first time in 2017/18 – councils still rely on private landlords to provide much of the housing for benefit recipients.

The article goes into the problems of renting and Local Housing Allowance  – which affects the whole country – in depth.

Read it.

Then there is, something that’s hardly a secret.

Why isn’t this the food bank election?

In the world’s sixth richest country, a record number of people will be starving at Christmas.

A record number of people will use food banks this Christmas. The busiest month for food banks last year was December, and there has been a general rise in food bank use since then (April to September this year saw a 23 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2018). We’re heading for a record high this winter, according to the Trussell Trust food bank charity.

There will also be people who go without income over the Christmas period. Universal Credit, the new welfare system, has a five-week waiting time for the first payment. This delay has not been reduced by the government, despite it driving up food bank use. People applying for Universal Credit now will go without money over the Christmas period, unless they meet tight criteria for an emergency loan.

Chakelian says that this issue – we could add Benefits as such – have not been talked about in the election.

Why?

Perhaps it’s because the Labour party, which is more sympathetic to these things and has tried to come up with answers, is distracted. Perhaps it’s because the Conservatives don’t accept their manifesto is forecasted to bring about record child poverty, or don’t believe they play a part at all. Perhaps it’s because charities that usually campaign on these things have to submit to extra-strict impartiality rules around election time. Perhaps it’s because media outlets decided this would be the “Brexit election”, once and for all.

Perhaps it’s also because many people, that is many amongst those who vote, are not going to be swayed by talking about the real world of Universal Credit, benefits, and poverty.

Let’s follow this example and bring these unwelcome, difficult, subjects, into the election.

Our contributors have plenty of ideas!

A photo highlighting the huge imbalance between Britain’s richest and poorest people has gone viral on Facebook – and generated awareness of homelessness at Christmas.

Posted in the Facebook group ‘Sh*t London’, Cliff Judson’s breathtaking snapshot shows the plush and extravagant display outside House of Fraser’s flagship store on London’s Oxford Street – while homelessness in is on the increase.

The 43-year-old Londoner was aiming to highlight poverty at Christmas time, when there are more visible signs of inequality.

Over a million households on Universal Credit having benefits cut to repay debts and loans.

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How much can be taken from Universal Credit payments? There is an overall maximum percentage rate for all debts and deductions that can be taken from a Universal Credit payment. The maximum amount that can be deducted is an amount equivalent to 30% of the claimant’s Universal Credit standard allowance.

It’s, odd as it seems, an improvement on the previous rate which was 40%.

The new rate came in this October,

The changes mean, from this month, the maximum amount that can be taken out of Universal Credit payments will fall from 40% to 30%.

This means if you’re currently affected by the 40% rate, you will start to see more money coming in every month.

Deductions can be taken out of a person’s Universal Credit entitlement for various reasons, including sanctions and for recovering debts such as arrears on rent and fuel bills.

Universal Credit changes coming into force this month – how they will affect you (Mirror)

But thirty percent is still very stiff, when you realise that the full rate of payment is already the bare minimum to live on.

Hence this story in the Observer.

Million universal credit households ‘do not get full entitlement’

Deductions to cover loans are forcing many to turn to food banks.

More than a million households on universal credit – 60% of everyone receiving the payments –are having their benefits cut to repay debts and loans.

Data sourced under the Freedom of Information Act show that in May – the most recent month for which figures are available – 1,048,000 universal credit claimants had a deduction of their benefit payment out of 1,759,000 claimants who received any universal credit payment that month.

The figures exclude deductions for fraud and sanctions. Nearly a third of all people on the troubled welfare scheme are having more than a fifth of their payment cut, often to repay loans that some claimants received to tide them over during the five-week wait for their first payment to arrive.

Charlotte Hughes, an anti-austerity campaigner who provides support and advice to benefit recipients, said universal credit deductions come up as an issue in her work every day. “Everyone is being hit by deductions in one way, shape or form. I don’t know anybody that actually receives the full amount of money that they’re supposed to get.”

She added that many claimants were having to use food banks as a result. “Your health suffers, your housing situation suffers, you can’t eat properly, you worry, you stress. It’s just never-ending.”

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Our evidence shows many people on universal credit are struggling to make ends meet, and that deductions are contributing to this.” She said the government should introduce affordability tests when recouping debts from claimants.

The story continues,

A separate freedom of information request shows that universal credit claimants who are having their benefits deducted to repay debts and loans owe an average of £903. About 570,000 households owe more than £1,000, including 80,000 people owing more than £5,000.

The largest deductions are often due to overpaid tax credits, incurred when claimants earned more than expected under the existing tax credit system. Many of these debts date back many years.

Minutes of a meeting of welfare rights advisers in October 2018 show that Neil Couling, the head of the universal credit programme, “admitted that the government over the last 18 months has demanded a push to recover old debt and has provided UC with extra funds to do this”.

There is plenty of scope for the DWP’s famous ability to get things wrong.

Sarah, from Lancashire, is one claimant affected by this “push”. Unable to work for health reasons, she lives with her partner and daughter. The government has been deducting more than £100 a month from her universal credit payment, mostly to repay tax credit overpayments dating back to 2009. The level of the deduction changes each month, as does the amount of benefit she receives, making it impossible for her to budget.

“If I owe money I’ll pay it back,” she said. “I have no qualms about paying money back that I owe. But my argument is, ‘Why are they taking such a big chunk of my money?’ Over £150 some months – that’s a lot of money. That’s like two weeks’ worth of shopping, that they’re taking off me and we are running out of food.”

She started claiming universal credit in 2017 after leaving full-time work to become a part-time paid carer for her uncle. A car accident and subsequent diagnosis with osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia forced her out of paid work altogether.

The deductions are forcing her to borrow from her family. “We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. We get our money today, we get our food shopping, we always make sure our bills and everything are paid first, and then we pay back whoever we owe. So we end up with no money left.”

On top of her tax credit debts, she is also having £50 a month deducted for a loan that she never borrowed. After the Observer spoke to the Department for Work and Pensions about Sarah’s case, it accepted that the loan deduction was a mistake and pledged a refund, while agreeing to discuss recovering the tax credit debts at a more affordable rate.

In the meantime DWP MInister  Thérèse Coffey re-tweeted this happy little note;

Written by Andrew Coates

November 25, 2019 at 10:27 am

Labour Manifesto: Scrap Universal Credit and “end poverty by guaranteeing a minimum standard of living.”

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Labour’s Manifesto is out today.

Here is the section our Contributors will focus on.

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Social Security.

While Labour wants a society in which people care for one another, the Tories are trying to pitch us against each other.

Under the Tories, the social security system has lost sight of its purpose. Poverty has become endemic, the glue that binds our society together has come unstuck and, in the words of the United Nations, the UK’s social safety net ‘has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos’. The cruelty and heartlessess of the Tories has made the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) a symbol of fear. When people feel the DWP is more about harassment than a helping hand, something has gone seriously wrong.

Labour will completely change this culture, replacing the DWP on day one with a Department for Social Security, which will be there to help and support people, not punish and police them.

Universal Credit

The Tories’ flagship social security programme, Universal Credit (UC), has been a catastrophe. It has pushed thousands of people into poverty, caused families to lose their homes and forced parents to visit food banks in order to feed their children.

Labour will scrap UC.

We will immediately stop moving people onto it and design an alternative system that treats people with dignity and respect.

Our ambition in designing this system will be to end poverty by guaranteeing a minimum standard of living.

We will start developing this system immediately. But we have learned the lessons from Tory failure: major policy change can’t be delivered overnight, especially when people’s lives depend
on it.

So we will also implement an emergency package of reforms to mitigate some of the worst features of UC while we develop our replacement system.

  • We will end the five-week wait by introducing an interim payment based on half an estimated monthly entitlement.
  • We will immediately suspend the Tories’ vicious sanction regime and ensure that employment support is positive not punitive.
  • We will stop 300,000 children from being in poverty by scrapping the benefit cap and the two child limit, so ending the immoral and outrageous ‘rape clause’.
  • We will pay childcare costs up front so that parents aren’t forced to turn down work or get into debt to pay for childcare.
  • Labour will protect women in abusive relationships by splitting payments and paying the child element to the primary carer.
  • We will make it easier for people to manage their living costs by introducing fortnightly payments and paying the housing element directly to landlords.
  •  The Conservative’s ‘digital only’ approach is excluding vulnerable people. Labour will end the digital barrier and offer telephone, face-to-face and outreach support.
  • We will recruit 5,000 additional advisors to deliver this.
  • Tory cuts are pushing people into rent arrears and leaving them at risk of homelessness. We will stop housing costs running away from benefits by scrapping the bedroom tax and increasing the Local Housing Allowance.

In the meantime:

Priti Patel says poverty “isn’t the government’s fault” while stood in a food bank

“Everybody just says it’s the Government as if it’s this sort of like bland blob that you know, you can just go and blame.”

Priti Patel has been criticised for arrogantly dismissing the government’s role in poverty while stood in a food bank in Barrow.

The Home Secretary attempted to push blame onto local authorities during an interview, even though local government has suffered “enormously from vicious Tory cuts”, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said.

When told that four in 10 children in parts of Barrow, Cumbria, are born into poverty, she told BBC North West Tonight: “Well it’s appalling.

“But of course everybody, and it’s not just people in Westminster, it’s not just at a national level it’s at a local level.”

Written by Andrew Coates

November 21, 2019 at 11:57 am

“Social security allowances have hit their lowest relative levels since the creation of the welfare state.”

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Image result for universal credit failure"

Underlying Crisis is Big Drop in Payment Levels.

“This paper will argue that it is time to embrace a more progressive vision of social security in the 21st century. Fundamentally, it would recognise that, in the world’s fifth richest country, a basic minimum standard of living should be a foundation for citizenship. This idea must sit at the heart of the social security system.”

Universal Credit and social security payments have fallen to just 12.5% of average earnings, think tank says

The ‘I’, the paper that many of us buy.

Just out….

 

Universal Credit payments have fallen to just 12.5 per cent of average earnings, the think tank IPPR has reported.

Social security allowances have hit their lowest relative levels since the creation of the welfare state, according to the group’s report.

Universal Credit payments have fallen to just 12.5 per cent of average earnings, the think tank IPPR has reported.

Social security allowances have hit their lowest relative levels since the creation of the welfare state, according to the group’s report.

Real time spending its lowest since the system began, according to the “Social (in)security” report.

As a share of the gross domestic product (GDP) – the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year – spending has fallen from 47 per cent to 40 per cent, and is set to be 3.9 per cent lower in real terms by 2021/22 than it was in 2010/11, amounting to £37bn less being spent on working-age social security.

The IPPR say the calculations issue a stark warning.

It believes the government needs to invest at least £8.4bn into the system to keep it afloat.

“Social security should offer a safety net, not a tightrope over poverty,” said Clare McNeil, the associate director of the IPPR.

“It is remarkable that in postwar Britain the support for those living in poverty was closer to average earnings than it is today. This is the very simple fact that lies behind the record levels of personal debt, rising use of food banks and increasing destitution that we see in the UK.”

These conclusions will come as no surprise to contributors to this Blog.

The Report from the IPPR.

Social (in)security: Reforming the UK’s social safety net

The UK has experienced a decade of austerity. While this has not resulted in a dramatic decrease in public spending in absolute terms, it does represent the longest pause in real-terms spending growth on record. Moreover, with the UK’s population continuing to grow, spending per head has fallen, and is set to be 3.9 per cent lower in real terms by 2021/22 than it was in 2010/11. Likewise, as a share of GDP, spending has fallen from 47 per cent to 40 per cent.

This reduction in spending on social security has occurred at the same time as fundamental reform to how working age benefits operate in the UK, with the introduction of universal credit, which aimed to encourage more people into work and simplify the system, thereby reducing fraud, error, confusion and administration costs.

However, it is far from clear that this has been the result. Moreover, across a whole host of other metrics, social indicators show that our welfare system is failing to deliver as we would expect it to. Having declined significantly during the first decade of the century, poverty is now growing again, particularly amongst pensioners, children and those in-work. 

This paper will argue that it is time to embrace a more progressive vision of social security in the 21st century. Fundamentally, it would recognise that, in the world’s fifth richest country, a basic minimum standard of living should be a foundation for citizenship. This idea must sit at the heart of the social security system.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 18, 2019 at 5:41 pm

Steepest Rise in Foodbank Need for 5 Years.

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Trussell Trust reveals steepest increase in five years as it hands out 823,000 emergency food parcels in six months

More people than ever are being forced to turn to food banks, after welfare problems over the last six months have led to the steepest increase in emergency food parcel handouts in five years, according to the anti-poverty campaign the Trussell Trust.

The trust, which runs two-thirds of the UK’s food banks, said it distributed a record 823,145 food parcels between April and September, including 301,653 that went to children. This was a 23% increase on the same period last year, representing the steepest rise the charity has witnessed since its network of food banks was fully established.

The Trussell Trust press release says,

As the General Election nears, the Trussell Trust is calling for politicians of all parties to pledge to protect people from hunger by ensuring everyone has enough money for the basics. The charity reports more people than ever before are being forced to food banks, with more than 820,000 emergency food parcels given out in the past six months.

New data released today shows April to September 2019 to be the busiest half-year period for food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network since the charity opened. During the six months, 823,145 three-day emergency food parcels were given to people in crisis in the UK; more than a third of these (301,653) went to children.

This is a 23% increase on the same period in 2018 – the sharpest rate of increase the charity has seen for the past five years.

The main reasons for people needing emergency food are low benefit income (36%), and delays (18%) or changes (16%) to benefits being paid.

The new figures come just a week after the Trussell Trust released State of Hunger, the most in-depth study ever published into hunger and the drivers of food bank use in the UK. The research revealed:

  • The average weekly income of households at food banks is only £50 after paying rent
  • One in five have no money coming in at all in the month before being referred for emergency food
  • 94% of people at food banks are destitute

State of Hunger shows there are three drivers hitting people simultaneously and leaving no protection from hunger and poverty. These drivers are problems with the benefits system, ill health or challenging life experiences, and a lack of local support.

One of the key issues people at food banks face is the five week wait for a first Universal Credit payment. Although Universal Credit is not the only benefit payment people at food banks experience problems with, the majority (65%) of food bank referrals made in April – Sept 2019 due to a delay in benefits being paid in the UK were linked to Universal Credit.

At the moment, people moving onto the government’s new benefits system have to wait at least five weeks – and often longer – with no money. People can get offered an Advance Payment, but this is a loan that must be paid back, often forcing people into debt.

As the election nears, the Trussell Trust is calling for politicians on all sides to pledge to protect people from hunger by ensuring everyone has enough money for the basics.  It is asking the next government to start working towards a future where no one needs a food bank by:

  1. Ending the five week wait for Universal Credit
  2. Ensuring benefit payments cover the cost of living
  3. Investing in local emergency support for people in crisis

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said:

 “More people than ever before are being forced to food banks’ doors. Our benefits system is supposed to protect us all from being swept into poverty, but currently thousands of women, men and children are not receiving sufficient protection from destitution.

 “This is not right. But we know this situation can be fixed – our benefits system could be the key to unlocking people from poverty. This General Election, all political parties must pledge to protect people from hunger by ensuring everyone has enough money for the basics. We want our next government to start working towards a future where no one needs a food bank by ending the five week wait for Universal Credit; ensuring benefit payments cover the cost of living; and investing in local emergency support for people in crisis.

“Together, these three changes will put money back into the pockets of people who most need our support. It’s in our power as a country to end the need for food banks. This can change.”

This is worth reading.

We’ve missed an important reason why people are going hungry in Britain

Inadequacy, gaps and reductions” of the benefits system are identified as one of three simultaneous factors driving hunger in the UK. The other two reasons are “challenging life experiences and ill health” and “lack of informal support”.

It’s that last reason that is the least explored. The report describes it like this:

“The vast majority of people referred to foodbanks had either exhausted support from family or friends, had a resource-poor social network or could not access support due to social isolation.”

People in Britain report feeling lonelier than ever across age groups, which is often described as a “loneliness epidemic” because of the very real health impacts. Alongside this is the reduction of public spaces where people can commune locally for free: libraries, children’s services and youth clubs have been cut, plus pub closures and the decline of town centres.

“Other support mechanisms, so let’s say being able to go to a library where you can apply for your benefits because there’s a computer there, being able to go to a local advice drop-in, or a mental health support service – all those have seen cutbacks as well,” says the Trussell Trust’s policy and research manager Abby Jitendra.

“Partly it’s because councils are the main funders and they don’t have enough money, but also partly because the national government, austerity has stripped a lot of services back, and that often means that the voluntary crisis support tends to be very, very important to people because there’s nowhere else to turn.”

The loss of traditional state and private support structures can be very isolating, as well as the informal social changes impoverished communities can bring.

“If you are on a very low income, it’s often the case that your family’s also on a very low income, that your local community doesn’t have the resources to be able to support you because it might be deprived as well,” says Jitendra. “Having debts to your family can be really damaging to your relationships, and compound loneliness and isolation – if the financial resilience of your network is also very low, you really have nowhere else to turn [other than foodbanks].”

When reporting on foodbanks, I have not only come across people desperate for support, but also desperate for company. Some come in for a cup of tea when they don’t even need a food parcel. That’s partly why many foodbanks have a sort of front-room café set-up – they’re a last resort for community support, as well as for sustenance.

Feeling hungry is “extremely isolating”, and can fracture your networks further, says Jitendra. “Human interaction completely changes when you can’t afford to even sit down and have a cup of tea with your friend because you can’t afford tea, or to turn the kettle on”.

Grahame Lucas, who has managed Worcester’s foodbank for five years after helping to found it seven years ago, finds foodbanks now provide “an outlet, a place to go” for people who have no other place to turn to.

 Thérèse Coffey is out and about doing her bit to help the poor overcome loneliness..

The popular politician  gets the Parson’s Nose of mass support.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 13, 2019 at 4:10 pm

Universal Credit Lies Slammed But DWP Misinformation Continues.

with 157 comments

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Resting Place for DWP Fake Information Campaign on Universal Credit.

The Ministry  of Truth still says,

It’s come to a sorry pass when even Bunga Bunga Boris’s daily points to the reality behind this porky,

Universal Credit claimants keep less of their pay than millionaires

The Sun.

Those on million pound salaries get to keep 54p from every £1- but if you’re on Universal Credit you are just 37p better off.

That’s because of the way the benefit works. If you’re on Universal Credit you have 53p from every £1 you earn – known as the taper rate – over the work allowance deduced from your benefits payment.

The work allowance you get is based on if you have children, are in a couple or get help with housing costs.

It means that hard-working people on Universal Credit have their payments slashed, effectively paying a tax on earnings, as we’ve highlighted in our Make Universal Credit Work campaign.

We want the government to increase the work allowance and lower the taper rate.

The benefit is leaving hard-working Brits penniless, like Roxy Thobald, who despite working 20 hours a week, fed her seven-year-old daughter Bella leftover party food because she had no cash due to Universal Credit’s harsh taper rate.

Or single mum Gemma Hickman who is studying to be a physiologist and works 20 hours a week but can’t afford present for her kids this Christmas.

Sara Willcocks, from poverty charity Turn2us, said: “Universal credit just isn’t working for low income families. How can it be when people earning low wages have more deducted from their incomes than millionaires?

The same story appears in the Mirror, suggesting that the Currant Bun has not gone further than a keyboard and the net to write their article.

Universal Credit claimants keep less of their pay than millionaires

People with jobs but still claiming Universal Credit see a bigger chunk of their incomes vanish than those on seven-figure salaries thanks to the way the benefit works.

The merry tale about the fake Universal Credit ads (Universal credit adverts banned as ‘misleading’) continues,

Hotspur has already noticed these letters in the Guardian.

Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (The government uses your money to gaslight poor people, 6 November) revealed the depth that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will go to defend its failing flagship universal credit programme, which has pushed thousands of people into poverty. It is important people are able to make decisions that impact on their finances based on factual information.

The anti-poverty charity Z2K (Zacchaeus 2000 Trust) that I lead was the first to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about this series of ads, and we are named in the ASA’s final ruling. We were compelled to make this complaint because we simply could not understand why the DWP would make assertions without clear evidence to back up their claims.

We were really pleased to see such wide coverage of the ASA ruling, and to know that thousands of Guardian readers share our concerns. We are, however, very disappointed that the DWP is neither able to satisfactorily explain its actions or apologise for the harm they will have caused to the people who may have moved on to universal credit as a result.

The ruling comes too late as the now discredited campaign has already ended. That’s why Z2K has launched a public campaign calling for an apology from the DWP and an independent investigation into how and why these adverts came to be authorised. It is vital that we the public can trust government departments to be telling us the truth, particularly in being clear about their strategies to ensure that the social security system works as a safety net to reduce the numbers of people now living in poverty in the UK. Instead of using taxpayers’ money on a failed PR campaign, the DWP must now start engaging meaningfully with the widespread evidence of the impact of welfare reform on pushing people into poverty. Join our campaign to tell the DWP to #StopMisleading today.
Raji Hunjan
CEO, Z2K (Zacchaeus 2000 Trust)

The ASA found that government claim “people move into work faster” under universal credit breached the advertising code under the rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.9 (Qualification) and 3.11 (Exaggeration). That exact phrase has been used by government MPs 67 times in parliament to defend universal credit, as well as in countless media interviews. It is the key plank of the government’s claim that universal credit is making lives better – yet it fails to meet the basic standards of truthfulness and honesty that we demand of soap powder commercials. It is time that it is removed from the mouths of government ministers.
Paul Morrison
London

 Huge credit to Aditya Chakrabortty. Credit also to cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill, for ruling that the government cannot publish a Treasury analysis of Labour’s spending plans. While both developments are clearly embarrassing to the Conservatives, I think they also reveal a worrying failure by the civil service to adhere to its “core values” of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality.

Specifically, officials in the DWP and Treasury seem to have been willing participants in attempts by the government to manipulate the evidence in order to support a predetermined policy (universal credit), rather than providing an objective analysis of its impact; and to devote resources to rubbishing opposition spending plans for party political purposes, while apparently not having sufficient resources to analyse the impact of the government’s Brexit deal.

I worked for 38 years as a government analyst and I know that the UK civil service, in particular its analytical professions, has a deserved reputation for observing high standards of professionalism and propriety. It saddens me to see this now under serious threat from the actions of current government ministers, combined with the pressures from austerity and the demands of Brexit. It will be important for the next government, and civil servants themselves, to take steps to restore this reputation before it is too late.
Alan Spence
Southport, Merseyside

Meanwhile Therese Coffey is preparing for the Great Flood that will hit Suffolk Coasts

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 9, 2019 at 11:29 am

Food Banks, The Tory Universal Credit’s Legacy.

with 59 comments

A few days ago a contributor pointed out that the planned rise in benefits is a joke.

And what will be the rise, 75 pence ? And the Tories think they can buy people’s votes with this.

Ipswich Unemployed Action team of seasoned  Newshounds has been looking around the local shops for ways to spend this king’s ransom.

A tin of baked beans? A few bananas? Some onions?

The choice is royal.

Food poverty  is one of the most visible legacies of Universal Credit and low incomes for those on benefits.

It’s not just the “freeze” in levels, it’s the wait, the sanctions, and the low level of money people get.

This leads them to go to get help from charity for basics- a great opportunity no doubt for giving and virtue, or as Rees Mogg might say ” “rather uplifting” and growth “shows what a compassionate country we are”.

No doubt go bothering electric shock dog collar hairshirt Coffey likes them too.

People don’t talk much about Food Banks much – in person, to friends.

I can’t think of anybody telling me the details face to face.

But Sky News did the job for us this morning.

UK households at food banks living on £50 a week, research shows

The State of Hunger report found that 94% of people at food banks are destitute, with one in five having no money coming in.

A charity is calling for benefit payments to cover the true cost of living after a report revealed people at food banks have an average weekly income of £50 after paying rent.

The Trussell Trust, a food bank charity, commissioned the State of Hunger 2019 report, which was conducted by Heriot-Watt University.

It found that over 94% of people at food banks are destitute, while three-quarters live in households affected by ill-health or disability.

Meanwhile, the average weekly income of people at food banks is only £50 after paying rent, and almost one in five have no money coming in at all in the month before being referred for emergency food.

The report identified three reasons: issues with the benefits system, ill health and challenging life experiences, and a lack of local support.

Two-thirds of people at food banks were affected by problems with benefits in the last year.

The key issues include a reduction in the value of benefit payments, being turned down for disability benefits, having benefits stopped, and delays in payments such as the five-week wait for universal credit.

..

As a result, the Trussell Trust is calling for three key changes as a priority to protect people from hunger:

  • End the five-week wait for universal credit
  • Benefit payments must cover the true cost of living
  • Funding for councils to provide local crisis support should be ring-fenced and increased.

The Guardian covers the story:

Research says evidence ‘clear’ policies such as universal credit can cause destitution

You can download the full report.

This is how they present their findings,

Over the last five years, the number of emergency food parcels provided to people in crisis by food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network has increased by 73%. No charity can replace the dignity of buying your own food. To help end the need for food banks, the Trussell Trust commissioned State of Hunger – the most authoritative piece of independent research into hunger in the UK to date. Here’s what the research reveals…

This is worth noting:

Some features of the benefit system have been associated with increases in the incidence of ‘failures’ of claimants to qualify. This is illustrated by the remarkable swings over time (and space) in rates of JSA sanctions, by variations in the health/disability assessment outcomes associated with PIPs, and variations in the assignment of ESA claimants to different groups. This study of household food insecurity has revealed some of the severely adverse impacts of these processes, both on destitution and on mental health.

On UC, there is evidence from multiple sources that the ‘five-week wait’ is viewed as a delay in benefit payment rather than a system feature. We conclude from a range of evidence including the survey, modelling and qualitative interviews that the waiting period is one of the most critical drivers of food bank use, particularly in this period with the general roll-out of UC. Not everyone fails to cope with the five-week wait, but people who have experienced longer term poverty, those without family and friends able to help and particularly people with multiple deprivation – homelessness,offending, drug misuse and mental health issues – are particularly vulnerable.

Therefore, there is a strong case for shortening this or alleviating its effects in other ways, but not ways which simply pile up more problem debt on people at the very bottom of the income distribution.

There appear to be gaps in oversight of debt repayment, with many people paying significant proportions of their (already very low) benefits back to the DWP and third parties to cover debts. It is not quite clear how far this is about a lack of guidance from the Department for Work and Pensions about what is acceptable or a lack of oversight about what proportion of income is being taken. Even the amounts being recouped for the UC advance payment alone can be very large; an area where that one would expect the Department for Work and Pensions to be able to straightforwardly monitor. Ideally, however, there should be clear, shared protocols for acceptable levels of deduction covering all parties and purposes and these should be consistently implemented.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 5, 2019 at 10:28 am

New Help for Vulnerable People for Universal Credit “as a route into work”?

with 39 comments

Image result for therese coffey church

Thérèse Anne Coffey out on Election Trail.

Electric Shock Dog Collar Coffey has made this announcement, wholly unconnected to the General Election.

DWP announce £10million fund to help vulnerable people claim Universal Credit

Secretary of State Therese Coffey has today (1 November 2019) announced a £10 million Universal Credit Transition Fund for outreach programmes to help vulnerable people make Universal Credit claims.

The fund will be available to partner organisations across the UK, including charities, from April 2020.

It will aim to help vulnerable people, including disabled people, care leavers and those with mental health issues, claim Universal Credit as a route into work.

It will support innovative ideas for engaging with vulnerable people early, helping them to make timely claims to the new benefit.

Figures show that a fifth of claimants delayed making a claim for Universal Credit, largely because they didn’t know how to make a claim or because they thought they would find a job quickly.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Dr Therese Coffey MP said: “I am delighted to announce a £10 million challenge fund to support the most vulnerable in society with their Universal Credit claims.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this statement.

“Route to work”?

What about this case?

And this.

What about help to avoid this?

Perhaps the dosh will go to this:

And so it goes.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 2, 2019 at 11:14 am

Amber Rudd Bows Out.

with 65 comments

The chief whip's missive provoked a furious Twitter response from Ms Rudd

The former DWP Minister Amber Rudd is bowing out.

The BBC reports,

Former Home Secretary(NO mention of her DWP role!!!)  Amber Rudd has announced she will not be standing at the general election in December.

The Hastings and Rye MP said she was “not finished with politics” but would not be defending her seat.

Ms Rudd, who had a majority of 346 at the last election, resigned from the cabinet and surrendered the Tory whip over Brexit in September.

She was not among those Tories who had the party whip restored by the prime minister on Tuesday.

Speaking to the Evening Standard earlier, Ms Rudd said: “I will be leaving the House of Commons on perfectly good terms with the prime minister and I want him to succeed.

“I’m happy to leave the House of Commons as a Conservative MP.” Government Chief Whip Mark Spencer she would not be having the Tory whip restored.

Asked about her actions during the party row over Brexit, Ms Rudd said: “I felt I made the right steps at those critical points and I am pleased that the prime minister has now restored the whip to some of those colleagues.”

She did not rule out a return to Westminster in the future, but said there were “many other things I want to do”.

Ms Rudd is the latest high-ranking Conservative to announce they will not be standing at the general election.

This is when our paths, fleetingly, crossed,

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

On  16 November 2018, Rudd returned to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions following the resignation of Esther McVey over opposition to Theresa May’s Draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Brexit negotiations. As Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Rudd had to take on Sarah Newton‘s responsibilities as Minister for Disabled People following her resignation.

Amber will be remembered on this Blog by our contributors as somebody who implemented, if briefly,  the cruel and hated Universal Credit scheme, dreamt up by arch-villain Iain Duncan Smith and administered at present – for how long? –  by “electronic shock Dog Collar” Thérèse Coffey.

The new Minister is said to spend weekends in a hairshirt praying at the Atomic Weapons Research centre on Havergate Island, Orford Ness.

Related image

How cruel her Amber’s friends have been!

Boris Johnson takes revenge on Amber Rudd by SNUBBING her plea to be let back into Tory fold amid fury at her Brexit disloyalty – but she claims he BEGGED her to stand again in Xmas election.

Daily Mail.

  • Former Cabinet minister Amber Rudd has announced she is quitting Commons
  • The Hastings & Rye MP will not be standing in the looming snap general election
  • Ms Rudd expected to be brought back into the Conservative fold this afternoon
  • But Tory chief whip Mark Spencer has dismissed her request in a brutal letter
  • Ms Rudd retorted that refusal was ‘funny’ as PM begged her to stand at election

In a moving tribute a contributor writes,

” Her honey-coloured hair fell in heavy waves below her shoulders and as she stared up at him her eyes, clear, speckled amber, seemed to tilt at the corners; her brows were black and swept up in arcs, and she had thick black lashes. There was about her a kind of warm luxuriance, something immediately suggestive to the men of pleasurable fulfillment- something for which she was not responsible but of which she was acutely conscious.”
― Kathleen Winsor, Forever Amber

Her legacy shall not be forgotten:

DWP: Just one scammer prosecuted so far for snaring people in Universal Credit fraud

EXCLUSIVE: 28 cases are being prepared directly against benefit claimants, but only one third-party scammer has been convicted so far

Just one scammer has been successfully prosecuted so far for ensnaring Universal Credit claimants in an “industrial-scale fraud”.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) chiefs confirm there has been “one successful third-party prosecution” since the con emerged earlier this year.

A second case against a suspected third-party scammer is due in court next month.

It comes despite the DWP assigning an army of 145 staff to comb through 85,000 suspected cases of advance payment fraud totalling £1.8m so far.

The BBC revealed in July how fraudsters had conned struggling families into applying for Universal Credit in order to get cash from the DWP.

Claimants split the money with con artists, only to find out it was an “advance payment” loan – which has to be paid back to the DWP in full over 12 months.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 30, 2019 at 4:37 pm

After “Survival Sex” Scandal Work and Pensions Committee Calls for End to 5 Week Waiting Period for Universal Credit.

with 60 comments

 

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Our contributors have noticed this story:

Selling sex for £5 is the only way I can survive after Universal Credit chaos’
Sky
As the government faces calls to axe the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments, one ex-claimant describes her experience.

Women are being driven to carry out “survival sex” work because of the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments, MPs have warned.An inquiry by the Commons’ work and pensions committee has found the wait for payments is why some claimants said they had turned to prostitution.

The committee has urged the government to remove the five-week wait for the first Universal Credit payment, which it described as a “fundamental design flaw”.Here, a woman called Susie tells Sky News why her struggle with the Universal Credit system has left her selling sex for just £5.Within the next week if my situation doesn’t change I am going to have to go back on the streets.

Universal credit: MPs call for action on women driven to ‘survival sex’

BBC.

Evidence that women are being driven to sex work because of problems with universal credit must lead to government action, MPs have said.

A number of women told the work and pensions committee they turned to sex work because their benefits payments did not cover their basic needs.

The committee said the government had previously been “dismissive” of the issue but had now changed its position.

The government said it was taking the evidence “very seriously”.

The committee has been investigating a potential link between universal credit and “survival sex” – when people, overwhelmingly but not exclusively women, turn to sex work to meet their basic needs, including food, shelter and clean clothes.

Universal credit merges six benefits into one payment and was designed to simplify the benefits system and help people move into work.

However, the committee has heard evidence that problems with the new system, including a five-week wait for the first payment, are forcing some women to rely on sex work.

 

This is the report behind these articles.

Survival sex and Universal Credit: Remarkable reversal in Government’s “defensive, dismissive and trite” position welcome – but insufficient

This inquiry was driven initially by a Committee member’s direct experience in their constituency. Specialist support organisations told him, that problems with Universal Credit were pushing women into survival sex.

The initial response from the Department for Work and Pensions, when asked in Parliament about the problem, was wholly inadequate. The former Secretary of State, Rt Hon Esther McVey MP, suggested that the Department’s Work Coaches (frontline Jobcentre staff) might tell “these ladies” that there are “record” numbers of job vacancies in the UK and “perhaps there are other jobs on offer”. This response suggested that the Department had little understanding or insight into the issue – to put it mildly. The Committee subsequently launched a full inquiry. The evidence that we received was, in many cases, alarming and distressing.

“The manager said if I gave him [oral sex] he’d let me off [shoplifting food, due to Universal Credit delays]. What could I do? It was that or have the police called. I just did it. I just kept thinking “please don’t call the police”. Anyway, he said afterwards that if I did the same next week he’d let me have forty quid’s worth of stock. It seemed like a fortune. […]

“In the end, I held out for two weeks. I got my [UC] money, and again it was short, and again it was gone on bills before I’d even thought of food. So, I left the baby with next door and went down to the shop […] It’s been like that for months now.”

The Committee expected the Department to respond in full to the Terms of Reference for its inquiry, by submitting written evidence. But the Department’s first attempt at a written response was “defensive, dismissive and trite”. People with personal, first-hand experience told the Committee—and similar evidence was widely available in media sources – that Universal Credit was a factor in their decisions to turn to, or return to, sex work. DWP’s written evidence largely ignored these personal, frontline testimonies, and instead presented what appeared to be its own internet research on whether there is a “direct causal link” between Universal Credit and survival sex.

Chair’s comments

Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The women who gave evidence to us were courageous enough to share some enormously difficult and distressing experiences, in the hope of helping us and the Department to better understand this issue. We are grateful for the Minister’s intervention, which helped to ensure that we, and more importantly the people who bravely gave their evidence to us, got a more meaningful response. Welcome though that was, that cannot be the end of it. The Department, having belatedly acknowledged that there is a problem, must take the steps to resolve it.”

The response echoed DWP’s argument when the Committee raised concerns that UC’s single household payment was playing into the hands of domestic abusers, by giving them control of the entire family budget. DWP’s argument then was essentially that domestic abuse had also gone on under legacy benefits and so Universal Credit could not be blamed. One of the Committee’s witnesses – M, a student and a sex worker – said that the DWP’s response “wilfully misrepresented” the issue.

I am about to be moved on to Universal Credit. I will lose £200 a month, approximately […] The thought of going into debt and having no money is really frightening. I have children. I can’t do that. I will sell my body. – K

The report sets out and draws on the private and public witness testimony that the Committee heard in May and June this year. Given its concerns about the Department’s grasp of the problem, the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance (Will Quince MP) was invited to sit in on a private session with witnesses B, K, M and T: four women who are, or have, engaged in sex work due in part to problems with Universal Credit and the wider benefit system. The women themselves were highly critical of the Department’s initial response.

I was really upset with this sensationalist media quote [DWP] had about someone earning £450 a night and they are kind of implying, “Oh well, sex workers make loads of money in the industry”. My last brothel shift, I was there for three days and I earnt £158, so it just does not reflect the actual reality of survival sex work […] it just seemed to be kind of ridiculing us. – M

The Minister’s subsequent, public acknowledgement that DWP got it wrong was welcome, of course, but the Committee notes that this is not an isolated incident. DWP has shown a “pattern of unwillingness to engage with frontline evidence about the impact of its reforms”. The Committee says DWP’s responses to urgent evidence from the frontline of UK poverty should not be dependent on whether a topic catches the eye of a given minister – and should not depend on evidence being provided by organisations with the resources to lobby Parliament.

The inquiry once again highlights the deep, structural and administrative problems with Universal Credit, including the five week wait for a first payment. These problems are exacerbated by DWP’s continued failure to systematically gather, use, and respond to frontline evidence, and claimants’ lived experience of Universal Credit.

Universal Credit, the five week wait, “advances”, and survival sex

The Department has put in place several measures to help offset the five week wait for a first Universal Credit payment. All claimants can receive a repayable Advance Payment of their Universal Credit (a loan from the Department) when they start their Universal Credit claim, to tide them over while they wait for their first payment. Some claimants will also receive non-repayable “run on” payments of some of their current benefits.

Yes, they do give you an advance, they do give you that. I am not going to say they don’t, they do give you that, but you have to wait six weeks and £250 is not going to last anybody six weeks. Like I am only 21 and I only spend £20 on gas and electric a fortnight, do you know what I mean, and that is cheap. I am trying my best, £30 on shopping, not a penny over, because if I go a penny over I can’t get other stuff that I need, tampons and things, do you know what I mean? That Universal Credit Advance, by the time I got it I had spent it and then I was waiting another three to four weeks for my benefit. Even then when I got my benefit, they were taking £150 off my benefit and I was left with £50. – T

The Department would not tell the Committee how much these measures cost, but it is clear that they are sticking plasters over a fundamental design flaw in Universal Credit: the five week wait. The Committee has repeatedly called on the Government to eliminate the five week wait, and does so again in this Report. In the meantime, the Committee says that the Department should offer non-repayable Advances to claimants who would otherwise suffer hardship. This would include several of the women who gave evidence to the Committee.

This is also of great interest: 

The digital service

Universal Credit is “digital by default”: claimants are expected to make and manage their claims online. the digital service has the potential, in time, to reduce DWP’s operating and staffing costs, and offer claimants a convenient, modern way of managing their benefits. But some claimants will struggle with aspects of the digital service, or simply never be able to use it. People must not be excluded from benefits they need and are entitled to because they struggle with computers. Although DWP says alternatives are available (such as managing claims by telephone), the experiences of witnesses and Committee Members’ own constituents suggest there is a significant gap between what DWP says is available, and what claimants actually receive.

I have complex PTSD, from very early age child sex abuse, and over the years my mental health has deteriorated […] That, for me, is also partly another reason why I will not be going on Universal Credit because, again, it doesn’t allow supporting people who can’t both mentally and physically do that admin-based work, which it takes a lot of time and effort and it is online stuff. – B

The Committee recommends that DWP:

  • Scrap the (minimum) 5 week wait for first payment and, in the meantime, offer non-repayable Advances to vulnerable claimants who would otherwise suffer hardship.
  • Put in place a proper evaluation framework for UC which takes account of claimants’ “lived experience” of the benefit, and evidence from frontline organisations.
  • Change its guidance to Decision Makers to emphasise that payment of Universal Credit into a non-claimant bank account should be considered an absolute last resort. The Committee heard that people who cannot open bank accounts are allowed to nominate a non-claimant’s account (often belonging to a “friend” or “boyfriend”) to have their UC paid into. All too often, those payments never reach the claimant because they are stolen by the “friend”.
  • Prioritise allowing telephone applications for Universal Credit from people due for release from prison to help ensure that “day 1” of coincides with “day 1” of a Universal Credit claim.
  • Improve, publicise and monitor the non-digital means of applying for UC
  • commission and publish a review on improving services for this group of claimants: as for many other groups, the specialist support provided by Jobcentres is patchy and varies from JCP to JCP.

Electric Shock Dog Collar DWP MInister Coffey has been busy.

 

Benefits Freeze is “over” but cut of 6% stays – future halt to rises not ruled out.

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Working-age benefits are set to continue to their relative decline (Resolution Foundation).

Last week this news item marked Thérèse Coffey, first Parliamentary intervention in her “dream job” as Work and Pensions Secretary.

Freeze imposed in 2015 was planned to last until end of 2019-20 financial year.

The government has refused to commit to ending its freeze on benefits despite a promise to turn the page on a decade of austerity.

The work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said she could not give a definitive answer about whether the freeze on most working-age benefits and tax credits would continue beyond its initial four-year term.

Imposed in 2015 by chancellor George Osborne, the benefit freeze was planned to last until the end of the 2019-20 financial year. However, Coffey said talks were ongoing about what the government would do next and she left the door open for a possible extension.

Answering questions from MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee, she said: “I don’t think anybody should make any assumptions by default, but we’re looking very carefully right now on what we can do on benefits going forward from 2020. I can’t give you a definitive outcome on what we will do.”

The electronic dog collar disciplinarian did not taker account of this – as the article continues,

Inflation figures published earlier on Wednesday indicated that benefits could rise by 1.7% from April if the freeze is lifted. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said inflation remained unchanged in September, with the consumer price index (CPI) holding steady at 1.7%.

The inflation reading for September is used by the government to uprate the value of benefit payments each year, as well as state pensions and business rates.

The Resolution Foundation think tank said the welfare freeze had cut the value of benefits by 6% in real terms since 2015, leaving the average poor couple with children £580 a year worse off.

It said the social security safety net was continuing to be eroded as wages and pensions rose by more than double the rate of benefits.

This is the Resolution Foundation report, well worth reading.

The benefit freeze has ended, but erosion of the social security safety net continues

The major working-age benefits will rise in cash terms in April 2020, for the first time in five years. They will increase by 1.7 per cent, based on new figures released today – assuming no change in government policy. But while the benefit freeze has now ended, its effect of significantly weakening the social security safety net has not.

Further data, also released this week, means that the state pension will rise by a higher 3.9 per cent. The difference between the two increases highlights the fact that working-age benefits will continue to be eroded in value relative to earnings and pensions. This policy approach comes despite households with children typically having lower incomes than other groups, and higher poverty risks.

They continue,

The ‘benefit freeze’ is over.

We now know that CPI inflation was 1.7 per cent in the year to September. This figure is particularly important as it determines (among other things) how far many benefits will rise next April.

Remarkably, for a range of benefits – including Child Benefit, Universal Credit, (non-disability) Tax Credits, Housing Benefit limits, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, and Employment and Support Allowance (except the support group component) – this will be the first cash increase in basic entitlements since April 2015, thanks to the benefit freeze introduced by then Chancellor George Osborne.

After adjusting for price increases, this benefit freeze has cut the real level of those benefits by 6 per cent, and in many cases that has come on top of earlier real cuts.

It is of course a good thing that the freeze is coming to an end. (Though, to be clear, the freeze was always due to come an end in April 2020 – there has not been any recent policy change.)

But, while the direction of travel is no longer downwards, working-age benefits are clearly now stingier than they were pre-freeze, or indeed pre-austerity (even putting aside any wider considerations, such as sanctions or waiting periods). In fact, the real value of basic out-of-work support in 2019-20 is – at £73 a week (£3,800 a year) – lower than it was in 1991-92, despite GDP per capita having grown by more than 50 per cent since then. Even more starkly, child benefit for a second child or beyond is worth less in 2019-20 than when it was (fully) introduced in 1979. It seems a rising tide does not always lift all boats.

….

Although the benefit freeze and departmental austerity are ending, this is not the end of working-age welfare cuts

The question of whether we could and should do more to support household incomes through working-age benefits (the answer to both is yes) seems particularly pertinent when the age of austerity has come to an end for departmental spending, and when the likely upcoming election may feature some very expensive promises on other spending and tax cuts.

But despite the end of the benefit freeze, the turning point for departments, and the abandoning of previous fiscal rules, we shouldn’t forget that some benefit cuts continue to be rolled out. As Figure 4 shows, the two-child limit in particular has some way to go, as it applies only to those born after April 2017. The slow roll-out of Universal Credit, although a positive overall, will also create many losers as it continues over the next few years.

When it comes to working-age benefits, it is clear that austerity is not yet over.

Coffey’s stout denial of poverty continues.

And here.

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

October 22, 2019 at 10:18 am

Digital Welfare Nightmares.

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Image result for digital welfare dystopia' around

“Claimants struggle with Universal Credit’s online portal…”

Following the post on Surveillance Welfare and sending out our newshawks to investigate the main thing they found was that for many people it is becoming bloody hard to to get to grips with a “online” benefits system.

The local facthounds confirm that this story, from the start of the year, is well the case in Ipswich and elsewhere.

As a librarian I spend most of my time helping benefits claimants work out the Universal Credit system

Georgia Grainger is happy to help but wishes library services were not cut so frequently because they do such important work

  • Librarian says some claimants have no idea how computers work
  • Says libraries forced to prop up services not provided by Jobcentres
  • Says benefits claimants feel ’embarrassed’ to ask for help with forms.

The reality of being a librarian at Charleston Community Library in Dundee, Scotland, couldn’t be more different. The 23-year-old, whose job title is library and information assistant, says she spends most of her time helping benefits claimants attempt to navigate the Universal Credit system from the library computers.

Hard pressed library staff across the country help people deal with a system designed to help the DWP and their private providers, not claimants.

Our contributors have unearthed many a merry tale as well but this latest news opens up a worse prospect.

What they could call the “digital divide” exists across the world.

It’s not just access to services online, which are not always available. Not everybody wants to, or can, use computers and the internet.

In French they even have an expression for those unable to use computers, L’illectronisme – illiteracy in electronic devices. 

There may not yet be any systematic studies to translate into figures the rate of “digital illiteracy” (or DI — we will use this term, pending an English equivalent to the French illectronisme) but we already have a feeling of how bad it may be. Again, the social consequences of DI and plain illiteracy are similar.

Digital illiteracy – a real handicap Jean-Claude Elias 

Now we have this report:

Universal Credit: UN report warns of ‘digital welfare dystopia’ around DWP benefits system

Ruchira Sharma The ‘I’.

The report said that many claimants struggle with Universal Credit’s online portal, stopping them from even understanding their own case.

The report, which will be presented to the to the General Assembly on Friday, cited the DWP’s Universal Credit system and how its use of online portals stops many claimants who lack digital skills from understanding their own case and having the ability to appeal.

..

The report highlighted that despite being a wealthy country, in 2019 in the UK there are 11.9 million people (22 per cent of the population) who do not have the essential digital skills needed for day-to-day life.

An additional 19 per cent cannot perform fundamental tasks such as turning on a device or opening an app, while 4.1 million adults (8 per cent) are offline because of fears that the internet is an insecure environment – proportionately almost half of those are from a low income household and more than half are over 60.

Welfare Weekly has the story.

World stumbling zombie-like into a digital welfare dystopia’, warns UN report

A UN human rights expert has expressed concerns about the emergence of the “digital welfare state”, saying that all too often the real motives behind such programmes are to slash welfare spending, set up intrusive government surveillance systems and generate profits for private corporate interests.

“As humankind moves, perhaps inexorably, towards the digital welfare future it needs to alter course significantly and rapidly to avoid stumbling zombie-like into a digital welfare dystopia,” the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, says in a report to be presented to the General Assembly on Friday.

The digital welfare state is commonly presented as an altruistic and noble enterprise designed to ensure that citizens benefit from new technologies, experience more efficient government, and enjoy higher levels of well-being.

But, Alston said, the digitization of welfare systems has very often been used to promote deep reductions in the overall welfare budget, a narrowing of the beneficiary pool, the elimination of some services, the introduction of demanding and intrusive forms of conditionality, the pursuit of behavioural modification goals, the imposition of stronger sanctions regimes, and a complete reversal of the traditional notion that the state should be accountable to the individual.

“Digital welfare states thereby risk becoming Trojan Horses for neoliberal hostility towards social protection and regulation,” said the UN Special Rapporteur.

“Moreover, empowering governments in countries with significant rule of law deficits by endowing them with the level of control and the potential for abuse provided by these biometric ID systems should send shudders down the spine of anyone even vaguely concerned to ensure that the digital age will be a human rights friendly one”.

It continues,

“Most Governments have stopped short of requiring Big Tech companies to abide by human rights standards, and because the companies themselves have steadfastly resisted any such efforts, the companies often operate in a virtually human rights free-zone,” said Alston.

The human rights community has thus far done a very poor job of persuading industry, government, or seemingly society at large, of the fact that a technologically-driven future will be disastrous if it is not guided by respect for human rights and grounded in hard law.

There is no shortage of analyses warning of the dangers for human rights of various manifestations of digital technology and especially artificial intelligence.

“But none has adequately captured the full array of threats represented by the emergence of the digital welfare state,” the UN expert said.

Here is the summary of the report,

Report of the Special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

The digital welfare state is either already a reality or is emerging in many countries across the globe. In these states, systems of social protection and assistance are increasingly driven by digital data and technologies that are used to automate, predict, identify, surveil, detect, target and punish. This report acknowledges the irresistible attractions for governments to move in this direction, but warns that there is a grave risk of stumbling zombie-like into a digital welfare dystopia. It argues that Big Tech operates in an almost human rights free-zone, and that this is especially problematic when the private sector is taking a leading role in designing, constructing, and even operating significant parts of the digital welfare state. The report recommends that instead of obsessing about fraud, cost savings, sanctions, and market-driven definitions of efficiency, the starting point should be on how welfare budgets could be transformed through technology to ensure a higher standard of living for the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 18, 2019 at 10:46 am

Surveillance Capitalism Comes to the Dole.

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New DWP HQ.

I, and many other people ,have got interested in Surveillance Capitalism recently.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power Professor Shoshana Zuboff

It’s a book, a bloody long one,  about “the unprecedented form of power called “surveillance capitalism,” and the quest by powerful corporations to predict and control us.”

She says,  “human experience is subjected to surveillance capitalism’s market mechanisms and reborn as ‘behaviour”.

It seems people are very willing to give up their private information in return for perceived benefits such as ease of use, navigation and access to friends and information. Zuboff recasts the conversation around privacy as one over “decision rights”: the agency we can actively assert over our own futures, which is fundamentally usurped by predictive, data-driven systems. Engaging with the systems of surveillance capitalism, and acquiescing to its demands for ever deeper incursions into everyday life, involves much more than the surrender of information: it is to place the entire track of one’s life, the determination of ones path, under the purview and control of the market.

Guardian.

Universal Credit, which we do not even ‘buy’ is a much more complex version.

It’s modelled on it.

We have to fill in all our details, and personal problems, not to mention physical difficulties if we want Disability Allowances.

In return they watch our search for work like hawks.

On-line journals and the rest.

Not to mention the threat of sanctions.

The next stage is coming.

The UK government is accelerating the development of robots in the benefits system in a digitisation drive that vulnerable claimants fear could plunge them further into hunger and debt, the Guardian has learned.

The Department for Work and Pensions has hired nearly 1,000 new IT staff in the past 18 months, and has increased spending to about £8m a year on a specialist “intelligent automation garage” where computer scientists are developing over 100 welfare robots, deep learning and intelligent automation for use in the welfare system.

As well as contracts with the outsourcing multinationals IBM, Tata Consultancy and CapGemini, it is also working with UiPath, a New York-based firm co-founded by Daniel Dines, the world’s first “bot billionaire” who last month said: “I want a robot for every person.” His software, used by Walmart and Toyota, is now being deployed in a bid to introduce machine learning into checking benefit claims.

Note this,

The DWP is also testing artificial intelligence to judge the likelihood that citizens’ claims about their childcare and housing costs are true when they apply for benefits.

It has deployed 16 bots to communicate with claimants and help process claims and is building a “virtual workforce” to take over some of the jobs of humans. One recent tender document requested help to build “systems that … can autonomously carry out tasks without human intervention”.

The developments emerged during a Guardian investigation into one of the most radical but least understood welfare reforms since the roll-out of universal credit that will apply to 7 million people.

And this,

But claimants have warned the existing automation in UC’s “digital by default” system has already driven some to hunger, breakdown and even attempted suicide. One described the online process as a “Kafka-like carousel”, another as “hostile” and yet another as a “form of torture”. Several said civil servants already appeared to be ruled by computer algorithms, unable to contradict their verdicts.

This,

Key details about the automation push remain secret. The DWP has refused freedom of information requests to explain how it gathers data on citizens. Simon McKinnon, the chief digital and information officer of DWP Digital, said this year it was developing a way to “build a holistic understanding of digital personas”, but refused to say what information was gathered to do this.

The ministry has previously told parliament it gathers data from private credit reference agencies, the police, the Valuation Office Agency, the Land Registry and the National Fraud Initiative, which gather information from public and private bodies. But it is now declining to update the list, claiming it would “compromise the usefulness of that data”.

“There are concerns that government is accelerating the automation of the welfare system without a proper evidence-based consultation about its impacts,” said Dr Lina Dencik, co-founder of the Data Justice Lab at Cardiff.

More,

Staff are using UiPath to develop machine learning to check claims for fraud, which suggests welfare computers will autonomously learn and alter the way they make decisions with minimum human intervention.

One recent staff member at Newcastle told the Guardian they already “have ways of creating a digital image of somebody”. He stressed much of the work was secret, but said this did not mean it was against citizens’ interests.

The digital transformation is costing hundreds of millions of pounds. The DWP Digital’s budget has risen 17% to £1.1bn in the past year and IT firms have been awarded huge contracts to help run the system. The DWP is also rapidly expanding its own private technology company Benefits and Pensions Digital Technology Services, which recruited more than 400 staff in the year to April, while DWP Digital recruited 520.

I bet this is just the beginning of an almighty row.

Then there is this:

Down with Machine Rule!

Written by Andrew Coates

October 14, 2019 at 12:16 pm

Universal Credit on World Homeless Day.

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Image result for world homeless day

Yesterday was World Homeless Day.

Anybody walking around our towns can see people begging in the streets.

It’s back to the kind old world of Dickens and Jo the Crossing Sweeper.

Related image

 

Talk to most people and they go on about the astronomical cost of rents, and, when it’s anybody on the dole, how ‘local Housing Allowance’ increasingly does not cover real housing costs.

Now some people try and do something to help street sleepers.

Bus Shelter Ipswich project for the homeless gets £5K boost

July 2019. EADT

Established in November 2017, The Bus Shelter Ipswich is a community interest company that provides free accommodation, advice and support to vulnerable people in and around the Ipswich area via its first converted bus, called ‘Tiffers’, and two outreach vans.

The organisation was appealing for funds to help finalise a second bus, called ‘Cheys’, which will be a mobile drop-in and advice centre. According to the Rough Sleeping in England report, homelessness in Ipswich has increased by over 60% since 2010.

The kind folk at the DWP think of everything!

 

Last year (2018)  this was one of many reports:

Observer investigation finds system in chaos, putting chancellor under pressure to change tack

Government welfare reforms are fuelling a rise in homelessness in towns and cities across the country, an Observer investigation has found.

Interviews with homelessness charities across England reveal a support system in crisis as the rollout of universal credit and freezes to local housing allowance rates put even basic accommodation beyond the means of many. One shelter said universal credit was a factor in a third of its clients ending up in its care.

Now we have this:

1 in 7 people in England directly hit by the housing crisis

More than 8m people in England – around 1 in 7 – are living in an unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable home, according to the first ever ‘state of the nation’ report on the housing crisis, released today by the National Housing Federation.(i)

Benefits freeze pushing low-income families to the brink of homelessness

Welfare Weekly.

94% of properties in the private rented sector are unaffordable for families on benefits.

More than nine in ten properties in the private rental sector are unaffordable for families on benefits and with a chronic shortage in social homes an increasing number of people are struggling to find an affordable home.

This is according to a new report from the National Housing Federation (NHF), which warns that the benefits freeze is “pushing low-income families to the brink”.

The report finds that 94% of private rental properties are unaffordable for families on Housing Benefit, or the equivalent Local Housing Allowance (LHA), and 65% of these are families in work.

The NHS says this is fuelling the rise in homelessness, which is now at record levels, as well as contributing to children living in overcrowded and poor quality accommodation.

LHA was initially designed to cover bottom 50% of market rents in any area. However this was reduced to 30% in 2011. Rates were then divorced from market rents altogether in 2013; and finally frozen in 2016, so they stopped keeping up even with inflation.

This means that in some parts of the country less than 1% of private rented properties are covered by LHA.

The National Housing Federation is calling on the government to end the freeze and increase LHA payments, so that they cover at least the bottom 30% of private rent homes in any local area.

They are also calling for £12.8bn annual investment in building new social housing, so that fewer families are forced to seek more expensive housing in the private rented market.

Channel Four found a really bad case of how this is affecting people.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 11, 2019 at 10:09 am

Abuse of Claimants, DWP Manager, “We should nominate one person to throw a grenade in.”

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Universal Credit staff taped making disgusting comments about claimants

Mirror.

EXCLUSIVE: One member of staff was recorded saying disabled people were “faking it” to get government cash

Benefits managers have been caught on tape making horrifying comments about claimants.

One advocated blowing them up with a grenade, another accused them of getting money for nothing while the disabled were accused of “faking it.”

In one disturbing taped conversation a manager says: “The police sometimes have sting operations where they gather people together.

“We should nominate one person to throw a grenade in.”

Another reveals a case manager railing at claimants, who can be out of work because of ill health.

They rant: “It does my head in. They’re getting something for nowt, they don’t really have to do a great deal to get it. And they still whinge.”

Another says they “have absolutely no time” for claimants with depression and anxiety.

 

Today the incompetent  lazy bones managers  at the DWP are shown up.

DWP Universal Credit: 700 ‘suspected errors’ flagged by one council in 18 months

Mirror.

EXCLUSIVE: Labour-run Tower Hamlets demanded the DWP halt the benefit’s rollout after compiling the figures for 18 months

More than 700 “suspected errors” in Universal Credit have been flagged in 18 months by a single town hall.

Labour-run Tower Hamlets began compiling the figures in April 2018 over fears the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was not dealing robustly enough with problems.

Since then the deprived London borough’s officers have reported 728 cases to the DWP – identifying £335,000 in alleged overpayments and £215,000 in underpayments.

Officials claimed some cases took months and several attempts to contact the DWP before they were resolved.

The Borough’s mayor John Biggs said: “The roll out of Universal Credit should be halted. It’s failing our most vulnerable residents and pushing them into hardship.

“It’s simply not good enough that these blunders continue.”

Deputy Mayor Rachel Blake added: “The continuing errors we are seeing due to Universal Credit show it’s not fit for purpose.

Not to mention the present mess find ourselves in:

This has always struck people as inevitable.

Poverty is rising for all groups – even those in work – according to a new financial inclusion monitor report.

Research from the University of Birmingham and the University of Lincoln shows nearly 1.6 million people falling behind with council tax payments, with six in ten people in the poorest fifth of the population reporting they are in problem debt – mainly council tax payments, rent or utility bills.

Nearly 1 million people are behind with their rent, while over a 1 million people are behind on water bills.

The 2019 Briefing, found that nearly 2.2 million people report having been contacted by bailiffs and nearly one million experiencing bailiffs breaking the rules.

A growing number of personal insolvencies were also highlighted, with over 70,000 Individual Voluntary Arrangements (formal alternative to bankruptcy) made in 2018, up from 40,000 in 2015.

Karen Rowlingson, Professor of Social Policy and Deputy Director of the Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management (CHASM) at the University of Birmingham and co-author of the report, said: “The government is saying that austerity is over but our research shows that millions of people are still struggling to pay essential bills.

“Much more needs to be done to increase income levels to help people make ends meet.”

Electric Dog Collar Shock Coffey is on a high:

Written by Andrew Coates

October 7, 2019 at 12:42 pm

DWP MInister Thérèse Coffey on her “Dream Job” and Universal Credit.

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Thérèse Supporting People into Work (Falcon Inn in #Felixstowe).

DWP Secretary attacks Labour’s plan to scrap Universal Credit

DWP Secretary Therese Coffey’s speech at the Conservative Party.

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference, the new Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: “Conference I’m delighted to be here in Manchester for my first speech as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

“Let me tell you that there are a lot of unexpected things that have happened to me very late on a Saturday evening. But taking a phone call from the Prime Minister to become a cabinet minister was certainly a new one.

Electric Shock Dog Collar finally got to Universal Credit,

“Universal Credit provides a safeguard for the most vulnerable in our society. It supports strivers, who are not content living a life on welfare.

“We know that work is the best route out of poverty. But Jeremy Corbyn would scrap our benefits system that makes work pay. With no alternative – from the Party that only knows how to trap people on benefits.

“And just like last time – it’s working people who would end up paying the price for Labour’s incompetence. Instead, our party, the Conservatives, want to increase the incomes of the lowest paid.

“And since last year working people have benefited from a £1,000 increase in work allowances in Universal Credit providing those in work with a much needed financial boost.

“And workers across the country are receiving a well-earned pay rise – now at 4 per cent – the highest in over a decade – alongside 18 months of real pay growth.

“Conference, we are not blind to the challenges that face some families. That for some the money coming in does not stretch to cover the costs at the end of the month.

“And so let me say to you: we are on your side. We will work for you. Because this is a compassionate Conservative government.

“So my priorities for my Department are simple…

  1. To continue to improve Universal Credit to ensure people get the money they need in a timely manner, are helped into work, and onto an escalator up to better work.
  2. To help with the cost of living across the country to ensure     that people feel secure in their homes and can support themselves financially.
  3. To support everyone in society – especially disabled people –     so we all can share in the success and prosperity of this county.

“Which is I have today announced a further £4 million package to support people to find not just any job, but that dream job.

Not everybody wishes the pious Minister well.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

October 2, 2019 at 9:33 am

Labour Pledge to Abolish Universal Credit.

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Labour Plans to Abolish Universal Credit. 

Universal credit: Labour pledges to scrap welfare scheme

BBC.

Mr Corbyn will promise that a Labour government would introduce “an emergency package of reforms” including:

  • scrapping the two-child limit, whereby families only receive welfare support for the first two children of a family
  • suspending sanctions whereby a claimant’s support can be reduced if they miss appointments

His party also wants to drop the benefit cap which limits the amount of benefit a person can receive.

Shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne said while the system could not be “completely replaced overnight”, the announcement was “more than an aspiration” and “the next Labour government will replace universal credit”.

Mr Corbyn will make his announcement on Saturday at a rally in Chingford and Woodford Green – the Greater London parliamentary seat of Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, who originally implemented the universal credit scheme when he was work and pensions secretary.

The Labour leader is expected to criticise the welfare project for being “over-budget” and “inhumane”.

“Social security is supposed to give people dignity and respect, not punish and police them, make them wait five weeks for the first payment or fill out a four-page form to prove their child was born as a result of rape,” he will say.

The BBC notes some further points and the initial reactions:

Labour also says it would drop the system’s “digital-only” requirement, arguing that it excludes those who do not have access to the internet.

The Department for Work and Pensions says claimants can get paid urgently if required.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: “This is totally irresponsible from Jeremy Corbyn, who now admits he would happily scrap financial support for vulnerable people with no plan as to what Labour would replace it with.”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said it would welcome significant reform “but any changes need to avoid further upheaval for those who depend on it”.

The charity’s director for policy and partnerships, Helen Barnard, said Labour’s proposals appeared to “get rid of some of the worst bits of universal credit which we know are pulling some people into really difficult poverty and debt”, citing sanctions and the five-week wait for the first payment.

However, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there were also aspects of the system, including the way it avoids people moving to a different benefit when they begin work, which should be preserved.

Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies Paul Johnson said while Labour was proposing a series of changes to universal credit, the announcement did not appear to be calling for an end to the idea of merging six benefits into one payment, which he said had simplified the system.

Food bank charity the Trussell Trust welcomed the end of the five-week wait proposed by Labour – but warned that the party’s plans could create further problems.

It said that “scrapping universal credit may only result in further upheaval”.

The Guardian notes some of the details,

Although Labour says it will “scrap” universal credit it seems it will not drop all aspects of the payment, which merges six benefits into one. It will remain digital in nature, although Labour says it will end the current “digital only” approach and will hire 5,000 advisers to support claimants unable to access the internet or manage their claims online.

It will also allow claimants to be paid fortnightly rather than monthly as now and allow households to split payments between two adults. The current single household payment has been criticised as enabling domestic abusers to control family finances.

Benefit sanctions, the two-child limit on child benefit and the benefit cap – seen as unfair, ineffective and key drivers of child poverty – will be scrapped. The party already has plans to scrap the bedroom tax.

Commenting on the proposals, Adam Corlett, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Labour has set out some significant reforms, but they sensibly do not amount to actually scrapping universal credit. Now isn’t the time for another huge overhaul of our social security system.

“Instead, Labour have focused on reforming universal credit, and scrapping entirely separate benefit cuts that are set to drive up child poverty.”

Our contributors are always noting difficulties, and scepticism about the statement.

But bear this in mind (from the father of Universal Credit):

And this (Retweeted by Thérèse Coffey):

Here is how the Brexit lot greet the news:

 

Here

Written by Andrew Coates

September 28, 2019 at 9:20 am

Universal Credit, Not Fit For Purpose, New UNITE Community Report.

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New Report Slams Universal Credit.

 

Here

 

‘Bombshell’ report lays bare the misery of Universal Credit chaos

UNITE the Union.

A ‘bombshell’ report and survey of nearly 1,200 Universal Credit claimants by the community section of the UK and Ireland’s largest union, Unite, lays bare the misery of the scheme’s failed introduction with evidence of people becoming suicidal, going without food, being forced into debt and unable to pay bills.

The survey of 1,173 Universal Credit claimants published today (Monday 23 September) found that 70 per cent had skipped meals and 42 per cent had been forced to use a food bank as result of claiming Universal Credit.

Just under two-thirds (65 per cent) of respondents said they could not afford bills such as heating, electricity, and water, while over three-quarters (78 per cent) said they relied on friends and family to make ends meet. 48 per cent said they had been pushed into debt because of Universal Credit, with nearly a fifth (19 per cent) saying they had been forced to turn to payday loan companies and 8 per cent to loan sharks, to make ends meet.

The survey also points to kids losing out at school because of Universal Credit, with 27 per cent of respondents saying they had been unable to buy school uniforms or school equipment for their children, while just over a quarter (26 per cent) said they could not afford school trips.

Elsewhere, the report and survey called Universal Credit: Not fit for Purpose, powerfully captures the catastrophic toll of Universal Credit on people’s lives and families with respondents’ comments, including:

“Since we were forced onto Universal Credit I’ve tried to commit suicide three times, me and my eight year old have had to spend a month living off crackers and tins or frozen veg in bowl.” Claimant one

“I can’t afford a new uniform for my youngest daughter. My middle daughter has had to skip meals at college and is behind on her A-levels because I can’t afford the textbooks she needs for her courses.” Claimant two

“The five weeks wait left me in rent arrears and my landlord served me with an eviction notice because of this.” Claimant three

Unite is calling for the government to stop and scrap Universal Credit. The report and survey, Universal Credit: Not Fit for Purpose is being launched at a fringe meeting at Labour party conference in Brighton today at 12:30 in The Grand Hotel. It can be downloaded here.

 

Universal Credit Not Fit For Purpose has these Key findings.

• The experience of Universal Credit claimants is overwhelmingly bad, and many claimants believe they are not getting the money they are entitled to.
• Sanctions in particular are cruel and unfair and make the impact of Universal Credit worse.
• Universal Credit is causing food poverty and driving the use of food banks. In some cases it has forced claimants into prostitution and illegal activity such as theft in order to survive.
• Universal Credit is pushing claimants into debt, including into the arms of pay day loan companies and loan sharks.
• Universal Credit is having a detrimental impact on claimants’ mental health which is increasing the risk of suicide.
• The application process is unfair, complicated and difficult to access. It is also rigid and unresponsive, for example most respondents would prefer to be paid fortnightly.
• Universal Credit is causing serious problems with housing, including rent arrears and homelessness.
• Universal credit is discriminatory, disproportionately impacting on disabled people, carers and parents.
• Parents struggle to pay for school trips, school uniforms and feeding their kids, particularly during school holidays, birthdays and Christmas.
• Families and friends having to fill the State’s role in providing a social safety net.
• Legacy benefit claimants overwhelmingly fear being moved onto Universal Credit.
• Universal Credit is an industrial issue that impacts on working people. It is particularly unfair to part-time, low-paid, zero hours and agency workers as well as the self-employed.

The Press Statement  continues.

Commenting Unite assistant general secretary with responsibility for Unite Community, Steve Turner said: “Universal Credit is causing untold misery and heartache for people across the country. Its failed introduction is leading to people becoming suicidal and going without food, or being forced into debt and unable to pay the bills.

“Universal Credit is not just an issue that affects people out of work. At the beginning of the year over 530,000 employed people were receiving Universal Credit in a ‘corporate welfare’ cash grab to top up poverty wages.

“The government needs to immediately scrap the five-week wait for Universal Credit which is pushing people into debt and benefit sanctions that are plunging people into the depths of despair.

“Ultimately, this cruel and flawed system which penalises families who are trying to make ends meet and keep a roof above their head must be scrapped and replaced with a humane system based on social solidarity and support that treats people with dignity.”

Meanwhile out Boss Tweets:

 

 

The longer Universal Credit exists in an area, the higher the need for food banks – Trussell Trust.

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In areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out for at least a year, food banks in the Trussell Trust’s network have seen a 30% increase in demand. In  areas with the new system for at least 18 months this jumps to 40%, and increases again to 48% for food banks in areas with Universal Credit for at least two years*

The Trussell Trust is urging the government to end the five week wait** for Universal Credit, as it publishes a new report revealing the longer the new benefits system has been rolled out in an area, the more people are plunged into poverty.

The charity highlights that while the Department for Work and Pensions has attempted to find solutions to issues with Universal Credit, the wait for a first benefit payment, which is often longer than five weeks, is continuing to cause unnecessary hardship. Government loans, which are currently offered during the wait, are also pushing more people into debt, the charity says.

The longer Universal Credit exists in an area, the higher the need for food banks  

This report has received news attention:

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said:

“Universal Credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty.  But the five week wait fatally undermines this principle, pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution.

“In a society that believes in justice and compassion, this isn’t right. But it is something that can be fixed. Universal Credit was designed to have a wait. Now it’s clear that wait is five weeks too long, and we must change that design.

“The recent Spending Review was a lost opportunity to protect people on the lowest incomes.  Our Prime Minister must take action to end this wait, and help prevent thousands more of us being swept away by poverty. With the nation at a crossroads, now is the time to loosen the grip of poverty and make sure Universal Credit is able to protect people from needing a food bank, instead of pushing them to one.”

A similar pattern of financial hardship in areas where Universal Credit has rolled out is revealed by new evidence in the report from the Riverside Group, a large provider of social housing and homelessness services.

On average, people claiming Universal Credit at July 2019 had experienced a 42% increase in rent arrears since rollout began in 2015. By stark contrast, those claiming Housing Benefit (the previous ‘legacy’ benefits system) experienced a 20% decrease , analysis shows.

Hugh Owen, Director of Strategy and Public Affairs at Riverside said:

“Riverside is calling on the government to end the five week wait for Universal Credit because increasing numbers of our tenants are experiencing hardship while waiting for their first payment. Our data clearly shows that the wait is causing many of our tenants to get into rent arrears which can take months or even years to clear.

“A recent survey of many of our tenants told us that they are struggling to keep afloat when they move onto Universal Credit; the long wait means that many people are going without food or heating and they are forced to use foodbanks in order to feed their families. We welcome the simplicity that moving to an integrated benefit is intended to bring, but the way Universal Credit is being implemented means that instead of acting as a safety net, it is dragging people into debt.”

The #5WeeksTooLong study also reveals the detrimental impact the wait is having on people’s mental health. Many people reported experiencing high levels of anxiety, especially as they did not know how much they would receive and when. Some even reported feeling suicidal.

Mike had to resign from his work as a support worker to care for his mother who was diagnosed with a long-term disease. During this time he had to claim Universal Credit. He found that he could no longer manage to pay his rent after he took an Advance Payment:

“It’s made me go from being a confident lad who loved working with vulnerable people to ending up needing the support I used to offer others. Now I’m unable to support them or myself.”

The Trussell Trust and Riverside are not alone in issuing this stark warning. Through the #5WeeksTooLong campaign the Trussell Trust is united with 45 other organisations and more than 14,000 individuals, in urging the government to end the five week wait now.

Politics Home: 

 

Ministers criticised as study claims foodbank hikes linked to length of Universal Credit roll-out

 

Research by The Trussell Trust found that where the controversial benefits scheme has been in place for at least a year, foodbanks in its network have seen a 30% increase in demand.

It also showed the figure rose to 40% over 18 months and then to 48% in areas with Universal Credit for at least two years.

The charity called on ministers to end the five-week wait applicants face before receiving their payment from the system – which was designed to combine all legacy benefits into one but is yet to be rolled out in full.

It said the stretch would see more claimants “plunged into poverty”, and said that Government loans as a stopgap were “pushing more people into debt”.

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie said: “Universal Credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty. But the five week wait fatally undermines this principle, pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution.

“In a society that believes in justice and compassion, this isn’t right. But it is something that can be fixed. Universal Credit was designed to have a wait. Now it’s clear that wait is five weeks too long, and we must change that design.

“The recent Spending Review was a lost opportunity to protect people on the lowest incomes.  Our Prime Minister must take action to end this wait, and help prevent thousands more of us being swept away by poverty.

“With the nation at a crossroads, now is the time to loosen the grip of poverty and make sure Universal Credit is able to protect people from needing a food bank, instead of pushing them to one.”

Political response:

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Margaret Greenwood, said: “This latest shocking data from the Trussell Trust clearly shows that Universal Credit is forcing people to turn to food banks to survive, despite ministers’ repeated efforts to explain away any link.

“It is completely wrong for people to be left waiting five weeks or more for a first payment.

“Advances are not the answer; they are loans that have to be paid back, pushing people further into debt and leaving them vulnerable to scams.”

The Mirror adds,

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “This latest shocking data from the Trussell Trust clearly shows that Universal Credit is forcing people to turn to foodbanks to survive, despite ministers’ repeated efforts to explain away any link.

and

Labour will stop the rollout of Universal Credit and ensure that our social security system lifts people out of poverty and supports any one of us in our time of need.”

DWP:

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson hit back at the report, which they said “uses unrepresentative data to reach an entirely unsubstantiated conclusion”.

“It categorically does not prove that Universal Credit is the reason behind increased food bank usage,” they added.

“With Universal Credit people can get paid urgently if they need it and we’ve changed the system so people can receive even more money in the first two weeks than under the old system.”

Yet,

However the Trussell Trust later condemned the Government’s response, by insisting that its “food bank referral data is trusted and the best available data on food bank use in the UK”.

It added: “It is very disappointing to see the Department for Work & Pensions’ response to this research. The experiences of people on Universal Credit cannot be denied.

“While the system may work well for many, it’s clear from the evidence of food banks and countless organisations there are also many people being failed.”

Written by Andrew Coates

September 19, 2019 at 12:16 pm

Labour to Pledge to End Universal Credit?

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Image result for labour universal credit

 

Has this been listened to?

The story goes:

Labour will scrap the Government’s universal credit scheme, with plans set to be unveiled next week, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.

The Opposition had previously denied that it was scrapping universal credit in July. However, The Telegraph understands that the intricacies of the policy have been discussed by shadow cabinet ministers in recent days, with plans having been discussed in multiple departments.

A senior source said Labour’s plan to scrap the policy was “medium-term” with a series of “short-term fixes” mooted in the meantime.

These short-term fixes are understood to include an end to sanctions, the five-week wait and the three child limit.

A source involved said the fixes were designed to “point in the direction of a bigger change”.

As you can imagine the Tories under Spaffing-Turd  Johnson do not like the idea,

Damian Green, the former welfare secretary, said: “If Labour will put [universal credit] at risk, they will be damaging the opportunities of people to get into work and move up the ladder, and that would be unbelievably stupid.”

Followed by the Hard Right:

Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute said: “There is always room for reform, but dismantling universal credit will cost billions, mean higher taxes, and undermine our record low unemployment.”

Looks like the Adam Smith Institute have been sampling the wares at this ‘happening’.

https://twitter.com/ASI/status/1173510794308390912?s=20

Groovy!

The Telegraph story follows this one at the end of August in Teesside Live. 

Labour has pledged to end Universal Credit after a damning report revealed a generation of children were being born into poverty.

New research published this week highlighted a “terrible reality” in which thousands of children are living in converted shipping containers, office blocks and B&Bs.

The Labour Party has pledged an end to Universal Credit.

And with MPs on all sides of the House of Commons heading for a collision course over the handling of Brexit and the Prorogation of Parliament, a General Election is likely in the near future.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has warned that the Government is “failing a whole generation of children”.

During a visit to a children’s lunch club in Wales, he said his party would take “radical action” to help children from all backgrounds and had a “moral responsibility” to “end the scandal of child poverty and homelessness”.

He also pledged to scrap Universal Credit and – as reported by our sister title Plymouth Live – Mr Corbyn said he wanted to reform the Conservative Government’s flagship benefits reform, which has been hamstrung by complaints and confusion.

He said during a visit in May that, if elected, he would immediately stop the roll-out of Universal Credit and end the hated five-week wait for a payment – which is blamed for putting claimants into debt: “We’d halt the roll-out straight away and end the waiting period for people going onto it.

John MacDonnell last year,

Universal credit has to go, says John McDonnell.

The government’s flagship welfare policy faces being scrapped by Labour because it is “just not sustainable”, the shadow chancellor has said.

John McDonnell said universal credit, which merges six working-age benefits into one payment, “will have to go”.

Labour announced at its party conference last month that it would review the system, which is being rolled out across the UK.

We shall see….

Written by Andrew Coates

September 16, 2019 at 9:09 am

Thérèse Coffey, a Right-winger in Charge of the DWP and Universal Credit.

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Our New Boss with ‘Mate’ Liz Truss.

Coffrey is an ardent Catholic Traditionalist, which, informed sources tell this Blog, helped get her a shore-in by the former MP for Suffolk Coastal Mr John Gummer.

 

For those not familiar with Suffolk Coastal – this writer’s parents were involved in the Labour Party there after retiring and moving from North London – the constituency is ‘solidly conservative” both big and small C, with some pockets of resistance in places like Leiston and a few wards in, say, Felixstowe.

Gummer used to do very little locally, except from a tour around his fief at election times, looking like a character out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel, gracefully blessing the people.

“God bless the Squire and this Relations, and Keep us in our Proper Stations.”

This has not changed.

These are the new MInister’s most relevant views reported in the local press, the East  Anglian Daily Times,

Following Mrs May’s resignation, Dr Coffey backed Boris Johnson’s Tory leadership bid, saying he had “the mojo to make Brexit happen and he can reach out to many parts of the country to deliver a better, brighter Britain”.

Here are some of the features of Coffey’s manor. Like many parts of the country, lost a lot of its council housing years ago. While there are now plans to build actual council houses, much is in the charge of these chancers, Flagship Housing. In what is now East Suffolk Council they are the main people offering places to live for “social housing” “affordable housing”.

This business, claiming the status of a social enterprise, engaged in empire-building across the East of England, is loathed by many of its tenants.

Its main concern is making money out of poor people.

We’re Flagship Group. We provide homes for affordable and market rent, and for sale across the East of England. We maintain our own housing stock and support the communities they’re part of. We do this through our housing arm of the business Flagship Homes, our repairs and maintenance specialists RFT Services, and our gas and boiler specialists Gasway.

This is their latest scandal (August 2019)

‘Callous’ care cuts blamed after bodies left rotting in retirement properties for month

Neighbours have urged Suffolk County Council to reinstate funding for wardens and sheltered accommodation following the tragedies at Mussidan Place in Woodbridge, which is owned by Flagship Housing.

The latest body was found on August 8 after a neighbour noticed the man’s kitchen was infested with flies. Residents believe he had lain there since June, when they first complained about a bad smell. They said they were shocked by the death – but it was not the first to go unnoticed.

Another body was found in February. Neighbours said the dead man’s relative told them it had been there since November last year. They said the bodies would have been found sooner if not for budget cuts stripping away wardens who used to check up on residents.

Valerie Kersey, 74, said: “There’s been a lot of reaction since the latest death. You feel guilty, thinking you should have noticed, and you feel angry. It shouldn’t happen. We’ve been through it twice now.”

But I digress….

 

Just before Parliament was suspended, Boris Johnson appointed one of the most hard-line and divisive women to replace Amber Rudd as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Her voting record reveals a tranche of reactionary views, likely to be offensive to the gay community, women, pensioners and non-smokers. She would also like millions of Europeans who live in the UK to have no right to stay here.

Cigar-smoking Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, would like to lift the ban on smoking in public places, bring back limitless betting odds on addictive gambling machines, and is an opponent of gay marriage.

As a former member of the Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee, in the past she has defended Rupert Murdoch over the phone hacking inquiry and was a staunch supporter of Rebekah Brooks, the former News of the World editor and the current CEO of News UK, who she claimed was a victim of “a witch hunt”.

Further extracts:

Coffey opposed gay marriage in Britain in 2013, following up this year by voting against a Commons measure to extend the right of gay marriage to Northern Ireland. She also supports parents who want to withdraw their children from sex education in schools.

On human rights, she voted both to repeal the EU Fundamental Charter of Rights and the Human Rights Act. She is in favour of allowing discrimination against Indians of lower caste and also wants the human rights watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, to lose some of its powers.

On Europe, although she voted Remain, she has since been hostile to Europeans from both the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA) living here after a ‘no deal’ Brexit. She voted against giving them and their families residential rights, but made an exception for the Irish.

On benefits and pensions, she is a firm supporter of the so-called bedroom tax, under which disabled people have to fund for themselves any extra bedroom for a carer. She does not believe that people who are long-term disabled need higher benefits, wants pensioners in work to pay National Insurance, and supports cutting the welfare bill.

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Written by Andrew Coates

September 11, 2019 at 11:56 am

Forever Amber: Amber Rudd Resigns, Thérèse Coffey, (Suffolk Coastal MP) Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions.

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If you had better sense you’d have learned by now that nothing thrives so well as wickedness”
 Forever Amber

This Blog has long been supportive of Amber Rudd.

Posts such, “God Bless you Ma’am”, “You’ve Done a Grand Job!” “Thanks to you Coachie helped me get started as a fully-qualified Mud Urchin on the River Orwell” will be there, for all time, on the Net, to show how highly we looked up to her.

Is this the way to express our feelings?

 

Amber – we feel her pain – shows dignity.

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“Therese Coffey Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal.”

Image result for Amber Rudd

Biography

Thérèse Coffey was appointed Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions on 8 September 2019.

Thérèse was previously Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs between 25 July 2019 and 8 September 2019.

She was previously Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 17 July 2016 to 25 July 2019. She was elected the Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal in May 2010.

Education

Thérèse graduated from University College London (UCL) with a PhD in chemistry.

Political Career

Thérèse Coffey served as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons from May 2015 until July 2016.

Thérèse served on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee until she was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Michael Fallon, Minister for Business and Energy.

Thérèse has campaigned on stopping the A14 toll, improving NHS experience for patients and better broadband.

Wikipedia says,

Coffey’s decision to author a paper for the Free Enterprise Group recommending pensioners should be forced to pay National Insurance provoked a backlash among older constituents, who claimed that in an already tough economic environment, it was wrong to tax pensioners further. However, she said that she had “no regrets writing about National Insurance” and that it was “a policy proposal – it is by no means, at this stage, anymore than that.”[23]

Coffey also faced criticism from Suffolk residents over her support for the Government’s proposal to sell off forestry and woodland in public ownership, in 2011. Protestors argued that “previous experience shows us that when private landowners come in they close car parks and make access as difficult as possible.”[24] Although Coffey voted for the bill,[25] the proposal was afterward dropped by the government.[26]

In October 2016, she was criticised by the then Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron for accepting hospitality worth £890 from Ladbrokes after supporting the gambling industry in parliament as part of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Coffey denied that she had been “influenced in her considerations on matters of related policy by any hospitality received”.

More:

Career outside politics

Thérèse worked for the international company Mars. When Thérèse qualified as a chartered management accountant, she became Finance Director for a UK subsidiary of Mars. She has also worked at the BBC.

Personal life

Thérèse enjoys watching football, gardening and music, especially Muse. She is a CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) member.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Secretary of State has overall responsibility for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). They have direct responsibility for departmental expenditure and departmental management.

DWP is responsible for the administration of the State Pension and working age benefits system, providing support to:

  • people of working age
  • employers
  • pensioners
  • families and children
  • disabled people

Here

Written by Andrew Coates

September 8, 2019 at 10:13 am

Spending Plans – End the Benefits Freeze!

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Amongst all the spending plans by the Johnson Junta there is no mention of ending the Benefit Freeze.

Now it is true that Benefits are a matter of the Budget, not the spending review.

 

It’s a Care Bears Government that we have now – Cor Bless You Squire, You’re a Scholar and a Gentleman  Mr Cummings.

Image result for Dominic cummings johnson advisor drunk

Look at this natty nattering by our very own Boss.

 

You’d have thought they could have used the occasion to pop a promise of a few bob for the down-on-their-luck.

More than a third of people affected by the Conservative government’s freeze on benefits have less than £100 a month to live on after they have paid rent and bills for food, council tax and gas and electricity, according to the Citizens Advice service.

Universal credit claimants were especially badly affected, with more than half reporting that they had gone without essentials such as food and toiletries. Nearly the same proportion said they had lost sleep over their dire finances, the charity reported.

Disabled people and those with children were most likely to have gone without essentials, with nearly half of both groups reporting that this had happened to them at least once in the past 12 months.

Citizens Advice said it was ‘totally unacceptable that our benefits system is not providing the financial safety net that people need’

End the Benefits Freeze!

Written by Andrew Coates

September 6, 2019 at 10:32 am

Government Urged to Publish Secret DWP Analysis of Impact of Brexit on Poverty, Wages and People on Low Incomes.

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DWP Keeps Report on Brexit Impact Secret.

Already poverty is a major problem in the UK.

But we hear from the latest from Welfare Weekly that they are keeping the impact of Brexit on this under wraps.

 

DWP Urged To Publish ‘Secret’ Brexit Impact Analysis

The SNP has called on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to publish secret analysis that reveals the impact of different Brexit outcomes on poverty levels, wages and low-income households in Scotland and the UK.

Neil Gray MP warned that vulnerable people were already suffering under a decade of Tory austerity and that the DWP’s refusal to publish the figures was a “damning indictment” of a Tory government intent on inflicting a damaging policy no matter the cost.

The call for the full publication of the findings comes after the Poverty Alliance used a Freedom of Information request to ask whether or not the DWP had carried out any assessments to look at the impact of different Brexit scenarios on levels of poverty and inequality in the UK, as well as analysis on the impact on low-income households, on wages, employment and costs of living.

The DWP replied to confirm that it does hold some of the analysis but that it would not publish any of the findings as it was not in the public interest to do so.

Economic analysis has already shown that crashing out of the EU without a deal will be devastating for Scotland – costing up to 100,000 jobs and hitting people’s pockets to the tune of £2,300 a year per person.

This is the origin of the story:

Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance: “The UK Government’s failure to disclose the analysis they’ve undertaken on Brexit’s impact on poverty is alarming. We’re a society that believes in justice and compassion, and it is clearly in the public interest to know whether Brexit – especially a no-deal Brexit – will inflict harm upon people already struggling to get by.

 

Gordon Brown in Liverpool to warn that city’s most vulnerable will suffer under no deal Brexit

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned life will get harder for Liverpool’s poverty-stricken families under a no deal Brexit.

Speaking in Anfield today, Mr Brown said that leaving the EU without a deal would see the cost of food increase and put pressure on local communities like those in north Liverpool that are already struggling.

The outspoken critic of leaving the EU, said that the consequences of a no deal Brexit on the UK’s food supply are already being felt with suppliers having to raise prices.

He also warned that the reliance on food coming in from the EU via Calais and Dover would see the UK’s food supply seriously disrupted in the event of no deal.

He said: “With a no deal Brexit you have two problems. One the cost of food and second the supply of food.”

“One third of our food comes from continental Europe, particularly fruit and vegetables come in from Dover and Calais.

“If we lose that supply of food, or if it’s interrupted, then prices go up again.”

 

Poverty Alliance join forces with over 85 civil society organisations to express grave concerns about no-deal

August the 29th.

The Poverty Alliance have today joined forces with over 85 organisations in expressing our grave concerns about the impacts a no-deal Brexit will have on civil society.  Together with organisations from across the UK, we have called on the Prime Minister to urgently engage with our concerns about leaving the EU without a deal on the 31st October.

Signatories of the letter have serious concerns about how a no-deal exit will be a direct threat to communities across the country, including the possible regression of rights and standards, the uncertainty of the future, and a lack of adequate engagement and support from the UK Government.

The Poverty Alliance has particular concerns about how a no-deal Brexit could impact people living on low incomes, with the likelihood that the economic impact of such a scenario could lead to significant impacts on employment and the cost of living.

Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance, said:

“We’re a society that believes in protecting each other from harm. Yet a no-deal Brexit would represent a failure to protect people living on low incomes.

Communities across the country are already experiencing low pay, the effects of social security cuts, and high living costs. A no-deal Brexit threatens to tighten the grip of poverty further. We simply cannot allow that to happen.”

Not that Forever Amber cares tuppance:

Written by Andrew Coates

September 2, 2019 at 3:57 pm

As Country faces Brexit Chaos “Managed Migration” of Claimants into Universal Credit Mayhem continues.

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Looks Sinister – it is.

The migration of all claimants onto the chaotic and unfair Universal credit system continues.

 

Not that you’d notice that much is happening from Amber Rudd’s latest statements.

 

The social security benefit changes that will force you on to Universal Credit

Birmingham Mail.

Universal Credit edges closer for thousands of people who are unemployed and on low income as managed migration means these existing benefits are phased out.

Key section:

What if you’re receiving one of those old benefits already?

If you’re already on Housing Benefit, Jobseeker’s Allowance or one of the other legacy benefits, then you will eventually end up on Universal Credit.

There are two ways this will happen.

The first way is called natural migration. It means you are moved across to Universal Credit if your circumstances change – such as starting or leaving work, a partner moving in or out of your home after a relationship begins or ends, having a child, or changing address.

When your situation changes, your existing benefits are stopped and you will be put on Universal Credit instead.

The second way is called managed migration. This will switch across the remaining two million people on legacy benefits even though their circumstances have not changed.

It has started to happen with a pilot scheme in Harrogate that began at the end of July 2019. That will see up to 10,000 people – more likely 3,000 to 5,000 people, according to latest estimates – transferred to Universal Credit.

In the case of this managed migration, the DWP is offering transitional protection – this means it will top up the Universal Credit payouts so they aren’t lower than the existing benefits these people already receive.

And this is when the managed migration is expected to be finished – that means everyone on one of the old benefits will instead be receiving Universal Credit by then.

More information:

Benefit Changes Timetable – Benefit Changes Timetable 2019

This guide will provide information on the Benefit Changes Timetable.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 30, 2019 at 10:26 am

Cornwall: Work Coaches to refer people with mental health conditions to specialist support, without the need for a GP or clinical assessment.

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Work “coaches” to refer people with mental health conditions to specialist one to one support, without the need for a GP or clinical assessment

This is controversial.

The  DWP announcement:

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd announces funding for life-changing project.

Hundreds of residents from Bude to Penzance are set to benefit from improved mental health support as Amber Rudd announces £100,000 funding for a life-changing project.

The initiative means work coaches can continue to refer people with mental health conditions to specialist one to one support, without the need for a GP or clinical assessment.

As a result, people are able to get help early to tackle their condition before it worsens. The support is also designed to help people find their way back into the workplace when they’re ready.

Amber Rudd, Work and Pensions Secretary, said:

We want to reach people before their mental health spirals downwards – and this money will help to do just that.

The pilot proved that work coaches are well placed to make sure people get help quickly and are supported to get their lives back on track so I’m delighted that it can continue.

Importantly it has also shown that people trust their work coach to help them during their toughest times – and I’m very proud of that.

Now a 100,000 pounds is barely enough for a few paragraphs of Boris Johnson’s ramblings in the Telegraph.

But the principle, and above all the potential practice, is worrying.

 

Jobcentre Staff to ‘Assess’ Claimants Mental Health

 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has come under fire after it announced a scheme whereby jobcentre staff assess claimants mental health. The £100,000 scheme being rolled out in Cornwall will see claimants on Universal Credit assessed by the work coach to as “to avoid seeing their GP”.

The DWP have announced a controvertial £100,000 scheme for benefit claimants in Cornwall. The plan is for Universal Credit claimants to have their mental health assessed by their Work Coach to determine if they require extra support. The DWP describe the scheme as;

“The initiative means work coaches can continue to refer people with mental health conditions to specialist one to one support, without the need for a GP or clinical assessment.”

Now usually, offering claimants extra support would not be an issue. However, the last sentence above shows the DWP have an ulterior motive – “without the need for a GP or clinical assessment.”

While training work coaches how to interact with claimants with mental health conditions is a good step, Having them replace trained health professionals is simply unacceptable.

Claimants with a health condition already have to go through assessments with “Healthcare Professionals” who’ve done a 30 minute seminar on mental health. These leads to, as it did in my own case, the initial assessment being incorrect.

Only a GP or HCP involved in a person’s ongoing care can give a qualified opinion on a patients mental state. Outsourcing it to staff who are already overworked is bound to see more mistakes made.

The Blog Black isle Media rightly comments,

Now they think work coaches can replace a claimants GP. This is yet another way to force vulnerable benefit claimants to seek work before they are ready.

I hope I am wrong, but unfortunately when it comes to the DWP, I like many others, am not.

The story has a background:

DWP slammed by charity for plan to hold mental health assessments in JobCentres

Mirror March 2010.

EXCLUSIVE: Mind told the Mirror Jobcentres are “completely inappropriate” and could throw vulnerable benefit claimants into further distress

New pilot for jobcentres to refer claimants directly to Improving Access to Psychological Therapies

4 APRIL 2019, 01:49 PM

This seems quite dangerous to me.  Surely someone with mental health problems needs referral to a specialist through the NHS by their GP?  If they need a referral to this kind of clinician I have not heard of before – a work psychologist – and are not getting it then we need to be concerned that such a valuable resource is not available on the NHS.  If they don’t need it why is an unqualified jobcentre plus employee allowed to refer them to the wrong specialist, possibly with damaging effects? This seems an outrageous way of bullying people with mental health issues.  Why stop there? Could people with back problems be referred to chiropractors? With Crohn’s disease prescribed probiotics? Ruth

Written by Andrew Coates

August 27, 2019 at 4:02 pm

Universal Credit Staff to Strike.

with 107 comments

Image result for pcs universal credit strike

 

DWP Universal Credit staff to strike next week after ‘running out of patience’

The Mirror.

Universal Credit call handlers will stage a two-day strike next week after “running out of patience” with what they say are cuts and overwork.

More than 200 workers are set to stage a walkout at a contact centre in Stockport, Greater Manchester, next Tuesday and Wednesday after approving the action in a strike ballot.

Some 227 Public Commercial Services union (PCS) members at the centre were balloted. 162 voted, of which 148 backed a strike.

It comes after two walkouts at centres in Wolverhampton and Walsall earlier this year over similar issues.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The decision to take strike action has not been taken lightly by our members in Universal Credit. They do their best to help claimants get the support they need.

The Guardian,

Workers at a centre dealing with universal credit are to stage a two-day strike in a row over workloads and staffing levels, the Press Association reports. Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) at the office in Stockport, Greater Manchester, will walk out from August 27. More than 200 UC staff in Stockport will go on strike for two days next Tuesday in a row over workloads and staffing levels. The union said staffing at the centre has been in decline since the flagship benefit was introduced three years ago, but the Department for Work and Pensions ( DWP) said it is confident that staffing levels are sufficient, PA reports.

23 Aug 2019

PCS members fighting to improve their Universal Credit service centre are striking for 2 days next week.

In a ballot declared earlier this month, members voted 91.9% in favour of strike action and 95% in favour of action short of strike on a 71.4% turnout. Our members will be taking strike action next week, on Tuesday (27) and Wednesday (28), with a demand for extra staff to be recruited and for working practices to be changed to allow them to process the cases of some of the most vulnerable members of the community.

Staffing at the Universal Credit Service Centre, Millennium House in Stockport has been in decline since its introduction in 2016/17. Despite existing staff being switched to UC to support hard-pressed members and further staff from the remaining legacy command incoming in September, PCS members are clear this is not going to tackle the problem of increasing workloads and the demands placed upon staff.

PCS is equally clear that action is needed to make important changes for members and this is reflected in the support in the ballot. Case managers have seen their caseloads increase week by week. The volume of telephone calls has gone up in line with those caseloads and members are now expected to be working on several claims at the same time. Stress-related absences are higher on the UC command compared to the legacy commands.

PCS demands the DWP:

  • Recruits 100 new staff members
  • Limits calls to 30 a week for case managers
  • Increases the one minute time allowed for after-call work
  • Allocates time for case work to be completed
  • Ends the attack on flexi
  • Ends the unnecessary restrictions on breaks and lunches
  • Ends the victimisation of a local PCS representative and a PCS member and the dropping of cases against them.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 23, 2019 at 11:33 am

Food Banks Face New Challenges under no-Deal Brexit

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Image result for food banks universal credit

Why a no-deal Brexit could be calamitous for food banks

RUAIRI CASEY New Statesman.

As our contributors have been discussing the merits of eating US rat droppings and chlorinated orange juice  this prospect looms.

Bad news seems to be accumulating at a record pace. Thanks to the frequent and stark warnings about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, so are stockpiles of food.

Britons have already spent billions amassing private stores of provisions, while big supermarkets like Tesco and Marks and Spencer’s have been filling their warehouses with non-perishables since just after the Christmas rush.

I know people in real life who are already doing just this…

 The modern cross-border food supply chain is a wonder of efficiency and, presently, a ceaseless whirr of containers passes unencumbered through ports like Folkstone and Dover, speeding Italian tomatoes and Spanish heads of lettuce towards our local supermarket shelves, all in the quick and convenient manner to which we’ve become accustomed.

But if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal on 31 October, gridlock caused by radically different customs arrangements will knock the balance of this finely-calibrated operation sharply out of kilter.

What has been less remarked upon regarding these premonitions of calamity is that the UK is already living through a crisis in food security of its own making, caused by nearly a decade of punitive austerity measures, which will likely be significantly worsened in a no-deal scenario.

The number of Britons relying on food banks to meet their needs has been rapidly increasing since 2010. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest network of food banks, gave out 1.6 million emergency food packages in the year ending this March.

It marked a rise of 19 per cent on 2018, driven by benefit sanctions, in-work poverty and delays tied to the roll-out of Universal Credit. Now, no-deal Brexit could be a perfect storm of disaster for the country’s most vulnerable households.

Disruption to food supply chains will mean less food on the supermarket shelves, and stockpiling by households and businesses means much-needed donations towards food banks will probably decline.

This continues, to the real point of the article,

The Trussell Trust does not have the facilities to centrally stockpile food supplies, and so plans to shift supplies around its network of some 1,200 food banks.

“We’re giving Brexit guidance to food banks – but there’s a limit to how much we can prepare for and mitigate its consequences,” said Garry Lemon, the Trussell Trust’s director of policy, external affairs and research.

“The responsibility to prevent more people being pulled into poverty lies with our Government. We cannot rely on support driven by volunteers and food donations to pick up the pieces, particularly in the event of no-deal.”

INnother words it will be Food Banks, not to mention those, like us, who often rely on the cheapest food, who will suffer.

The Benefit Freeze means we are already living close to the edge.

This will get worse.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 20, 2019 at 9:46 am

Sanctions Regime Scandal Continues As Calls Made for Root-and-Branch Reform of the System.

with 119 comments

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There’s lot to Dramatise about Universal Credit…..

Perhaps it’s just us lot, but the sanctions regime really sticks in the craw.

This is in the Daily Record.

Universal Credit sanctions imposed on 256,000 claimants as charity demands halt to harsh regime

Citizens Advice Scotland demanded an immediate halt to the harsh benefit sanctions regime after a quarter of a million people across Britain were penalised in a year.

The Department for Work and Pensions published a report confirming 256,000 sanctions between May last year and April for people on Universal Credit.

It comes days after a woman said she had thousands of pounds cut when she missed an appointment because she suffered a miscarriage.

Mhoraig Green, from Citizens Advice Scotland, said: “We have long raised concerns about cases where people have had their benefits unfairly sanctioned, leaving them without any income for a sustained period, causing them to require crisis support including food bank referrals.”

In Scotland, the network of Citizens Advice offices helped people with sanctions 1273 times in the past financial year.

Earlier this week, Danielle John’s story sparked revulsion after she revealed a 229-day sanction was imposed because she
forgot to inform her work coaches about a miscarriage suffered the day before an appointment.

A DWP spokesman said: “It is only right that we expect some claimants to meet certain agreed commitments in exchange for their benefits.

“We want to ensure sanctions are effective and support claimants, which is why we constantly review them and have announced an end to single fixed-period sanctions lasting more than six months.”

Benefit sanctions statistics to April 2019

This is from the Background to the Report,

There are four sanction levels in UC: –
• Lowest Level: Failure to attend or take part in a Work-Focused Interview. The sanction lasts until the claimant attends or takes part in one, or moves to either the Working – no requirements or No Work Requirements conditionality regimes.
• Low Level: The sanction lasts until the claimant does what they previously failed to do and were sanctioned for (e.g. failing to attend a training course) or because either the requirement is no longer appropriate or an alternative compliance condition has been met, plus 7, 14 or 28 days for the first, second or third low level sanction in any 12-month period.

• Medium Level: The sanction lasts 28 days for the first sanction in any 12 month period, and 96 days (approximately 3 months) for a second medium level sanction. Medium level sanctions apply, for example, where the claimant has to meet the work availability requirement, but has failed to be available to attend an interview or start work.

• High Level: The sanction lasts for 96 days (approximately 3 months) for the first sanction in any 12-month period, 182 days (approximately 6 months) for a second high level sanction and 1095 days (approximately 3 years) for a third.
Universal Credit Sanctions Official Statistics

Which lead to this, apart from the Play above

this is extremely interesting:

Selection of Recommendations.

  • Recommendation: The DWP needs to abolish the 5 week wait for Universal Credit.
  • Recommendation: The DWP needs to urgently comply with the findings of the High Court, that people paid monthly but whose earnings for two months fall into one assessment period should be treated as having been paid for the period when their wages were earned, rather than the date they were received.
  • Recommendation: People who are self-employed should be able to request 3-monthly assessment periods for earnings and costs. This would even out sporadic payments and fit with reporting requirements for Making Tax Digital, reducing bureaucracy for micro businesses.
  • Recommendation: The rigidity of monthly assessment periods needs to be urgently reviewed. People who are paid on a different schedule should be able to average their earnings. Those who have a change of circumstances during the assessment period should have the option to average out the impact
  • Recommendation: Claimants should be paid twice-monthly by default as they are in Northern Ireland, and in pilots in some Jobcentres, with the option to be paid monthly if they wish.
  • Recommendation: All claimants should have the option of direct payments to their landlord from the start of the claim.
  • Recommendations: Benefits should rise by 2% above inflation for each of the next 4 years in order to restore their value to 2015 levels.
    A minimum standard of income for benefits claimants should be assessed and implemented by the DWP for all elements of Universal Credit.
  • Recommendation: The value of Local Housing Allowance should be restored to accurately reflect the lowest 30% of market rents in every area.

 Sanctions.

The DWP’s UC Full Service Survey showed that 11% of claimants had been sanctioned, of whom 18% had been sanctioned more than once.

These are far higher rates than JSA or ESA.

  • Recommendation: The DWP should publish a list of common circumstances that constitute ‘good reason’ for breaching the claimant commitment. There needs to be a standardised sanctions process across the country to reduce reliance on judgement and increase fairness and accountability in the application of sanctions.
  • Recommendation: All DWP staff and work coaches should receive training on the definition of ‘good reasons’ for claimants not to be issued with a Universal Credit sanction. This should include an ‘other circumstances’ category where judgement can be applied. The training must also ensure that DWP staff are aware of and follow standardised procedure in relation to sanctions. This should be followed up with a requirement for decision makers to ensure that these procedures have been applied before sanctions are implemented.
  • Recommendation: Remove fixed term sanctions – sanctions should end when claimants have complied with their requirements. Sanctions should also end if the claimant becomes unable to comply, for example due to becoming unwell or having a new baby.

 

There’s a lot more: read it!

Followed by:

Written by Andrew Coates

August 15, 2019 at 11:15 am

Sanctions Regime: The Story of Danielle John.

with 77 comments

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Beginning of a Spiral of Sanctions.

DWP cuts woman’s Universal Credit ‘for missing appointments after miscarriage’

Mirror.

Danielle John from Cardiff saw her life spiral out of control following the sanctions imposed by the Department for Work and Pensions

A woman says she was driven to shoplifting and drug abuse after having thousands of pounds from her Universal Credit payments cut after missing an appointment the day after suffering a miscarriage .

Danielle John forgot to inform her work coaches about the miscarriage and later received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions telling her that she would be sanctioned as a result.

The letter said: “You didn’t come to a meeting with us […] because of this, you’ll lose some or all of your universal credit payment for a time.

“We call this being sanctioned.”

The letter explained she would lose £10.40 every day for 229 days, a total of £2,381.6

The system lifted me from poverty. Today, Danielle John is not so lucky

Last week, a woman’s sanction letter from the Department for Work and Pensions went viral on Twitter. Danielle John, from Cardiff, simply wrote: “Was told to put this up on Twitter… this was because I had a miscarriage and missed appointment.”

These stories are fairly common now. We are used to seeing reports about people being sanctioned because of attending a funeral/cancer treatment/their child being in hospital. But this one struck me in particular because the language was so coldly efficient. Brief to the point of cruelty. I didn’t know it was possible, even in a business letter, to say: “We’re about to ruin your whole life” without a shred of empathy.

The letter, written in February 2017, starts in large font: “You’ll lose some of your payment… This reduction will last 229 days.” Two hundred and 29 days for a single missed appointment. That’s almost 32 weeks of punishment. Or, if you prefer, February until August, with no money at all. When you consider that the harsher punishments for domestic violence introduced in 2018 suggest a sentence towards the upper limit of “a fine to up to 26 weeks’ custody” for common assault, you have to wonder what fantastical, sadistic metric the DWP has used to calculate sanctions.

The letter goes on to say that for her missed appointment – I just want to pause to remind you here that Danielle John was having a miscarriage at the time of missing this appointment – she would be sanctioned £10.40 for each of those days. So, a total of £2,381.60.

Because of this Daneille John got attacked,

Contributors to this Blog are familiar with sanctions.

In February 2019, 66% the UC caseload were in the conditionality groups that could be subject to sanction, compared to 81% in August 2015. service decisions resulted in a sanction. This is up 5 percentage points from August 2018 to October 2018. migration to Universal Credit.14 May 2019

A few months ago this was the story,

Tories ditch ‘ineffective’ three-year benefit sanctions

Punishment, criticised for being pointlessly cruel, doesn’t work, admits Amber Rudd

The government is to abolish “counterproductive” three-year benefit sanctions, in an official acknowledgement that depriving jobless people of social security income for long periods undermines their attempts to move into work.

The announcement, made by the work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, during a speech on employment on Thursday morning, was welcomed by campaigners and MPs, who encouraged her to make further changes to the controversial policy.

But

Mentally ill universal credit claimant receives less than £6 for month after £312 deducted for sanctions

‘This poverty has no prejudice. This is the kind of thing that drives people to homelessness, and to suicide’

May Bulman 

Amber Rudd has yet to comment on the latest case.

End the Sanctions Regime! 

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

August 12, 2019 at 11:40 am

Universal Credit Faces New Legal Challenge.

with 56 comments

Merseyside Job Centre has been covered in graffiti protesting against the government’s controversial Universal Credit benefit policy (August 2019)

A lot of social security legislation and the bodies administering it  seem to end up in legal cases.

From the private chancers running parts of the welfare state there is Capita.

Capita seeks to reverse ‘reputational damage’ after death of claimant

BBC.

Benefit-assessment company Capita is going to court to try to reverse the “reputational damage” it says it suffered after a claimant died.

Victoria Smith died months after her personal independence payments were stopped following a Capita assessment.

The outsourcing company was ordered to pay £10,000 in damages over its handling of her disability claim.

It was found to have made incorrect statements but wants the county court verdict set aside and the case reheard.

The company conducts health assessments for personal independence payments (PIP), the main disability benefit, on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

While the decision over whether someone receives the benefit is made by a DWP official, Capita’s assessment of how a person’s disability affects their life is a crucial part of the process.

Now there is this:

Universal Credit bosses face new legal battle over ‘unfair’ payments in ‘flawed and illogical policy’

Claimants threaten legal proceedings because they are being short-changed.

Birmingham Live.

Universal Credit bosses are facing another legal battle over the amount some claimants are paid.

The Government is being taken to court for a third time over the way disabled people are treated when moved on to the new benefit.

Those who previously received Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP) say they’ve lost out since being forced to go on to Universal Credit instead.

Two men, who are only identified as TP and AR, have already won two legal challenges against the DWP over the issue.

The High Court ruled the way claimants were treated was unlawful discrimination on both occasions.

The pair have now written again to Amber Rudd, Secretary of State of Work and Pensions, after she said the level of payments for severely disabled individuals who have moved onto UC will be set at £120 for single claimants.

They say this is unfair and does not reflect the money they have actually lost, which is about £180 per month.

TP and AR argue that “the Universal Credit migration arrangements announced on 22 July 2019 are still unlawful as they short-change individuals who previously received the Severe Disability Premium and Enhanced Disability Premium and moved onto Universal Credit before 16 January 2019 when the SDP Gateway Regulations came into force.”

The regulations meant that anyone on Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Housing Benefit will not be forced on to Universal Credit if they also get the Severe Disability Premium.

But now TP and AR say those who moved across before those rules came into effect will receive £50 less a month than those who no longer face being moved on the new benefit.

TP and AR have asked the DWP how the £120 figure was reached and argue that the full £180 per month shortfall should be given, otherwise the regulations will still be unlawful discrimination.

They also ask why the new regulations provide discretionary hardship payments for individuals who are subject to “managed migration” onto UC but not for those who have already had to move onto the benefit because their circumstances changed.

They argue that this is a further difference in treatment between the two groups.

The Government has been given a deadline of August 15, 2019, to reply to the letter, or the men say they will launch further legal proceedings.

Of course the law gets involved for simpler reasons:

Woman ‘unable to survive’ on £44 a month Universal Credit shoplifts from Primark

Mirror.

Universal Credit claimant Lisa Payne draped £117 worth of jeans over her arm and walked out of the Primark in Grimsby.

A woman left with just £44 a month on Universal Credit was caught stealing nine pairs of jeans from Primark, a court heard.

Lisa Payne “simply couldn’t survive with £44” over an entire month, her solicitor claimed.

The court heard Payne stole £117 worth of jeans from a Primark at the Freshney Place shopping centre in Grimsby, Lincolnshire.

The 46-year-old draped the pairs of jeans – costing £13 each – over her arm and walked out of the shop, but she failed to elude security officers, GrimsbyLive reported.

A guard followed her out of the store and the jeans were recovered during the theft on May 23.

Amber Rudd is hot on the job of making things better:

Written by Andrew Coates

August 7, 2019 at 9:46 am

After Day of Protest on Universal Credit: What is the Labour Party Doing?

with 226 comments

 

SALFORD JOINS STOP UNIVERSAL CREDIT DAY OF ACTION 

Unite the Union, above all Unite Community held a day of action on August the 1st (there will be a street stall in Ipswich soon).

These are the demands:

Unite is campaigning to #STOPUniversalCredit. The government must:

  • Abandon the long waits for claimants to receive money
  • Allow people to apply for Universal Credit in a jobcentre, not just online
  • Provide people with better help when the system fails them
  • Pay landlords directly to stop people getting into rent arrears and losing their homes
  • End benefit sanctions for all claimants.

Here are the reasons for the protests:

10 reasons why Universal Credit should be stopped

  1. Unbearably long waits for claimants to receive money
  2. People can only apply for Universal Credit online making it inaccessible for many
  3. Not enough help for claimants when the system fails them
  4. Rent paid directly to claimants instead of Landlords causing people to get into arrears and even to lose their homes
  5. Letting agents are already refusing to rent to anyone claiming Universal Credit
  6. Cruel sanctions for both in-work and out-of-work claimants
  7. Payments only go to one named member of a household
  8. Universal Credit takes 63p in every £1 people earn
  9. Universal Credit leaves many working families much worse off than the old system
  10. People in part-time work could be forced to give up work that suits their disability or family life in order to take up worse paid full-time work or risk sanctions.

There is a long list of events that took place:

#StopUniversalCredit
NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION – 1 August 2019
List of events across the country.

 

This is the most recent story that I can find on Labour’s policy:

Confusion – again – after Labour backtracks on Corbyn pledge to scrap universal credit

Labour’s policy on universal credit has again become mired in confusion after its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, promised to scrap the government’s “catastrophic” and “iniquitous” benefit system if his party wins the next general election.

Such a move would be seen as a significant victory for disabled activists and allies who have pushed the party to promise to scrap universal credit, instead of pledging only to halt the rollout of the system and fix its many flaws.

Interviewed after the party’s success in last week’s Peterborough by-election, Corbyn told Channel 4 News (pictured): “We are ready for a general election, and that general election will deliver a Labour government.”

He added: “If you voted Remain in 2016, and you’re on universal credit, if you voted Leave in 2016 on universal credit, you actually want to get rid of universal credit. That’s what Labour offers.”

Despite Corbyn’s comments, what seemed to be a significant change in policy appeared not to have been noticed by any mainstream media.

And the party’s press office today (Thursday) issued a statement that conflicted with what Corbyn said, merely stating again that a Labour government would pause the rollout of UC and try to make it fit for purpose.

A party spokesperson said: “Universal credit isn’t working and cannot continue in its current form.

“Labour will stop the roll-out, and ensure our social security system genuinely protects people from poverty.”

Disabled activists, particularly Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), have campaigned for the government – and any future Labour government – to “stop and scrap” universal credit (UC).

Only last week, DPAC released new research which detailed media articles on UC published between January and May this year, which it said was “a damning record of UC systemic and catastrophic failures”.

It said that UC had reached a point where it was “unable to adapt to claimants’ complex circumstances, and is forcing people with the least resources into further poverty, homelessness, and hunger”.

DPAC said it was calling for UC to be scrapped because it had become a social security system “which not only does not offer security, but actively undermined people’s ability to cope with the hazards of life”.

A DPAC spokesperson said last night (Wednesday), in response to Corbyn’s comments, but before the party had released its statement: “We welcome it as it’s the only credible position that Labour or any other party can take given UC’s well-evidenced fundamental failings, enormous waste and terrible harm but we remain unsure of Labour’s position until there is a firm public commitment.”

It is not the first time that Labour has appeared to call for UC to be scrapped and then retreated from that position.

This – there is no recent reference to Universal Credit – has been retweeted by the Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, Margaret Greenwood.

She is, rightly, concerned about this:

Labour seems more interested in this scheme, which looks unlikely to solve the immediate problems of Universal Credit.

Critics point to three major flaws in Universal Basic Income

  • It is not redistributive: the Tories and their business friends can continue to trouser as much money as they wish.
  • It does not cover the real costs of living, nobody could pay their rent (housing benefit),  and cover all the costs of a decent life on this ‘basic’ unless it were set at a much higher rate than is feasible to pay out to everybody in the county.
  • It does not cover special needs, the money needed by disabled people to begin with.

In this vein,

DPAC warns Labour to rethink support for universal basic income

The DPAC report warns that too little attention has been paid to the implications of UBI for disabled people.

The report warns that it is likely that housing benefit and disability benefits would remain outside a UBI system.

This would mean the need for continuing disability assessments, and the risk that the high cost of running a UBI system would mean further cuts to benefits and services relied on by disabled people, such as social care support.

DPAC’s Ellen Clifford, author of the new report, said: “While we would be in favour of tax rises to fund welfare provision – particularly corporation tax and a progressive rise in the higher rate of income tax – the use of this for a UBI rather than more traditional forms of disability and unemployment support would mean much of the benefit flowing back to employers rather than those in most need.”

Two other grassroots organisations of disabled people, Black Triangle and WinVisible, have this week added their voices to the concerns raised by DPAC about UBI.

Clifford’s report concludes that implementing UBI “risks detracting attention and resources from the urgent task required to overhaul the disability benefits system and make it fit for purpose”.

It adds: “Given the history of disabled people’s exclusion and the marginalisation of our issues it is reasonable for disabled people to fear that attention and resources dedicated to the task of implementing a UBI will be at the expense of affecting the level of change needed to ensure disabled people receive adequate support.”

There are also concerns, says the report, that a more flexible employment market ushered in by UBI, with greater job insecurity and the likelihood of poorer working conditions and lower wages for lower-paid workers, would further disadvantage disabled workers.

They also say that right-wing versions of UBI are seen as a way of saving money by avoiding spending on a decent living wage and social protection.

And the report says that pushing for UBI risks deferring demands for full reasonable adjustments at work for disabled workers, and “full and unconditional support” for those unable to work, while “ending up with a system that is more of a helping hand for employers than for disabled people”.

The report says DPAC’s concerns are born out by the results of pilot UBI schemes that have been run across the world, including one in Finland that has just ended, but has not yet been assessed officially, which critics say has forced unemployed workers into bad jobs while undermining unions, wage equality, and the welfare state.

And it says concerns have been raised about the proposed pilot schemes in Scotland, including the cost and potential negative impacts on disabled people, including likely cuts to other social protection schemes.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

August 3, 2019 at 10:02 am

Universal Credit Claimants punished for not having Mobile Phones.

with 94 comments

Unite day of action against Universal Credit, Thursday 1st August

(Details of Actions, including in Ipswich, on the Saturday, to follow).

In the meantime somebody is happy:

While Amber Rudd basks in her success, and we await copies of the Boris Johnson Guide, Protect and Survive a No-Deal Brexit,  the mess that is Universal Credit continues to pile up.

Our newshounds have often posted about the “all digital” “on-line” problem-creating side of the madcap scheme to make everybody poorer.

Even the Boris Backing Currant Bun has admitted that,

PORTAL PROBLEMS 

Universal Credit’s online system ‘requires huge amounts of mobile data and doesn’t alert claimants’

A proper journalist for Third Force News reported only this year,

The shocking digital divide that punishes Universal Credit claimants

As many as one in three people seeking help with Universal Credit (UC) in Scotland don’t have access to the internet to make their claim.

Research carries out by the country’s network of citizen’s advice bureaux (CABs) point to a shocking digital divide impacting the most vulnerable.

The introduction of UC has caused myriad problems for claimants, plunging many into misery – not least because it is an online only system.

One side of this has just come up, from today’s Daily Record.

People without mobile phones facing delays on lifeline Universal Credit payments

Dedicated staff at Renfrewshire CAB say they are finding some of the most vulnerable people who do not have a phone are at risk of facing delays in their applications.

Having a mobile phone is something most of us take for granted.

But, for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, being without a mobile phone could mean lifeline cash that keeps a roof over their head and food in their fridge, simply slips out of their hands.

Staff at Renfrewshire Citizens Advice Bureau, in Paisley, have laid bare the issues faced by Universal Credit applicants who don’t have access to a mobile phone.

The most pressing concern is that claimants can’t find out how their application is progressing and what steps they need to take next.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) uses a call back system, which means that, without a mobile phone, some people who are in dire need can face their application being delayed as there are no means of contacting them.

Bureau manager Kay Taylor, who has worked at the Renfrewshire branch for eight years, insists the system makes the application process much more difficult for many.

She said: “Some of the clients who come here have complex issues and are dealing with chaotic lifestyles.

“And although, quite rightly, the DWP has this call-back in place, it can be problematic for people with complex issues as they may have no means for the DWP of getting in touch with them and it can stall their claims.

“If they don’t have a mobile phone, they can’t get the notifications about their applications telling them what next steps they need to take.

“They can come here to have the DWP call them back on a landline at a specific time, but sometimes that can be difficult or is not possible.”

Amber is still wafting away in the happy clouds of forgetfulness.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 30, 2019 at 10:36 am

Forever Amber, Rudd: She’s Back and No More Mrs Nice Lady!

with 99 comments

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Forever Amber: “If you had better sense you’d have learned by now that nothing thrives so well as wickedness”

Image

“It was a position of no mean prestige, and of considerable activity.”
― Kathleen Winsor, Forever Amber.

Not only that, but she’s spread her wings!

 

A Happy Amber today:

Tipped for Greater things!

Amber Plans to build on her past successes!

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 25, 2019 at 10:00 am

Amber Rudd Pleads for a Job as New Report Slams Universal Credit – Again.

with 37 comments

Job Hungry Amber Pulls the Other One, Bells and All!

The Currant Bun reported.

Boris was asked about who he wanted to win ITV’s Love Island.

He joked that the Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd should go home with £50k after audience members clamoured for ‘Amber’ to win.

When asked if he had been watching the show, he said: “I have been watching it very dimly.

“Seems to involve these people with very few clothes on.”

He then asked the audience who they think should win – with dozens of onlookers shouting ‘Amber’ in reply.

He replied: “Amber? Amber is in Love Island!”

But leadership rival Jeremy Hunt said: “I don’t know, I don’t watch it.”

For the moment Amber is Pleading, Gizza Job! I can do that!

Back to Universal Credit:

Universal Credit ‘lobster pot’ leaving claimants out of pocket without warning, MPs warn

Politics Home.

In a new report, the cross-party Work and Pensions Committee found confusion among DWP advisers over when claimants should move over to the new benefit, with some recipients facing a steep drop in income if they make the switchover.

Universal Credit aims to roll six existing working-age benefits into one payment, a move the Government says will simplify the welfare system and cut costs.

..

The DWP has pursued a policy of “managed migration” for those making the switch to the new system, with the policy aiming to ensure that claimants moving off of the older benefits get transitional payments so that they do not take an immediate financial hit.

But the MPs warned that there are no similar protections in place for those whose circumstances have changed and so are deemed to have undergone “natural migration” by the department.

And they said: “Understanding when existing benefit claimants will need to naturally migrate to UC is so complex, it baffles even experienced benefit advisers.”

The committee warned that claimants could end up out of pocket because of changes that do “not seem significant”, including moving house to a different local authority area or even suffering a bereavement.

“Losing a partner is classed as a change in circumstance — which means that claimants who have just lost their partner must immediately claim UC at a time of considerable grief and distress,” they said.

“We urge the Department instead to allow people who have lost their partner to remain on legacy benefits for a grace period of one year.”

The situation could also have “drastic consequences” for disabled claimants, the committee warned, with disabled adults and children among the groups “most likely to see their income fall when they move to UC via natural migration”.

They accused the DWP of failing to give “clear or comprehensive information” to its own staff on when exactly somebody might need to move to Universal Credit and how it would affect their income.

That meant claimants were left “at risk of moving to UC either inadvertently, not realising that they will lose out, or because they are given the wrong advice by DWP staff or other organisations”, they committee said.

From the Report Universal Credit: natural migration

27th Report from the Committee…. 

The Government has said repeatedly that once the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) is complete, it will be more generous than the system it replaces. But it is not more generous for everyone. While some people are entitled to more money under UC than they would have received in the previous benefits system, many will be entitled to less.

Some of the Department’s plans for moving people to UC recognise that some claimants will be worse off. For instance, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP/the Department) plans to take a cautious approach to what it calls “managed migration”—the process of moving claimants on existing benefits to UC. It plans to provide claimants who move to UC in this way with transitional protection—payments to ensure they do not lose income overnight—and other support to minimise any stress or adverse effects of the move. This is, of course, welcome.

But the majority of claimants on existing benefits will move, or have already moved, to UC through a process known as “natural migration”, which usually happens when their circumstances change. For these claimants, there is no transitional protection. People naturally migrate to UC when they have a change in their lives which would require a new claim for a legacy benefit. There are a vast number of changes which can lead to natural migration. By contrast, there are very few which can end transitional protection under managed migration. This is because the Department deliberately selected the few circumstances in which to end transitional protection, whereas the natural migration process, by its own admission, was based on its own administrative needs. The Department has moved staff away from legacy benefits to Universal Credit and other roles, and says that the only way it can administer a change of circumstances is through the claimant making a new claim to Universal Credit.

The Department argues that it is fair that claimants who experience a “significant” change in their circumstances should not receive transitional protection, on the grounds that it has always been the case that new claims for legacy benefits would be assessed on a claimant’s new circumstances. It is difficult to reconcile this explanation, however, with the fact that the design of UC—which, unlike the legacy system, now represents all, or the majority, of a claimant’s income—means that any change in a claimant’s circumstances exposes them to all aspects of UC, which may be less generous than the legacy system and which may not be related to their specific change. For example, a disabled claimant who moves home could lose their disability premiums, even though their disability remains the same. What is more, the disparity between the changes that can lead to natural migration and those that can end transitional protection mean that some claimants will lose out simply because of when their circumstances change. Therefore, when managed migration begins, households with the same circumstances will be receiving different amounts of Universal Credit—not because their needs are different, but because of the route by which they moved to Universal Credit. This cannot be fair.

For claimants, some of the changes that can trigger this move will not seem significant. For example, moving house within the same local authority area does not trigger migration to Universal Credit—but moving to a different local authority does. That means in practice that someone who moves to a different local authority area loses their entitlement to transitional protection. The DWP justifies this purely by reference to its own administrative processes, with no mention of a claimant’s needs. The Government should commit to providing ongoing payments to meet the shortfall in income for all claimants who move or have moved to UC simply because they moved home outside of their local authority.

https://twitter.com/AmberRuddHR/status/1153368833744363520?s=20

Make Universal Credit Great! The Last Days of Amber Rudd……(?)

with 95 comments

Image result for amber rudd universal credit cartoon

No More Right Honourable Nasty Type.

Do politicians do swan songs?

One could be forgiven for thinking that Rudd in unlikely to stay in her job..

Amber Rudd warns Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt their Brexit plans will ‘collide with reality’

The Work and Pensions Secretary, who is backing Jeremy Hunt over Boris Johnson in the race to be the next Conservative leader, said both men would have to make concessions to win over a “difficult” Parliament.

And she admitted to being “surprised” that the two contenders had taken a hardline stance on leaving the EU in a head-to-head debate earlier this week.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster. Politics Home.

Now Rudd is making all kinds of final performance sounding statements about reforming Universal Credit.

Amber Rudd has change of heart over Universal Credit five-week wait and says it could be cut.

Birmingham Live.

Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt revealed that Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has spoken to him to suggest reducing the time frame.

Jeremy Hunt said the Tory welfare chief “persuaded” him the five-week wait should be axed.

….on Tuesday, July 16, Ms Rudd confirmed her apparent change of heart when she told POLITICO’s London Playbook Live: “I’m talking to Jeremy Hunt to see what we can do and how we will address that. A shorter wait would be good.

“I would like to see if we can get more money into Universal Credit.

“I want to make sure that people who need benefits, particularly people who are coming onto UC from other benefits – so they are already dependent on a monthly pay – can have access to the money as soon as possible.

“We have done that up to a point, because they can now get advances straight away, usually on day one and repay it over a twelve-month period.

Rudd to the Rescue!

More happy ideas:

Said once, said twice!

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 18, 2019 at 11:14 am

Council Tax Benefit (Support/Reduction) Messed up by Universal Credit.

with 78 comments

Image result for eric pickles

Eric Pickles has a Laugh at Claimants.

Pre-dating the mess of Universal Credit was the decision by Blubber Guts Eric Pickles to make all benefit claimants pay a proportion of Council Tax.

In 2013 we had, this “the benefit is being replaced by a new system, council tax support, that will be run by English local authorities but with 10% less funding.

It began like this,

 

Council tax benefit cuts: the expense of getting people with no money to pay up

2013.

Unlike the “bedroom tax“, which only affects tenants of councils and housing associations, changes to council tax benefits from April will also affect owner-occupiers and private tenants. It is currently claimed by 5.9 million recipients and is the most widely claimed means-tested benefit. Local authorities have been asked by the government to replace council tax benefit with new local schemes that reduce the amount of council tax relief councils can pay out.

 

Some have opted to protect the 100% council tax benefit that poorer residents who live in property in a low council tax band currently receive. Instead they are reducing the amount of benefit for people living in higher council tax band properties. Other councils have chosen to spread the cuts equally, opting for a maximum 90% rebate for everyone. In this case, people on the minimum income possible to survive will from April have to use their meagre income to pay 10% of their total council tax.

This was the result,

Eric Pickles and David Cameron handed local authorities the power to administer council tax benefit, then cut the budget by 10%, resulting in the number of households in council tax arrears to increase by 45%.

It soon developed: – and it is rare to find anywhere which has a 100% reduction today as the name “Council Tax Reduction (sometimes called Council Tax Support)”  indicates.

Though there is this example (July 2019):

Some low income residents in South Ribble might not have to make a minimum contribution towards their council tax bills from next year.

South Ribble Borough Council is set to launch a public consultation on a proposal to scrap the so-called council tax support scheme, which means all working-age households pay a flat rate of £3.50 per week – even if their income level entitles them to help to cover the rest of the bill.

Now we have this, proving that if there’s one thing Universal Credit is good for, it’s making things worse.

DWP: Why Universal Credit is causing ‘one big headache’ over changes to council tax

Teesside Live.

Residents are being hit with different levels of bills due to complications caused by Universal Credit

Universal Credit is increasing the burden on struggling staff at a Teesside authority and leaving residents confused, due to its effect on council tax, a meeting heard.

Stockton Council has launched a six-month review into its council tax support scheme.

It does not take much to see that this must be happening across the country.

About 11,000 people receive council tax support in the borough and everyone of working age gets at least 20% of their bills.

But Julie Auffret, the council’s revenues and benefit services manager, has revealed how Universal Credit had hit both customers and council staff in how they dealt with council tax.

She told a meeting of the council’s place select committee that the introduction of Universal Credit was leasing to confusion and stress.

She said: “What it creates for us is complications which perhaps didn’t exist when we were dealing with housing benefit and council tax benefit ourselves.

“It meant we could calculate benefits at the same time – now that has been split, it has complicated it and makes it a slightly lengthier calculation than it used to be.”

Universal Credit rolled six benefits into one and was introduced in Stockton a year ago.

But the benefits manager explained month-on-month adjustments to Universal Credit had meant the council had to keep recalculating its own council tax support.

Ms Auffret said: “For us that’s becoming quite a significant administrative burden – and for customers it’s becoming difficult for them to understand why their council tax support is being recalculated repeatedly and why they’re getting lots of bills.

“We’d really like to explore a different way of doing things to make it simpler.”

Changes were made to the council tax system in 2013 when the Government abolished council tax benefit and told local authorities to form their own support schemes.

Stockton runs a “work incentive” programme designed to offer those on low incomes a boost from their wages.

But a review is being considered given the impacts of Universal Credit.

This was all so obvious…

Plus, the fact that we have had to pay this tax, without any corresponding increase in benefits, was another part of the great reduction in our basic living standard this lot of thieves introduced.

Johnson, and his mates, have no plans to change this unjust council tax regime.

Written by Andrew Coates

July 12, 2019 at 5:07 pm

DWP Cuts Staff as Universal Credit Mess Gets Worse and Worse.

with 80 comments

Image result for universal credit protests

UNITE Community Protests, but where is Labour?

This got our attention today:

 

DWP blasted for ‘reckless’ staff cuts at same time as launching Universal Credit

The number of staff working in the welfare department has plummeted by a fifth since the benefit began life in 2013

Written by Andrew Coates

July 8, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Boris Johnson Plans to Tackle Food Poverty.

with 47 comments

Image result for Boris johnson sin tax

Benefit Poverty to be Solved by Cheap Sugary Drinks.

Benefits have not risen – and have stayed at a declining pittance – for so long that barely a living soul can recall when you could buy a pints of Wallop, a twist of shag, and a mid-day plateful of liver and onions with your dole with enough over for a fish supper.

But while not talking about Universal Credit, or benefits, or unemployment, during his leadership contest Boris Johnson has our feeding and drinking interests at heart.

Tory leadership: Boris Johnson promises review of ‘unhealthy food taxes’

Boris Johnson has said he wants to examine whether levies on foods high in salt, fat and sugar are effective, and has vowed not to introduce any new ones until the review is complete.

The “sugar tax” on drinks came into force in April 2018, and a wider levy on all unhealthy foods is being considered to help tackle obesity.

Mr Johnson says he is concerned they unfairly target the less well-off.

Many a cynic will suggest that his plans include a special Brexit US chlorinated chicken, dunkin’ donuts, and cactus cooler diet as the base for DWP calculation on the food claimants’ need to eat (in the old days they produced a calculation on such things as part of ‘what you need to live on’).

Back in the world of tears we hear today.

Since Universal Credit came in the food bank has been packed: My Wigan Pier Story

Mirror.

As part of our Road to Wigan Pier project, eight decades after the publication of George Orwell’s essay, Coventry Food Bank project manager Hugh McNeill, explains how visitor numbers have soared since the introduction of Universal Credit.

And, also today:

And

 

Not to mention this:

 

Amber is active as well!

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 3, 2019 at 4:21 pm

DWP Sending Universal Credit into Meltdown.

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Image result for universal credit DWP campaign binned

DWP has Money for this….

Didn’t she do well?

Anybody with a sighting of any surviving Tory leadership figure talking about Universal Credit, from Johnson to Hunt, or one of their minions, please write in comments.

So far not a dicky bird….

Yet it continues to make it into the media.

This is a good article.

The DWP’s muddled maths is sending universal credit deeper into meltdown

The Independent.

By the estimable May Bulman Social Affairs Correspondent

It may come as a surprise, then, that nine years on, the government’s spending watchdog has revealed that fraud and error in the welfare bill are at their highest levels since 2006 – with much of the rise down to the introduction of universal credit.

To go into the numbers, the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed on Thursday that benefit claimants and pensioners lost out on £2bn that they were entitled last year to because officials short-changed them. Another £1.1bn was wrongly handed out to claimants because they failed to give the right details about their income – through the complex online portal system – on time.

What appears on the surface like a fairly bland report, filled with numbers and percentages, sheds light on the scale of devastation being inflicted on people across the country. Families are being denied the support they rely on to live on because of careless errors. People are finding their monthly allowance fluctuating from a liveable amount to near to nothing, with no prior notice, as the government tries to claw previous overpayments back.

And the real stories are out there. Last month, a seriously ill father-of-two told me he was living “hand to mouth” because the DWP was withdrawing more than £90 from his allowance each month – half of which was deducted for previous debts and historic overpayments.

A  key feature of the sweeping reform was that payments would taper off as the recipient moved into work, not suddenly stop, thus avoiding a “cliff edge” that was said to “trap” people in unemployment. If jumping from £312 one month to £5.32 the next isn’t a cliff edge, I don’t know what is.

Also at play here is the DWP’s often arbitrarily punitive sanctions regime, which penalises benefit claimants who miss job centre appointments – with often little consideration of the many variables in people’s lives. Charities have told of cases where parents have had hundreds docked after having to miss meetings with job coaches due to childcare issues.

If universal credit was designed to help people manage their own finances and make the benefits system simpler, why are we are seeing vulnerable individuals and families being swung from pillar to post, more at the mercy of the state than ever?

More on the finances:

Record fraud and errors in DWP payments

Dominic Brady Public Finances.

28th of June.

Fraud and errors related to payments made by the Department for Work and Pensions have reached record highs and are set to grow due to universal credit.

Meanwhile….

Written by Andrew Coates

June 28, 2019 at 3:34 pm

DWP Still in Denial about ‘Misleading’ Advertising Campaign.

with 100 comments

 

Boris the Bounder is back all over the news but this continues to rumble:

A few days ago this was in the paper many of us on the dole actually read, the ‘I’

Universal Credit: Controversial DWP newspaper adverts were ‘deliberately misleading’, advertising watchdog told

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) – an umbrella group of 80 organisations including Age UK, the MS Society and the Royal British Legion – has written to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the DWPcampaign, which it claims breached several advertising rules and could be “knowingly dangerous to the health and security of disabled people”.

Universal Credit adverts that were published in Metro from 22 May claimed to “bust myths” about the controversial benefit. But the DBC, which also counts Macmillan Cancer Support, Scope and foodbank charity The Trussell Trust as members, has branded them “a disgrace” and urged the ASA to take action.

The original statement from this estimable organisation is this:
DBC letter to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) is a national coalition of over 80 different charities and other organisations committed to working towards a fair benefits system.

As a coalition we are writing to issue an official complaint regarding the recent advertisement campaign from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) concerning universal credit, which ran for the first time in the Metro newspaper on Wednesday 22ns May 2019.

The DWP are advertising what they call ‘Universal Credit uncovered’, a series of adverts ‘busting myths’ on Universal Credit.  According to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), you ‘work to make sure all advertising wherever it appears is legal, decent, honest and truthful’, we consider that the aforementioned DWP adverts are deliberately misleading. We believe the adverts breach the Non Broadcast Codes – in particular those regarding misleading advertising

3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.

The adverts claim it’s a “myth” that “Universal Credit doesn’t work”, adding: “fact: it does.” These statements omit the thousands of claimants universal credit does not ‘work for’ but instead has driven them into debt, rent arrears, foodbanks, and homelessness.

A joint DWP and HMRC study, which examined how tax credit claimants coped with the move to universal credit, found 60% of those who said they struggled to pay bills said their difficulties began when they moved on to the new benefit[1]. About half of those surveyed did not have sufficient savings to tide them over until they received their first payment. A few claimants endured “considerable stress” after payment delays meant they had to wait up to three months to get their money1.

The Work and Pension Select Committee report ‘Universal Credit: support for disabled people’ found that one in eight universal credit claimants do not receive their benefit on time and in full[2]. One in ten receive nothing at all on time and disabled people fare even worse as only a third of new claimants whose award includes an additional amount for disability receive payment on time and in full.

The DBC recently surveyed around 500 disabled people about their experience of Universal Credit. The survey highlights some serious concerns and deeply worrying findings. The majority of respondents who moved from employment support allowance onto universal credit said they now get less or a lot less money than they did previously. People told us that the impact of having less money includes struggling to pay for food (70%), driving a significant number of people to food banks (35%) and a worsening of people’s health, in particular their mental health (85%) and most worryingly driving people to consider suicide.

The government claim that universal credit supports you if you are on a low income or out of work. Given disabled people are struggling to get by on universal credit, to claim it works is simple misleading.

3.2 Obvious exaggerations (“puffery”) and claims that the average consumer who sees the marketing communication is unlikely to take literally are allowed provided they do not materially mislead.

A second advert says “myth: Universal Credit makes it harder to pay your rent on time.” Followed by “fact”; your Jobcentre can give you an advance payment and pay rent directly to landlords”.

In reality, the DWP will never pay an advance payment to a landlord, only directly to the client.  The wording implies an advanced payment can be paid directly to the landlord. The use of two different colours to separate the claim is inaccessible to some disabled people and will leave people wrongly believing that an advance payment can be paid directly to a landlord.

This claim also clearly implies that anyone can have their rent paid directly to the landlord.  In reality, you have to apply to the job centre for this to happen, and you have to meet certain criteria.  So, for a person on the old legacy benefits, who would have had housing benefit paid directly to the landlord, it is true that it will be harder to pay their rent on time, because they now must take responsibility for doing it themselves, which takes more planning.

The claim clearly does not distinguish between advanced payments which cannot be paid to landlords and regular payments. It also makes no distinction of whom would be eligible for direct payment and implies this option is guaranteed for everyone. This is again misleading and incorrect.

3.3 Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.

One advert says it’s a “myth” that “you have to wait 5 weeks to get any money on Universal Credit”, followed by “fact: Jobcentres can “urgently pay you an advance.” It is not clear that an advance must be paid back, the advert omits that these advances are taken out of future payments and have to be paid back over several months. This means claimants receive less money in the following months, and less money than they will have actually budgeted for. It could be misconstrued to mean it is a payment in advance instead of a payment in arrears; it is essentially a loan.

This claim also misleads the reality disabled people face when taking out the loan before receiving their payment. Given that disabled people are a key audience for universal credit this advert is clearly targeting vulnerable groups without providing the necessary clarity. One disabled person who took out the loan said:

“The full monthly payment is nowhere near adequate anyway, and now I’ve taken an advance I get even less. I’ve never been in such a financial mess and I’ve now been forced to get help from a foodbank. It felt like a walk of shame.”

Latest statistics show 840,000 people have had reduced payments as a result of taking out this loan. Of this 840,000 claims with a deduction[3]:

  • 50% (420,000 claims) had deductions up to 20% of the Standard Allowance
  • 20% (170,000 claims) had deductions between 21% and 30% of the Standard Allowance
  • 28% (238,000 claims) had deductions between 31% and 40% of their Standard Allowance
  • 1% (13,000 claims) had deductions above 40% of their Standard Allowance

The fact that people who take out this loan can then look to have 40% reductions in future benefits should have been set out clearly in the advertisement. It is not clear in the language that this payment is a loan and that taking it out can leave disabled people in a worse financial position.

The advert itself is visually misleading and inaccessible. Given the target audience is those who are out of work, many of whom will be sick or disabled, the lack of clarity that it is a DWP advertisement is disingenuous. An internal memo, reported by the Mirror, claims the lack of clarity (no logo or DWP branding) regarding this being a DWP advertisement was deliberate[4].

These are some of the most vulnerable people in society. It is a disgrace that they are being treated with such disregard. At best these adverts are accidentally misleading at worst they are knowingly dangerous to the health and financial security of disabled people.

We believe there is clear evidence that these adverts are misleading and urge the ASA to take this complaint seriously and act as quickly as possible.

We look forward to your response,

The Disability Benefits Consortium

[1] Gov UK, Transition from tax credits to Universal Credit: qualitative and quantitative research with claimants. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transition-from-tax-credits-to-universal-credit-qualitative-and-quantitative-research-with-claimants

[2] Work and Pensions Committee, Universal Credit: support for disabled people. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/1770/1770.pdf

[3] Universal Credit:Written question – 257147 – https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2019-05-21/257147/

[4] Mirror, ‘Fury as DWP launches taxpayer-funded ‘spin’ campaign to defend Universal Credit‘. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/fury-dwp-launches-taxpayer-funded-16183343?utm_source=sharebar&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=sharebar

DWP disputes survey claiming Universal Credit adverts were ‘deliberately misleading’

Teeside Live.

A coalition of disability charities say that Government adverts paid for in local newspapers are ‘deliberately misleading’

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) highlighted a recent advertising campaign by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which was described as a “myth buster” on the flagship benefit.

The complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) coincides with new research from the DBC, which claims Universal Credit benefit was having a “devastating impact” on disabled people.

The complaint relates to a recent newspaper advertising campaign by the DWP, which the charities say featured adverts designed to look like news articles.

 

Meanwhile even this Blog can report exclusively on this:

Written by Andrew Coates

June 22, 2019 at 1:28 pm

Universal Credit Five-Week Wait Pushed Women into Sex Work, Government admits.

with 156 comments

Image result for universal credit sex work

Government Admits Truth of Story.

Contributors to this Blog have talked about the Work and Health programme .

The Work and Health Programme helps you find and keep a job if you’re out of work.

It’s voluntary – unless you’ve been out of work and claiming unemployment benefits for 24 months.

So says the DWP, but people have lots of criticisms…

It would be important to continue this in more detail, any information and opinions welcome.

In the meantime, the Universal Credit Sage continues.

First, the attention grabbing.

Back in April there was this from the Work and Pensions Committee.

Universal Credit and Survival Sex: sex in exchange for meeting survival needs inquiry

Then in May Committee hears first evidence on Universal Credit and “survival sex”

 This week there was this: DWP Minister questioned on Universal Credit and survival sex

The Committee stated.

Two key points immediately stand out:

“Dismissive” attitude of DWP

The first, which was strongly echoed in the public evidence that followed but was first articulated by Witness M in private, was the “dismissive” attitude of the Department for Work and Pensions toward the inquiry. As M put it, describing the DWP’s first written evidence submission (“memorandum”):

“M: I really felt that the memorandum was an attempt to kind of cover the DWP’s back and be like, “Oh well, you can’t prove that it is us or you can’t prove that it is Universal Credit that is the issue”, like it tried to blame sex workers for being here and it kind of like proved the point that it is poverty and it is this horrible system that is making us be in the sex industry…

It is the five-week waits. The other thing is [the single household payment of Universal Credit] in domestic violence relationships, apparently I have heard the man will get the money and then can control like that. I think that is one…”

The Committee had a similar impression of DWP’s first response and wrote back  “inviting” it to reconsider its stance : the Department’s s revised submission, received last Thursday, will be considered at the evidence hearing with the Minister tomorrow.

Too daunting to apply

A second clear point reinforced the impression of the first: despite the four women’s very different stories, most had found it too daunting or prohibitive to even attempt to apply for Universal Credit, even though some had experience of successfully claiming “legacy” benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance.

The story reached the media again yesterday

Woman Tells MPs Selling Sex Is ‘Easiest Way To Survive’ After Struggling With Universal Credit

Nicola Slawson Huffington Post.

A  woman has told MPs how selling her body for sex became the “easiest thing to do” to make ends meet, after Universal Credit left her with just £52 a month to live on.

The 21-year-old, who was not identified, told a parliamentary hearing how she would have to see “five or six” clients just to get the money for a day’s rent.

The hearing is part of an inquiry into the possible link between the controversial new benefit and claimants resorting to exchanging sex for money, food or shelter, known as “survival sex”.

The testimony was part of evidence by four women dubbed T, K, B and M to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee.

T told the committee she had previously worked 12-hour shifts as a care worker while struggling under the old benefit system resulting in her losing her housing benefit.

She applied for Universal Credit and had to visit foodbanks three times while waiting for her first payment – and ended up homeless as she tried to scrape together enough money for food and tampons.

This was the result:

 

Universal credit delays a factor in sex work, government accepts

Patrick Butler. Guardian.

The government has dropped its hardline refusal to accept that destitution caused by five-week waits for universal credit payments has been a major factor in forcing some women to turn to sex work.

Giving evidence to the work and pensions select committee, the minister for family support, Will Quince, apologised for a memo his department sent to the committee last month and said it “did not very well reflect my views on this issue”.

The memo dismissed evidence that universal credit was a cause of increased numbers of women turning to sex work as anecdotal. It said the phenomenon was influenced by a range of factors, from drug addiction and the rise of AirBnB to EU immigration

Quince told the committee he had changed his views after hearing accounts from four women who gave evidence of how impoverishment related to universal credit issues had led them to take up escort and brothel work.

“Those very brave testimonies of the young women who have gone through the most horrific of experiences gave me a better understanding through their lived experiences. What it showed me more than anything is we need to better understand this area,” he said.

A transcript of the private committee hearing in May included a testimony from M, a brothel worker. She said the fact that drug and alcohol drove people into survival sex work did not mean that universal credit had not caused “a really big influx”

This is another committee at work whose findings and recommendations, out today, something tells, me won’t get the same publicity:

Scottish parliamentary committee calls for universal credit overhaul

Kerry Lorimer

The introduction of universal credit, and in particular the five-week delay before receipt of the first payment, has led to an “unacceptable” rise in rent arrears north of the border.

In a new report, members of the Scottish Parliament’s social security committee called for an overhaul of the benefit, which would see a review of the initial delay as well as the direct payment of the housing element to landlords in order to reduce arrears.

The MSPs also called for abolition of the “frankly discriminatory” shared accommodation rate, which limited the amount of housing benefit or universal credit that can be claimed by tenants under the age of 35, who rent a room in a shared house from a private landlord.

According to evidence heard by the committee, the shared accommodation rate created “significant financial difficulty, debt and hardship” among younger people, with separated parents particularly badly affected.

The report also draws attention to the widening gap between local housing allowances and the cost of renting in the private sector, especially in Edinburgh and other urban areas.

Originally uprated in line with market rent, local housing allowances have been frozen since 2016, meaning that in many parts of Scotland they do not serve their intended purpose and should be reviewed, the MSPs said.

The committee was also “extremely concerned” by the high cost of temporary accommodation and “troubled” by the poor quality of the accommodation some tenants had been offered. Although temporary accommodation is intended to be a short-term measure, people find themselves trapped there due to the shortage of affordable alternatives, they heard.

Bob Doris, convener of the social security committee, said the rapid increase in rent arrears since the introduction of universal credit was “unacceptable”, and that steps must be taken to address this issue, which was increasing the budgetary strain on both local authorities and social landlords.

“We want to see the housing element of universal credit paid directly to landlords and the Department for Work and Pensions must review the minimum five-week wait for new…claimants, both of which contribute to rising arrears,” he said.

“Our inquiry highlighted a number of issues, including the frankly discriminatory shared accommodation rate which should be abolished immediately.

“It is also clear that local housing allowance rates are not fit for purpose and are failing to help claimants meet the rising cost of the private rented sector.”

A UK government spokeswoman said that while rent arrears could not be linked to any one cause, many people joined universal credit with pre-existing arrears, and research showed that number fell by a third after four months.

“In Scotland we already pay rent directly to landlords where requested and can pay universal credit more frequently to help with budgeting,” she said.

“Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers, including flexibilities within universal credit and the power to top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether.”

Written by Andrew Coates

June 13, 2019 at 3:13 pm

Protests Begin Again Against Universal Credit.

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Saturday Protest: Norfolk Against Universal Credit

No photo description available.

Protests have begun again against Universal Credit.

People are protesting outside a Leicester Jobcentre because of Universal Credit

Leicestershire  Live. 

A number of people braved the rain to make their point.

(Note to Editor, not the most inspiring lead….)

A group of campaigners staged their latest protest against the introduction of Universal Credit in Leicester this week.

Members of the Labour Party and the Unite trade union staged the event as part of their ongoing campaign against the benefit, which they say is causing financial hardship in households across the country.

Today’s event was also aimed at a member of staff at the Job Centre who told LeicestershireLive last month that he believed Universal Credit had ‘changed things for the better’ for those receiving it.

Steve Bruce, 38, a work coach team leader at Leicester’s Wellington Street Job Centre Plus, said: “There are always going to be people who have a negative experience, but we see the amount of good Universal Credit has done and that’s our encouragement to carry on, the proof that it works.

The protestors, who were joined by recently elected city councillors  Jacky Nangreave and Gary O’Donnell, said they were not calling for action to be taken against the member of staff but wanted to highlight their disagreement with the points he made in the article.

This is a good story too:

Yet the DWP keeps churning it out:

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 9, 2019 at 11:21 am

Trussell Trust Takes on DWP Universal Credit Propaganda and Calls for Grants to Replace ‘Loans’.

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Trussell Trust.

 

This Wednesday, MPs will debate Universal Credit and debt – we want to make sure as many MPs as possible turn up and speak out.

Everyone who applies for Universal Credit has to wait at least five weeks for a full payment – some are left waiting longer. This is leaving many people without enough money to cover the basics, forcing them to food banks.

While you wait, you can apply for an ‘advance payment’ – a loan from the Government to see you through that five week period. But once your Universal Credit payments start, you pay that loan back automatically through deductions from your monthly payments.

This puts people between a rock and a hard place: hardship now or hardship later?

Ending the five week wait should be the Government’s first priority to help create a future without food banks.

Background:

Universal Credit advance payments should be ‘scrapped and replaced by grants’

Mirror.

New figures show these so-called ‘bridging loans’ – which come with fixed repayment plans – are only causing more debt. It’s time to scrap them

Government loans designed to tide people over until their first Universal Credit payments reach them are causing more harm than good, a new report has suggested.

Charities StepChange and the Trussell Trust said advance payments to help ‘people get by’ are only fuelling more hardship because of the repayment thresholds.

A new report detailing the front-line impact of the five-week wait said advance payments are not a solution for many households already at risk.

In many cases it said these payments should simply be written off as grants instead.

The Trussell Trust – which manages a network of 420 foodbanks across the UK – said the biggest reason for referrals last year was benefit payments failing to cover the cost of living.

It said going five weeks or more with no income can lead to debt and rent arrears, with those faced with “additional inescapable costs”, such as disabled people and families with children, the most likely to fall into the poverty bracket.

“Repayments don’t take into account people’s ability to afford them,” the report said.

“It’s vital that this is done in an affordable way.”

In the private sector, all loans must come with an affordability – and repayment – assessment.

However, Universal Credit advance payments are different. Deduction levels are fixed by the DWP and these can be hard to challenge, even if you fall into financial hardship while repaying.

“In some cases, you can have your repayment levels renegotiated, but this is rare,” the report added. “By that point, you’re likely already to be in financial difficulty, and may be in arrears on other bills.”

The DWP can deduct up to 40% of your Universal Credit allowance to repay debts. This will fall to 30% in October this year.

And the impact is worrying. StepChange said after three months, 44% of Universal Credit claimants are still struggling to pay their bills.

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile as our Newshawks have already noticed:

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 5, 2019 at 12:08 pm

Universal Credit: Cuts, Debts, and “Secret Penalties.”

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Image result for universal credit press show

Ipswich Unemployed Review of the Papers’ UC News.

You’d have thought that the visit of his Most High, Mighty, and Illustrious Donald John Trump would have driven Universal Credit off the newspaper pages.

Apparently not.

This is our ‘Review of the Papers’, better than the Sky News Press Preview, and even more without Sky’s stalwart, Claire Fox, since the leading cadre of the Revolutionary Communist Party, then Spiked, is now a Brexit Party MEP with Trump’s best mate, Nigel Farage.

This caught our panelists’ eyes:

Secrets of Universal Credit system revealed in ‘debt guide’

Bristol Live.

There’s a secret DWP priority list.

Sanctions imposed as a punishment for breaking conditions of a claim are clawed back first, then advances that have been paid to tide over claimants in the five-week wait for the first payment.

Here is the list in full:

1. Fraud Sanctions

2. Conditionality Sanctions

3. UC Advance of benefit (New claim or Change of Circumstances)

4. UC Advance of benefit (Benefit Transfer)

5. Budgeting Advance

6. Owner-occupier service charges arrears

7. Rent, including service charges, arrears (minimum deduction rate 10%)

8. Fuel arrears (Gas and/or Electricity)

9. Council Tax or Community Charge arrears

10. Fines or Compensation Orders (minimum deduction rate 5%)

11. Water charges arrears

12. Old Scheme Child Maintenance

13. Flat Rate Maintenance

14. Social Fund loans

15. Recoverable Hardship Payments

16. Housing Benefit and DWP Administrative Penalties

17. Housing Benefit, Tax Credit and DWP Fraud overpayments

18. Housing Benefit and DWP Civil Penalties

19. Housing Benefit, Tax Credit and DWP normal overpayments

20. Integration loan arrears

21. Eligible loan arrears

22. Rent, including service charges arrears (maximum deduction rate of up to a maximum 20 per cent, inclusive of the minimum 10% applied above)

23. Fines or Compensation Orders (maximum deduction rate of up to £108.35, inclusive of the 5 per cent applied above)

How many claimants are hit?

More than half of Universal Credit claimants have had their payments cut, figures have shown.

It was revealed earlier that 532,000  Universal Credit  claimants had some of their payments deducted in October 2018.

A total of 6,000 claimants had reductions of 40 per cent of their allowance or more, while 129,000 claimants had deductions of between 31 and 40 per cent.

Our panelists though this one was also a bleeding liberty:

 

And this.

And this, which only goes to show what diamond geezers the DWP are really, looking out for us and all.

 

The Currant Bun has not arrived to our Press Show, busy spaffing about Trump and Boris Johnson we hear,  but this other far-right daily raised a chuckle.

Written by Andrew Coates

June 1, 2019 at 3:32 pm

Universal Credit Staff in Two Day Strike.

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Image result for universal credit strike PCS

PCS Strike in Universal Credit Service Centres.

At a meeting held by the Trades Council some months ago we heard a speaker from the PCS tell us about the many faults of Unviersal cerdit.

He also underlined that many people employed by the DWP were unhappy at their working conditions and pay.

The number of phone calls they had to take was a particular gripe.

There had been walk outs.

Now there is an official strike.

Today:

Universal credit staff to launch two-day strike over workload and low recruitment

The Independent reports:

Union boss says members cannot stand by while ministers make their job ‘impossible’

Staff at two sites dealing with the universal credit benefits system will launch a two-day strike on Tuesday in a dispute over workloads and staff recruitment.

It will be the second stoppage by members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union at Wolverhampton and Walsall.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our members who work to support some of the most vulnerable members of society will not put up with DWP management ignoring their real concerns over staffing and underinvestment

“This strike will be part of sustained campaign of action which could spread to other parts of universal credit, if the government doesn’t meet union negotiators to discuss workers’ concerns.

“Our members care passionately about the work they do and the people they support.”

He added: “However, they cannot stand idly by while ministers make the job of supporting claimants impossible.”

PCS members are demanding the recruitment of 5,000 more staff, permanent contracts for fixed-term employees and a limit to the number of phone calls required per case manager.

Here is the Union statement:

PCS members in the UC Service Centres in Walsall and Wolverhampton will take two more days strike action on Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 May, in their campaign for more staff and improved working conditions

Despite two well supported days of action in March, which had a knock-on effect across the whole UC network, the DWP has refused to meet the demands of members.

A recent announcement that Wolverhampton will become a national telephony site has further inflamed the situation. DWP management have also refused PCS’s request to make staff on fixed term appointments permanent, review the decision on Wolverhampton and properly engage with PCS about improving the staffing situation in Universal Credit.

The 5 key demands from PCS members working in UC are:

  • 5,000 new staff, permanency for fixed term staff
  • Limit the number of phone calls per case manager
  • Limit the size of the national telephony hub
  • Improve consultation
  • A quality-focused approach – no more management by statistics.

Action may spread

PCS has held members’ meetings in other UC Service Centres, and members in affected jobcentres are also being consulted.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our members who work to support some of the most vulnerable members of society will not put up with DWP management ignoring their real concerns over staffing and under investment.

“This strike will be part of sustained campaign of action which could spread to other parts of Universal Credit, if the government doesn’t meet union negotiators to discuss workers’ concerns.

“Our members care passionately about the work they do and the people they support. However, they cannot stand idly by while ministers make the job of supporting claimants impossible.”

PCS full-time official Ian Bartholomew said: “Unless DWP takes action to increase staffing in UC, and reduce the pressure that our members are working under, it is likely that we will see more sites calling for strike action.”

Please send messages of support to leeds@pcs.org.uk

Written by Andrew Coates

May 28, 2019 at 12:01 pm

UN Report on Poverty in Britain: Welfare to Workhouses.

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Image result for alston report poverty Jaywick

Special UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty Philip Alston in Jaywick, Essex.

A couple of days ago I heard a group of lads talking about Universal Credit.

They’d all got caught up in its clutches and they had many a merry tale to tell.

It does not take imagination to see that poverty, they mentioned the waits for money, the on-line gibberish, and Coachy.

The DWP, our Newshawks say, always responds with stout denial to any criticism.

This must have stung sharper than a serpent’s tooth..

The report begins,

The social safety net has been badly damaged by drastic cuts to local authorities’ budgets, which have eliminated many social services, reduced policing services, closed libraries in record numbers, shrunk community and youth centres and sold off public spaces and buildings. The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos. A booming economy, high employment and a budget surplus have not reversed austerity, a policy pursued more as an ideological than an economic agenda.

The Guardian covered the story as following:

UN report compares Tory welfare policies to creation of workhouses

A leading United Nations poverty expert has compared Conservative welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses and warned that unless austerity is ended, the UK’s poorest people face lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

Ministers in denial about impact of austerity since 2010, says poverty expert

The far-right Mail publishes the bleats and denials of the DWP and Amber Rudd.

Amber Rudd is to lodge a formal complaint over UN’s ‘barely believable’ poverty report accusing Britain of violating human rights obligations by creating ‘Dickensian’ conditions for the poor

  • UN report claims Britain is returning to ‘Dickensian’ conditions, where citizens lives are, quoting Hobbes, ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’
  • But government points out that UN research published just two months ago ranked Britain as the 15th happiest country to live in
  • DWP says Rapporteur paints ‘completely inaccurate picture’ after his whistle-stop two-week human rights fact-finding visit last November

Poverty in the UK is ‘systematic’ and ‘tragic’, says UN special rapporteur

The UK’s social safety net has been “deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos”, a report commissioned by the UN has said.

Special rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston said “ideological” cuts to public services since 2010 have led to “tragic consequences”.

The report comes after Prof Alston visited UK towns and cities and made preliminary findings last November.

The government said his final report was “barely believable”.

The £95bn spent on welfare and the maintenance of the state pension showed the government took tackling poverty “extremely seriously”, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said.

Prof Alston is an independent expert in human rights law and was appointed to the unpaid role by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014. He spent nearly two weeks travelling in Britain and Northern Ireland and received more than 300 written submissions for his report.

He went on to observe

Some observers might conclude that the DWP had been tasked with “designing a digital and sanitised version of the 19th Century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens”, he said.

The report cites independent experts saying that 14 million people in the UK – a fifth of the population – live in poverty, according to a new measure that takes into account costs such as housing and childcare.

In 2017, 1.5 million people experienced destitution, meaning they had less than £10 a day after housing costs, or they had to go without at least two essentials such as shelter, food, heat, light, clothing or toiletries during a one-month period.

Despite official denials, Prof Alston said he had heard accounts of people choosing between heating their homes or eating, children turning up to school with empty stomachs, increased homelessness and food bank use, and “story after story” of people who had considered or attempted suicide.

Now I’ve got a bit of respect for Human Rights. One of the greatest British radicals, Tom Paine, wrote the Rights of Man (1791), which was a founding book for our labour movement and left. My dad said they were still reading it in Glasgow in the 1930s.

Comrade Paine wrote this,

In the closing chapters of Rights of Man, Paine addresses the condition of the poor and outlines a detailed social welfare proposal predicated upon the redirection of government expenditure. From the onset, Paine asserts all citizens have an inherent claim to welfare. Paine declares welfare is not charity, but an irrevocable right.

One of the great founders of modern socialism, the Frenchman Jean Jaurès, (1859 – 1914)., did not just stand up for welfare, he defended social and human rights. Jaurès campaigned for the innocence of Dreyfus against the anti-Semites of his day. He mixed together workers’ and welfare right with socialism. He was murdered in 1914 by one of national populists of the Farrage ilk for opposing the start of the First World War.

When I read people disrespecting Professor Alston I think they are insulting our glorious forebears.

Apart from that, the present social security system, Universal Credit and all, stinks to high heaven.

This is the Report’s conclusion:

The philosophy underpinning the British welfare system has changed radically since 2010. The initial rationales for reform were to reduce overall expenditures and to promote employment as the principal “cure” for poverty.

But when large-scale poverty persisted despite a booming economy and very high levels of employment, the Government chose not to adjust course. Instead, it doubled down on a parallel agenda to reduce benefits by every means available, including constant reductions in benefit levels, ever-more-demanding conditions, harsher penalties, depersonalization, stigmatization, and virtually eliminating the option of using the legal system to vindicate rights.

The basic message, delivered in the language of managerial efficiency and automation, is that almost any alternative will be more tolerable than seeking to obtain government benefits.

This is a very far cry from any notion of a social contract, Beveridge model or otherwise, let alone of social human rights. As Thomas Hobbes observed long ago, such an approach condemns the least well off to lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. As the British social contract slowly evaporates, Hobbes’ prediction risks becoming the new reality.