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“Thousands of people will face a miserable Christmas” – UNITE Survey of Universal Credit Claimants.

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The Mirror reports,

Thousands of are facing a “very bleak Christmas” after a new survey found three quarters of people on botched benefits system Universal Credit said they had been left saddled with debt.

Three in five claimants said they had been pushed into struggling with housing costs because of the new welfare system.The survey of over 1,000 Universal Credit claimants was carried out by Unite the Union.

Other respondents raised the fear of eviction, and many reported problems with monthly budgeting on a low income.

The Department for Work and Pensions blasted the study as “completely unscientific” and said some of those questioned might not even be on UC.

Yet the DWP’s own research shows three quarters of those who moved onto UC struggle with bills constantly or “from time to time.”

Here is the UNITE Press Release:

Universal Credit pushing people into debt and housing problems reveals survey

More than three quarters of respondents in a survey of over 1,000 Universal Credit (UC) claimants said they had been put into debt, or pushed further into debt by UC with some forced to use foodbanks to survive as well as borrowing from friends and family. Shockingly 60 per cent of respondents said that they had been pushed into housing cost problems.

Thousands of people will face a miserable Christmas as a result of having to claim UC according to the new survey by Unite the Union published to coincide with a national day of action against UC on 1 December 2018 (see notes to editors).

During six weeks of October and November 1,141 people responded to the survey. The findings make grim reading and identify a number of issues facing a significant number of people claiming the benefit.

Rent arrears were raised by a number of people and the fear of eviction was evident in the responses. Many claimants reported the problems of monthly budgeting on a low income. Disabled people and those who are sick reported a huge drop in income as a result of moving on to UC.

The vast majority (82 per cent) have a negative view of the new benefit and a significant number had problems either claiming the benefit on-line or maintaining their claim through an on-line journal.

Unite is using the evidence collected from the survey to lobby politicians and is calling for a stop to the controversial new UC system.

Unite has called for Universal Credit to be scrapped before more damage is done.

Unite head of Community, Liane Groves said: “Universal Credit is causing misery and suffering as the survey results clearly show. Despite knowing this, the government is still intent on ploughing ahead regardless, while claimants are descending into debt, relying on food banks and getting into rent arrears and in some cases being evicted from their homes.

“Evidence from voluntary and community organisations as well as unions and local authorities seems to be ignored as the government presses on with the implementation of Universal Credit.

“Access to the benefit has been devised for the benefit of administrators not the recipients of Universal Credit. The damage done by forcing people into debt, far from helping people into work, as the government claims, is driving people away from the job market as spiralling debt impacts on people’s mental and physical wellbeing.

“As we head into winter, many claimants cannot afford warm clothing for themselves or their children and don’t have enough money to heat their homes. It will be a very bleak Christmas for thousands of families who are being abandoned by this government.”

“The survey was conducted outside job centres by volunteers and was also completed on-line. Unite will be submitting the raw data from the survey to independent academic researchers with a view to further analysis of the responses.”

 

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Written by Andrew Coates

November 30, 2018 at 11:29 am

1st of December Protests Against Universal Credit.

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Join the national day of action against universal credit

Join the Day of Action!

A few days ago Amber Rudd said this,

Rudd said she was going to specifically examine the impact of Universal Credit on women and single mums, amid concerns the scheme was making hundreds of thousands of single parents worse off – admitting that despite being a “force for good”, it currently has “real problems”.

Amber Rudd recognises ‘real problems’ with Universal Credit

What with ‘other issues’ dominating the news people may forget the constant stream of stories about these “real problems@>

Birmingham Live, today:

Dad-of-three living without heating after Universal Credit stopped in letter blunder

Ian Reynolds, 51, had Universal Credit payments cut after official letters sent to wrong address.

An unemployed dad has been forced to turn to foodbanks after his Universal Credit was stopped because he failed to respond to letters sent to the wrong address – five doors away.

Ian Reynolds, 51, now cannot afford to heat his home in Stafford after his payments were sanctioned without warning because he did not respond to the messages concerning Jobcentre appointments.

The Department for Work and Pension (DWP) made the benefit cut decision in September.

Since then Ian has been living on monthly ‘hardship payments’ of £187 and receiving support from the House of Bread charity.

The BBC today:

Concerns raised as Universal Credit rolls out in Edinburgh

The controversial Universal Credit benefit system is being rolled out across Edinburgh.

Foodbanks say they are preparing for increased demand, as those being moved to the new system can expect a five weeks wait for their first payment.

An estimated 10,500 local council tenants are expected to be moved to Universal Credit by 2023.

The Scottish Conservatives say the new system is widely supported and funds are in place to aid the roll-out.

But the Trussel Trust say they expect this December to be the busiest since foodbank records began.

Bethany Biggar, operations manager at the Edinburgh Food Project, told the BBC Scotland news website that her foodbank, like many support agencies are preparing to deal with an increase in usage.

She said: “Christmas is already a very difficult time of year for most families who are living in poverty, so it’s a double barrelled difficulty.

“In areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out already, the Trussel Trust has seen an overall increase in demand.

This is a good response (Common Space):

The roll-out of the ‘full service’ of the controversial welfare system – which has been condemned by critics as inefficient, punitive and likely to drive those reliant upon it further into debt and poverty – was greeted at Edinburgh’s Leith Jobcentre by anti-UC protestors, including representatives of the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP), Sisters Uncut and Oficina Precaria.

“We declare we will take direct action against any employer involved in Universal Credit workfare. We declare we will take direct action to defend people sanctioned under Universal Credit. We declare we will take direct action in solidarity with all under attack.” ECAP Declaration of Resistance to Universal Credit

Following today’s protest, which took place despite Storm Diana hitting Edinburgh with severe wind and rain, a spokesperson for ECAP told CommonSpace: “We are encouraged that people came out today in the rain to oppose Universal Credit.

“Universal Credit increases poverty, homelessness and misery. It massively increases the scope and length of sanctions. It attacks the disabled, young people, women, workers, migrants.  Research shows the majority of claimants will be worse off.

“The fact that new claimants have to wait many weeks for their first payment causes huge hardship and plunges many into rent arrears, from which many never recover, losing their homes. It’s all part of the Government’s austerity attack, designed to undermine everyone’s wages and conditions and force people to accept low-paid, insecure jobs.”

“Demonstrators today proclaimed a Declaration of Resistance to Universal Credit, multiple copies of which were fixed to the Leith Jobcentre wall. This read: ‘We declare we will take direct action against any employer involved in Universal Credit workfare. We declare we will take direct action to defend people sanctioned under Universal Credit. We declare we will take direct action in solidarity with all under attack.’

As is this:

Join the #StopUniversalCredit day of action

This Christmas will be cancelled for thousands of families claiming the new benefit Universal Credit. Despite knowing Universal Credit causes serious problems for claimants, Theresa May’s Tory government is pressing ahead and rolling it out to thousands of people who will have to wait weeks to receive any money. Claimants are descending into debt, relying on food banks, getting into rent arrears and in many cases getting evicted from their homes because of in- built problems with Universal Credit.

Take action NOW against Universal Credit

On Saturday 1 December 2018 Unite Community will be staging a national day of action to #StopUniversalCredit to send a message to the Tory government that it can’t be fixed. Join Unite in your area and back the call to #StopUniversalCredit. Check out the events where you are:

Events across the country.

London & Eastern.
  • Norwich City Centre stall/protest outside Tesco (NR2 1JH) from 11:00-13:00 close to the Job Centre
  • Ipswich – Alternate Carol Service on between 13:00-15:00 at The La Tour Cafe at 7, Waterfront, Ipswich (IP4 1FT)
  • Colchester- Carol Singing at 16:00 outside the Town Hall to raise Universal Credit awareness, songbooks provided
  • Woolwich Stall in Woolwich Town Centr DLR Station in Powis St/Woolwich Market (SE18 6AY) from 11:00
  • Brixton tube station from 11:00-13:00
  • Ladbroke Grove – Underground Station, London (W10 6HJ) Carol singing – 14:00
  • Chingford Chingford Mount, London (E4 8LG). 11:00 at Protesting in constituency of Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of Universal Credit misery.
  • Camden Town – outside the tube station at 11:00
  • Wisbech outside the local Job Centre Plus, Wisbech, (PE13 1AN) Friday 7 December 2018
  • Tottenham Job Centre, Carol Singing, Friday 7 December 2018

More information and details of events across the country here:

Join the #StopUniversalCredit day of action

Written by Andrew Coates

November 29, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Esther McVey: Whip Round for Leaving Present.

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Memorial Plaque.

 

Esther McVey: Who is the former work and pensions secretary and why has she resigned over Brexit?

Esther McVey has resigned from Theresa May‘s government, saying the prime minister’s Brexit deal “does not honour the result of the referendum”.

The ex-work and pensions secretary called the draft withdrawal agreement a threat to the integrity of the UK and said she believed it would “bind the hands” of the current and future governments in trade negotiations.

“We wouldn’t be taking back control, we would be handing over control to the EU and even to a third country for arbitration,” she added in the second cabinet resignation letter to land on Ms May’s desk on Thursday morning, after Dominic Raab’s.

Her website describes her as a businesswoman and broadcaster; she is a former presenter of GMTV. “She has written several careers books for girls and boys which have been turned into plays by the National Youth Theatre and have been performed around the country as well as in London’s West End,” her biography adds.

In Ipswich we are already having a whip-round for her leaving present

Suggestions welcome.

Leaving Card from Silly Prints

Written by Andrew Coates

November 15, 2018 at 12:05 pm

Universal Credit: Costs More Than Previous System and makes 60,000 Families Worse off.

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Resolution Foundation research suggests 600,000 families could be worse off

Universal credit, the government’s flagship welfare policy, will be more expensive than the system it replaces, according to a new report.

The rollout of the reformed system, which brings six benefits into one, has been hampered by delays amid widespread concern that the changes could force people into poverty, while there have also been reports that universal credit, which has undergone phased introductions across the UK, has increased reliance on food banks.

In the autumn budget the chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced that an extra £1.7bn would be injected into universal credit, which combined with the projected £3.2bn higher benefit take-up would make it more expensive than the legacy system it replaces, the study states.

The Resolution Foundation says.

This briefing note focuses on the implications of recent changes to Universal Credit (UC) – in particular the £1,000 increase in work allowances announced in Budget 2018 – for the number of winners and losers from the switch to this new benefit system, for UC’s generosity and for its impact on work incentives.

David Finch, Laura Gardiner.

Key findings

  • The Budget 2018 work allowance increase means that the number of working families that gain from the switch to UC increases by 200,000 – from 2.2 million families previously to 2.4 million families now. Among working families with children, the number (1.5 million) expected to be better off under UC now matches the number (1.5 million) expected to be worse off.
  • Relative to the pre-Summer Budget 2015 UC system, the work allowance and taper changes of recent years have restored or improved incentives to enter work at low earnings for renting single parents and the first earner in renting couples with children; and reduced incentives to enter work at low earnings for home-owning parents who are either single or first earners in couples, and non-parents without disabilities.
  • Single parents and second earners in couples with children – both very likely to be women – are most responsive to work incentives. As such, it is a concern that UC continues to incentivise single parents (particularly renters) to reduce working hours below the 16 hours backstop present in the tax credits system. It also still fails to sufficiently incentivise work for second-earner parents.
  • One of UC’s major advantages is that it gets rid of the very highest rates at which benefits are withdrawn in the existing system, which can leave people with less than 10p for each additional £1 earned. However, the fact that taxpayers on UC keep just 25p of each additional £1 earned (even less when paying for childcare costs) means that challenges remain.

Recommendations

  • We suggest boosting single parent work allowances, at a minimum, to the equivalent of 15 hours a week on the wage floor, and introducing a second earner work allowance for those in couples with children.
  • Financial incentives to progress in work should be boosted by gradually lowering the taper rate. In addition, planned progression pilots should test a far more ambitious system of practical support to help low-paid workers progress and secure better-quality roles.

Another day, yet another story:

Universal credit: Rent arrears double for benefit claimants

BBC.

Council tenants on universal credit have on average more than double the rent arrears of those still on housing benefit, a BBC investigation has found.

In Flintshire, north Wales, one of the first counties to test the new payment, the council says rent arrears have gone up by £1m.

One claimant there said a mistake left him with just £29 a month to live on.

But the UK government said it had listened to concerns and universal credit was working well.

The BBC contacted every local authority in the UK that has council homes about their arrears. The results from the 129 councils that responded showed the average amount owed by tenants claiming universal credit across the UK is £662.56. For those still on housing benefit it is £262.50

Flintshire council said this week that tenants on universal credit in the county owe on average four times as much rent as those on the old benefits. At times it has been even higher; in September it was six times as much.

In the 18 months since universal credit was introduced in Flintshire, the council’s rent arrears have increased by £1m, something officials say is largely due to the new benefit.

Ipswich:

Ipswich & District Trades Union Council

No automatic alt text available.

Open meeting on the Universal Credit Crisis with key speaker Mark Page, a regional officer in the PCS with a background in the DWP.

Hosted by Ipswich & District Trades Union Council, all welcome.

Mark Page, Regional Officer PCS  will speak on the UNIVERSAL CREDIT CRISIS.

Every day another horror story about Universal Credit hits the news headlines, how and when will it end?Following debate at Congress, the TUC’s policy is for Universal Credit to be stopped and scrapped. What should replace it?

7.30pm Wed Nov 21st 2018 Unite Office, 13, Arcade St, Ipswich

This meeting is part of the build up to Unite Community’s National Day of Action on Universal Credit on Sat Dec 1st 2018.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2018 at 11:18 am

A Budget for the Top 10% Wealthy, as 3/4 of Welfare Cuts Remain.

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Image result for arthur daley

One Man’s Advice has been Heeded.

Tory Budgets are odd things.

There’s a standard pattern

A Chancellor of the Exchequer stands up and grins like a Cheshire cat, meaning that you can be sure that only fellow tubby cats are going to be happy with the announcements.

In this case the likes of Sir Philip Green(CBI  and British Chamber of Commerce) and the Sir Arthur Daley (President, Federation of Small Businesses) are lapping it up.

Phil Fleming, spokesperson for the Federation of Small Businesses, described it as “a brilliant Budget”.

He said: “It was the most enjoyable Budget speech I have ever listened to in my life.

“He shut up the Opposition, considering what he had to juggle with. It is a brilliant Budget.”

Schools, we are told, are going to get cash for ‘little extras’.

Much needed it is said, for the post-Brexit teaching programme on the reintroduction of farthings, groats, and measurements such as Els, Furlongs, and terms for the reform of local government, Wapentakes and Hides.

Meanwhile…..

On Universal Credit in  the ‘I’ reporter Serina Sandhu reports,

The rollout of Universal Credit is being delayed once more, with a new target date of December 2023 for all claimants to be transferred to the Government’s flagship new benefit. The announcement came as Chancellor Philip Hammond provided an additional £6.6 billion over the next six years to smooth the introduction of UC, which replaces a range of welfare payments. Mr Hammond revealed the Treasury would be giving £1bn over five years to the Department for Work and Pensions to help ease the transition to the controversial benefits system. He also said he was increasing the work allowance – the amount claimants can earn before Universal Credit begins to be withdrawn – by £1,000 a year, at a cost of £1.7bn annually.

Mr Hammond defended the much-blighted system, which has led to some claimants being hundreds of pounds a month worse off than on legacy benefits. Others have fallen into rent arrears caused by delays to their first payment. “The switch to Universal Credit is a long overdue and necessary reform,” he said. “It replaces the broken system left by the last Labour government, a system… that trapped millions on out of work benefits. Universal Credit is here to stay.” Welfare damage Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “The announcement doesn’t begin to repair damage caused by yearly welfare payment freezes, welfare reform act [and] austerity. This is no budget for strivers, grafters [and] carers.” Labour said: “[It] is inadequate. The document confirms that the work allowance change only reverses around half of the previous Tory cuts from 2015.”

The Resolution Foundation says,

Squeeze continues for low and middle income families despite Chancellor’s £55bn giveaway Budget

Almost half of Budget 2018 income tax cuts are set to go to the top ten per cent of households

The Chancellor set out a significant easing of austerity in a £55bn giveaway Budget yesterday that set out major increases in public service spending, tax cuts and a reversal of cuts to the generosity of Universal Credit. But the squeeze is set to continue for low and middle income families, the Resolution Foundation said today (Tuesday) in its overnight analysis of the Budget, How To Spend It.

Faced with a total fiscal windfall of £73.8bn from the Office for Budget Responsibility over the forecast period, the Chancellor chose to use 75 per cent of it in a £55bn giveaway Budget. But while yesterday’s Budget represents a significant shift in overall direction of public spending, it does not spell the end of the squeeze – either for unprotected public services, or over ten million working age families in receipt of benefits.

Key findings from How To Spend It include:

The squeeze continues for low and middle income families

  • The analysis shows that over three quarters of the £12bn of welfare cuts announced after the 2015 election remain government policy, despite the welcome £1.7bn boost to Work Allowances in Universal Credit.
  • Half of the welfare cuts that hit family budgets are yet to be rolled out – including a £1.5bn benefit freeze next April that will see a couple with children in the bottom half of the income distribution losing £200.

Better news for the ‘more than just managing’

  • 84 per cent of the income tax cuts announced yesterday will go to the top half of the income distribution next year, rising to 89 per cent by the end of the parliament (2022-23) when almost half (45 per cent) will go to the top ten per cent of households alone.
  • The richest tenth of households are set to gain 14 times as much in cash terms next year from the income tax and benefits giveaways in the Budget as the poorest tenth of households (£410 vs £30).
  • The overall package of tax and benefit changes announced since 2015 will deliver an average gain of £390 for the richest fifth of households in 2023-24, compared to an average loss of £400 for the poorest fifth of households.

Cuts to public services are eased, but not ended

  • Overall day-to-day departmental spending per capita is now set to rise by 4 per cent between this year and 2022-23, rather than fall by 4 per cent as previously planned.
  • However, the promises of extra spending on the NHS, defence and international aid mean that unprotected departments will continue to see cuts in every year from 2020-21. Their per capita real-terms budgets are set to be 3 per cent lower in 2023-24 than 2019-20.
  • If allocated equally this would mean day-to-day spending cuts of 48, 52 and 77 per cent between 2009-10 and 2023-24 for the departments of Justice, Business and Transport respectively.

The economic backdrop to Budget 2018

  • Despite the slight upgrade in the OBR growth forecasts, GDP per capita is set to grow by 4.9 per cent between 2018 and 2023, compared with an IMF forecast of 5.5 per cent across the rest of the G7.
  • Real average earnings are not set to return to their pre-crisis peak until the end of 2024 – representing an unprecedented 17-year pay downturn.

Torsten Bell, Director of the Resolution Foundation, said:

“The Chancellor was able to navigate the near impossible task in his Budget of easing austerity, seeing debt fall and avoiding big tax rises, thanks to a £74bn fiscal windfall. He chose to spend the vast majority of this on the NHS, income tax cuts and a welcome boost to Universal Credit.

“But while yesterday’s Budget represented a seismic shift in the government’s approach to the public finances, it spelt an easing rather than an end to austerity – particularly for low and middle income families.

The Chancellor made a very welcome £1.7bn commitment to Universal Credit, but has left intact three quarters of the benefit cuts announced following the 2015 general election. Meanwhile income tax cuts announced yesterday will overwhelmingly benefit richer households, with almost half of the long term gains going to the top ten per cent of households. On public services the NHS saw a big spending boost ­– but unprotected departments still have further cuts penciled in.

“This Budget was much easier for Philip Hammond than many expected. But there will be tougher choices for Chancellors in the years ahead. Brexit must be delivered smoothly, public spending will remain tight, and forecasts may not always be so rosy.

“Looking further ahead, living standards growth is set to be sluggish and the tax rises to meet pressures in the 2020s from our ageing society will still be needed – as and when there’s a government with the majority to deliver them. Austerity has been eased, but there are still tough times ahead.”

The Mirror gives Labour’s response:

John McDonnell: Philip Hammond gave a broken promise budget, failing to end austerity

By choosing to cut rather than invest, Tories have failed to fix the weaknesses of the economy, says the Shadow Chancellor

Gordon Brown Joins Charge Against Universal Credit: Warns of coming “Summer of Discontent”.

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Sign the Petition from Our Friends from the Mirror!

It’s obvious that Universal Credit is going the way of the Poll Tax.

People you would not expect to talk about these things are angry about it at the drop of  a hat.

The local CAB is jammed with the number of cases they have to help.

MPs, including Ipswich’s, are besieged by those in dire straits because of the system.

I would hazard a guess, just a little guess, and say that the DWP is well aware of the train crash that is Universal Credit.

Now after John McDonnell called on Sunday for getting rid of the system Gordon Brown is set to make this speech.

Halt universal credit or face summer of discontent, Gordon Brown tells PM

Guardian – Larry Elliott

Britain is on course for a summer of discontent and poll tax-style chaos unless Theresa May scraps plans for a full national rollout of universal credit next year, the former prime minister Gordon Brown is to say.

In a ferocious attack on the government’s flagship welfare reform, Brown predicts that a complex application process alongside Treasury spending cuts will plunge a million more children into poverty and increase reliance on food banks.

The former Labour leader, who sought to tackle poverty through the introduction of tax credits in the early 2000s, will say on Wednesday that the government’s amendments are cruel and that a U-turn is needed before more suffering is caused.

Even this Blog, which does not mince its words, is shaken by Brown’s next statement,

Speaking in Edinburgh, Brown will say: “Surely the greatest burning injustice of all is children having to go to school ill-clad and hungry. It is the poverty of the innocent – of children too young to know they are not to blame. But the Conservative government lit the torch of this burning injustice and they continue to fan the flames with their £3bn of cuts. A return to poll tax-style chaos in a summer of discontent lies ahead.”

Writing in the Mirror Gordon Brown explains:

Universal Credit is cruel far beyond austerity – and it’s becoming Theresa May’s Poll Tax, says Gordon Brown

It is now time to abandon the national roll out of the disastrous benefit-cutting Universal Credit .

Call a halt to this experiment – cruel and vindictive far beyond austerity – that is pushing child poverty among millions of hard-working British families to record levels.

From next July when three million more families begin to be herded on to Universal Credit, our country will face the kind of chaos we have not seen since the days of the hated Poll Tax.

With the convulsions of Brexit in March and the Universal Credit four months later we face a summer of division and despair.

From July each family on tax credits today will have to submit a wholly new form for Universal Credit – a policy Ministers have been warned will risk a breakdown in the system.

Instead the Government should order a review into what is going wrong – and give emergency help to those families now in despair because of benefit cuts.

With child poverty rising inexorably from three million in 2015 to four million now and to more than five million by 2022, October 29 should bring a Budget for children.

And to halt the rising epidemic, Child Benefit should be raised and child tax credits should be improved – as the one way, alongside a decent living wage, that we can get low-paid families out of poverty.

Today’s poverty explodes the myth that children are in poverty because their parents are work-shy and indolent.

Two thirds of the children in poverty have a parent in work – but earning too little to lift them out of poverty. In fact, nearly half – 42% – of households are in poverty where there is one breadwinner only in work and no other adult working.

The majority of the rest who are in poverty have disability in the family.

Savage Cuts are pushing them on to the breadline.

And after freezing Child Benefit and children’s tax credits for years Universal Credit is taking £3-billion out of the social security budget as it is introduced. Almost 3.2-million working families will, according to the Resolution Foundation, stand to lose an average of £48 a week.

Read the full article.

This stands out:

So I am calling today for the Government to abandon the 2019 national roll out of Universal Credit and end this harsh, harmful and hated experiment.

We need an urgent review on the lines suggested by the Child Poverty Action Group to be instigated and we must hear the voices of those who know what it’s like to have help cut short I join individuals and organisations who have called for a rethink including The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Church of Scotland, The Mayor of London, Disabled Against The Cuts, The Mayor of Liverpool, Mind, The Trussell Trust, Unison, Unite and Citizens Advice Bureau as well as the Child Poverty Action Group and most disabled charities.

The review should look closely at three options: redesign Universal Credit to make it fit for purpose; axing it in favour of reverting to the old system if UC is unfixable; or introduce a brand new system altogether.

The Mirror has launched a petition:

Universal Credit is harsher on people both in and out of work, and some families could end up £200 a month worse off.

The Mirror are demanding a halt to the expansion of UC and for a review to take place. We say there are three options:

  • Redesign UC to be fit for purpose
  • Axe it in favour of the old system if UC is unfixable
  • Introduce a brand new system

Sign our petition to stop the rollout of Universal Credit across Britain and to replace it with a fairer system.

You can sign through here.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 10, 2018 at 10:42 am

Universal Credit Failing People With Mental Health Problems.

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Related image

 

This appeared recently on the Disabled People Against Cuts Site.

Given the importance of issues about mental health recently should be looked at by the widest possible audience.

Some background before the article:

Universal credit leaves claimants with mental health problems ‘tangled in bureaucracy’

July 2018: 

People with mental health problems are becoming “tangled up” in the bureaucracy and flaws of the government’s new universal credit benefit system, a committee of MPs have heard.

Members of the public accounts committee heard this week that claimants were facing “considerable hardship and considerable deterioration in their mental health” because of universal credit.

Sophie Corlett, director of external relations for the mental health charity Mind, told them: “They struggle with the process, but they end up tangled in the process and unable to dig their way out of it.

“They struggle with the online application, they struggle with the conditionality that comes while you wait for your work capability assessment (WCA), they struggle with waiting for their first payment and if they are able to get an advance payment they struggle to pay that back.”

She also highlighted concerns about the role of the government’s work coaches, who are based at jobcentres and have “discretion” about whether they make adjustments to the process, including whether to relax the conditions placed on disabled claimants.

A key concern, said Corlett, was the period between the start of a universal credit claim and the WCA, during which claimants can be forced to carry out the usual 30-plus hours of jobsearch activity while waiting to be assessed for their “fitness for work”.

Carrying out this jobsearch activity was “a huge barrier” for many people with mental health problems, who were often not even well enough to visit their jobcentre.

Mental Health in the Social Security System

As the number of unemployed social security claimants has declined, the government’s drive for reductions in the benefits bill has focussed increasingly on the chronic sick and the disabled. The government’s aim is not to improve the well-being of these claimants but rather to classify as many of them as possible as fit for work and to push them into whatever jobs are available by cutting their benefits and, very frequently, imposing sanctions upon them. This strategy is backed up by a simplistic account of the mental health problems which, today, account for most sickness claims.

The key problem today is that mentally distressed claimants are being offered simplistic and ineffective remedies and are being pressurised by the social security system to seek employment of any kind, including in poor quality jobs which can aggravate their mental health conditions


Analysis

Over the last two decades, mental health problems have become a key issue in social security policy. This is because, first, straightforward unemployment is much lower and state-provided unemployment indemnities are now a very small fraction of social security expenditures, so that long-term illness and incapacity, which affect many more people, dominate in terms both of case-loads and spending.

Second, long-term illness itself now predominantly takes the form of mental distress, with anxiety and depression more frequent than the physiological problems, such as back pain, which used to account for most sickness-related social security claims.

In Britain  and in many other advanced economies social security claims related to illness increased rapidly in the wake of the deindustrialisation of the 1980s. One can trace these increases to labour market conditions and interpret them as a form of disguised unemployment in that they would not have been as severe if labour markets for industrial workers had remained buoyant. The geography of sickness benefits confirms the interpretation: For example, Merthyr Tydfil, devastated by the decline in Welsh heavy industry, was a notorious sickness benefit black spot.

In the 1980s policy-makers tended to accept the increased sickness benefit bill as the lesser of two evils, as preferable to much higher levels of open unemployment and as providing a certain compensation to some of the most vulnerable victims of structural change. However, as high numbers of sickness claims persisted and began to affect more recent generations governments became less passive and started to search for ways to limit the problem. One sign of this switch was a reformulation of labour market objectives: an increase in employment rates was seen as a better target than a reduction in unemployment as such in that high rates of inactivity (either through sickness or for other reasons) were now seen as in general undesirable.

Women were adversely affected by this shift because, in the drive to maximise employment, social security systems became much less supportive of women claimants who were full-time mothers and housewives. From the 1990s on, governments also started to make less use of early retirement as a palliative for long-term unemployment.

These changes should not disguise the continuity both in labour market conditions and in the nature of incapacity. There is certainly an alarming rise in mental health problems across western countries but the musculoskeletal disorders which prevailed in the past were not necessarily a completely distinct phenomenon: in an economy where most jobs were manual they could act as a sickness-induced disqualification from employment in general; in today’s service-dominated economy psychological malfunctions can, in a similar way, indicate an inability to meet the typical constraints of existing labour market conditions.

Thus the changing forms of sickness in no way undermine the notion of “disguised unemployment” or, in less tendentious terms, adverse labour market conditions, as a principal source of incapacity. Recent British policy, however, completely inverts this widely accepted causal relationship: current policy is based on the view that the labour market is not the cause of, but rather the remedy for, sickness-related inactivity. This view has led to the imposition of policies towards claimants which needlessly aggravate their distress while leaving untouched the labour market structures and practices which actually disqualify so many people from employment.

Two main developments have led to the policy impasse: the degeneration of the universal credit (UC) social security reforms and the drive within the NHS to address mental health problems through “Improved Access to Psychiatric Therapies” (IAPT).

The original objectives of the UC reforms were to simplify the benefit system, by bringing together six of the most important benefits under a single means-test, and consequently to strengthen employment incentives by reducing the rate at which benefits were withdrawn as claimants re-entered employment or took on more hours of paid work. Because these goals were seen as moving social security in the right direction, UC was widely welcomed by both researchers and organisations concerned with poverty, such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Child Poverty Action Group.

Gradually the welcome gave way to critical concern. After the election of 2015 the Conservative government stated its intention to reduce expenditures on working-age social security benefits by £12 billion, more than 10%, that is, to claw back some £12 billion per annum from the three largest claimant groups: the unemployed, the chronic sick and the low-paid.

It is an indication of social attitudes towards social security claimants, even though many are in employment, that the Labour Opposition did not at that time condemn these cuts but decided to abstain when they were debated in Parliament, though some, including many now in leadership positions in Labour, did vote against them.

While positive incentives to seek and retain employment were reduced, an increasingly harsh and oppressive treatment of claimants was substituted. The conditions for benefit payments were tightened continually, while breaches of these conditions were increasingly met with frequent and severe sanctions. Claimants with health problems were subjected to repeated assessments of their capacity to work – often crudely administered by unqualified staff in the service of revenue-hungry corporations. It was clearly intended to re-designate as many sickness-related claimants as possible as actually or potentially fit for work.

Unemployed claimants had to sign contracts committing them to often futile hours of job search and to participation in often badly-designed “work experience” and training schemes – both of these outsourced to corporations more concerned with profit than either high quality services or accurate reporting of their own performance.

The explosion in the numbers resorting to food banks and the arbitrary benefit reductions following from the “bedroom tax” (the so-called “spare room subsidy” removal) can both stand as emblems of the increased pressures on claimants.

Meanwhile, actual conditions on the labour markets towards which claimants were being impelled continued to deteriorate in terms of both wage rates and job security. Indeed the increasingly harsh regime imposed on those without employment may be leading people to accept worse pay and conditions rather than become claimants. The roll-out of UC in place of previous benefits became in itself a source of concern as new and renewed claims now attracted substantially lower levels of benefit.

Now the epidemic of mental distress became ever more central to the drive for social security spending cuts since, with falling rates of open unemployment, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and the corresponding sickness-related benefits under UC became a key item in social security spending and, at the same time, mental health problems increasingly predominated in these claims. The resulting policy difficulties could seem complex and intractable; they also called into question the punitive treatment of claimants which had in practice emerged from the UC reforms.

If claimants are suffering from anxiety and/or depression it is hard to see how suspending their benefits can improve their situation, and growing awareness of the severe consequences of sanctions – including suicides – may well have been a factor behind the unannounced but rapid and clearly policy-driven reduction in the use of sanctions after the peak they reached in 2014.

In this conjuncture the programme “Improving Access to Psychiatric Therapies” (IAPT) seemed to offer a silver bullet. Mental health problems could be easily overcome because:

  1. They were individual and not socio-economic in origin (after all, there are lots of people who cope);
  2. Thus the undeniable correlation between mental distress and socio-economic disadvantage should be interpreted as showing that mental health problems lead to disadvantage and not the other way round (the social security agenda does not require structural change in the sphere of employment);
  3. Most psychological problems can be easily dealt with by brief “talking therapies”;
  4. The essence of such “behavioural therapy” is not to improve the socio-economic situation of the sufferer but simply to alter their patterns of thought so that they cease to dwell on alarming or depressing features of their experience and so that they become – such is the hope – more likely to seek or retain employment;
  5. No great level of skill or knowledge is required to administer such therapy;
  6. Thus it can be provided cheaply;
  7. There will be a big pay-off in terms of employment and fewer claims for benefit since employment as such promotes psychological well-being and mental health.

One sign that this approach was completely unrealistic has been the failure to deal with many cases of depression and anxiety among claimants at the level of the least qualified mental health workers – the only group of workers in the field who have seen recruitment increase. Nor has the rolling out of IAPT led to any fall in the incidence of mental illness, nor any slowdown in the increasing prescription of psychotropic drugs in response to it.

Policy Framework

There is mounting evidence that current policies are aggravating the material and mental problems of many of the most vulnerable social security claimants. Social security reforms in the future must take fully into account their impact on mental health.

A complete refocus of policy on the well-being of the long-term sick and disabled is needed in the context of strategies which address the socio-economic determinants of poor mental health. Meanwhile, resources could be released by curtailing the frequently dysfunctional “assessments” and “work preparation” programmes to which mentally disturbed claimants are subjected, and by ceasing to contest large numbers of perfectly valid claims for sickness benefits.



John Grahl is Emeritus Professor of European Economics at Middlesex University. 

More: Rethink Mental Illness.

We know that money and mental health problems often go hand in hand. That’s why Rethink Mental Illness, as part of Mental Health UK, have set up a new website. It will help you understand, manage and improve your mental and financial health. You can find a wide range of information to help you with your benefits. Just visit www.mentalhealthandmoneyadvice.org to find out more.  

Clear, practical advice and support for people experiencing issues with mental health and money.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 4, 2018 at 10:26 am