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While DWP Minister Celebrates Universal Credit Success Emergency Food and Fuel Vouchers are Ready.

with 33 comments

With Rev Richard Lowson at Carpenders Park and South Oxhey Methodist Church

Gauke Celebrates Universal Credit Tidings of Good Joy.

Super Ted reminds us how people on benefits can be left on dire straits by the workings of the system.

That system is still getting worse, despite a few sticking plasters.

This story from Wales shows the low point we have reached under Gauke, who is no doubt enjoying some mince pies and mulled wine while his minions are busy.

Emergency food and fuel vouchers handed out as the latest Universal Credit rollout takes place

WalesonLine.

Swansea is the latest place in Wales where Universal Credit is being rolled out.

Emergency packages have been drawn up in Swansea to prepare for hundreds of families being left hard-up over Christmas by the controversial roll-out of Universal Credit.

Bosses at Coastal Housing are preparing their staff to hand out emergency food and fuel vouchers to help people through the crunch time.

Work and pensions secretary David Gauke previously said the system had been stress-tested and added latest figures seemed to suggest it was a success as 50% of new claimants were taking up an advanced loan.

Following a pilot scheme of the new system, Coastal Housing tenants have run up arrears of £73,000 an average of £830 each.

A Coastal Housing spokesman said emergency packages were fully in place ahead of Universal Credit coming into force.

He said: “The introduction of the Full Universal Credit service, which started in Neath Port Talbot on October 4 and will be followed by Swansea on December 13, will mean some Coastal tenants will not receive a full payment this side of Christmas.

“While we welcome moves taken by the UK Government in the recent budget to abolish the waiting week, for many claimants these changes will be too late.

“Therefore Coastal has created a package for those tenants we know will not have access to all their money in time for Christmas and the New Year, including individual support packages, the issuing of emergency food and fuel vouchers, and supporting the Evening Post’s Christmas campaign which donates to food banks.

“We’ve been able to do this with the backing of our business partners who have donated money to support our tenants and the wider community.”

..

Grandmother Geraldine Hill, 56, who lives in Coastal Housing accommodation, managed to get by for more than two decades on benefits without falling into debt despite bringing up three children after being unable to work as a result of a combination of anxiety, depression and lung disease.

But the switch to Universal Credit had proved to be life-changing and she previously said: “It’s been a struggle, I have to rely on a food bank and I’m living in the living room.

“All my housing, rent and DLA (Disability Living Allowance) was stopped, I ended up accumulating arrears through no fault of my own.

Pause for another pie and sip of heated plonk for Gauke,

‘Scrooge’ DWP bosses warned Universal Credit roll out will cost lives this Christmas.

The Courier.

The introduction of the new system, which replaces six existing means-tested benefits, has prompted fears thousands of Scots could be plunged into poverty as they endure a six-week wait for payments to come through.

David Alexander, co-leader of Fife Council, said officials are already “preparing for disaster” this winter and warned many people could face a “really tough time” under the new rules.

Dundee City Council’s finance spokesman, Baillie Willie Sawers, warned the payment delay is placing a “great strain” on some of the city’s most vulnerable people and admitted the roll out has been a “huge concern” for the authority.

As Gauke nibbles some more hors d’oeuvres before a good lunch we hear the peasants in Brum are not going too well either.

Birmingham Mail.

Foodbank fear Universal Credit will wipe them out – this is why

Volunteers at one of the city’s biggest foodbanks fear their shelves will be emptied by a sharp increase in the need for emergency food if the roll-out of Universal Credit continues.

Bosses at B30 Foodbank – which has seen a staggering 200 tons of donations since it launched four years ago – are concerned their warehouse will be emptied by a huge increase in demand.

The facility, based at Cotteridge Church, has fed almost 7500 adults and children in the B30 postcode and surrounding areas over the past year.

Ministers have claimed evictions, homelessness and debt will all rise if the government’s Universal Credit roll-out continues across Birmingham.

The Trussell Trust, a charity which provides foodbanks, said demand had risen in areas where Universal Credit was introduced.

 

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Written by Andrew Coates

December 13, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Parliament Debates Universal Credit, Tory MP Breaks down in tears at Government, “improving the welfare system and the lives of those who use it”.

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Image result for parliamentary debate on universal credit tears

Tory MP Heidi Allen breaks down in tears hearing misery inflicted by Universal Credit.

Debbie Abrahams Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  2:38 pm, 5th December 2017

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that the five project assessment reviews, carried out into universal credit between 2012 and 2015 by the Government’s Major Projects Authority now known as the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and any subsequent project assessment reviews carried out into universal credit by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority between 1 January 2016 and 30 November 2017 that have been provided to Her Majesty’s Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions, be provided by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to the Work and Pensions Committee.

The purpose of today’s debate on universal credit, the fourth in nearly eight weeks, is to seek the release of the project assessment review reports on universal credit to enable this House to scrutinise the Government’s flagship social security programme.

She continues,

Debbie Abrahams Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As some of my colleagues are saying, we are asking for the documents now. We are pleased the Government finally acknowledged that their universal credit programme is not fit for purpose, and now we need to understand the extent to which it is not fit for purpose through the publication of these reports.

I wish to start by giving some context to today’s debate and then set out why it is so important that we have access to these project assessment reviews. For many months now, Labour has been calling on the Government to pause and fix universal credit. This is a direct response to the mounting evidence that the full service programme is driving hardship in the areas where it has been rolled out. I am sure hon. Members from across the House will now be aware of the figures, but the realities of the misery being caused by this programme bear repeating: half of those in rent arrears under UC report that their arrears started after they made their claim; 79% of those in debt are recognised as having priority debts by Citizens Advice, putting them at higher risk of bailiffs and evictions; and two in five have no money to pay creditors at the end of the month.

This is of interest,

David Gauke The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I very much agree about the importance of a culture in which problems can be identified and passed up the command chain, with that system understood across the board. Clearly, when that does not happen, something needs to be addressed. When I entered this House in 2005—the right hon. Gentleman was a Minister at the time—we were wrestling with the problems of the tax credit fiasco, which was causing misery for vast numbers of people. If Members want an example of a project that failed because there was not a willingness to identify problems early, that is it.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s policy that review reports remain confidential is founded on the position that an effective and trusted system of assurance in government is in the public interest, and that the premature disclosure of review reports undermines that public interest. Those considerations must be balanced with the desire for transparency and parliamentary scrutiny. In exceptional cases, sharing information with a Select Committee, in confidence, can be appropriate.

The motion refers to a number of reports, many of which date back some years, as my hon. Friend Heidi Allen pointed out. To disclose those papers without subsequent reports showing how well universal credit has progressed would give a partial picture. In line with the motion, I will provide, by the time the House rises for the Christmas recess, the reports directly to the Work and Pensions Committee. Let me point out to the shadowSecretary of State that her motion does not require us to publish these reports or to lay them before the House. Specifically, it says that those reports should be provided to the Committee. In those circumstances, it is acceptable for us to do so. As is customary, I will need to consider redacting any appropriate material, such as the names of junior officials and information that is commercially sensitive. I wish to emphasise that it is the Government’s view that this is an exceptional request that will be agreed to on an exceptional basis, and does not set any precedent for future action. Against that background, I shall provide the reports to the Select Committee on a confidential basis. In those circumstances, I hope and expect that the documents will not be disclosed further.

And, above all this:

David Gauke The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Let me turn to the substance of universal credit then. Universal credit is the biggest modernisation of the welfare state in a generation. The old system traps people in a cycle of benefits dependency, incentivising working only 16 hours or fewer a week and preventing people from reaching their potential. Universal credit frees people from those hours limits and lets them keep more of what they earn. Under universal credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the previous system. Once universal credit is fully rolled out, it will boost employment by around 250,000, which is equivalent to 400 extra jobs per constituency. It is improving the welfare system and the lives of those who use it.

Not to mention this reply to Gauckey,

Ruth George Labour, High Peak

If the Minister is so convinced of all the facts about universal credit that he claims, why does he not release the post-implementation review that the Department was apparently putting together and give us the full details of how universal credit is working, instead of relying on a study of a tiny sample of single people without jobs that was conducted more than two years ago, before the cuts, in order to make these wild claim

Read the full – long –  debate here.

This is what most people will remember.

Tory MP breaks down in tears at Labour MP’s story about family invited to a funeral just so they could eat

Heidi Allen urges colleagues to ‘make this better’ after hearing tales of despair the policy is causing Ben Kentish Independent.

 A Conservative MP was moved to tears after listening to a Labour colleague describe how the Government’s universal credit left one of his constituents contemplating suicide and others forced to attend a funeral in order to eat.

Heidi Allen was visibly upset as she rose to speak in a debate on the controversial policy, the implementation of which has been the subject of criticism from across the political spectrum.

The South Cambridgeshire MP was speaking moments after Labour’s Frank Field, who represents Birkenhead, told the Commons he had had to persuade a man not to take his own life because of the “destitution” the welfare policy has caused.

Speaking immediately afterwards, Ms Allen paused and said: “I don’t know where to start after that. I’m humbled by the words from my honourable, good friend from Birkenhead.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 6, 2017 at 11:30 am

When will Universal Credit Fall off a Cliff?

with 90 comments

Image result for falling off a cliff

Warning: Universal Credit Ahead!

Sometimes you wonder when or where  it will all end.

Or Collapse, as the image above suggests.

Ken already notes on the comments that people are racking up debts because of Universal Credit,

Newcastle tenants on Universal Credit rack up £1.1 million in rent arrears

Housing managers say a new benefits system is leading people into debt and forcing some to use food banks.

Ken adds this to boot,

An automated system is leeching cash away from essentials like clothes and food to cover costs elsewhere

StepChange Debt Charity said the use of direct deductions from people’s benefits, by utility companies, housing providers, councils and others, to cover arrears payments is making it harder for families to pay for essentials forcing many to use credit to keep on top of bills.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/money/third-party-deductions-dwp-policy-11164892

That’s just a a sample of our contributors’ news from the media, their own experience and comments.

Is the Government worried?

Do they take account of the stream of criticism that’s levelled at the madcap scheme that’s causing widespread misery?

They and the DWP are in denial.

The Ghost of Iain Duncan Smith, in a rage at the fate of his love child,  speaks through one of his minions,

THIS BLOG IS A DISGRACE!! IT EXISTS ONLY TO DISCOVER LOOPHOLES IN DWP RULES AND REGULATIONS, AND TO FIND WAYS AND MEANS FOR SHYSTERS TO AVOID DWP JUSTICE. ITS OWNER – ANDREW COATES – WHO LIKES TO PRETEND HE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING ON HIS OWN BLOG AND ALL THE OTHERS WHO SOUGHT TO BRING ABOUT THIS PERVERSE DECISION WHICH ALLOWED A GUILTY MAN TO EVADE DWP JUSTICE SHOULD BE PROSECUTED FOR CONSPIRACY TO PERVERT THE COURSE OF JUSTICE AND CONSPIRACY TO DEFEAT THE ENDS OF JUSTICE. FUMING!

This is the news today, from the Independent,

Universal Credit delays leave claimants to ‘drop off a cliff’ in rent arrears, hear MPs

It comes after Citizens Advice warned the accelerated roll-out of the new regime was a ‘disaster waiting to happen’.

Claimants “drop off a cliff” and “remain in freefall” in rent arrears due to delays in receiving payments under the new Universal Credit regime, MPs have heard.

It comes as the Government plans to accelerate the delayed roll-out of Universal Credit – devised by the former welfare chief Iain Duncan Smith – to 50 new areas in the autumn despite warnings that it is a “disaster waiting to happen”.

Speaking to MPs on the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee in Westminster, council leaders, food banks and charities from across the country raised concerns about the system which intends to merge six existing benefits into one single monthly payment from claimants.

One councillor from the London council of Southwark – where Universal Credit is already up and running – said an additional £1.3m of rent arrears was attributable to the new regime since its introduction by the council two years ago.

Southwark Councillor Fiona Colley told the committee, chaired by the former Labour minister Frank Field, that the roll-out had a range of impacts on the council and its residents due to typical 12-13 weeks to administer the first payment.

“The most significant for us that I want to tell you about is how it has impacted rent arrears and on payment of rent,” she said. “That has very much dominated our experience.

“What we are particularly concerned about is the speed at which rent arrears are increasing after people claim Universal Credit. We see them drop off a cliff once the claim goes in and remain in free-fall for about three months thereafter until people start getting into payment.”

Pressed on whether the system had got any better in the two years the council had been administering Universal Credit, she replied: “I don’t think so.”

“We’re looking to make this work – we can’t afford for it not to.”

Not to mention this:

Universal Credit roll-out a ‘ticking timebomb’, say private landlords

Welfare Weekly.

The Government’s flagship Universal Credit (UC) system is pushing a growing number of private sector tenants into rent arrears, with the number falling behind on payments rising by 10% over the last year.

A survey of almost 3,000 landlords by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), who represent landlords in the private sector across England and Wales, found that 38% of tenants in receipt of UC experienced rent arrears in the last year – up from 27% in February 2016.

The average amount of rent arrears owed by private tenants to their landlords is now £1,150, with the RLA blaming the long wait before UC claimants receive their first payment.

Then there was this:  Homelessness rise ‘likely to have been driven by welfare reforms’

The number of homeless families in the UK has risen by more than 60% and is “likely to have been driven” by the government’s welfare reforms, the public spending watchdog has said.

Homelessness of all kinds has increased “significantly” over the last six years, said the National Audit Office.

It accused the government of having a “light touch approach” to tackling the problem.

The government said it was investing £550m by 2020 to address the issue.

There has been a 60% rise in households living in temporary accommodation – which includes 120,540 children – since 2010/11, the NAO said.

A snapshot overnight count last autumn found there were 4,134 rough sleepers – an increase of 134% since the Conservatives came into government, it added.

A report by the watchdog found rents in England have risen at the same time as households have seen a cut to some benefits.

Homelessness cost more than £1bn a year to deal with, it said.

Reforms to the local housing allowance are “likely to have contributed” to making it more expensive for claimants to rent privately and “are an element of the increase in homelessness,” the report added.

Homelessness rise

England, 2010-2017

134% rise in rough sleepers

60% rise in households living in temporary accommodation

  • 77,000 families in temporary accommodation, March 2017, including…
  • 120,000 children
  • £1.15bn council spending on homelessness 2015-16

Welfare reforms announced by the government in 2015 included a four-year freeze to housing benefit – which was implemented in April 2016.

Auditor General Sir Amyas Morse said the Department for Work and Pensions had failed to evaluate the impact of the benefit changes on homelessness.

“It is difficult to understand why the department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem.

“Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money.”

The ending of private sector tenancies – rather than a change in personal circumstances – has become the main cause of homelessness in England, with numbers tripling since 2010/11, said the NAO.

Its analysis found private sector rents in England have gone up by three times as much as wages since 2010 – apart from in the north and East Midlands.

While in London, costs have risen by 24% – eight times the average wage increase.

I saw people sleeping in doorways in Ipswich last night.

Not at all unusual.

Anywhere.

Update: still somebody’s happy:

Written by Andrew Coates

September 14, 2017 at 11:14 am

Minister silent as desperate DWP launches helpline for landlords and Allegations about “massaged” Benefit Sanction Figures made.

with 92 comments

Image result for David Gauke DWP

Gauke, Taking it Easy as DWP Descends into Omnishambles.

Parliament briefly heard of Work and Pensions secretary David Gauke  when he announced in Parliament in July that the state pension age will rise to 68 .

Since that time this is his last known statement of the Man,  as key policies of his government, which his Department is in charge of, such as Universal Credit, are in a condition worse than omnishambles.

6th August 2017

After a busy year so far, the summer recess comes as a welcome slow-down for most MPs.  There has been no shortage of drama in politics for the past couple of years and recent months have been no exception.  General elections tend to be somewhat exhausting and, on this occasion, it resulted in a less than conclusive result.

The General Election was then followed by a reshuffle and, on a personal note, I moved on from the Treasury to the Department for Work & Pensions.

The summer recess is a good opportunity for ministers in new departments to get their heads round new issues and attempt to get on top of their brief.  In my case, I am spending some of the period when Parliament isn’t sitting visiting DWP offices around the country, meeting staff and understanding the breadth of work undertaken by the department.  I am also spending plenty of time reading into the various subjects covered by the department – employment, disability benefits, pensions and so on.

This should, I hope, be helpful for the autumn when Parliament returns and we have the party conferences.

Much of the work is quite technical in nature but my previous ministerial experience is helpful, whether it is experience of a big operational part of government (I previously worked closely with HMRC), pensions policy (I worked on pensions tax policy when at the Treasury) or just an understanding of large parts of public spending (which was key when I was Chief Secretary to the Treasury).

Meanwhile, the constituency work continues with the correspondence and regular constituency surgeries.

Parliamentary recess is not a long holiday (a point MPs often make, somewhat defensively!) but it should enable us to recharge our batteries for a busy few months.

We imagine he in some quiet holiday retreat away from the world, ready to re-assume his pressing duties here, “David is a Patron of the Hospice of St Francis, the Watford Peace Hospice and the Three Rivers Museum.  He writes regularly for the Croxley, Rickmansworth and Chorleywood editions of My Local News magazines and The Berkhamsted & Tring Gazette.”

Meanwhile while Gauke relaxes, the Residential Landlords Association announces,

 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has introduced a new helpline for landlords whose Universal Credit tenants will not communicate with them.

The new number 0345 600 4272 can be used by landlords who are unable to obtain the tenant’s co-operation to get DWP to supply information when it comes to enquiries about major payments –  such as a direct payment to the landlord.

This is a significant change as, before now, landlords were totally dependent on the goodwill of the tenant when it came to accessing information.

The new number can only be used by landlords in areas where Universal Credit has been fully rolled out.

The official Universal Credit guidance says the landlord should:

  • In the first instance engage with their tenant about the issue.  The tenant has access to their own information via their online account and can share it with their landlord
  • If more assistance is required the claimant can ask to share their personal information with their landlord or other representative via their online journal, face to face or by calling the service centre and giving explicit consent
  • When contacting Universal Credit the claimant’s representative will be asked to confirm their identity so the case manager can speak to the landlord direct.

Earlier this summer DWP said it will address problems faced by landlords who house Universal Credit tenants following a meeting with the RLA.

RLA directors David Smith and Chris Town met with Caroline Dinenage MP, the new Minister responsible for housing cost support, to discuss issues including rent arrears and direct payments.

This came about after the RLA’s most recent quarterly survey showed 38% of landlords with tenants in receipt of UC had seen them fall into rent arrears in the past 12 months. With tenants owing an average of £1,600.

The RLA runs a course on Universal Credit, with dates currently available in Manchester and Leeds.

The other story the Gentleman of Leisure is avoiding is this:

The London Economic (TLE)

A freedom of Information request shows that new welfare reforms are allowing the government to distort the true figures of those sanctioned on welfare, disability and in receipt of pensions

The very latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) obtained by The London Economic in response to a freedom of information request I submitted show that new welfare reforms such as Universal Credit are allowing the true figures regarding people sanctioned to go grossly unreported.

Today 20 million people in the UK are claimants, 13.8 million are on a pension, and a further 6.8 million people are of working age.

The DWP has started, from August 2017, to publish a Quarterly Statistical Summary of information on the length of time over which a reduction in benefit due to a sanction lasts.

In this report, they say for the first time, the duration of sanctions to be implemented for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit (UC), Jobseekers  Allowance (JSA) and Income Support (IS).

Furthermore, they say they are working on the methodology used to calculate sanction durations.

Yet, when you look at the Government’s own headline figures, a staggering 4.4 million people have been sanctioned up to 31 March 2017 and these figures probably underestimate the true number by a further 2 million under-reported sanctions, as Government figures do not include people sanctioned more than once; people who are presently challenging their sanctions or the huge number of people who have been successful in winning their appeals.

Moreover, Universal Credit is also helping the Government to massage the sanction figures downwards.

Rest of Story here.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 24, 2017 at 4:12 pm

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

with 89 comments

Damian Green

Damian: Knows How to Hold a Racket. 

Our old friend Damian Green is on the up.

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

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

He is now destined for higher things.

The Financial Times reports,

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

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

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

This charmer is his replacement as Work and Pensions Secretary:

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

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

Reports the EADT,

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

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

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

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 12, 2017 at 10:10 am

Welfare Reform, “not only cruel but chaotic.”

with 167 comments

Image result for Theresa May

Social Injustice Warrior. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-employment and the gig economy.

Conclusions and recommendations

The welfare safety net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demand for emergency food in Rugby rises again (today)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Andrew Coates

May 2, 2017 at 3:02 pm

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

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Image result for universal credit cartoon

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

The Government’s record of strength and stability

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

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

How we laughed….

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

But there is this:

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

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

They continue,

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Yup.

 

But…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surely planning is socialist tyranny?

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

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

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

These activity streams are called:

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

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

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

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

That’s answered him!

Still,

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

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

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

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 28, 2017 at 3:19 pm