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UN Poverty Envoy Slams Universal Credit and Sanctions Regime.

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Image result for Jaywick meeting UN rapporteur

UN Rapporteur on Human Rights and Poverty in Jaywick, Essex (Ipswich delegation in Second Row….)

While Esther McVey snuggles up with a wheel-barrow full of her leaving prezzies:

Unicorn Poo

The UN envoy has issued this initial report on his visit to the UK.

UK austerity has inflicted ‘great misery’ on citizens, UN says

Poverty envoy says callous policies driven by political desire for social re-engineering

Guardian.

 ‘I’m scared to eat sometimes’

 Women reveal impact of cuts

 Children tell UN: ‘It’s unfair’

The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, the United Nations poverty envoy has found.

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ended a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK with a stinging declaration that despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, levels of child poverty are “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.

About 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials, he said, citing figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%.

“It is patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty,” he said, adding that compassion had been abandoned during almost a decade of austerity policies that had been so profound that key elements of the post-war social contract, devised by William Beveridge more than 70 years ago, had been swept away.

Pause.

Although the various media stories just breaking underline the general issue of the poverty the UN envoy found one thing stands out: i the thread running through the report’s initial findings is the central role of Universal Credit in creating poverty and misery. 

Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations  Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights London, 16 November 2018

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world.  It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.  And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.  Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centers have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centers have been sold off.  While the labour and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies.

 

Key extracts from the report:

14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line,1 and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.

But the full picture of low-income well-being in the UK cannot be captured by statistics alone. Its manifestations are clear for all to see. The country’s most respected charitable groups, its leading think tanks, its parliamentary committees, independent authorities like the National Audit Office, and many others, have all drawn attention to the dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well off in this country. But through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is.

The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial. Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the  government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan. Some tweaks to basic policy have reluctantly been made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention.

…..

UNIVERSAL CREDIT.

Universal Credit and the other far-reaching changes to the role of government in supporting people in distress are almost always ‘sold’ as being part of an unavoidable program of fiscal ‘austerity’, needed to save the country from bankruptcy. In fact, however, the reforms have almost certainly cost the country far more than their proponents will admit.

No single programme embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than Universal Credit. Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.

Social support should be a route out of poverty, and Universal Credit should be a key part of that process. Consolidating six different benefits into one makes good sense, in principle. But many aspects of the design and rollout of the programme have suggested that the Department for Work and Pensions is more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting. While some surveys suggest certain claimants do have positive experiences with Universal Credit, an increasing body of research makes clear that there are far too many instances in which Universal Credit is being implemented in ways that negatively impact many claimants’ mental health, finances, and work prospects.

Hardship.

In addition to all of the negative publicity about Universal Credit in the UK media and among politicians of all parties, I have heard countless stories from people who told me of the severe hardships they have suffered under Universal Credit. When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits.

The Universal Credit system is designed with a five week delay between when people successfully file a claim and when they receive benefits. Research suggests that this “waiting period,” which actually often takes up to 12 weeks, pushes many who may already be in crisis into debt, rent arrears, and serious hardship, requiring them to sacrifice food or heat.10 Given the delay, which will only be partially mitigated by a recent concession, it is no surprise that the majority of claimants seek “advance payments,” which in turn must be repaid to DWP in relatively short order.

Additionally, debts to DWP and to third-parties can be deducted from already meager Universal Credit payments at a rate much higher than is the case with the older benefit system. While supposedly deductions are capped at a maximum rate of 40% of the standard allowance portion of the payment (which will change to 30% in a year’s time), the Government told me that in fact additional clawbacks can occur. These so-called “Last Resort Deductions” are for matters such as rent, gas, and electricity arrears, if it is judged to be in the best interest of a claimant or their household..

……..

Sanctions.

One of the key features of Universal Credit involves the imposition of draconian sanctions, even for infringements that seem minor. Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the Special Rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time. As the system grows older, some penalties will soon be measured in years.

….

As I spoke with local authorities and the voluntary sector about their preparations for the future rollout of Universal Credit, I was struck by how much their mobilization resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic.

Universal Credit has built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements. Women, older people, people who do not speak English and the disabled are re likely to be unable to overcome this hurdle.

Artificial Intelligence and Threats to Freedom.

The merging of six legacy benefits into one new Universal Credit system aimed at reaching millions of UK citizens is in fact a major automation project. The collection of data via the online application process and interactions with the online journal provide a clear stepping stone for further automation within DWP.

The new institutions currently being set up by the UK government in the area of big data and AI focus heavily on ethics. While their establishment is certainly a positive development, we should not lose sight of the limits of an ethics frame. Ethical concepts such as fairness are without agreed upon definitions, unlike human rights which are law. Government use of automation, with its potential to severely restrict the rights of individuals, needs to be bound by the rule of law and not just an ethical code.

*****
This is also worth taking notice of,

“The United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union poses particular risks for people in poverty, but the government appears to be treating this as an afterthought,” said the UN’s expert on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, at the end of a 12-day visit to the country.

Independent.  UN condemns UK government’s ‘mean-spirited and callous approach’ to poorest, in damning report

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Written by Andrew Coates

November 16, 2018 at 4:16 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

Bad Week for Esther McVey as she makes more ” false and misleading claims” about Universal Credit.

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“Praise from across the charity sector” for Universal Credit.

Esther had a happy start to her week.

Look at these larks!

Her ladyship went on to announce this:

“The package included a £1.7 billion injection into working allowances, which will allegedly support 2.4 million working families. McVey quoted various charities that have supported the potential system, including the Child Poverty Action Group who were quoted as saying “The work allowance increase is unequivocally good news for families receiving Universal Credit.” McVey also quoted the Joseph Roundtree Foundation, stating that “This extra investment will help make Universal Credit a tool for tackling poverty.”

But every silver lining has a cloud (the eagle-eyed may notice that the original list of charities that supported her has been edited….)

 

Esther McVey makes claim about charity – and incredible twitter thread immediately shows her up

Her best friends in the Liverpool Echo continued.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey made a claim about a charity in Parliament – only for the organisation to ‘set the record straight’ with an incredible twitter thread.

Ms McVey – from Liverpool – is coming under increasing pressure over the controversial Universal Credit benefits roll-out – which is being blamed by many for pushing more people into poverty.

The government says it is making changes to its flagship benefit system in a bid to halt the damaging effects on people.

It says claimants will not have to wait as long for their money and debt repayments will be reduced.

And in Parliament, Ms McVey reeled off the names of a number of charities that she claimed had welcomed those changes and which agreed that the Department of Work and Pensions was ‘now listening to claimants.’

One of these was mental health charity Mind – and based on its stinging response on twitter, it looks like those at the charity don’t quite agree.

The Mind twitter account stated: “Yesterday the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions @EstherMcVey1 mentioned us in a list of organisations who had recognised and welcomed changes to #UniversalCredit. We thought it was important to set the record straight.”

It then launched into a powerful thread, which showed the wide-ranging criticisms and warnings it has made about Universal Credit – including since the latest changes were announced.

A comment from Mind’s Director of External Relations Sophie Corlett – from when Universal Credit was announced – said: “We are hugely concerned about the ramifications of these proposals, which leave open the real possibility that many people with mental health problems could see their benefits stopped entirely while they struggle with the process of applying Universal Credit.”

 

Esther McVey under fire from charities over misleading Universal Credit claims

Work and Pensions chief brazenly told MPs that changes to Universal Credit “had received praise from across the charity sector”.

The charity Gingerbread, who support single parents, said on Twitter: “We want to be clear – we support changes to the system that benefit single parents, but this statement does not paint the full picture.

“We are not complacent and are clear these changes do not do enough to make the system work for single parents.”

McVey has become infamous for repeatedly making false and misleading claims in and outside of Parliament.

In July 2018 she was forced to apologise to MPs for misleading Parliament about the contents of a National Audit Office report.

McVey admitted: “Whilst speaking in Parliament, in answer to questions on the National Audit Office report into Universal Credit, I mistakenly said that the NAO had asked for the rollout of Universal Credit to continue at a faster rate and to be speeded up.

“In fact the NAO did not say that Mr Speaker, and I want to apologise to you and the House for inadvertently misleading you.

“What I had meant to say was that the NAO had said that there was ‘no practical alternative to continuing with Universal Credit’.

In the meantime:

“UN envoy meets Newcastle users to gauge scale of hardship and hunger “I’m scared to eat sometimes in case we run out of food… Universal credit has punched us in the face”

Written by Andrew Coates

November 8, 2018 at 4:15 pm

MPs hit out at “pointlessly cruel” Benefit Sanctions Regime.

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Sanctions Regime Remains in Place.

As I was walking out from my gaff this morning I saw a poster for today’s edition of the East Anglian Daily Times.

This is the story:

Children turn to emergency handouts as foodbank demand soars

Thousands of children in Suffolk and Essex are relying on emergency handouts from foodbanks, it can be revealed.

More than 1,500 youngsters turned to emergency food handouts in Suffolk from April 1 to September 30, up from 1,004 in the same period last year.

And the figure was even higher in Essex, with 6,338 children receiving three-day emergency food supplies at Trussell Trust foodbanks, up from 5,514.

The hard-hitting data, released by the organisation today, has seen volunteers warn of an impending “debt crisis” which could plunge even more families into poverty.

Problems with Universal Credit are being blamed for driving such an increase in foodbank use.

“It is unprecedented and the situation only seems to be getting worse,” warned Maureen Reynel, owner of the independent Ipswich foodbank FIND. “For a lot of families, it’s the impossible choice of whether to eat or heat their homes. Foodbanks are their lifeline.

By no coincidence whatsoever this is the main story about Universal Credit today:

MPs call for review of ‘pointlessly cruel’ benefit sanctions

Guardian. Patrick Butler.

Work and pensions committee concludes that current scheme carries too high a human cost.

A cross-party group of MPs has called for a review of the government’s controversial benefit sanctions regime after concluding that it was arbitrary, punitive and at times “pointlessly cruel”.

The Commons work and pensions committee inquiry said the human cost of stopping benefit payments to claimants judged to have breached job centre rules was too high and there was scant evidence that it helped or incentivised people to get a job.

It called for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions who have limited capability for work to be exempt from sanctions and said penalties for single parents and care leavers should be vastly reduced.

“We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counterproductive it just seems pointlessly cruel,” said the committee’s chair, Frank Field.

……

A five-year academic study of sanctions published in May found that they were ineffective at getting jobless people into work and were more likely to push those affected into poverty, ill health or even survival crime.

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “We’re committed to ensuring that people get the benefits they’re entitled to, but it is reasonable that people have to meet certain requirements in return for payments. Sanctions are only used in the minority of cases when someone doesn’t meet these requirements without a good reason, and work coaches will continue to offer support to claimants to identify and help resolve the issues that lead to that.”

The Independent is even more direct:

Ministers broke promise to review ‘pointlessly cruel’ system for benefit sanctions, MPs say

Rob Merrick

No evaluation carried out despite 2013 pledge – and repeated warnings of people being pushed into poverty.

Ministers have broken a promise to review the “pointlessly cruel” system for imposing sanctions on benefit claimants, a damning report by MPs warns today.

No evaluation has been carried out despite a pledge made back in 2013, it says – and despite repeated warnings of people being pushed into poverty after being wrongly stripped of benefits.

Meanwhile, the troubled expansion of universal credit has sparked a fresh rise in the number of sanctions – including on the sick and disabled, single parents and care leavers.

Among the people who told the committee about the suffering caused by sanctions were:

* Jen, a wheelchair user forced to “sofa surf” and sleep in a college library for an entire year – including through her exams – when she was wrongly sanctioned for failing to attend a jobcentre appointment.

The jobcentre had told her it was acceptable to miss an appointment that clashed with an A-level exam, but she still had her benefits stopped for almost one yea

* Luke, who was sanctioned after missing a jobcentre appointment because he had been admitted to hospital with severe epileptic seizures.

He was sanctioned for failing to show “good reason for missing his appointment” – a decision only overturned after a media outcry.

* Samantha, a single parent forced to switch to part-time working because of a lack of childcare and stress, who was sanctioned for “voluntarily leaving employment”.

Her income fell from £800 per month to £300, forcing her to rely on food parcels from friends and to beg for money.

Here is the Work and Pensions Committee summary:

For a long time, the UK’s out-of-work benefits have been framed in terms of responsibilities and rights, from which derives a system of conditionality and sanctions. There are certain things the state expects you to do as a condition of receiving out-of-work benefits; if you fail to do those things your benefit may be stopped. The Committee does not believe in unconditional benefits for those who are capable of moving into work. But unfair and disproportionate application of the current sanctions regime is causing unintended consequences.

The objective of conditionality and sanctions is to motivate people to engage with support and to take active steps to move them closer to work. But the evidence on the role of sanctions in achieving this goal is patchy. At the very least, it calls for more research. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 and subsequent changes have made sanctions longer, more severe and applicable to more people than ever before. The previous Government did not know the impact of these changes in 2012 and, six years later, it is still unknown. What we do know is that sanction rates are higher under Universal Credit than under the legacy system, and when applied inappropriately can have profoundly negative effects on people’s financial and personal well-being.

The failure to evaluate the 2012 reforms is unacceptable. It is time for the Government urgently to evaluate the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012, including an assessment of sanctions’ impact on people’s financial and personal well-being. Furthermore, until the Government can point to robust evidence that longer sanctions are more effective, higher level sanctions should be reduced to two, four and six months for first, second and subsequent failures to comply.

Some groups of people are disproportionately vulnerable to, and affected by, the withdrawal of their benefit. These include single parents, care leavers and people with an impairment or health condition. The Government must develop a better understanding of how sanctions affect employment outcomes for vulnerable claimants. Only strong causal relationships can justify these groups’ continued inclusion in the sanctions regime. In the meantime, we recommend that people who are the responsible carer for a child under the age of 5, or a child with demonstrable additional needs and care costs, and care leavers under the age of 25, only ever have 20% of their benefit withheld if sanctioned. As well as reduced sanctions, care leavers need better support. So we recommend that the Government review working practices between local authority personal advisers and work coaches to ensure they are collaborating as effectively as possible to support care leavers. It must also introduce a way of identifying care leavers within the benefits system to allow ongoing monitoring of their experiences, including of sanctions, and to inform further tailored support.

Of all the evidence we received, none was more compelling than that against the imposition of conditionality and sanctions on people with a disability or health condition. It does not work. Worse, it is harmful and counterproductive. We recommend that the Government immediately stop imposing conditionality and sanctions on anyone found to have limited capability for work, or who presents a valid doctor’s note (Fit Note) stating that they are unable to work, including those who present such a note while waiting for a Work Capability Assessment. Instead, it should work with experts to develop a programme of voluntary employment support.

We still believe that support for people in work to increase their hours and earnings has the potential to be revolutionary. But its promise risks being undermined by hasty roll-out of a policy not grounded in robust evidence. The Randomised Controlled Trial showed sanctions had no effect on in-work claimants’ outcomes and work coaches are not yet equipped to get decisions right every time for every claimant. Sanctioning people who are working is too great a risk for too little return. We recommend that the Department does not proceed with conditionality and sanctions for in-work claimants until full roll-out of Universal Credit is complete. Even then, the policy should only be introduced on the basis of robust evidence that it will be effective at driving progress in work. In the meantime, the Department should focus on providing in-work claimants with the right support.

Under Universal Credit, a sanction incurred under one conditionality regime continues to apply even if the claimant’s circumstances change and they are no longer able, or required, to look for work. At that point, the argument that the sanction will incentivise them towards work no longer holds water. The sanction becomes little more than a seemingly unfair punishment for non-compliance. We therefore recommend that sanctions are cancelled when a claimant’s change in circumstance means they are no longer subject to the requirement that led to their sanction in the first place.

Under Universal Credit, the maximum amount someone can be sanctioned is 100% of their standard allowance. In theory, housing and children elements are therefore protected. But in reality, this is not always the case: If someone is receiving less than their full standard allowance because of deductions, such as for rent arrears, a sanction representing 100% of their standard allowance eats into other elements. It is a technical glitch, but it puts housing and children’s welfare at risk and must be resolved with the greatest urgency. We therefore recommend that the Government immediately ensures any deductions from standard allowances are postponed for the duration of any sanction imposed to ensure that the children and housing elements are always protected.

Setting the right policy is important. But so too is implementing it on the ground. Over and again we heard stories of it going horribly wrong, resulting in inappropriate sanctions causing unjustified and sustained hardship. We heard about people being asked to comply with impossible requirements.

We also heard that work coaches were not consistently applying the exemptions (‘easements’) they have the power to use. Claimants did not know they existed and work coaches had neither the time nor the expertise to ask questions about every avenue of someone’s life. We recommend that the Department develop a standard set of questions, covering all possible easements, which work coaches routinely ask claimants when agreeing their Claimant Commitment. The Department should also review and improve information about easements made available to claimants.

If a work coach thinks someone has failed to comply with their Claimant Commitment they raise a doubt and put in motion the wheels that could lead to a sanction. We recognise that giving work coaches and decision-makers the right amount of flexibility is a challenge. But we heard too many stories of poor decision-making to believe the current system has got it right. The first hurdle is deciding what counts as ‘good reason’ for failing to comply, which is currently a judgment call for work coaches. This is a big ask when the consequences of getting it wrong can be so great. What’s more, it inevitably means that claimants in similar circumstances are treated inconsistently. But this could be easily fixed by carefully drafted regulations. We therefore recommend that the Department introduce regulations on what counts as good reason, which still allow work coaches to exercise judgment in any situation not included.

If a work coach concludes someone did not have good reason for failing to comply, they must refer them for a sanction. We heard repeatedly, however, that the welfare system is being reformed to reflect the world of work. But we do not think it is fair or proportionate for someone’s first mistake to be met with the harshest penalty, either in the world of work or benefits system. We welcome the Government’s announcement to trial a system of warnings, instead of sanctions, for first sanctionable failures, but it only applies to narrow circumstances. We therefore recommend that the Government use the trial as an opportunity to learn lessons, while taking steps towards introducing warnings, instead of sanctions, for every claimant’s first failure to comply.

We recognise the importance of an independent decision-maker to impose the sanction. It is, however, a missed opportunity that a work coach’s relationship with the claimant and insight into their circumstances—supposedly at the very heart of Universal Credit—plays no role at this stage of the process. What is more, a sanction can only be challenged once the decision has been made, by which stage the damage has been done, and the burden of proof falls to the claimant. We recommend that when a work coach refers a claimant for a sanction they are required to include a recommendation on whether a sanction should be imposed based on their knowledge of the claimant and their circumstances. Decision-makers should contact the claimant to let them know their ‘provisional decision’ and, if it is to impose a sanction, the evidence on which this is based. The claimant should then have 30 days to challenge the provisional decision or actively opt not to provide further evidence.

Claimants can challenge the final decision to impose a sanction first, through Mandatory Reconsideration, and then via First-tier Tribunal. But in the absence of any commitment from the Department on how long these decisions will take, people can endure the hardship of a sanction for weeks on end. This is all the more painful if, after all that time, the sanction is overturned. We therefore recommend that the Department commit to a timetable for making decisions about sanctions at Mandatory Reconsideration and appeal.

Hardship payments are made to those who would otherwise be left with nothing when sanctioned. But recovering that payment at a rate of 40% of someone’s standard allowance imposes further significant hardship. It is neither necessary for the Government—as it appears not to be financially motivated to recover the money—nor affordable for those who have been recognised as at risk of extreme poverty. Our final recommendation is therefore that the Department issues revised guidance to all work coaches to ensure hardship repayments are set at a rate that is affordable for the claimant, with the default being 5% of their standard allowance.

Full report: 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 6, 2018 at 11:01 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

DWP Tweets Boosting Universal Credit, “playing People like Fools.”

with 51 comments

Frankie may have faults but he sums it up.

For some very fathomable reasons Twitter, Facebook, and all the rest, are the favourite playgrounds of charlatans, cranks, nutters, and….the DWP.

This Blog is no great fan of Frank Field.

Or indeed close.

Few are, outside of his pet tarantula and his hair shirt.

But he is still there, ferreting away at the Tory Mess that is Universal Credit.

The Mirror reports today,

DWP blasted over ‘misleading’ Universal Credit advert ‘that is playing people for fools’

The Tory government has been accused of “playing people for fools” with a “misleading” advert about Universal Credit .

The image on Twitter last week boasted the six-in-one benefit “mirrors the world of work” because it is paid monthly and “paid to you like wages”.

But Frank Field, chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, claimed these statements were misleading.

That is because many low-paid workers are given their wages weekly, not monthly, Mr Field said.

UC is also paid to one representative of the household – not each person. Activists have warned this policy worsens domestic abuse.

Mr Field has now written to complain about the letter to UC programme director Neil Couling in the Department for Work and Pensions.

His letter demands to know “how misleading advertising such as this is compatible with, and supportive of, the Department’s commitment to transparent and open communication with claimants and stakeholders over Universal Credit.”

Mr Field claimed: “These so-called “facts” about Universal Credit are nothing of the kind.

We are waiting for the DWP to repeat this one in a campaign to publicise the successes of Universal Credit.:

DWP admits inventing quotes from fake ‘benefits claimants’ for sanctions leaflet

DWP

Written by Andrew Coates

October 22, 2018 at 3:11 pm