Ipswich Unemployed Action.

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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He also said he was increasing the work allowance – the amount claimants can earn before Universal Credit begins to be withdrawn – by £1,000 a year, at a cost of £1.7bn annually.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

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DWP a “fortress” in “denial” about Universal Credit Failures.

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Universal Credit has again  has hit the headlines.

Our newshounds are already scanning the media as this is written…

 

This Morning:

DWP has ‘fortress mentality’ on universal credit, MPs say

 Guardian.

Parliamentary committee says department is unresponsive to difficulties people are facing.

The committee said McVey’s department has repeatedly been unresponsive to on-the-ground evidence about the practical problems with universal credit, and what it called the “unacceptable hardship” faced by many.

The department’s systemic culture of denial and defensiveness in the face of any adverse evidence presented by others is a significant risk to the programme,” the MPs said, citing the DWP’s response to an earlier critical report by the National Audit Office (NAO).

Here is the source of the article:

 Universal credit: delivery causing unacceptable hardship.

Public Accounts Committee 

The introduction of Universal Credit is causing unacceptable hardship and difficulties for many of the claimants it was designed to help. However, while the Department is responsive to feedback on its digital systems from staff, it has persistently dismissed evidence that Universal Credit is causing hardship for claimants and additional burdens for local organisations, and refuses to measure what it does not want to see. In 2013 this Committee raised concerns about the Department’s culture of reporting good news and denying problems that emerge. In further reports in 2015 and 2016 the Committee warned about the Department’s continued lack of transparency. It is hugely regrettable that the Department has not heeded these warnings. Instead of listening to organisations on the frontline supporting claimants, the Department has continued with its fortress mentality and as a result is failing claimants who struggle to adapt to the way Universal Credit works.

The recent announcement by the Secretary of State of a further delay and a “slow and measured” approach to the rollout is not a solution on its own and the Secretary of State has admitted that some claimants will be worse off under Universal Credit. If the current problems are not addressed and the funding needed is not forthcoming the hardship is likely to continue. It needs to work with third party organisations to help shape the new programme in light of the real life experiences of recipients.

More:

Report findings

The report concludes that:

  • DWP’s dismissive attitude to real-world experience is failing claimants
  • Recent announcement of delayed roll-out is not a solution
  • Department must work with third-party organisations to shape programme

The introduction of Universal Credit is causing unacceptable hardship and difficulties for many of the claimants it was designed to help.

However, while the Department is responsive to feedback on its digital systems from staff, it has persistently dismissed evidence that Universal Credit is causing hardship for claimants and additional burdens for local organisations, and refuses to measure what it does not want to see.

In 2013 this Committee raised concerns about the Department’s culture of reporting good news and denying problems that emerge. In further reports in 2015 and 2016 the Committee warned about the Department’s continued lack of transparency.

“Slow and measured” is not a solution

It is hugely regrettable that the Department has not heeded these warnings. Instead of listening to organisations on the frontline supporting claimants, the Department has continued with its fortress mentality and as a result is failing claimants who struggle to adapt to the way Universal Credit works.

The recent announcement by the SoS of a further delay and a “slow and measured” approach to the rollout is not a solution on its own and the SoS has admitted that some claimants will be worse off under UC.

If the current problems are not addressed and the funding needed is not forthcoming the hardship is likely to continue. The Department needs to work with third party organisations to help shape the new programme in light of the real life experiences of recipients.

Chair’s comment

Comment from Public Accounts Committee Chair Meg Millier MP

“This report provides further damning evidence of a culture of indifference at DWP – a Department disturbingly adrift from the real-world problems of the people it is there to support.

Its apparent determination to turn a deaf ear to the concerns of claimants, frontline organisations and Parliament is of real concern. The culture needs to change.

A Department in denial cannot learn from its mistakes and take the action necessary to address the desperate hardship suffered by many Universal Credit claimants.

DWP’s dismissive attitude points to a troubling pattern of behaviour in the Department – something highlighted by our recent report on errors in Employment and Support Allowance.

The Department’s painfully slow approach to correcting underpayments, years after it accepted responsibility, indicated weaknesses at the highest levels of management.

As a priority the Department must demonstrate a tangible shift in the way it listens and responds to feedback and evidence.

Meanwhile, the Government’s recent announcement of changes to the roll-out of Universal Credit offers no guarantee that the problems facing claimants will be resolved.

We will be watching Monday’s Budget carefully and, in its formal response to this report, expect Government to take meaningful action on our recommendations.”

Lo and Behold!

9.55 am this Morning (Guardian )

Alok Sharma insists jobcentre staff and claimants are happy with benefits overhaul.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sharma insisted the message he was getting from jobcentre staff and claimants was that they were much happier with universal credit.

However, he refused to be drawn when it was put to him that a report by a charity that runs a network of more than 400 food banks had found they were four times as busy in areas where the full universal credit service had been in place for 12 months or more. The Trussell Trust recorded an average 52% increase in the number of three-day emergency food packages distributed.

Prompted to answer three times, Sharma said another report by MPs had suggested there were “very many reasons” why people used food banks and they could not be attributed to just one factor.

Sharma, who rejected claims that his boss, Esther McVey, had been ducking out of media appearances, and said he was responsible for the government’s increasingly beleaguered benefits policy, claimed it was working because “cliff edges” that had previously disincentivised people from working had been removed.

He said he had been visiting jobcentres, most recently in Harlow in Essex, adding: “There are absolutely brilliant people in DWP working as work coaches and they tell me that for the first time in their lives they are doing what they came in to do, which is to provide that one-to-one support which wasn’t available under the legacy system, and that’s a message I get from claimants when I talk to them.”

Yet Quin notes,

The DWP’s own survey found 40% of people were experiencing financial difficulties eight or nine months into their claim, and McVey, the work and pensions secretary, recently admitted the rollout would leave “some people worse off”.

The Mirror adds,

Universal Credit: Thousands face having no payments this Christmas – how to make sure you’re not hit

The new benefit Universal Credit is rolling out to millions, and many could find themselves caught in a gap over Christmas. Here’s how to avoid being caught out.

Universal Credit is rolling out to about 100,000 people a month, leaving a trail of rent debt and food banks in its wake.

The six-in-one benefit is meant to make welfare easier and fairer, but it’s been bundled up with cuts that MPs warn cause “unacceptable hardship”.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been blasted for being “in denial” about the problems by Parliament’s public spending watchdog.

Meanwhile Christmas is fast approaching – and thousands of families face the risk of a financial gap over the holiday season.

That’s because there is a standard five-week wait for your first payment when you start claiming Universal Credit.

The paper offers this suggestion:

But there is a way to avoid being high and dry, and not everyone is affected.

So how do you know if you’re hit, and what action should you take? Here’s a guide.

See also this important article by Kitty S Jones.

Former Universal Credit staff reveal call targets and ‘deflection scripts’

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

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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

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

Poverty Crisis Worsened by Universal Credit.

with 20 comments

Image result for poverty Social Metrics Commission

” total number of people living in poverty is 14.2 million.”

Poverty, anybody could see with their own eyes, is growing.

I was struck, visiting my old homeland, Haringey, by this recently.

It was not so much that seeing the homeless people on the streets was a surprise – we have plenty in Ipswich. Though I must admit that, coming out of Wood Green Tube station, the sight of a geezer with a sleeping bag sprawled out in front of the ‘Spoons on Spouters’ Corner was unexpected.

It was that walking from there to Turnpike Lane most people looked, well, not well off.

Same pound shops, charity shops, though a Mall looked a bit more prosperous than ours.

This is the real London, not Made In Chelsea.

Bounds Green, where I grew up, is (wrote the Guardian in 2013 and it’s still true), is “ordinary north London, like wot even Muswell Hill used to be: an endangered species these days.”, was another destination on this tour.

On a  round circuit from the Tube to my old gaff (a short 15 minutes)  I came across at least 10 off-licences and newsagents/food stores selling cheap booze.

Encouraging to see that people still appreciate white cider and 9% lager, no “shops selling single-estate, organic, truffle-dusted flat whites”.

But then………..

This report, then, does not come out of the blue.

More than two million Brits at risk of falling into poverty, report warns

The UK Government has been urged to take action at the Budget in order to tackle Britain’s growing poverty crisis, in response to the publication of a new report which shows that 2.5million people are at risk of falling into poverty.

The Social Metrics Commission has published a new framework for measuring poverty in the UK, which takes into account a wider range of interplaying factors which cause people to fall into poverty – including material resources, the cost of disability, and the cost of childcare.

Sam Royston, director of policy and research at The Children’s Society, said: “While we would welcome these changes to how poverty is measured being included in official statistics, concrete action is needed to tackle the shameful scale of poverty among our children, with all the damage it can do to their wellbeing, education and life chances.”

The Commission found that more than one in ten (12.1%) of the total UK population (7.7million people) live in persistent poverty. While a further 2.5million people in the UK are less than 10% above the poverty line – meaning relatively small changes in their circumstances could see them fall below it.

Philippa Stroud, the commission’s chair, said: “We want to put poverty at the heart of government policymaking and ensure that the decisions that are made are genuinely made with the long term interests of those in poverty in mind.”

The UK Government abolished child poverty targets under the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 – a moved condemned by the SNP who have reintroduced them in Scotland and have called for their reintroduction across the UK.

These are the conclusions of the above report:

The SMC report, available here,  reveals numerous key findings and challenges. The total number of people living in poverty is 14.2 million with the composition of poverty moving towards a better identification of children (4.5 million) and working-age adults (8.4 million). The good news is the shift away from pensioner poverty with far fewer pensioners living in poverty following a significant reduction of poverty amongst pension age couples, over the last 15 years.

The report reveals that people with a disability are much more likely to be living in poverty than previously thought, with around half of the 14.2 million people in poverty living in families with a disabled person.

The report also reveals the persistence and depth of UK poverty. More than one in ten (12.1%) of the total UK population are in poverty now and have been in poverty for at least two of the previous three years. A further 2.5 million people live less than 10% above the poverty line and are close to falling below it with relatively small changes to their circumstances; and around 2.7 million people live less than 10% below it.

 SMC KEY FINDINGS

  1. 2 million people in the UK population live in poverty: 8.4 million working-age adults; 4.5 million children; and 1.4 million pension age adults.
  2. Over half of those in poverty (58.2%) also live in persistent poverty. This means that more than one in ten (7.7 million) of the total UK population are in poverty now and have been in poverty for at least two of the previous three years. Persistent poverty is highest in families more than 10% below the poverty line, in workless families and families where someone is disabled.
  3. People with a disability are much more likely to be living in poverty. Nearly half of the 14.2 million people in poverty live in families with a disabled person (6.9 million people equal to 48.3% of those in poverty). The SMC metric recognises the inescapable costs of disability, accounting for them alongside the value of disability benefits, to reflect the lived experience of living with a disability.
  4. Far fewer pensioners are living in poverty than previously thought, with a significant fall in pensioner poverty over the last 15 years. Poverty rates amongst pension-age adults have nearly halved since 2001, and have fallen to one in ten, a drop from 17% of the total population in poverty in 2001 to 11% in 2017. There are, however some pensioner groups still experiencing high levels of poverty. For example, the poverty rate for pensioners who do not own their own home is 34.2%.

You can only note that all this is about to get a lot lot worse:

The Universal Credit Rollout Will Cause Liverpool Untold Harm – The Government Must Pause And Rethink. 

Joe Anderson Mayor of Liverpool

Huffington Post.

In a city described by the Joseph Rowntree Trust as having the second worst affected in the country when it comes to ‘destitution,’ Liverpool needs Universal Credit like a hole in the head.

Nevertheless, from this week, the remaining parts of my city not already covered by UC will start being migrated across to the new benefit.

The dread I feel is because we know what happens next.

Already, we can see a spike in hardship and a rise in council tax arrears from those who have already transitioned to UC. Not to mention the snaking queues at foodbanks and the families struggling with things like school uniform costs.

Around 55,000 Liverpool households will eventually see their claim move to Universal Credit. So far, we estimate that up to 2,800 people in Liverpool are affected by changes in work allowances in Universal Credit, resulting in a loss of income to families of between £40 and £200 each month.

The Council’s various discretionary schemes, set up to protect people in hardship, made 13,700 awards last year at a cost of just under £2.7million. 71% of all Discretionary Housing Payments made in Liverpool are to help people who have been hit by the ‘under occupation penalty’ – or as we know it, the bedroom tax.

It’s so frustrating because as a council, we have one of the best records in the country when it comes to maintaining discretionary benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable in our city. We are left picking up the pieces from failed central government changes.

Despite losing two-thirds of our government funding since 2010 (£444million), we have stretched our finances as far as we can in order to preserve basic human dignity, but also because it makes sense to address problems upstream before they swim downstream and cost even more to fix.

This is often down to the scandalous time lag between applying for Universal Credit and receiving a first payment. This is often as long as twelve weeks, with the National Audit Office recently reporting that four in ten applicants had experienced financial difficulties while transitioning across to UC, while one in five were not paid on time.

So my message to ministers is simple: pause this roll-out and listen to those of us on the frontline. It’s possible to reform Universal Credit to keep the original intention of simplifying the benefits system without deliberately causing misery for tens of thousands of people in my city and millions more across the country.

Drop the ideology for a start. There is no good reason to make desperate people wait for their benefits, simply because eight years ago Iain Duncan-Smith wanted to teach them budgeting skills. Pay up straightaway and take that terrible burden off the backs of some of the poorest people in our society.

Unnecessary delay simply throws vulnerably families into the clutches of payday lenders and loan sharks. This is a simple concession that Esther McVey could make that would transform the lives of millions of people for the better and show that the Department for Work and Pensions is listening to evidence about the ill-effects of UC.

I would also urge her to work with councils rather than ignoring us. Along with the voluntary sector, we are working to pick up the pieces of botched welfare changes. But give us the tools to do it. Provide ring-fenced funding so councils can create a local welfare scheme to address acute hardship.

But it’s also about practical steps, like understanding the system simply isn’t flexible enough for people on zero hours contracts and have no guarantees about their work situation from week to week. Also, the DWP could dramatically reduce the waiting time for connection to the DWP advice and information lines.

Before people in Liverpool are exposed to these poorly-conceived and badly implemented changes, I am asking Esther McVey to pause and #RethinkUC.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

September 18, 2018 at 9:23 am

All-digital Universal Credit system Creates Problems as DWP Goes Technology Tonto.

with 23 comments

Image result for universal credit GDS Verify online identity system problems

Problems with the all-digital Universal Credit system were flagged up in January by Computer Weekly,

Thousands of Universal Credit claimants unable to use Gov.uk Verify to apply for benefit

Government research shows that barely one-third of benefits claimants can successfully apply for new Universal Credit digital service using flagship online identity system.

In March the same journal said,

Universal Credit project warned over Gov.uk Verify performance in 2015

Government project management experts warned as long ago as 2015 that a problem with GDS’s Verify online identity system could undermine the Universal Credit business plan.

In June Computer Weekly reported,

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has lost responsibility for digital identity policy, with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) taking over.

There are still problems for users as the comments here indicate all too well.

Neil says:

You have to reclaim Universal Credit digitally, online. So basically you have to create a Universal Credit account with a user name, password, and and answers to a couple of security question (one of which is asked when you try to log on). You will be asked how you want your notifications to be sent to you, email or phone, and will have to confirm you email address (by clicking a link of an email the DWP sends you) or using a code sent to you phone as a text message. After that you have to go through the usual routine about rent, savings etc. That bit of it is quite simple really. You then have to telephone a call centre to make an appointment to go back to the Jobcentre to produce evidence to corroborate your identity, although if you’re lucky you might do all of this with one visit. If all goes well you will then get a message sent to you telling you that you’ve been transferred and are fully on the full digital service.

But,

It is a bit but what got me is having to take in documents to prove my identity again! I’ve been visiting the Jobcentre and claiming Universal Credit for months, had already proven my identity before, and then had to do it again when switching from the live system to the digital system. That’s proper nuts. But then most things are a bit mental when it comes to UC.

 

It’s not just Verification: the DWP is going Technology Tonto!

The ‘I’ reports, Serina Sandhu Friday September 14th

A Universal Credit claimant has alleged that his local Jobcentre ordered him to purchase a smartphone for his job search because his basic model was not good enough.

Arthur Chappell, who is unemployed, argued that his existing phone allowed him to answer calls and receive texts from employers and that he had a tablet with WiFi access to show the Jobcentre he was actively seeking work.

However an adviser told him he needed to own a smartphone by the end of September in time for his next session. The 56-year-old called the request “offensive… on many levels”.

With people starving and [dying of] suicide over the Universal Credit changes, forcing us to use credit-hungry phones is really beyond the pale,” he told i.

Basic phone is ‘good enough’

On 6 September, Mr Chappell attended his monthly meeting at the Friargate Jobcentre but was instead informed that he would be signed on to the Universal Credit “full service,” following the system’s roll-out in Preston. He was told he would need to bring his iPhone to the next briefing on 27 September.

Jobcentre offers to pay for phone

In a statement given to i, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “There is no requirement for Universal Credit (UC) claimants to own a mobile phone, nor is a mobile phone required for a UC claim. Computers and free WiFi are available in all Jobcentres to enable claimants to maintain their accounts.”

However Mr Chappell claims he was told in no uncertain terms that he needed a smartphone. When he raised that he could not afford one, the adviser told him they would pay £40 towards the device and specifically directed him to the Argos website.

One model can be found for £34.99. “He said they pay for the phone but not for the top-ups,” said Mr Chappell, who fears a smartphone will need topping up more frequently. “It’s obviously [going to cost] more than what my current arrangement is because I think they actually want me to have internet access on it as well which will obviously strain the budget a lot more than the unit I’m using now.”

The next passage is fair comment,

Mr Chappell said it felt as though the adviser wanted him to be able to search for a job round-the-clock with a smartphone.

“The official reply [from the DWP] seems to be about what they expect claimants to bring to the Universal Credit registration meeting while my adviser’s demand is going beyond the registration to a device he expects me to have on me 24/7.”

“It has been a standing rule that we should spend 35 hours a week job-seeking, though finding that many jobs in your skills range is extremely difficult. Having us contactable 24/7 by iPhone exceeds [this] boundary.

“Sleep, shower, being in a cinema, eating lunch, all go out the window if that all important call comes through. It is extremely intrusive and invasive. This isn’t remotely about improving our job searching. It’s about policing every move we make.

And,

Mr Chappell said he considered the adviser’s request “highly bogus”.

He also admitted it had initially caused him concern. “I might get sanctioned and that will cause me big problems. It’s only now they’re making this transition [to full Universal Credit] that I feel threatened by it all.”

He worried about how the public would perceive Universal Credit claimants with smartphones. “It is also likely to make more people look on the unemployed as scroungers. ‘Ooh, look at them walking round with the best [smartphones].’ That we didn’t pay for them and in some cases don’t want them is beside the point. We will get stigmatised.”

Having a smartphone paid for seemed unnecessary when some claimants, including himself at times, could not afford the basics and used food banks, he added.

Mr Chappell, who hopes to be working again by mid-November and is due to have his book on pub signs published in April, said he was managing at the moment but having to fork out for more credit for a new phone could mean he had to use food banks again. He said he would be sending a letter of complaint to the DWP and would hold off purchasing the phone until he heard back.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 15, 2018 at 11:02 am

Labour Needs Policies to Replace Universal Credit to Rebuild the Welfare State.

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Image result for mark Serwotka speech

“We need to see a Corbyn government commit to overturn decades of attacks on and ridicule of benefits claimants and return to the founding principles of a properly-resourced welfare state”  PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka.

A number of our commentators have been, rightly, dissatisfied with the lack of a strong Labour voice, above all, Labour Party Policy, on welfare issues.

These range from silence on the benefit freeze (which needs to be ended), to an alternative to the Universal Credit car-crash.

There remains talk about a pause to implementing Universal Credit (a 2017 petition – a bit late now).

The acting Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, Margaret Greenwood, seems to have said little since just before the long summer holidays, apart from continuing to criticise government policies (“Delays in payments of Universal Credit are sending victims back to abusive partners – Margaret Greenwood.” August the 1st).

Basic Income aside what are Labour policies, from funding to changing the whole miserable punitive structure of the benefit system?

What are Labour’s plans to fix Universal Credit?

No straightforward ideas seem available.

Although there is this:  John McDonnell attacks Tory disability cuts and vows to address suicides linked to welfare reforms.  Kitty S Jones

This suggested Contemporary Motion for the coming Labour Conference  (from the Clarion site) suggests some starting points:

SUPPORTING THOSE IN NEED: REBUILD THE WELFARE STATE

We note
• the 8 August ONS figures showing that improvement in life expectancy has virtually stopped.
• the 6 August Child Poverty Action Group report on how Universal Credit’s flaws are leading to low-income families arbitrarily losing as much as £258 a month!
• the July Resolution Foundation figures showing the poorest third’s incomes fell last year, even before inflation.

The situation is shameful. We must reverse the drive, accelerating since 2010, to make welfare less and less about supporting those in need and more and more stingy, punitive and coercive.

Neither Universal Credit nor the existing framework (JSA, ESA, etc) are good. We must redesign benefits in close consultation with recipients, workers and their organisations.

This must be part of a wider anti-poverty program, with a goal that by the end of our first term foodbanks disappear.

We commit to
1. Ending the benefit freeze; uprating with inflation or earnings, whichever is higher.
2. Reversing all cuts/reductions; increasing benefits to afford a comfortable, not minimum, income.
3. Entitlement conditions that are straightforward, inclusive and available to all, including migrants (scrap ‘No recourse to public funds’).
4. Paying benefits for all children and dependents.
5. Abolishing all sanctions.
6. Scrapping Work Capability and similar assessments.
7. Relevant health issues being addressed using medical professionals with appropriate knowledge of individuals’ conditions and impairments.
8. Delivery by paid public servants via networks accessible to everyone, including provision of face-to-face support for all who need it. Reversing DWP cuts and privatisation.

Whether this gets onto the agenda or not there are people calling for some serious policies.

‘Labour must return to the founding principles of the welfare state’, says union boss

Welfare Weekly reports (12th of September),

Labour must commit to over-turning years of cuts to social security benefits and end the stigmatisation of benefit claimants seen under Tony Blair and the current Tory Government, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said at a TUC Congress fringe meeting on Tuesday.

Mark told the meeting held in Manchester that the current benefits system in “broken” and “causing much difficulty for people claiming benefits”, whilst adding the Tory Government is seeking to cause divisions between “people in work, those who work in DWP and those in receipt of benefits”.

He added that a future Corbyn-led Labour Government must “return to the founding principles of the welfare state that it is for all people and provide dignity for all people at all stages of their lives”.

Mark also said the rollout of Universal Credit needs to he halted because the new system is in chaos and there aren’t enough DWP staff to deliver it.

“We need to stop a system that is causing so much difficulty for people claiming benefits,” he said. “The benefits system is broken, under-resourced, inadequate and understaffed.”

He added: “The starting point of the debate on welfare needs to be the founding principles of the welfare state that it is for all people and provide dignity for all people at all stages of their lives.

Mark continued: “We had a system that wasn’t perfect but gave people money when they needed it. Almost exclusively people claim benefits because of a crisis out of their control.£

Mark said that ‘New Labour’ took stigmatisation of welfare claimants to new levels and there was a lot of work to do to put that right. He said we need to see some radical welfare polices from a future Labour government that gives everyone a welfare system that we can all be proud of.

£34bn has been cut from the welfare budget since 2012, with a further £12bn of cuts planned before 2022.

“More money is needed as we have some of the lowest rates of benefits in Western Europe,” said Mark.

PCS DWP Group assistant secretary Steve Swainton said: “Universal Credit has been understaffed and underfunded at every stage. Our members are doing everything they can do to mitigate the worst of the system but we need a radical redesign.”

Colin Hampton, co-ordinator of the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres (DUWC), told the meeting: “If we can spend money on bombing people we can spend money on putting people into work.

“The benefits issue is fundamental to the trade union movement. What happens to people on benefits affects what happens to people in the workplace and wider society.”

“We need to restore dignity and respect to people in and out of work”, he added.

The PCS site carries further details, including this:

Written by Andrew Coates

September 12, 2018 at 10:46 am