Ipswich Unemployed Action.

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Archive for the ‘Sanctions’ Category

Government Rejects Benefit Sanctions Inquiry report call to change “inhuman” Sanctions Regime.

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Image result for benefit sanctions uk

 

Our contributors could have already have said the following: “Benefit sanctions found to be ineffective and damaging. Study concludes that punishing claimants triggers profoundly negative outcomes”. (Guardian May 2018)

In fact some people who write here  are in dire straits because of this regime.

But the Government is still turning its face against facts’

Today:

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, responding to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s publication of the government’s response to its benefit sanctions inquiry, said:

“The government appears to be in complete denial about the impact of its sanctions regime on people’s lives. It is damaging people’s health and well-being and leaving many at risk of destitution.

“There is no evidence that sanctions lead to people finding work that lasts and lifts them out of poverty. This government is so extreme that it has rejected reducing the length of sanctions and is even prepared to consider making them longer.

“The real way to help people into work is through an industrial strategy to deliver jobs and growth and employment support tailored to each person’s needs. Labour will end this government’s cruel and counter-productive sanctions regime.”

11 February 2019 Work and Pensions Committee.

No respite for “victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel” in Government’s response

The Committee is today publishing the Government’s response to its report on benefit sanctions. While the Government has finally agreed to evaluate one aspect of the impact of its reforms to conditionality and sanctions – the “only major welfare reform this decade to have never been evaluated”  – it is looking only at their effectiveness in getting people into work. While this is clearly key, as it is the supposed objective of the policy, the Government is still not even considering the impact of sanctions on claimants’ financial and personal wellbeing. The widely reported detrimental impact of sanctions on claimants’ welfare formed the basis of the Committee’s report, when the Chair noted “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 counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel”.

Negative impact of sanctions worked against people getting into work

Even confined to the question of impact on employment, the Committee found that the negative impact of sanctions actually worked against people getting into work, to the extent that the Government’s approach appeared “arbitrarily punitive”. No evidence the Committee received 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.”

The Committee’s inquiry highlighted the distressing stories of claimants like Jen Fidai, a young disabled woman forced to sofa-surf and sleep in the Uni library for a year, and ultimately give up her studies, after she was sanctioned  – erroneously, as it turned out. It is these impacts on claimants’ lives, and the countless others which the Committee’s report and ongoing shocking news reports only scratch the surface of, which the Government is refusing to assess.

Forceful recommendation by Committee rejected

The Government rejected the recommendation that claimants already found to have limited capability for work should be exempt from sanctions, and also rejected the recommendation that claimants who are waiting for a Work Capability Assessment  – the medical assessments for disability benefits PIP and ESa which the Committee has previously denounced as “riddled with errors and omissions”, and also subject to lengthy delays  – should be exempt from sanctions if they had a “Fit Note” from a doctor saying they were unable to work. Government says it is looking into the possibility of a general policy that conditionality shouldn’t apply to those assessed as having limited work capability and people waiting for a WCA – although this decision would be in the hands of Work Coaches, ignoring the Committee’s wider concern that leaving too much to Work Coaches’ discretion in terms of sanctions more widely risked leading to inconsistent practice. The Government also rejected the recommendation to define “good reason” for failing to meet a requirement that led to a sanction – currently left to work coach discretion, leading to inconsistent practice – in legislation.

The Committee’s forceful recommendation – in the face of distressing evidence of the impact of sanctions on lone parents and their children – never to dock more than 20% of a lone parent’s benefit, was rejected, with the Government promising only to assess the employment impact of sanctions on this group as well. The Committee has reported elsewhere on the particular, deep difficulties lone parents are encountering under the major welfare reforms of the decade, including in its report on support for childcare costs under Universal Credit

Once again, the Government’s position on a key recommendation – that claimants is no longer subject to the requirement, the condition, that led to the sanction should also have the ongoing sanction lifted: the Government rejected this recommendation – is difficult to square with the supposed objective of the policy.  If sanctions are about incentivising, for example, looking for work, it is difficult to see the point of continuing to punish someone for not making sufficient efforts to find work when they are no longer in fact required to find work.

Chair’s Comment

Commenting on the response, Committee Chair Rt Hon Frank Field said:

“Our report laid bare the inhumanity of the Government’s sanctions regime, which it has pursued for years without ever stopping to check whether it works or what it is doing to the people it is meant to “support”.

In response, the Government has failed utterly to grasp the seriousness of the matter. It talks about reviews and “proof of concept”: it might want to take a look at the concept of not pushing disabled people and single parents—not to mention their children—into grinding poverty and hardship.”

Tories SNUB pleas to rein in ‘pointlessly cruel’ benefit sanctions

The Mirror.

New limits to the punishments were proposed in a damning report last year. But now DWP chiefs have rejected the plan – triggering a furious response.

Ministers have snubbed a series of recommendations designed to ease the burden of benefit sanctions on vulnerable claimants, it is revealed today.

A damning report from the Commons Work and Pensions Committee branded the system “pointlessly cruel” in November.

MPs warned the human cost of the sanctions regime was “simply too high” and called for new protections for single parents and people with disabilities and health conditions.

Committee chairman Frank Field today accuses ministers of “failing utterly to grasp the seriousness of the matter” after recommendations were rejected by Amber Rudd’s Department for Work and Pensions.

Under the current system, sanctions can be imposed for missing appointments or failure to show efforts to find work,.

Claimants face being stripped of up to 100% of their Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit standard allowance.

In some “higher level” cases – such as a failure to take up paid work – claimants can lose benefits for as long as three years.

The committee recommended that the maximum period for such sanctions should be limited to two months for the first failure to comply and four and six months for subsequent breaches.

But the DWP rejected the plan, along with recommendations to ensure lone parents with children aged under five are never subjected to the withdrawal of more than 20% of their welfare payments; limit sanctions on care-leavers below the age of 25 to 20% of their benefits; remove the threat of sanctions from claimants deemed to have “limited capability for work” and those with valid sickness notes from their doctors; and remove sanctions if a change in circumstances means the claimant is no longer subject to the requirement that led to benefits being withheld in the first place.

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Written by Andrew Coates

February 11, 2019 at 11:31 am

Universal Credit “quirk” means Hundreds of Thousands are threatened with Housing Underpayment.

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Image result for universal credit

Universal Credit Achievement.

Food is bad enough.

But if there is one thing people really worry about, it’s housing.

You only have to walk around here to see why: figures in the doorways sleeping in evening.

People get anxious, to say the least, about threats such as having a ‘review’ of their cases when they get Personal Independence Payment.

Transferring to Universal Credit means a gap in money – making not just the rent hard to pay, but demands for the full rate of Council Tax.

All the benefits listed on the DWP site carry the potential to get taken away.

Sanctions are there to remind us, that like some bad nipper, we lose our supper and sweets because we haven’t done our homework.

You can see what can happen:

I don’t think those who’re not on the Dole realise just how small the amount we get weekly is:

Age JSA weekly amount
Up to 24 up to £57.90
25 or over up to £73.10
Couples (both aged over 18) up to £114.85

The  writer of this post lives in the centre of a large town, and doesn’t have to pay bus fares.

This is the cost of what is essential for anybody who wants to come to the library or the Job Centre on public transport (and Ipswich is cheap):

Ipswich Town Fares
One Zone (Pink) Two Zone (Yellow)
Single £1.00 £1.50
Return £1.90 £2.90

That’s quite wodge on top of all the other expenses.

Not that this kind of thing concerns her ladyship Amber Rudd:

Now there is this.

Universal Credit technicality threatens hundreds of thousands with Underpayment

Hundreds of thousands of social housing tenants on Universal Credit are set to have their housing costs underpaid in the next financial year due to a quirk in the calendar which means 53 weekly rent payments will fall due.

The article continues,

The National Housing Federation (NHF) is currently at loggerheads with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over the issue.

Many social landlords collect rent every Monday – and in 2019/20 there will be 53 Mondays.

However, the Universal Credit system will continue to account for 52 rent weeks over the year only, meaning that thousands of social tenants across the UK who pay their rent weekly will be one week short and face rent arrears.

The 53-week phenomenon last occurred in 2013/14. Then, fewer than 20,000 people were claiming Universal Credit but now there are more than 1.5 million.

As of August, around 290,000 social rented households were using Universal Credit to pay their rent, many on a weekly basis.

Housing association Bolton at Home estimates that its 4,000 tenants paying will be left a total of £300,000 short, while Rochdale Boroughwide Housing says 3,000 residents will have a gap of £220,000.

The Mirror also reports:

Universal Credit: Hundreds of thousands of people set to lose out on a week’s rent

Housing associations say the problem will hit tenants who pay rent weekly in 2019/20 – and demanded action from the DWP to close the “bizarre” loophole.

……..

Labour MP Ruth George, who has raised the issue face-to-face with DWP chief Amber Rudd, added: “Having 53 weeks of rent in a year is an anomaly of the system, it’s not anyone’s fault.

“So to refuse to compensate tenants on Universal Credit is a bizarre decision that will leave claimants even more out of pocket.”

The problem, raised by the NHF and first reported by Inside Housing, is expected to affect Universal Credit claimants who pay weekly rent once every six years.

The NHF says that because UC is paid monthly, it is calculated using a formula that effectively takes 52 of a claimant’s weekly rent payments and divides the total by 12.

But there are 52 weeks plus one day in each year. That means every six years or so, a tenant has to make 53 rent payments, not 52.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 25, 2019 at 5:04 pm

The Universal Credit Journal – another Millstone in the System.

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Image result for Universal credit journal

Access to Universal Credit now available on Star Trek Enterprise Communicator:

Image result for starship enterprise communicator

UC Journal Log-in.

A number of our commentators have talked about the Universal Credit ‘Journal’.

From a link given about how UC is social engineering to change people’s behaviour we find this:

The government is also determined that universal credit will require you to set up an online account and fill in an internet job search ‘journal’ before receiving any money. Even though one in ten UK households do not have internet access, it’s now the only way to get the benefits you are entitled to. Universal credit was the only benefit claim line with a paid-for phone number, the DWP said, because it is intended as an internet-only system: ‘the expectation is that claims are made online’. The charge was not there to make money, but to try to stop most claimants calling them at all. It was just another part of the dynamic model: tweaking the system’s rules to change your behaviour.

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people

Tom Walker Red Pepper.

At last week’s Open Meeting about Universal Credit held by Ipswich Trades Council Mark Page from the PCS mentioned this issue.

Apart from the ‘digital exclusion’ for many people it’s often the case, it is said, that Coachy and the people specifically meant to read this account (Case Managers) do not have the time to look at it.

Now this may be a shame for would-be diarists who have now got a captive audience but it does strike the causal observer that it is a bleeding liberty that the DWP expects to know the ins and outs of our daily lives.

Plus that you have update the thing all the time, which for anybody not with easy computer access is a right pain.

This does not seem to crop up much in the media but last year there was this report

I work for the DWP as a universal credit case manager – and what I’ve seen is shocking

I see so much suffering on a daily basis. Case managers like me are well-trained to deal with any claimants threatening suicide, simply because it’s become such a frequent occurrence

Full-time case managers on average handle in the region of 300 claims each. We recently started a new way of working whereby tasks are prioritised in a “trigger” approach, meaning we often only have time to look at the highest risk cases. Payments and “payment blockers” are the first priority but many case managers struggle to make it past these on a daily basis. Claimants are told that they must fill out an online “universal credit journal” about their job searches and keep it up to date in order to release the benefit – their “work coach” is the person who’s supposed to keep in touch with them about those notes. But in reality, claimants are putting important journal messages about jobs and interviews online all the time, and the case managers and work coaches can’t reply. Each employee has dozens of other unseen journal messages they simply don’t have enough time to address.

The Nosey Parkers of the DWP demand this to start with:

“Your journal keeps a history of the actions throughout the lifetime of your account.

Your journal will show completed To Dos as well as messages between you and your Work Coach.”

“Your journal keeps a history of the actions throughout the lifetime of your account.
Each time a To Do is completed it is moved to the journal.
Some To Dos can be reviewed such as claim submissions, any additional information, upload a document or any conversations that
you have ongoing with a member of staff.
You can also add notes to your journal about your work search or other activities that you are doing to help improve your circumstances
such as careers advice or getting support to help you manage your money. ”

If you’re expected to look for a job you will need to record your work related activity. Record every job that you apply for in your Online Journal. It’s a useful record of what you’ve applied for. Examples of work related activity to record in your journal:
o Accept your commitments in your claimant commitments
o Attend your work search review
o Prepare for you claimant commitment meeting
Examples of a To Do
o Writing a CV, or spending time adapting your CV for a
particular job
o Completing a job application form
o Contacting employers to follow up from applications
o Travelling to job interviews

Keeping in touch
You’ll use your Universal Credit journal to keep in touch with your work coach.

Top tip: Send a message directly to your work coach by selecting
‘A message to my work coach’.

It is not hard to see that a system that depends on IT, a weak point at the best of times for Universal Credit, is bound to go wrong.

These are examples (from July this year), Universal credit IT system ‘broken’, whistleblowers say. Guardian.

  • Staff are not notified when claimants leave messages on their online journal; for example, if they wish to challenge payment errors. As a result, messages sent to officials can go unanswered for days or weeks unless claimants pursue the inquiry by phone.
  • Claimants are discouraged by staff from phoning in to resolve problems or to book a home visit and instead are actively persuaded to go online, using a technique called “deflection”, even when callers insist they are unable to access or use the internet.
  • Callers have often been given wrong or contradictory advice about their entitlements by DWP officials. These include telling severely disabled claimants who are moving on to universal credit from existing benefits that they must undergo a new “fit for work” test to receive full payment.
  • Although the system is equipped to receive scanned documents, claimants instead are told to present paper evidence used to verify their claim, such as medical reports, either at the local job centre or through the post, further slowing down the payment process.
  • Small delays or fluctuations in the timing of employers’ reporting of working claimants’ monthly wages via the real time information system can lead to them being left hundreds of pounds out of pocket through no fault of their own.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 23, 2018 at 5:11 pm

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

Written by Andrew Coates

November 16, 2018 at 4:16 pm

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

with 42 comments

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

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

with 41 comments

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’

Esther McVey screams abuse at “ugly, destructive, Marxist, Militant, socialists” and subcontracts DWP to Citizens’ Advice.

with 79 comments

Image result for esther mCvey

 

Pretty constructive Esther Attacks “ugly, destructive, Marxist socialists.”

Tory Esther McVey suggests her own party’s benefit cuts are “fake news” in shameless conference speech,

Reports the Mirror

The Work and Pensions Secretary launched her attack despite cuts being well-documented by experts and her predecessor Iain Duncan Smith.

She told Tory members in Birmingham: “If you were to believe everything you heard from Labour or read on social media you’d think we were somehow letting down the most vulnerable in society – especially disabled people.

“However, those who say we are cutting budgets are peddling fake news.

“So here’s the real news – we have never spent more on those with disabilities and long-term health conditions. We spend over £50billion a year, up £9billion on 2010.”

Ms McVey said she became a Conservative to stand against the “ugly, destructive, Marxist, Militant, socialists of the past”.

Today the Independent reports.

DWP calls in Citizens Advice to aid rollout of universal credit to claimants

The organisation has repeatedly raised alarming concerns over the rollout of universal credit, and last year said its expansion was a ‘disaster waiting to happen’

Citizens Advice Bureau has been called in to aid the highly contentious rollout of the government’s flagship welfare programme, Esther McVey has revealed as she announced a £39m fund for the partnership.

Ms McVey, the work and pensions secretary, said the cash would fund advisers to help claimants get their first payment on time and be ready to manage it when it arrives.

Citizens Advice –  a network of independent charities – has repeatedly raised alarming concerns over the rollout of universal credit, and last year said its expansion was a “disaster waiting to happen” with claimants being pushed into further debt.

Background:

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has publicly condemned the UK Government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme, claiming the widely criticised welfare reform makes falling into debt and hardship “practically inevitable”.

Welfare Weekly.

His comments are the latest in a long-line of criticisms and come only a few weeks after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, slammed the new benefit for leaving the UK’s poorest citizens even more “worse off”.

Writing in the Yorkshire Post, John Sentamu, a long-spoken critic of Tory welfare changes, says: “People have already been struggling with rising living costs and stagnating incomes, but emergency food providers such as the Trussell Trust report that in areas where Universal Credit has been introduced, demand has risen far more steeply than in other areas.

The Archbishop of York: Why a fresh rethink is needed over Universal Credit and its implementation

Yorkshire Post.

 IT is five years now since Universal Credit was launched in an attempt to simplify the UK welfare system. Had everything gone to plan, the system would have been up and running across the country by now. Instead, the policy remains a source of ongoing controversy. As a follower of Jesus Christ, my greatest concern is for how this policy affects the poorest members of our community. In the Bible, we are called to uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. It is right that we look at the impact that Universal Credit, in its current form, is having on our poorest neighbours living in poverty.

If those changes can be made, then Universal Credit still has the potential to be a successful, effective policy, and one which makes work pay a Living Wage – and not the present so-called National Living Wage (topped up minimum wage). Our churches will continue to show the love of Jesus in their neighbourhoods. We will continue to run community projects; food banks, holiday clubs, breakfasts for children, debt advice, support for those who are struggling. Our churches are places of welcome where all can find a home. The Government should take immediate steps to support many people who find themselves, through no fault of their own, in desperate circumstances. I urge them to think again.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 1, 2018 at 2:25 pm