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BBC Panorama Shows Tory Universal Credit Regime “setting up some claimants ‘to fail’ .”

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Ipswich Unemployed Action, and many of our contributors, have said that the issues around Universal Credit have not made much of an impact during the election.

Anybody who wants to know what Boris Johnson thinks of people less well-off or protected than himself – from NHS patients to us lot – could see the man himself in action yesterday.

Last night the BBC screened this programme, (originally it was listed for the week before) that went into how Universal Credit (UC) affects people’s lives.

The BBC faces criticisms for allowing the likes of Johnson ample room to spout his opinions. Some say that the media are slanted towards the Tories.

But Universal Credit – One Year On with Catrin Nye is a thorough, moving demolition of the Tory Universal Credit system, from the sanctions regime, to the mess it has left many claimants in.

At the start of the programme we were told that Universal Credit  is designed to simplify social security and other benefits.

It intends to “make work pay”.

What Catrin Nye showed is that UC is also made to make those out of work, disabled or unemployed, pay in financial misery.

It is made to make people out of well paid full time employment suffer.

It also illustrated how those in work who still need some help get trapped in a long list of difficulties.

Keith, who has mental health issues, came up with a topic many know all too well – how the all “on line” system is a barrier in itself.

Panorama looked at the reality behind the  massive increase in the numbers of  people paying off debts (from rent arrears to UC loans).

Case studies of those trapped in its clutches, reduced to scrambling for money, illustrated just how damaging UC is.

One striking thing was that advice agencies, like the CAB and Shelter, are now acting as full-time case workers to help those in need.

Families, not well off themselves,  are forced to come to the rescue.

These real life stories are probably more effective than any high-sounding political speech in showing what’s wrong with Universal Credit.

To put it simply, UC is, as many have claimed before, “setting people up to fail”.

The BBC is to be congratulated for this excellent programme. 

 

 

 

Universal credit is setting up some claimants “to fail”, charity staff have told BBC’s Panorama.

BBC.

Since October 2017, the Department for Work and Pensions says 60% of eligible new claimants have been given an advance or loan to help them manage the five-week wait for their first payment.

The DWP deducts money from claimants’ monthly benefit payment to repay this, as well as other debts they might have.

But after deductions are made, many say they are “struggling” to cope.

Housing charity Shelter says deductions for rent arrears are now double what they were under the old system.

The DWP says they have put safeguards in place to make sure repayments are affordable.

When universal credit was first announced in 2010, the then Work and Pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said it would replace a “complex, outdated and wildly expensive system”.

It combined six benefits – child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, jobseekers’ allowance, employment and support allowance and working tax credit – into one.

The government said the new system was designed to make work pay and encourage people, some of them the most vulnerable in society, to manage their own finances.

Flintshire in north Wales was one of the first areas to test the new system.

Last year, BBC Panorama visited the area and found people struggling to adjust.

Since then, the government has made changes and Panorama has returned to see how claimants are managing.

A year ago, Keith, who has mental health problems, was at risk of losing his home.

Universal credit encourages people to manage their own finances – including making their own rent payments – but he was struggling to cope and was behind with the rent on his council house.

Today, Keith has managed to hold onto his home after housing charity Shelter helped him change the way his benefits are paid.

The housing element of his benefit cheque now goes direct to his landlord, the council.

He is one of 2.6 million people on universal credit across the country

By the end of 2023, the Department for Work and Pensions says the system will be fully rolled out

It expects some seven million households to be claiming the new benefit.

Debt Repayment.

To repay the debts Keith built up to cover his rent, he has money deducted from his universal credit payments every month.

As a result, he has less to live on. He told BBC Panorama: “It’s a struggle”.

Victoria Tomlinson, the Shelter advisor who helped Keith with his rent arrears, says the system is routinely taking double the deductions compared to what happened previously.

She told Panorama that tenants with arrears should pay them back, but added, “you can’t make somebody pay something when they don’t have it”. If the repayments are too high “then you’re setting them up to fail”.

The programme met others who say they too are struggling with debt under universal credit.

Helen Barnard, deputy director of policy and partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, told the BBC many claimants can be out of pocket from the start because they have to wait for their first payment.

“This all starts really with the fact that there is a minimum five-week wait at the beginning of your claim before your income comes through, so what’s offered is an advance – which is a loan,” she said.

“So what that does is pulls people into debt right at the beginning of their claim.”

Rebecca and her young family moved into a council flat in north Wales in February last year and couldn’t afford a lot of the basics for their new home

Her partner is a chef but his work is irregular so the couple depend on benefits.

Family help

“We needed everything. The only thing we had was a bed and a cot, that was literally it.

“So I reached out to universal credit and I was like, well, I’m going to have to get a loan out,” Rebecca told the BBC.

She secured an advance and now around £90 is deducted from her benefits every month to repay it, and other debts.

The couple say this leaves them without enough money at the end of every month and they have to turn to Rebecca’s family for help.

The DWP says it has put safeguards in place to make sure repayments are affordable, adding that claimants can contact them to negotiate lower payments and have 12 months to pay back any advances.

But Ms Barnard says that unlike financial institutions, “the Department of Work and Pensions doesn’t have any standard affordability assessment” and the system “assumes” that the person applying for an advance understands how it works.

The DWP says that many tenants on universal credit have pre-existing rent arrears, but the proportion of people with arrears reduces over time

Written by Andrew Coates

December 10, 2019 at 10:03 am

Universal Credit System Breakdown, “Civil servants ‘ashamed’ to work for DWP”.

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A protester in a crime scene outfit crouches by a sign saying universal credit is a crime

This week there were people begging just near to Suffolk College.

They have moved from the Ipswich central shopping streets outwards.

I don’t want to see a country where people have to depend on the kindness of strangers but get decent benefits.

Generous strangers give £26k to Universal Credit mum with just 14p to her name

Mirror today

Hundreds of Britons have offered to help homeless mum Rachel Finn, from Grimsby, after she pulled 14p out of her pocket and said “that’s all our money”

The 39-year-old, who is staying in temporary accommodation with her 18-year-old son, Bradley, has been backed by the likes of pop star Lily Allen.

Her story captured the nation’s attention after she emptied her pockets and put down four 2p pieces and six 1p coins on a table – tearfully saying “that’s all our money” – for a BBC crew reporting on vulnerable and low-income voters in Grimsby.

This is the I today,

Jasmine Andersson

I’m a working single mother who receives Universal Credit, and I’ve had to take my daughter to friends’ houses so we can eat

Sporadic Universal Credit payments and nursery fees have landed her in thousands of pounds of debt.

A working single parent has been taking her daughter to friends’ houses to eat to because she can’t afford to meet the family’s living costs.

Ayo, 29, a communications worker, owes money to debtors, her family and friends because she cannot afford to cover nursery costs for her two-year-old daughter’s nursery bills.

Although Ayo returned to work after she gave birth to her daughter in 2017, her debt has been compounded by missed Universal Credit paymentsnursery fees and rent arrears, leaving her living pay-cheque to pay-cheque.

The young woman, who lives in Hammersmith, London, told i she fell into debt because of her childcare bills.

“When I fell pregnant, I was in a job for less than 26 weeks, so I was only entitled to statutory maternity pay. Because I was entitled to statutory maternity pay, I couldn’t receive any Universal Credit, so I couldn’t get a sure start grant to cover my childcare costs,” she said.

“I went back to work, so I had to find a nursery to look after my daughter. I had to pay a registration fee. I was lucky to pay just one nursery registration fee, because if there’s a waiting list, a lot of parents have to pay more. On top of that, I had to pay a month’s deposit, and a one month nursery fee in advance.

No wonder this is happening: (5th of December).

Civil servants described to colleagues how they were “ashamed” to work for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) because of the experiences of their own relatives when claiming universal credit, leaked documents have revealed.

The thoughts of DWP civil servants were shared with colleagues on the department’s intranet earlier this year, and they have now been passed to Disability News Service.

They appear to destroy DWP’s continuing insistence that UC “is a force for good” and that it has overwhelming support from its own staff.

In all, three separate civil servants used the DWP intranet in early May to criticise the way their own relatives had been treated while attempting to claim UC.

It comes as Labour has promised to scrap UC if it wins next week’s general election, as has the Green party, while the Conservatives have pledged to “continue the roll-out”, and the Liberal Democrats have said they would try to improve the system.

A DWP staff member who passed the comments to DNS said he wanted the public to know that many of his colleagues did not share the views of Conservative ministers like work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey, who insists that universal credit (UC) “provides a safeguard for the most vulnerable in our society”.

Instead, he said, many of his colleagues were concerned about the flaws in the system, which is gradually being rolled out by the government and has been described as “toxic” by disabled campaigners and linked to “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.

The comments were made on the DWP intranet, which is open to all staff members, in response to an update headlined “Universal Credit – the myth busters get to work”, which was posted by a senior member of staff on 2 May.

Soon after the discussion, a DWP memo was leaked to the media and led to widespread outrage when it revealed that the department was planning a national “myth-busting” campaign aimed at dealing with media “negativity and scaremongering” about UC.

The newly-leaked intranet comments appear to show what DWP members of staff really think about UC.

The update had explained how jobcentres had invited local reporters into their offices to “show the reality of the great service we provide within our community”.

But the post drew a scathing response from several staff members over the following week.

One civil servant told colleagues, less than an hour after the original post, that his brother’s experience on UC was “not made up or exaggerated”.

He added: “I was and still am ashamed to work for [a] department that could treat my Brother so poorly. I am sorry to say ‘myth busting’ is another name for propaganda when it comes to Universal Credit

Meanwhile the extreme-right pro-Brexit Express carries this story:

Universal Credit claimants could get £1,200 bonus money – how to get the tax-free cash

UNIVERSAL CREDIT recipients may be able to get additional help with savings under a government scheme. How does the Help to Save scheme work, and who is eligible for this bonus money?

This is what the Tories really think of those less fortunate than themselves:

Here’s what Labour thinks:

Written by Andrew Coates

December 6, 2019 at 12:22 pm

Why isn’t this a Universal Credit Election?

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There are over 2,300,000 (latest figures, July 2019) people on Universal Credit.

There were 20 million people claiming DWP benefits at August 2018 alone (most recent full figures).

Benefits and Universal Credit should be key election issues.

To take two examples:

Housing benefit no longer enough for struggling families to afford any Ipswich rental properties

Ipswich Star, today,

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism could not find a single two bed property in Ipswich that was affordable on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) during a recent snapshot search.

The TBIJ research found that only one in 20 of the two-bed properties advertised for rent nationally were affordable on LHA. Across most Suffolk and Essex just a fraction of the properties advertised for rent would be affordable on LHA.

It means many families are having to make tough decisions to cope.

LHA is supposed to cover the cheapest 30% of properties in that area. But it was frozen in 2016 as a cost-cutting measure, intended to save £1.3 billion a year, rising to about £1.7 billion by 2020-21.

Although the number of affordable rent homes created in Suffolk has risen over recent years – reaching 500 for the first time in 2017/18 – councils still rely on private landlords to provide much of the housing for benefit recipients.

The article goes into the problems of renting and Local Housing Allowance  – which affects the whole country – in depth.

Read it.

Then there is, something that’s hardly a secret.

Why isn’t this the food bank election?

In the world’s sixth richest country, a record number of people will be starving at Christmas.

A record number of people will use food banks this Christmas. The busiest month for food banks last year was December, and there has been a general rise in food bank use since then (April to September this year saw a 23 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2018). We’re heading for a record high this winter, according to the Trussell Trust food bank charity.

There will also be people who go without income over the Christmas period. Universal Credit, the new welfare system, has a five-week waiting time for the first payment. This delay has not been reduced by the government, despite it driving up food bank use. People applying for Universal Credit now will go without money over the Christmas period, unless they meet tight criteria for an emergency loan.

Chakelian says that this issue – we could add Benefits as such – have not been talked about in the election.

Why?

Perhaps it’s because the Labour party, which is more sympathetic to these things and has tried to come up with answers, is distracted. Perhaps it’s because the Conservatives don’t accept their manifesto is forecasted to bring about record child poverty, or don’t believe they play a part at all. Perhaps it’s because charities that usually campaign on these things have to submit to extra-strict impartiality rules around election time. Perhaps it’s because media outlets decided this would be the “Brexit election”, once and for all.

Perhaps it’s also because many people, that is many amongst those who vote, are not going to be swayed by talking about the real world of Universal Credit, benefits, and poverty.

Let’s follow this example and bring these unwelcome, difficult, subjects, into the election.

Our contributors have plenty of ideas!

A photo highlighting the huge imbalance between Britain’s richest and poorest people has gone viral on Facebook – and generated awareness of homelessness at Christmas.

Posted in the Facebook group ‘Sh*t London’, Cliff Judson’s breathtaking snapshot shows the plush and extravagant display outside House of Fraser’s flagship store on London’s Oxford Street – while homelessness in is on the increase.

The 43-year-old Londoner was aiming to highlight poverty at Christmas time, when there are more visible signs of inequality.

After “Survival Sex” Scandal Work and Pensions Committee Calls for End to 5 Week Waiting Period for Universal Credit.

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Our contributors have noticed this story:

Selling sex for £5 is the only way I can survive after Universal Credit chaos’
Sky
As the government faces calls to axe the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments, one ex-claimant describes her experience.

Women are being driven to carry out “survival sex” work because of the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments, MPs have warned.An inquiry by the Commons’ work and pensions committee has found the wait for payments is why some claimants said they had turned to prostitution.

The committee has urged the government to remove the five-week wait for the first Universal Credit payment, which it described as a “fundamental design flaw”.Here, a woman called Susie tells Sky News why her struggle with the Universal Credit system has left her selling sex for just £5.Within the next week if my situation doesn’t change I am going to have to go back on the streets.

Universal credit: MPs call for action on women driven to ‘survival sex’

BBC.

Evidence that women are being driven to sex work because of problems with universal credit must lead to government action, MPs have said.

A number of women told the work and pensions committee they turned to sex work because their benefits payments did not cover their basic needs.

The committee said the government had previously been “dismissive” of the issue but had now changed its position.

The government said it was taking the evidence “very seriously”.

The committee has been investigating a potential link between universal credit and “survival sex” – when people, overwhelmingly but not exclusively women, turn to sex work to meet their basic needs, including food, shelter and clean clothes.

Universal credit merges six benefits into one payment and was designed to simplify the benefits system and help people move into work.

However, the committee has heard evidence that problems with the new system, including a five-week wait for the first payment, are forcing some women to rely on sex work.

 

This is the report behind these articles.

Survival sex and Universal Credit: Remarkable reversal in Government’s “defensive, dismissive and trite” position welcome – but insufficient

This inquiry was driven initially by a Committee member’s direct experience in their constituency. Specialist support organisations told him, that problems with Universal Credit were pushing women into survival sex.

The initial response from the Department for Work and Pensions, when asked in Parliament about the problem, was wholly inadequate. The former Secretary of State, Rt Hon Esther McVey MP, suggested that the Department’s Work Coaches (frontline Jobcentre staff) might tell “these ladies” that there are “record” numbers of job vacancies in the UK and “perhaps there are other jobs on offer”. This response suggested that the Department had little understanding or insight into the issue – to put it mildly. The Committee subsequently launched a full inquiry. The evidence that we received was, in many cases, alarming and distressing.

“The manager said if I gave him [oral sex] he’d let me off [shoplifting food, due to Universal Credit delays]. What could I do? It was that or have the police called. I just did it. I just kept thinking “please don’t call the police”. Anyway, he said afterwards that if I did the same next week he’d let me have forty quid’s worth of stock. It seemed like a fortune. […]

“In the end, I held out for two weeks. I got my [UC] money, and again it was short, and again it was gone on bills before I’d even thought of food. So, I left the baby with next door and went down to the shop […] It’s been like that for months now.”

The Committee expected the Department to respond in full to the Terms of Reference for its inquiry, by submitting written evidence. But the Department’s first attempt at a written response was “defensive, dismissive and trite”. People with personal, first-hand experience told the Committee—and similar evidence was widely available in media sources – that Universal Credit was a factor in their decisions to turn to, or return to, sex work. DWP’s written evidence largely ignored these personal, frontline testimonies, and instead presented what appeared to be its own internet research on whether there is a “direct causal link” between Universal Credit and survival sex.

Chair’s comments

Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The women who gave evidence to us were courageous enough to share some enormously difficult and distressing experiences, in the hope of helping us and the Department to better understand this issue. We are grateful for the Minister’s intervention, which helped to ensure that we, and more importantly the people who bravely gave their evidence to us, got a more meaningful response. Welcome though that was, that cannot be the end of it. The Department, having belatedly acknowledged that there is a problem, must take the steps to resolve it.”

The response echoed DWP’s argument when the Committee raised concerns that UC’s single household payment was playing into the hands of domestic abusers, by giving them control of the entire family budget. DWP’s argument then was essentially that domestic abuse had also gone on under legacy benefits and so Universal Credit could not be blamed. One of the Committee’s witnesses – M, a student and a sex worker – said that the DWP’s response “wilfully misrepresented” the issue.

I am about to be moved on to Universal Credit. I will lose £200 a month, approximately […] The thought of going into debt and having no money is really frightening. I have children. I can’t do that. I will sell my body. – K

The report sets out and draws on the private and public witness testimony that the Committee heard in May and June this year. Given its concerns about the Department’s grasp of the problem, the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance (Will Quince MP) was invited to sit in on a private session with witnesses B, K, M and T: four women who are, or have, engaged in sex work due in part to problems with Universal Credit and the wider benefit system. The women themselves were highly critical of the Department’s initial response.

I was really upset with this sensationalist media quote [DWP] had about someone earning £450 a night and they are kind of implying, “Oh well, sex workers make loads of money in the industry”. My last brothel shift, I was there for three days and I earnt £158, so it just does not reflect the actual reality of survival sex work […] it just seemed to be kind of ridiculing us. – M

The Minister’s subsequent, public acknowledgement that DWP got it wrong was welcome, of course, but the Committee notes that this is not an isolated incident. DWP has shown a “pattern of unwillingness to engage with frontline evidence about the impact of its reforms”. The Committee says DWP’s responses to urgent evidence from the frontline of UK poverty should not be dependent on whether a topic catches the eye of a given minister – and should not depend on evidence being provided by organisations with the resources to lobby Parliament.

The inquiry once again highlights the deep, structural and administrative problems with Universal Credit, including the five week wait for a first payment. These problems are exacerbated by DWP’s continued failure to systematically gather, use, and respond to frontline evidence, and claimants’ lived experience of Universal Credit.

Universal Credit, the five week wait, “advances”, and survival sex

The Department has put in place several measures to help offset the five week wait for a first Universal Credit payment. All claimants can receive a repayable Advance Payment of their Universal Credit (a loan from the Department) when they start their Universal Credit claim, to tide them over while they wait for their first payment. Some claimants will also receive non-repayable “run on” payments of some of their current benefits.

Yes, they do give you an advance, they do give you that. I am not going to say they don’t, they do give you that, but you have to wait six weeks and £250 is not going to last anybody six weeks. Like I am only 21 and I only spend £20 on gas and electric a fortnight, do you know what I mean, and that is cheap. I am trying my best, £30 on shopping, not a penny over, because if I go a penny over I can’t get other stuff that I need, tampons and things, do you know what I mean? That Universal Credit Advance, by the time I got it I had spent it and then I was waiting another three to four weeks for my benefit. Even then when I got my benefit, they were taking £150 off my benefit and I was left with £50. – T

The Department would not tell the Committee how much these measures cost, but it is clear that they are sticking plasters over a fundamental design flaw in Universal Credit: the five week wait. The Committee has repeatedly called on the Government to eliminate the five week wait, and does so again in this Report. In the meantime, the Committee says that the Department should offer non-repayable Advances to claimants who would otherwise suffer hardship. This would include several of the women who gave evidence to the Committee.

This is also of great interest: 

The digital service

Universal Credit is “digital by default”: claimants are expected to make and manage their claims online. the digital service has the potential, in time, to reduce DWP’s operating and staffing costs, and offer claimants a convenient, modern way of managing their benefits. But some claimants will struggle with aspects of the digital service, or simply never be able to use it. People must not be excluded from benefits they need and are entitled to because they struggle with computers. Although DWP says alternatives are available (such as managing claims by telephone), the experiences of witnesses and Committee Members’ own constituents suggest there is a significant gap between what DWP says is available, and what claimants actually receive.

I have complex PTSD, from very early age child sex abuse, and over the years my mental health has deteriorated […] That, for me, is also partly another reason why I will not be going on Universal Credit because, again, it doesn’t allow supporting people who can’t both mentally and physically do that admin-based work, which it takes a lot of time and effort and it is online stuff. – B

The Committee recommends that DWP:

  • Scrap the (minimum) 5 week wait for first payment and, in the meantime, offer non-repayable Advances to vulnerable claimants who would otherwise suffer hardship.
  • Put in place a proper evaluation framework for UC which takes account of claimants’ “lived experience” of the benefit, and evidence from frontline organisations.
  • Change its guidance to Decision Makers to emphasise that payment of Universal Credit into a non-claimant bank account should be considered an absolute last resort. The Committee heard that people who cannot open bank accounts are allowed to nominate a non-claimant’s account (often belonging to a “friend” or “boyfriend”) to have their UC paid into. All too often, those payments never reach the claimant because they are stolen by the “friend”.
  • Prioritise allowing telephone applications for Universal Credit from people due for release from prison to help ensure that “day 1” of coincides with “day 1” of a Universal Credit claim.
  • Improve, publicise and monitor the non-digital means of applying for UC
  • commission and publish a review on improving services for this group of claimants: as for many other groups, the specialist support provided by Jobcentres is patchy and varies from JCP to JCP.

Electric Shock Dog Collar DWP MInister Coffey has been busy.

 

Benefits Freeze is “over” but cut of 6% stays – future halt to rises not ruled out.

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Working-age benefits are set to continue to their relative decline (Resolution Foundation).

Last week this news item marked Thérèse Coffey, first Parliamentary intervention in her “dream job” as Work and Pensions Secretary.

Freeze imposed in 2015 was planned to last until end of 2019-20 financial year.

The government has refused to commit to ending its freeze on benefits despite a promise to turn the page on a decade of austerity.

The work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said she could not give a definitive answer about whether the freeze on most working-age benefits and tax credits would continue beyond its initial four-year term.

Imposed in 2015 by chancellor George Osborne, the benefit freeze was planned to last until the end of the 2019-20 financial year. However, Coffey said talks were ongoing about what the government would do next and she left the door open for a possible extension.

Answering questions from MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee, she said: “I don’t think anybody should make any assumptions by default, but we’re looking very carefully right now on what we can do on benefits going forward from 2020. I can’t give you a definitive outcome on what we will do.”

The electronic dog collar disciplinarian did not taker account of this – as the article continues,

Inflation figures published earlier on Wednesday indicated that benefits could rise by 1.7% from April if the freeze is lifted. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said inflation remained unchanged in September, with the consumer price index (CPI) holding steady at 1.7%.

The inflation reading for September is used by the government to uprate the value of benefit payments each year, as well as state pensions and business rates.

The Resolution Foundation think tank said the welfare freeze had cut the value of benefits by 6% in real terms since 2015, leaving the average poor couple with children £580 a year worse off.

It said the social security safety net was continuing to be eroded as wages and pensions rose by more than double the rate of benefits.

This is the Resolution Foundation report, well worth reading.

The benefit freeze has ended, but erosion of the social security safety net continues

The major working-age benefits will rise in cash terms in April 2020, for the first time in five years. They will increase by 1.7 per cent, based on new figures released today – assuming no change in government policy. But while the benefit freeze has now ended, its effect of significantly weakening the social security safety net has not.

Further data, also released this week, means that the state pension will rise by a higher 3.9 per cent. The difference between the two increases highlights the fact that working-age benefits will continue to be eroded in value relative to earnings and pensions. This policy approach comes despite households with children typically having lower incomes than other groups, and higher poverty risks.

They continue,

The ‘benefit freeze’ is over.

We now know that CPI inflation was 1.7 per cent in the year to September. This figure is particularly important as it determines (among other things) how far many benefits will rise next April.

Remarkably, for a range of benefits – including Child Benefit, Universal Credit, (non-disability) Tax Credits, Housing Benefit limits, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, and Employment and Support Allowance (except the support group component) – this will be the first cash increase in basic entitlements since April 2015, thanks to the benefit freeze introduced by then Chancellor George Osborne.

After adjusting for price increases, this benefit freeze has cut the real level of those benefits by 6 per cent, and in many cases that has come on top of earlier real cuts.

It is of course a good thing that the freeze is coming to an end. (Though, to be clear, the freeze was always due to come an end in April 2020 – there has not been any recent policy change.)

But, while the direction of travel is no longer downwards, working-age benefits are clearly now stingier than they were pre-freeze, or indeed pre-austerity (even putting aside any wider considerations, such as sanctions or waiting periods). In fact, the real value of basic out-of-work support in 2019-20 is – at £73 a week (£3,800 a year) – lower than it was in 1991-92, despite GDP per capita having grown by more than 50 per cent since then. Even more starkly, child benefit for a second child or beyond is worth less in 2019-20 than when it was (fully) introduced in 1979. It seems a rising tide does not always lift all boats.

….

Although the benefit freeze and departmental austerity are ending, this is not the end of working-age welfare cuts

The question of whether we could and should do more to support household incomes through working-age benefits (the answer to both is yes) seems particularly pertinent when the age of austerity has come to an end for departmental spending, and when the likely upcoming election may feature some very expensive promises on other spending and tax cuts.

But despite the end of the benefit freeze, the turning point for departments, and the abandoning of previous fiscal rules, we shouldn’t forget that some benefit cuts continue to be rolled out. As Figure 4 shows, the two-child limit in particular has some way to go, as it applies only to those born after April 2017. The slow roll-out of Universal Credit, although a positive overall, will also create many losers as it continues over the next few years.

When it comes to working-age benefits, it is clear that austerity is not yet over.

Coffey’s stout denial of poverty continues.

And here.

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

October 22, 2019 at 10:18 am

Digital Welfare Nightmares.

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Image result for digital welfare dystopia' around

“Claimants struggle with Universal Credit’s online portal…”

Following the post on Surveillance Welfare and sending out our newshawks to investigate the main thing they found was that for many people it is becoming bloody hard to to get to grips with a “online” benefits system.

The local facthounds confirm that this story, from the start of the year, is well the case in Ipswich and elsewhere.

As a librarian I spend most of my time helping benefits claimants work out the Universal Credit system

Georgia Grainger is happy to help but wishes library services were not cut so frequently because they do such important work

  • Librarian says some claimants have no idea how computers work
  • Says libraries forced to prop up services not provided by Jobcentres
  • Says benefits claimants feel ’embarrassed’ to ask for help with forms.

The reality of being a librarian at Charleston Community Library in Dundee, Scotland, couldn’t be more different. The 23-year-old, whose job title is library and information assistant, says she spends most of her time helping benefits claimants attempt to navigate the Universal Credit system from the library computers.

Hard pressed library staff across the country help people deal with a system designed to help the DWP and their private providers, not claimants.

Our contributors have unearthed many a merry tale as well but this latest news opens up a worse prospect.

What they could call the “digital divide” exists across the world.

It’s not just access to services online, which are not always available. Not everybody wants to, or can, use computers and the internet.

In French they even have an expression for those unable to use computers, L’illectronisme – illiteracy in electronic devices. 

There may not yet be any systematic studies to translate into figures the rate of “digital illiteracy” (or DI — we will use this term, pending an English equivalent to the French illectronisme) but we already have a feeling of how bad it may be. Again, the social consequences of DI and plain illiteracy are similar.

Digital illiteracy – a real handicap Jean-Claude Elias 

Now we have this report:

Universal Credit: UN report warns of ‘digital welfare dystopia’ around DWP benefits system

Ruchira Sharma The ‘I’.

The report said that many claimants struggle with Universal Credit’s online portal, stopping them from even understanding their own case.

The report, which will be presented to the to the General Assembly on Friday, cited the DWP’s Universal Credit system and how its use of online portals stops many claimants who lack digital skills from understanding their own case and having the ability to appeal.

..

The report highlighted that despite being a wealthy country, in 2019 in the UK there are 11.9 million people (22 per cent of the population) who do not have the essential digital skills needed for day-to-day life.

An additional 19 per cent cannot perform fundamental tasks such as turning on a device or opening an app, while 4.1 million adults (8 per cent) are offline because of fears that the internet is an insecure environment – proportionately almost half of those are from a low income household and more than half are over 60.

Welfare Weekly has the story.

World stumbling zombie-like into a digital welfare dystopia’, warns UN report

A UN human rights expert has expressed concerns about the emergence of the “digital welfare state”, saying that all too often the real motives behind such programmes are to slash welfare spending, set up intrusive government surveillance systems and generate profits for private corporate interests.

“As humankind moves, perhaps inexorably, towards the digital welfare future it needs to alter course significantly and rapidly to avoid stumbling zombie-like into a digital welfare dystopia,” the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, says in a report to be presented to the General Assembly on Friday.

The digital welfare state is commonly presented as an altruistic and noble enterprise designed to ensure that citizens benefit from new technologies, experience more efficient government, and enjoy higher levels of well-being.

But, Alston said, the digitization of welfare systems has very often been used to promote deep reductions in the overall welfare budget, a narrowing of the beneficiary pool, the elimination of some services, the introduction of demanding and intrusive forms of conditionality, the pursuit of behavioural modification goals, the imposition of stronger sanctions regimes, and a complete reversal of the traditional notion that the state should be accountable to the individual.

“Digital welfare states thereby risk becoming Trojan Horses for neoliberal hostility towards social protection and regulation,” said the UN Special Rapporteur.

“Moreover, empowering governments in countries with significant rule of law deficits by endowing them with the level of control and the potential for abuse provided by these biometric ID systems should send shudders down the spine of anyone even vaguely concerned to ensure that the digital age will be a human rights friendly one”.

It continues,

“Most Governments have stopped short of requiring Big Tech companies to abide by human rights standards, and because the companies themselves have steadfastly resisted any such efforts, the companies often operate in a virtually human rights free-zone,” said Alston.

The human rights community has thus far done a very poor job of persuading industry, government, or seemingly society at large, of the fact that a technologically-driven future will be disastrous if it is not guided by respect for human rights and grounded in hard law.

There is no shortage of analyses warning of the dangers for human rights of various manifestations of digital technology and especially artificial intelligence.

“But none has adequately captured the full array of threats represented by the emergence of the digital welfare state,” the UN expert said.

Here is the summary of the report,

Report of the Special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

The digital welfare state is either already a reality or is emerging in many countries across the globe. In these states, systems of social protection and assistance are increasingly driven by digital data and technologies that are used to automate, predict, identify, surveil, detect, target and punish. This report acknowledges the irresistible attractions for governments to move in this direction, but warns that there is a grave risk of stumbling zombie-like into a digital welfare dystopia. It argues that Big Tech operates in an almost human rights free-zone, and that this is especially problematic when the private sector is taking a leading role in designing, constructing, and even operating significant parts of the digital welfare state. The report recommends that instead of obsessing about fraud, cost savings, sanctions, and market-driven definitions of efficiency, the starting point should be on how welfare budgets could be transformed through technology to ensure a higher standard of living for the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 18, 2019 at 10:46 am

Surveillance Capitalism Comes to the Dole.

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Image result for surveillance capitalism panopticon

New DWP HQ.

I, and many other people ,have got interested in Surveillance Capitalism recently.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power Professor Shoshana Zuboff

It’s a book, a bloody long one,  about “the unprecedented form of power called “surveillance capitalism,” and the quest by powerful corporations to predict and control us.”

She says,  “human experience is subjected to surveillance capitalism’s market mechanisms and reborn as ‘behaviour”.

It seems people are very willing to give up their private information in return for perceived benefits such as ease of use, navigation and access to friends and information. Zuboff recasts the conversation around privacy as one over “decision rights”: the agency we can actively assert over our own futures, which is fundamentally usurped by predictive, data-driven systems. Engaging with the systems of surveillance capitalism, and acquiescing to its demands for ever deeper incursions into everyday life, involves much more than the surrender of information: it is to place the entire track of one’s life, the determination of ones path, under the purview and control of the market.

Guardian.

Universal Credit, which we do not even ‘buy’ is a much more complex version.

It’s modelled on it.

We have to fill in all our details, and personal problems, not to mention physical difficulties if we want Disability Allowances.

In return they watch our search for work like hawks.

On-line journals and the rest.

Not to mention the threat of sanctions.

The next stage is coming.

The UK government is accelerating the development of robots in the benefits system in a digitisation drive that vulnerable claimants fear could plunge them further into hunger and debt, the Guardian has learned.

The Department for Work and Pensions has hired nearly 1,000 new IT staff in the past 18 months, and has increased spending to about £8m a year on a specialist “intelligent automation garage” where computer scientists are developing over 100 welfare robots, deep learning and intelligent automation for use in the welfare system.

As well as contracts with the outsourcing multinationals IBM, Tata Consultancy and CapGemini, it is also working with UiPath, a New York-based firm co-founded by Daniel Dines, the world’s first “bot billionaire” who last month said: “I want a robot for every person.” His software, used by Walmart and Toyota, is now being deployed in a bid to introduce machine learning into checking benefit claims.

Note this,

The DWP is also testing artificial intelligence to judge the likelihood that citizens’ claims about their childcare and housing costs are true when they apply for benefits.

It has deployed 16 bots to communicate with claimants and help process claims and is building a “virtual workforce” to take over some of the jobs of humans. One recent tender document requested help to build “systems that … can autonomously carry out tasks without human intervention”.

The developments emerged during a Guardian investigation into one of the most radical but least understood welfare reforms since the roll-out of universal credit that will apply to 7 million people.

And this,

But claimants have warned the existing automation in UC’s “digital by default” system has already driven some to hunger, breakdown and even attempted suicide. One described the online process as a “Kafka-like carousel”, another as “hostile” and yet another as a “form of torture”. Several said civil servants already appeared to be ruled by computer algorithms, unable to contradict their verdicts.

This,

Key details about the automation push remain secret. The DWP has refused freedom of information requests to explain how it gathers data on citizens. Simon McKinnon, the chief digital and information officer of DWP Digital, said this year it was developing a way to “build a holistic understanding of digital personas”, but refused to say what information was gathered to do this.

The ministry has previously told parliament it gathers data from private credit reference agencies, the police, the Valuation Office Agency, the Land Registry and the National Fraud Initiative, which gather information from public and private bodies. But it is now declining to update the list, claiming it would “compromise the usefulness of that data”.

“There are concerns that government is accelerating the automation of the welfare system without a proper evidence-based consultation about its impacts,” said Dr Lina Dencik, co-founder of the Data Justice Lab at Cardiff.

More,

Staff are using UiPath to develop machine learning to check claims for fraud, which suggests welfare computers will autonomously learn and alter the way they make decisions with minimum human intervention.

One recent staff member at Newcastle told the Guardian they already “have ways of creating a digital image of somebody”. He stressed much of the work was secret, but said this did not mean it was against citizens’ interests.

The digital transformation is costing hundreds of millions of pounds. The DWP Digital’s budget has risen 17% to £1.1bn in the past year and IT firms have been awarded huge contracts to help run the system. The DWP is also rapidly expanding its own private technology company Benefits and Pensions Digital Technology Services, which recruited more than 400 staff in the year to April, while DWP Digital recruited 520.

I bet this is just the beginning of an almighty row.

Then there is this:

Down with Machine Rule!

Written by Andrew Coates

October 14, 2019 at 12:16 pm