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Gawd Bless you Ma’am ! Theresa May scraps universal credit helpline charges.

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Theresa May scraps universal credit helpline charges.

People will be able to call the government’s universal credit helpline without being charged, within weeks.

Prime Minister Theresa May said she had listened to criticism of the charges, which can be up to 55p a minute, and decided it was “right” to drop them.

But she again rejected calls by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to “pause” the roll-out of the controversial benefit amid fears it is causing hardship.

MPs are currently debating Labour’s call for a rethink.

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Written by Andrew Coates

October 18, 2017 at 3:44 pm

Prime Minister’s Questions: May and Corbyn Clash on Universal Credit.

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Image result for flying saucer

Happy Universal Credit Claimants on Job Search.

The Tories seem to have decided on a policy of Stout Defence of Universal Credit.

On the World at One today some Tory MP claimed she was besieged by constituents queuing up to praise the new benefits system.

I can’t recall who it was but a Labour chap said that was surprisingly far from his experience.

Unfortunately the exchange was cut short before said Tory could tell us about the gifts of flowers and chocolate she”d had from over-the-moon claimants on Universal Credit.

Correction: that should have read, claimants, from the moon and well further afield.

Which neatly answers Corbyn today,

Jeremy Corbyn questioned “I wonder which planet the Prime Minister is on?” when she failed to see the problems with Universal Credit.

Guardian.

Jeremy Corbyn has called on Theresa May to rethink the troubled universal credit benefits system and abolish the charge for its helpline, which costs frustrated claimants up to 55p a minute to call from a mobile phone

The call happened during Prime Minister’s Question Time.

BBC

Theresa May has defended the expansion of the government’s flagship welfare reform as Jeremy Corbyn said it was increasing poverty and homelessness.

The PM said the government was listening to concerns about universal credit and said it was getting more people into work.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Corbyn urged her to “wake up to reality” and pause the rollout.

And he called it “absurd” that calls to the helpline cost up to 55p a minute.

Universal credit, which merges six working-age benefits into a single payment, is being introduced in 50 job centres across the UK every month.

It is paid in arrears, and there have been complaints about the six-week wait for payments, with almost a quarter of claimants waiting for longer because of delays in the system.

In the leaders’ first clash since Parliament returned from party conference season, Mr Corbyn said the reform was “driving up poverty, debt and homelessness”, with people facing eviction due to a shortage of cash.

It was “irresponsible to press on regardless”, he said, also urging the PM to “show some humanity” and make the helpline – which costs between 3p and 55p a minute from a mobile phone – free of charge.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the hotline was charged at standard local rates so was free for many people as part of their phone contracts. It added that people could request a free call back from the department.

Mrs May said the government was building a welfare system that provided a safety net for those who need it and which also helps people to get into the workplace and earn more.

Responding to questions about payment delays, she said more people were receiving advances which are available to those in need, adding that the government would continue to monitor the roll-out.

The previous system put in place by the Labour government of 1997 to 2010 was “far too complicated” and left many people better off on benefits, she added.

Conservative MP Heidi Allen also quizzed the PM on universal credit, saying the six-week delay “just doesn’t work”.

Mrs May agreed to have a meeting with Ms Allen.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 11, 2017 at 3:11 pm

John Major Joins in Chorus Against Universal Credit.

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Image result for John major cartoon Steve bell

Major to the Rescue!

Back in the old days we all used to laugh at John Major.

Rory Bremner did a great impersonation.

There was also his affair with Edwina Currie, (BBC)

Former Prime Minister John Major has admitted he had a four-year affair with the former Conservative minister Edwina Currie.

Mr Major described it as the most shameful event of his life, but said his wife Norma had long known of the relationship and had forgiven him.

Mrs Currie made the disclosure in her diaries, which are being serialised in the Times newspaper.

The affair began in 1984 when Mrs Currie was a backbencher and Mr Major a whip in Margaret Thatcher’s government.

Mrs Currie – who later became a health minister – said the affair ended in early 1988 after his swift promotion to the Cabinet as chief secretary to the Treasury.

What the wags of the Internet could make of that today is …a happy thought.

Now Major is an elder statesman.

With Boris and Rees Mogg around – preceded stage right by Iain Duncan Smith, not to mention David Gauke – you could feel a big nostalgic for those days.

Major obviously has more than a grain of sense left.

John Major calls for Tory review of ‘unfair’ universal credit

reports the Guardian.

Former PM says party needs to ‘show its heart again’ or it risks opening door to ’return of a nightmare’.

Sir John Major has called for an urgent change of tone from the Conservative government, including a review of universal credit, which he described as “operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving”.

The former prime minister said his party needed to “show its heart again, which is all too often concealed by its financial prudence”, if it hoped to fight off a Labour resurgence in the next general election.

“We are not living in normal times and must challenge innate Conservative caution,” he said.

However, he suggested the implementation of the policy, which has led some claimants to turn to foodbanks as they wait up to six weeks for payments, required a rethink.

To rub this in we learn the following today,

More than 25 Tory MPs  prepared to rebel over Universal Credit roll-out

More than 25 Tory MPs are now prepared to rebel over the Government’s flagship welfare reforms amid mounting calls for a “pause” in the roll-out of Universal Credit.

David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary, last week tried to broker a truce with MPs by insisting that a system of advance payments was already in place to help those struggling when they change systems.

Despite the move, Sir John Major, the former Tory Prime Minister, described the system on Sunday as “operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving”.

The Guardian outlines the mammoth task before the government.

Universal credit: why is it a problem and can the system be fixed?

What are the design flaws?

There are manifold problems, but the political focus centres on the minimum 42-day wait for a first payment endured by new claimants when they move to universal credit (in practice this is often up to 60 days). For many low-income claimants, who lack savings, this in effect leaves them without cash for six weeks. The well-documented consequences for claimants of this are rent arrears (leading in some cases to eviction), hunger (food banks in universal credit areas report striking increases in referrals), use of expensive credit, and mental distress.

What have ministers proposed to do about the six-week wait?

The work and pensions secretary, David Gauke, recognised the widely held concerns about the long payment wait (including 12 of his own party’s backbenchers) in his speech to the Tory party conference on Monday. He said he was overhauling the system of advance payments available to claimants to enable them to access cash up front to see them through the six-week waiting period. Payments would be available within five days, and in extreme cases within hours.

Will this solve the problem?

The payments are loans that must be repaid. Claimants can only get an advance for a proportion of the amount they are owed as a first payment, and must repay it within six months. Normally, claimants must prove to officials that an advance is needed to pay bills, afford food or prevent illness. Official figures show about half of new universal credit claimants apply for an advance payment. Ministers say this is good news as it shows they are getting help. Critics say the high demand proves the wait is too onerous for too many people.

What other options do ministers have?

Charities and landlords could reduce the long wait marginally by cutting the seven-day “waiting period” introduced in 2013 (an arbitrary period during which new claimants are prevented from lodging a claim after being made redundant). They could introduce more flexible repayment terms for advance loans. And they could speed up the payment process (currently slower than the supposedly cumbersome “legacy” benefits they replace).

So it is all about ironing out a few technical glitches?

Not quite. Multibillion-pound cuts to work allowances imposed by the former chancellor George Osborne mean universal credit is far less generous than originally envisaged. According to the Resolution Foundation thinktank, about 2.5m low-income working households will be more than £1,000 a year worse off when they move on to universal credit. Reversing those cuts requires a political decision, not a technical fix.

What is the future for universal credit?

Gauke confirmed today that the current rollout will continue to the planned timetable (which will see, in theory, universal credit extended to about 7 million people by 2022). However, the problems of universal credit are unlikely to go away, and it has some powerful critics, including the Treasury, which has always opposed the project. It would be possible to cancel the project, or overhaul it substantially. However, some argue the billions pumped into universal credit – and the huge amount of political capital and credibility invested in it – mean it is too big to fail.

For those who’ve lost the will to live after this lot, Rory Bremner is still a laugh!

Written by Andrew Coates

October 9, 2017 at 10:22 am

Universal Credit Introduction to Continue as Gaucke Eyes Chancellor’s Jobs.

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Image result for david gauke caricature

From Springboard of  Universal Credit to Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Yesterday:

David Gauke Reveals He Wants To Be Chancellor Of The Exchequer

The Huffington Post continues:

But Tory cabinet minister plays down idea he could become prime minister.

It was expected that he is as deaf as doorpost to all the misery he’s left in his wake, so no surprise to see this:

Today:

Universal credit rollout will go ahead despite Tory MPs’ call for delay

Reports  the Guardian.

Work and pensions secretary David Gauke confirms introduction of controversial benefit will continue as planned.

The government is to press ahead with its rollout of universal credit, the work and pensions secretary has confirmed, despite a last-minute appeal from Tory backbenchers for a delay.

More than a dozen Conservative MPs had raised concerns with David Gauke’s department that claimants were being forced to use food banks because of the mandatory six-week wait to receive money.

On Monday, the MP who led the plea, Heidi Allen, appealed directly to Theresa May to intervene.

But in his speech to the Conservative party conference in Manchester, Gauke praised the controversial system, which is being gradually introduced around the country.

“Universal credit is working,” he said. “So I can confirm that the rollout will continue, and to the planned timetable.

“We’re not going to rush things; it is more important to get this right than to do this quickly, and this won’t be completed until 2022. But across the country, we will continue to transform our welfare system to further support those who aspire to work.”

Gauke said the government would be “refreshing the guidance” to staff at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over the possibility of giving advance payments to claimants in difficulty.

“Claimants who want an advance payment will not have to wait six weeks, they will receive this advance within five working days,” Gauke said. “And if someone is in immediate need, then we fast-track the payment, meaning they will receive it on the same day.”

Debbie Abrahams, the shadow work and pensions secretary, condemned the confirmation of the rollout, saying Gauke “should immediately end the misery caused by the six-week wait for payment of universal credit”.

Charities and campaign groups also expressed concern. Child Poverty Action Group said it welcomed the government being more proactive on advance payments, but its chief executive, Alison Garnham, said: “Given the serious and wide-ranging concerns about nearly every aspect of universal credit, we had hoped for more on how the government plans to address the funding, policy design and administrative problems plaguing universal credit before it is rolled out to families.”

Meanwhile: Theresa May asked about woman who has 4p to her name due to Universal Credit.

Department for Work and Pensions data shows that 42 per cent of families in arrears under Universal Credit said it was due to the waiting time to receive payment, support being delayed or stopped, or administrative errors in the system.

From the Independent.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

October 2, 2017 at 3:18 pm

The Labour Conference: When will the Party offer an Alternative to failed Universal Credit scheme?

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Image result for universal credit

Is Labour Ready to Mend this?

Anybody hoping for a serious debate on the major issue facing millions of people faced with Universal Credit will be looking to the Labour Party.

Well, while John McDonnell talks about plans to ” cap credit card interest payments” there are no signs of one at the Labour Conference.

Yesterday Nick Cohen wrote,

Universal credit is a shambles because the poor are ignored 

Poverty is a disease that silences its victims. It is impossible to imagine a government or institution designing a programme to combat racism without listening to members of ethnic minorities or a new road without consulting the home and business owners it would disturb. The poor, however, never have a say. Society infantilises them. It deems them no more worthy of an opinion on the welfare state that rules and increasingly wrecks their lives than it deems schoolchildren worthy of an opinion on the national curriculum.

We will see the doleful consequences as universal credit rolls out from being a niche benefit forced on a few hundred thousand claimants in pilot projects to the essential living allowance for eight million people. In theory, it’s a lovely idea. Even now, critics always begin by saying: “Of course, everyone agrees the benefit system must be simplified but…” Or: “Iain Duncan Smith had noble aims but…” It is as if the mere presence of good intentions is enough to dilute objections; as if, not only conservative commentators but liberals and leftists have never heard of the road to hell – and what paves it.

It is hard not to disagree with comrade Cohen’s conclusion:

The argument about poverty has become an argument between the left and right wings of the middle class. Universal credit is the malign result of the failure to listen to working-class voices or develop the imaginative sympathy to understand the constraints on their lives. In no other area of public policy would we accept it, but with the poor we nod it through without a blush of shame.

Bang on time the Guardian today follows the story up today, Priya Thethi, Universal credit is a social policy disaster in the making

Universal credit is the biggest change to our welfare system in 40 years. By the time it has been fully rolled out in 2022 it will potentially affect 8 million people across the UK. The rollout so far has been controversial, and fraught with difficulties. Social housing organisations, in which only around 2.6% of tenants (pdf) are currently claiming universal credit, have been hit particularly hard by the speed and scale of the change.

In August 2017 the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) released a guide for landlords, in a bid to to explain what the changes will mean and how they can support their tenants. Unfortunately, it made little to no mention of how to deal with the slew of administrative issues, faults and delays, which have already caused hardship for so many claimants.

Take note Labour Party!

Last week the BBC showed a documentary about the Manchester Police: The Detectives, Murder on the Streets.

There’s another, sadder story: a tale of two cities within one. Two Britains, even. Within sight of – but unnoticed from – smart downtown offices and yuppy flats, in a homeless camp under a railway arch, a man is murdered. An anonymous charred body, until he is identified from fingerprints from the one hand that remains unburned. Then he becomes someone, 23-year-old Daniel Smith, with friends and family who loved him and will miss him. “They are never going to get over it,” says Supt Chadwick, who now has a duty to make sure whoever killed Danny is brought to justice.

Viewers of the programme will know that vital CCTV evidence was lacking because the cameras were trained on the said offices and flats.

Something like that seems to be happening with Universal Credit.

For all the furore rightly stirred up by MPs and the media, key sections of the public have turned their backs.

End the Benefit Freeze. 

Written by Andrew Coates

September 25, 2017 at 9:59 am

Pressure Grows on Universal Credit Rollout.

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Image result for universal credit cartoon

You Don’t have to be Mad to Work in this Team, but it Helps. 

Today,Birmingham Mail.

Universal Credit seemed like a good idea but will the Government admit it’s not working out?

A new benefits system has left people behind with their rent or dependent on food banks – and taxpayers are footing the bill.

West Midland MPs have urged the Government to delay plans to introduce Universal Credit to parts of Birmingham in November and December, saying it’s not what people need at Christmas.

A letter to the Department for Work and Pensions was signed by Jack Dromey (Lab Birmingham Erdington), Jess Phillips (Lab Birmingham Yardley), Khalid Mahmood (Lab Birmingham Perry Barr), Richard Burden (Lab Birmingham Northfield) and Roger Godsiff (Lab Birmingham Selly Oak).

A delay wouldn’t mean the new benefit was scrapped. It would mean taking things slowly until the problems are ironed out.

But will Ministers listen?

Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman to call for next month’s rollout to be cancelled until overhaul takes place

Sunday:  The Observer view on the rollout of universal credit

‘We will govern in the interests of ordinary working families”, pledged the latest Conservative manifesto, a line that will ring increasingly hollow in the next few years. By 2022, millions of families will find themselves thousands of pounds a year worse off: not as a result of sluggish wage growth or the rising cost of essentials, rather, as a direct result of this government’s decisions to cut financial support for low-income working parents while it delivers expensive tax cuts for more affluent families.

…universal credit has morphed from an ambitious attempt to improve the benefits system into a cruel instrument that loads the burden of austerity on families who can least afford it. As a result of Osborne’s cuts, universal credit is significantly meaner than the system it is replacing.

Combined with other welfare cuts, it will leave low-income families with children up to £3,400 a year worse off by 2020. The Resolution Foundation has warned that the unprecedented scale of these welfare cuts means they are on course to forge the biggest increase in inequality in a generation. At the same time, Conservative chancellors will have instigated more than £80bn of tax cuts a year by 2021, including £22bn of income tax cuts, four-fifths of which benefit the richest half of families, and more than £13bn in corporation tax cuts.

The cuts to universal credit make a mockery of the policy’s original objective to improve work incentives. More people will face worse, rather than better, incentives to increase their earnings. For example, a second earner in a couple who earns £5,000 a year will only see their family’s income go up by less than £2,000 – before allowing for childcare costs.

Beyond the cuts, flaws in the design of universal credit are imposing serious hardship on families, pushing them into debt spirals. Unlike the current system, new claimants have to wait at least six weeks to receive their first payment after losing a job. Many have no way of filling this gap in income. A Citizens Advice survey found that three in five have to borrow money while waiting for this first payment. The government’s own figures show two in five renters on universal credit are in rent arrears eight weeks after their initial claim.

….

Universal credit also does nothing to address the key weaknesses in the labour market. Thanks in large part to the success of the welfare-to-work initiatives of the last two decades, worklessness is no longer the problem it used to be – Britain now enjoys record employment rates. But low pay is a huge problem: more than one in five workers in the UK is low paid, one of the worst rates in the OECD.

Low pay underpins the record levels of in-work poverty we are seeing: getting a job is far from a guaranteed route out of poverty. However, rather than provide support to people to progress in the workplace, universal credit introduces a system of sanctions for those deemed not to be taking enough action to increase their hours, putting significant discretion in the hands of jobcentre advisers as to how and when such sanctions are applied.

Given the problems already rife in the sanctions system – people having benefits docked for missing appointments for reasons completely out of their control, such as public transport delays – it is not difficult to envisage this manifesting itself in a terrible catch-22, where people not only can’t get more work from their employer but face a double whammy of having their benefits docked as a result.

The rollout of universal credit must be put on hold while these fundamental flaws are addressed. According to the Resolution Foundation, it would cost just £6bn a year to reverse the cuts to the universal credit system, a fraction of what the government has spent on unnecessary tax cuts for the more affluent.

If not, universal credit will come to be a symbol of the callous, cruel Conservatism that, far from being limited to the party’s fringes, has defined the way it has run Britain since 2010. It is a political creed that thinks nothing of driving more parents towards debt, pushing child poverty up to record levels and forcing more people to live on the street. Make no mistake: this Tory party is as nasty as ever.

But, as people here have pointed out…

DWP Secretary considering whether to ‘push the button’ on accelerating Universal Credit regime, says Tory MP

The Independent understands that while David Gauke is hopeful to push ahead he is listening to concerns raised over the new system.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 18, 2017 at 10:34 am

When will Universal Credit Fall off a Cliff?

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Image result for falling off a cliff

Warning: Universal Credit Ahead!

Sometimes you wonder when or where  it will all end.

Or Collapse, as the image above suggests.

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

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

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

Ken adds this to boot,

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

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

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

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

Is the Government worried?

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

They and the DWP are in denial.

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

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

This is the news today, from the Independent,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not to mention this:

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

Welfare Weekly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homelessness rise

England, 2010-2017

134% rise in rough sleepers

60% rise in households living in temporary accommodation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I saw people sleeping in doorways in Ipswich last night.

Not at all unusual.

Anywhere.

Update: still somebody’s happy:

Written by Andrew Coates

September 14, 2017 at 11:14 am