Ipswich Unemployed Action.

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Archive for the ‘Universal Credit’ Category

Universal Credit Chaos Shown in Trussell Trust Report Should be Top of Election Agenda.

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One item which should be top of the election agenda is the failure of Universal Credit.

People contributing to  this Blog have noted this (thanks Enigma) – we hope many more electors will take it seriously…not to mention politicians.

Food banks report record demand amid universal credit chaos

The Guardian reports.

Charity calls for immediate reduction in six-week wait for first benefit payment after handing out 1,182,954 emergency parcels.

Food banks handed out a record number of meals last year after the chaotic introduction of universal credit, the government’s flagship welfare overhaul, left claimants unable to afford meals when their benefits were delayed.

The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, announced that it provided 1,182,954 three-day emergency food parcels to people in crisis in 2016-17, up 6.4% on the previous year’s total of 1,109,000.

The trust said the standard six-week-plus waiting time for a first benefit payment faced by new universal credit claimants was behind the rise in demand for charity food. As well as reliance on food banks, benefit delays had also led to common adverse effects such as debt, mental illness, rent arrears and eviction, the trust said.

The trust called for an immediate reduction in the minimum six-week wait for a first payment, saying debt and uncertainty caused by being without income was a source of stress and anxiety for many clients, and had led some to lose their homes.

The problems were exacerbated by the lack of official support for both clients and charities encountering universal credit for the first time, the trust said. The move to a full digital approach to benefits administration made it difficult for claimants without internet access to easily make, adjust or follow up claims.

This is the Report:

primary-referral-causes-2016-2017

25 Apr 17

UK foodbank use continues to rise

UK foodbank use continues to rise as new report highlights growing impact of Universal Credit rollout on foodbanks.

One food bank quoted in the report said: “People are lost. They have no support at the Jobcentre Plus, and don’t know where to turn for help. Particularly worrying is the number of larger families with young children who are also struggling with low income and mental ill-health.”
  • Over 1,182,000 three day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in past year – 436,000 to children
  • New report on Universal Credit reveals adverse side effects on people claiming and foodbanks providing help
  • The Trussell Trust welcomes Damian Green’s willingness to work with frontline charities and calls for more flexibility and support to help people moving to Universal Credit

UK foodbank use continues to rise according to new data from anti-poverty charity, The Trussell Trust. Between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2017, The Trussell Trust’s Foodbank Network provided 1,182,954 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis compared to 1,109,309 in 2015-16. Of this number, 436,938went to children. This is a measure of volume rather than unique users, and on average, people needed two foodbank referrals in the last year.* [see notes to editor]

The charity’s new report, Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Foodbanks, highlights that although the rollout of the new Universal Credit system for administering benefits has been piecemeal so far, foodbanks in areas of partial or full rollout are reporting significant problems with its impact.

Key findings from the report reveal:

  • Foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout to single people, couples and families, have seen a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%.
  • The effect of a 6+ week waiting period for a first Universal Credit payment can be serious, leading to foodbank referrals, debt, mental health issues, rent arrears and eviction. These effects can last even after people receive their Universal Credit payments, as bills and debts pile up.
  • People in insecure or seasonal work are particularly affected, suggesting the work incentives in Universal Credit are not yet helping everyone.
  • Navigating the online system can be difficult for people struggling with computers or unable to afford telephone helplines. In some cases, the system does not register people’s claims correctly, invalidating it.
  • Foodbanks are working hard to stop people going hungry in areas of rollout, by providing food and support for more than two visits to the foodbank and working closely with other charities to provide holistic support. However, foodbanks have concerns about the extra pressure this puts on food donation stocks and volunteers’ time and emotional welfare.

Trussell Trust data also reveals that benefit delays and changes remain the biggest cause of referral to a foodbank, accounting for 43 percent of all referrals (26 percent benefit delay; 17 percent benefit change), a slight rise on last year’s 42 percent.  Low income has also risen as a referral cause from 23 percent to 26 percent.

The Full Report can be accessed here: Early Warnings: Universal Credit and Foodbanks.

Note this:

Key recommendations from the report:

  • Recent positive engagement between The Department for Work and Pensions and The Trussell Trust at a national level is welcome. However, more information about the shape and form of Universal Support locally, particularly ahead of full UC rollout in an area, would bring clarity to foodbanks.
  • A reduction of the six week waiting period for Universal Credit would make a significant difference to people’s ability to cope with no income. The ‘waiting period’, the time before the assessment period begins, could be reduced first.
  • More flexibility in the administration of Universal Credit is needed to support people moving onto the new system. For example, more support for people applying online who are unfamiliar with digital technology, and support to improve people’s ability to move into work and stay in work.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 25, 2017 at 9:59 am

Tory Election News You Probably Will Not Hear.

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Image result for Tories and welfare Theresa May

Always Looking for New Targets to Reach.

Callous Tory government targeting the most vulnerable in society’.

Welfare Weekly. 20th of April

Conservatives accused of “targeting the most vulnerable in society” with “callous” cuts to Employment and Support Allowance.

Labour MP John Cruddas has accused the Tory government of “targeting the most vulnerable in society” with draconian welfare cuts, which he claims will have a big impact on his poorest Dagenham and Rainham constituents.

The “callous” Conservatives are cutting £30 a week in Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments for up to 500,000 sick and disabled people, reducing the amount they receive from £102.15 to just £73.10 – the same amount as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) – despite those affected having been declared “unfit for work” following an assessment.

Bereaved families attend widowed parents’ allowance protest

Westminster demonstration takes place after change in rules dramatically reduces amount paid out after a death.

Widowed parents have attended a protest outside parliament after ministers pressed ahead with cuts that will leave some bereaved families more than £50,000 worse off.

One of the attendees said the decision, which came into place earlier this month, was equivalent to “punishing those who are living out most families’ worst nightmares”.

Scotland: Scottish Housing News.

Women ‘hardest hit’ by UK welfare cuts, says minister

Women are being unfairly impacted by recent UK government cuts to benefits and welfare eligibility, according to equalities secretary Angela Constance.

An estimated 20% of women’s income comes from benefits and child tax credits, compared to 10% of men’s. Meanwhile, of all in-work families receiving child tax credits, 87% of recipients were women. For in-work single parents, 94% of recipients were female.

By 2020-21 it is estimated around 50,000 Scottish households will be affected by the changes to child tax credits, which will be capped at two children. This means anyone with two children or more will no longer receive tax credits at the birth of their next child or subsequent children, unless an exception applies. The policy also affects those making a new Universal Credit claim.

In addition, new families will lose £545 a year from the removal of the ‘family element’ – an additional payment that applies to the birth of a first child.

Ms Constance said: “The latest welfare cuts are having a hugely damaging and disproportionate impact on women. It is, frankly, an appalling assault on the incomes of ordinary people already struggling to make ends meet.

“It is all the more concerning because in many households women are the primary, or even sole, carers of children – a massive step backwards for equality in our society.

“As usual we are seeing an alarming lack of understanding from the UK government about the impact of their ideologically-driven policies. This is most evident in the extremely ill-thought through ‘rape clause’, where – shockingly – women have to provide evidence they’ve been raped to access benefits.

“The UK government’s callous policies make our own efforts to eradicate child poverty even harder. We are spending some £100 million a year on welfare mitigation to protect the vulnerable and those on low incomes, which we would rather be investing in anti-poverty measures. The reality is we are tackling deep seated issues of inequality with one hand tied behind our back.

“These welfare cuts were also introduced at the same time the UK government reduced taxes for the most well off south of the border. In contrast, our approach to social security will be based on dignity and respect and listening to people’s views – that’s why we are recruiting 2,000 people to shape the new system through our Experience Panels.”

And just to cheer everybody up: from the Belfast Telegraph about our old friend, Universal Credit.

No Stormont deal could see welfare reform with hard edge

Without a deal to bring back devolution, the Assembly will be unable to bring in mitigation schemes to cushion the impact of the upheaval for vulnerable families and individuals.

Universal Credit, which replaces a number of major benefits, is to be rolled out across the province in just over four months.

If the Assembly is not restored in that time, Secretary of State James Brokenshire will be required to take unilateral action, that could bring the Government in for criticism from other parts of the UK if the mitigation measures are included.

Just over 18 months ago the DUP and Sinn Fein handed back responsibility for welfare to Westminster, after more than three years of deadlock over benefit reforms.

The result was the Northern Ireland Welfare Reform Act, which means the power to trigger Universal Credit changes is in place.

Around 300,000 households will be impacted, with official estimates that 126,000 will be worse off by an average of almost £40 a week.

A further 114,000 are expected to be an average of £29 better off a week, with 72,000 remaining unchanged.

The changes are to be phased in gradually across Northern Ireland staring with Limavady in September – if the current timetable can be adhered to – followed by Ballymoney, Magherafelt and Coleraine.

The full roll-out of the programme will take a year, finishing off with Cookstown, Ballynahinch and Newcastle by September of next year.

Universal Credit replaces a series of existing benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.

The Department for Communities, which is working with the Department for Work and Pensions in London following the handover of responsibilities, confirmed yesterday the Assembly had been expected to deal with legislation to extend mitigation payments central to the reforms here.

“Mitigation schemes are already in place for legacy benefits for example JSA and ESA. Further legislation will be required to extend these mitigation payments to Universal Credit,” a statement said.

“This legislation will be dealt with by the NI Assembly. If there was no return to devolved government then such legislation would be considered in line with whatever arrangements were put in place to deal with this and all other pending NI legislation.”

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph this month, benefits expert Professor Eileen Evason said more can be achieved through parties working together.

“What we have, limited as it is, is far in advance of what has been secured by other devolved governments and demonstrates what can be achieved through devolution when people work together,” she said.

Prof Evason, who chaired a Stormont working group charged with mitigating the impact of the reforms within the financial framework, added: “I am also very aware of the high level of social need that continues to scar so many households and communities and is most evident in the growing reliance on food banks.

“I have no doubt those working with the most vulnerable in our society are anxious to move forward, but here, as is the case on so many issues, it is difficult to see how progress can be made without resolution of the current political impasse.”

Belfast Telegraph

Written by Andrew Coates

April 21, 2017 at 12:13 pm

As Damian Green Idles his Time Away Flawed Thinking Behind Universal Credit IT System Comes Out.

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Image result for universal credit it

A Genius was paid good money to design this picture….

As Damian Green whiles away his time in office, without deigning to tell users of Universal Jobmatch what’s happening with the site, some disturbing facts are coming out about the fundamental flaws in the IT management of Universal Credit.

Since these have already created massive problems for claimants, on top of the cuts and miserly scheme, not to mention a range of crackpot ideas that go with Universal Credit, this is highly significant.

Social Policy carries this story:

John Slater explains the thinking behind the project management of Universal Credit

Paul Spiker.

John Slater has been responsible for a series of Freedom of Information requests about the Universal Credit fiasco.  Yesterday he sent me a copy of the project management plan  introduced by Howard Shiplee, who was responsible for the development of Universal Credit from May 2013 until his departure, following illness, in September 2014.  Shiplee had previously been responsible for building construction for the 2012 Olympic Games.

I was puzzled by the plan, and wrote back to John:

I’m baffled – I can see no relationship between the steps to be taken and the design of a social security system. It looks more like a plan for building a McDonalds outlet, where all the groundwork’s laid and you know exactly what you want to do, so it’s all about delegating tasks. … I think you’re a project manager, John – – can you explain it to me?

I found John’s response so marvellously clear and helpful that I asked him if I could share it on the blog.  Here it is.

“Hi Paul,

You are right my background is programme and project management (my first degree was IT so I understand that aspect as well). You aren’t far off with your McDonalds analogy.

The plan is a classic case of an organisation focusing on the IT side of a major change programme. UC is one of the biggest change programme ever undertaken and nothing I’ve ever seen produced by the DWP reflects this.

The 100 day plan is a classic example of people that have been on a training course (e.g. Prince2 or Management Successful Programmes) but have never done the job for real. If you look down the left hand side of the ‘plan’ you’ll see the following headings:

  1. Key dates & decisions
  2. BT – Business (I suspect BT means business transformation)
  3. BT – Service Design & Build (I suspect BT means business transformation)
  4. BT Interfaces (I suspect BT means business transformation)
  5. Pathfinder Day 2
  6. Programme Approach
  7. HR
  8. Finance
  9. Assurance
  10. Security
  11. Comms (Communications)
  12. Stakeholder
  13. Supplier

With the exception of point 1 these are typically referred to a work streams. The idea is that each of the workstreams goes along their merry way cooperating with each other to deliver the programme. The reality of this approach with any complex programme is that it always goes horribly wrong.

If you look at points 2 to 5 then it is utterly focused on the IT. The plan looks like something to produce a software product of some sort. There is no mention of culture change, process engineering (this should be done before any software is produced) and the biggest issue of all people! This covers the claimants, DWP employees, Council Employees, Welfare Advisors and so on. They are just expected to magically learn and make it work. The trouble is human beings don’t work that way.

Part of the issue is that the DWP employees working on UC at the time hadn’t ever done anything like this before so didn’t have a clue. The put people in roles (e.g. programme manager, programme office manager etc) but they hadn’t done it before and had just been sent on a training course.

I’ve been doing this stuff for 30 years and I would have struggled to get UC up and running (and I’m very good at this aspect of complex programmes). Bringing in someone like Howard Shiplee was always going to fail. I’ve run programmes involving a lot of construction and it’s a different world and a totally different mindset. I suspect if you looked at the approach used for construction during the London Olympic build it wouldn’t look dissimilar to this plan. With construction the focus is generally on design and then build (known as D&B). The key factor is the supply chain and can the main contractor get the materials and people on site on time and in the right order. If you look at the plan again I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see the left hand side of the dark vertical as ‘design’ and the right hand side as ‘build’. This is what Howard Shiplee understood and it was so deeply ingrained I doubt he could have done anything else.

In respect of the pathfinder system released at Wigan it was a cobbled together lobotomised version of the IT that would ultimately be required for the complete UC. At this stage of the programme IDS knew the IT was fundamentally flawed, hence the talk of large sums being written off at the time. He also knew that they had to start over again but couldn’t admit that as it would be politically disastrous. Therefore, they rolled out the lobotomised version that only covered a small subset of people claiming JSA and claimed success. While this version was being rolled out painfully slowly the DWP was working desperately to produce a brain new IT system that ultimately will be the UC IT System.

Personally I think the new IT system will also fail. The methodology (Agile) as it’s been used by the DWP means that too much has been done in isolation. The system is going to be extremely complex and as bugs appear I’m not convinced the DWP will be able to find out the cause and then develop a solution that doesn’t result and another problem.

Kind Regards

John”

Universal credit full service for all types of claimants continues to roll out to plan. It is now being delivered in 50 jobcentres and is the Department’s first fully digital service.

We have been exploring how this technology can, for the first time, offer a simple system of explicit consent (to protect the large amounts of claimant personal information held under universal credit) but which is easy to use and takes advantage of the opportunities a digital service can offer. Such a system can be used by third parties and stakeholders representing claimants’ interests, enhancing the service that they can provide for the most vulnerable.

However, it is clear MPs engaging on their constituents’ behalf need constant access to such a system through which they can help their constituents. Today, I have agreed that the implicit consent approach which operates well for all other DWP benefits can be extended to MPs representing the interests of their constituents who are engaging with or directly claiming universal credit. We can offer this because of our pre-existing relationships between MPs’ offices, district managers and their teams. This is something which cannot pertain for inquiries from other sources.

This means any correspondence—letter, email, or telephone inquiries—from MPs on behalf of a constituent relating to universal credit will be answered directly, without a requirement to seek explicit consent from their constituent. This will ensure consistency and clarity for MP offices, no matter what benefit the inquiry is about.

Extending this support for MPs and their constituents will continue to help enable the successful delivery of this key welfare reform programme.

[HCWS528]

Written by Andrew Coates

April 12, 2017 at 10:57 am

From Benefit Cap to Universal Credit: Theresa May Spreads Misery.

with 86 comments

Image result for benefit cap campaign against

Last Night the BBC showed this programme:  BemThousands on 50p-a-week housing benefit, Panorama finds.

More than 7,500 households have lost their housing benefit and instead receive a nominal 50p a week because of the welfare cap, the BBC has found.

A Panorama survey of hundreds of councils shows at least 67,600 homes in England, Scotland and Wales have lost some money due to the policy.

The cap is £23,000 in London and £20,000 in the rest of the country.

The nominal amount is paid so that those households can claim access to an emergency fund if they need to.

They have to be in receipt of some housing benefit in order to be eligible to apply for discretionary housing payments, a special government fund set up for those particularly affected by the cap.

The cap is part of the government’s drive to get unemployed people back into employment by cutting out-of-work benefits.

The amount of money above the limit is taken from either housing benefit or Universal Credit.

The Mirror, a paper which has consistently stood up for us lot, reports on this,

Tories’ benefit cap leaves thousands of families left with just 50p a week for rent

People have been made homeless and separated from their children as a result of the new welfare rules, according to a BBC Panorama probe

And in a further story,

Unemployed mother-of-four receives just 50p A WEEK to cover rent after Tory housing benefit cap changes

Desperate Kim Carmichael was threatened with eviction at the start of the year and says her life has altered dramatically as a result of the government’s adjustments

They used to get £500 a week in benefits to look after their four children but their payments were cut by £120 in November under the changes.

They say their rent used to be covered by housing benefit but that has since been cut to the minimum amount.

Steve said: “Now it’s only 50p a week – so that’s £2 a month, which they may as well keep. It costs more to send a letter out.”

The family was threatened with eviction at the end of January because of their rent arrears.

They then got a payment from a special government fund set up to help those who have been affected by the cap.

But this payment also ran out at the end of March and they will now have to apply for more money. If they don’t get it, they could lose their home.

The government says the benefit cap tries to level up “the playing field between families who are in work and who are reliant on benefits.”

The misery the government is inflicting specifically through Universal Credit is spread wider.

Serious stories are appearing in the better regional papers.

This is from the Chronicle, Newcastle.

How much money do people claiming Universal Credit benefits actually get?

We look at how people live on the benefit, which has now been rolled out across Newcastle

Last week, we reported on Newcastle City Council’s fears over the impact of a new benefits system on some vulnerable people in the city.

The city is one of the first in the country where the Universal Credit system has been rolled out in full — but what does that actually mean for the people who rely on it?

The whole article is worth reading, but the concluding bit stands out,

According to DWP figures, in Newcastle there were just over 5,000 people claiming Universal Credit as of February 9.

Of these, the majority, around 2,717 were looking for work.

But 1,484 claimants were working.

On top of that, 488 people had no requirement to look for work, while a handful more were classed as “preparing for work” or “planning for work”.

But it’s not quite that simple

According to Donna, some people may be struggling to claim everything they’re entitled to.

One of the big problems is for those who’ve been used to claiming housing benefit, which goes directly to their landlords, and now have to pay themselves out of their monthly claim.

They may not have the right documents to show what they’re paying in rent – someone who signed a tenancy agreement ten years ago is unlikely to be paying the same amount now, for example.

Donna said: “Some people are putting themselves in financial hardship because they don’t know what they can claim. If you’re unsure, talk to your landlord.

On top of that, one of the major issues some claimants face is the up to six week wait before payments start – for people who’ve lost work and don’t have an alternative source of cash, this wait could prove a very difficult time, with people claiming food parcels or even racking up debts to tide them over.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 6, 2017 at 11:38 am

Camden Council: “Claimants ‘stealing food’ to eat due to benefit delays.”

with 75 comments

Above: Mid-Suffolk and Babergh South Suffolk (Tory) Council Video……

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Damian Green sometimes spends time away from his taxing life in the bijou town of Ashford answering questions about ‘reforms’ to Personal Independence Payments.

Sample, 15th of March, Parliament, “I  am happy to confirm that to my hon. Friend. I think that he and I would agree that that was a significant step forward when it was introduced, and I am determined that we maintain progress in that direction so that people who have a disability—whether a physical or mental impairment—can lead as full a life as possible.”

We note that in reply to one question he said, “In his long and distinguished career, the hon. Gentleman has been shadow Leader of the House, so he knows perfectly well that such things are a matter for the usual channels. It is therefore somewhat above my pay grade.”

You wonder if the turmoil in his department’s botched scheme Universal Credit is ‘above’ both his ‘pay grade’ and ability to deal with…

These are some of the latest difficulties.

Universal Credit: Claimants ‘stealing food’ to eat due to benefit delays

Finance chief warns people are being forced into new debts

DESPERATE tenants faced with long delays in accessing new Universal Credit benefits are beginning to steal food to survive, the Town Hall has warned a parliamentary committee.

Camden Council told the Work and Pensions Select Committee that the new system – a single monthly, means-tested benefit – was backfiring due to delays in the system. This meant people were racking up debts and rent arrears before they had received any help. In some cases, people are waiting up to six weeks before claims are processed.

The Town Hall’s official submission to MPs said: “One tenant has confessed to a rent officer that they were stealing food to eat. It is common to hear that Universal Credit claimants are borrowing heavily from family and friends. The Department for Work and Pensions’ Universal Credit helpline set up to advise claimants on the progress of their claim is providing an unacceptable service. Telephone calls can cost up to 55p a minute from pay-as-you-go mobile phones, which are commonly used by people with lower incomes. Wait times to speak with an adviser can be very long – one claimant in Camden has reported that their phone bill for a month was over £140, used almost entirely on calls to the DWP.”

The council is one of a number of local authorities, volunteer groups and charities giving evidence to the committee investigating the effectiveness of the new benefit system, first devised by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

The reforms were meant to make the process of claiming benefits simpler through a single account, but the monthly cycle has left many struggling as they wait for a first payment. The council, meanwhile, fears that landlords will stop letting to those affected, particularly as many do not have savings to fall back on.

Around 230 people currently claim Universal Credit in Camden, but this figure could jump to 10,000 when the system is rolled out across the country this year.

Camden’s submission to the committee added: “While we recognise there is much to support in a benefit system that encourages claimants to take responsibility for a personal budget and outgoings, we feel strongly that a system should not be set up in a way that potentially adds to the risk of vulnerable people losing their home.”

The ‘very long’ wait on the phone struck home.

This is more and more people’s experience of anything to do with the DWP, and all the rest, particularly the infamous ‘outsourced’ bits of the state, run by private racketeers. 

In sum the next story comes as no surprise:

Pressure mounts on UK government to halt universal credit. Third Force News.

Pressure is mounting on the UK government to ditch universal credit until its catalogue of problems are resolved.

Scotland’s social security secretary Angela Constance warned the Westminster-imposed system was no longer feasible in Scotland and is demanding UK ministers halt its introduction.

The minister’s demand comes after a Westminster committee launched an inquiry into universal credit amid concerns over delays in payments.

The new system – where people use an online account to manage their claim or apply for a benefit – is fully operational only in certain parts of the country.

Three Scottish councils, East Lothian, Highland and East Dunbartonshire, have it in place, with other areas piloting aspects of the full system.

Constance has written to Damian Green, UK work and pensions secretary, to ask for a “complete halt to full service roll-out of universal credit in Scotland with immediate effect”, stating it is “no longer feasible”.

She said people who are moved on to full service have to wait six weeks before receiving their first payment, resulting in tenants building up rent arrears.

As a result,

Delays in payments have seen landlords, including housing associations, reporting financial difficulties, with councils reporting record rent arrears,  Constance said.

“It is clear that the system simply isn’t working and the UK government is not prepared to make the necessary changes,” she said.

“The six-week delay in receiving a payment – with longer delays for some being experienced – is a completely unacceptable situation and one which has the potential to push low-income households into further hardship and homelessness.

“I was also shocked to hear reports that, in some areas, landlords are advertising properties as ‘No UC’ due to their experience with the system.

“Despite the UK government having these issues highlighted in the pilots for universal credit and by councils, charities, housing associations and parliamentarians, absolutely no meaningful reassurance has been received.

“I therefore cannot be confident that these issues are even close to being fully resolved and it is my view that it is simply not credible for the UK government to continue with the further roll-out of full service universal credit until these problems are fully resolved.”

Leading charities have backed the call.

As should we all.

Meanwhile the Rt Hon Damian finds time for this jaunty event on the 17th of March.

Damian Green MP

Ashford MP, Damian Green, has shown his support WWF’s tenth Earth Hour by making a special pledge to help protect the planet.  The world is changing fast, and it’s never been more important to show support for action on climate change.

Damian Green joined the WWF at the House of Commons this week to show they care about the future of our planet, ahead of the global lights out event, taking place on Saturday 25 March at 8:30pm.

Damian Green said: “I am delighted to support WWF’s Earth Hour this year to demonstrate how important it is that we take climate change seriously. I am proud to be a member of a parliament which has set ambitious targets to reduce our carbon emissions over the coming decades. The Government has outlined clear plans in order to live up to these ambitions.”

Each year, millions of people around the world come together to call to support Earth Hour. Last year a record 178 countries took part and iconic landmarks across the UK switched out their lights, from Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, to Brighton Pier, Edinburgh Castle and Caerphilly Castle. This year is set to be the biggest yet as it’s the 10 year anniversary of Earth Hour. With 2016 breaking temperature records for the third consecutive year, it’s never been more important to tackle climate change.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

March 24, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Day of Action Against Benefit Sanctions (30 March) as Scottish Challenges to Tory Social Security Regime Grow.

with 53 comments

New Component

Thursday 30 March 2017  National Day of Action Against Sanctions (UNITE the Union).

JOIN US
More and more people are facing benefit sanctions. Half a million people have had their benefits suddenly stopped by sanctions in the last 12 months.
That’s half a million people, many of whom have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat. How is this meant to help prepare people for work?

Benefit sanctions must be fought against

Please join an event near you on Thursday 30 March to stop benefit sanctions in your community.

We will continue to add new actions on a regular basis, so please check back.

For further information please email your Unite community coordinator (see here).

 

You often wish that politicians, that is Westminster politicians, took these issues as seriously as they do in Scotland.

Morning Star (today)

SCOTTISH Labour unveiled plans yesterday to “kick the private sector out of our social security system,” branding the treatment of disabled and long term-ill benefit claimants under the Tory welfare regime “inhumane.”

The party will table amendments to the forthcoming Social Security Bill to use the Scottish Parliament’s new powers to rule out the involvement of the private sector and has urged the SNP to support its proposals.

Labour says that thousands of disabled people have experienced punitive assessments for the Tories’ personal independence payments (PIP), adding that the SNP’s decision to delay the devolution of welfare powers will mean that 140,000 Scots will still be assessed under the current system.

Last month, a Scottish government consultation on social security revealed a “strong consensus that services should not be delivered through the private sector or profit-making agencies, with the majority of respondents in agreement that social security should be delivered through existing public-sector or thirdsector organisations.”

Labour social security spokesman Mark Griffin said his party will seek to “use the new social security powers of the Scottish Parliament to kick the private sector out of our social security system.”

He laid into “these cruel and inhumane [PIP] assessments that have piled misery on vulnerable Scots.”

“Nicola Sturgeon failed to mention poverty once in her speech to the SNP conference. That tells you everything you need to know about her priorities,” he said.

He urged the First Minister to “work with Labour to use the new powers of our parliament” and abandon her preoccupation with Scottish independence.

Welfare Weekly (March the 17th) reports,

SNP Conference: Calls to scrap ‘draconian’ benefit sanctions regime

“The SNP does not believe we should be attacking the most disadvantaged in our society and completely rejects this benefits sanctions regime.

“The Tories need to realise this is the devastating consequences that removing the only source of income available has on real people and their families.

“It is extremely concerning that the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society, including those at risk of homelessness, those with caring responsibilities and those with mental ill health issues, are the most likely to be punished by the draconian regime.

“The UK government must urgently scrap this punitive sanctions regime. The shocking findings of the National Audit Office illustrate the sheer unfairness and ineffectiveness of sanctions.

“The SNP has consistently done everything it can to mitigate the worst impacts of Tory welfare cuts spending £100m on protecting people – money we would rather invest in pulling people out of poverty.

“Our Government in Scotland continue to fight against the regime, for instance the Scottish Government have already secured agreement from the UK Government that the Scottish employment programme will not facilitate their benefits sanctions system.

“Scottish Ministers have been crystal clear that our services in Scotland must be seen as an opportunity, not a threat.”

The full text of the resolution reads:

“Conference rejects the punitive Tory benefit sanction regime; commends the creators of I, Daniel Blake for bringing the public’s attention to the cruel and callous reality facing tens of thousands of disadvantaged people across the UK; further notes with the concern the shocking findings of the National Audit Office of the scale and ineffectiveness of the sanctions regime; is concerned that the most vulnerable including those at risk of homelessness, those with caring responsibilities and those with mental ill health are the most likely to be punished by the draconian regime, welcomes the decision of the Scottish Government to make sure that the new Employment Programme, effective from April 2017, does not facilitate the UK Government’s sanctions system, and calls for the UKG to move urgently to scrap the unfair sanctions regime.”


This in an official press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Written by Andrew Coates

March 21, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Universal Credit Brings Hardship – Work and Pensions Committee.

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Damian Green DWP Minister (who?): Still on Holiday.

I, like many of us, am in two minds about posting this: Frank Field is pretty dodgy, and Pretty Dodgy is Frank Field.

But here goes.

This story follows this:

MPs launch investigation into ‘punishing’ Universal Credit rollout

Follows inquiry last year which congratulated Government on ‘revolutionary innovation’ Independent 23rd February.

DWP in denial about Universal Credit hardship, says Work and Pensions Committee.

From Welfare Weekly 16th of March.

Work and Pensions Committee Chair, Frank Field MP, says the DWP have their “head in the sand” about hardship caused by Universal Credit.

The Work and Pensions Committee has accused the government of having their “head in the sand” about problems with the roll-out of Universal Credit, which is replacing a number of existing benefits with one single monthly payment.

The committee says it has heard “compelling evidence” about “serious knock-on effects” caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit around the country, including rising rent arrears and problems resulting from “a built-in six-week delay” between someone applying for the new benefit and receiving th

Recent research warned the government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme is causing significant anxiety and leaving many claimants reliant on the generosity of food banks to get by.

A study commissioned by Community Housing Cymru (CHC) found that rent arrears among Welsh Universal Credit claimants was more than three-times higher than the UK average – £450 compared to £131.

Commenting on the research, Frank Field MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee said: “Huge delays in people receiving payments from universal credit have resulted in claimants falling into debt and rent arrears, caused health problems and led to many having to rely on food banks.”

He added: “It is bad enough that UC has a built-in six-week wait between someone applying and receiving their first payment, but we have heard that many have to wait much longer than this.

“The adverse impact on claimants, local authorities, landlords and charities is entirely disproportionate to the small numbers currently claiming UC, yet Lord Freud has told us he thinks it will take decades to optimise the system.

“We have therefore felt compelled to investigate UC yet again. We will examine what its impact is on claimants and those local bodies which deal with them, and what government needs to do to ease the pressure on those worst affected.”

Former Welfare Minister Lord Freud told the Committee in an evidence session that Universal Credit might take “decades to optimise”.

But despite mounting evidence that UC is causing severe hardship for many people, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continues to claim that rent arrears associated with UC will be short-lived and should not present an insurmountable obstacle to landlords.

Frank Field said: “Despite a growing body of evidence about the very real hardship the rollout of Universal Credit is creating for some, often the most vulnerable, claimants – and the struggles it is creating for local authorities trying to fulfil their responsibilities – it is flabbergasting that the Government continues to keep its head in the sand.

“There is no urgency in the Government’s attempts to solve, for example, the incompatibility between Universal Credit and a council’s duties to those in emergency temporary accommodation.

“This is affecting some of society’s most vulnerable people, at a point of crisis, yet the Government appears unwilling to take the action it could to solve this and simply remove these people from the Universal Credit system.”

The Report cited above:

Tenants given a platform to voice their opinions on the impact of Universal Credit

The first-ever Welsh research report into the impact of Universal Credit (UC) from the tenants’ perspective will be launched in Cardiff today (Thursday, 9th March).

Community Housing Cymru (CHC), the membership body for Welsh housing associations, commissioned Cardiff Metropolitan University to carry out the research with Welsh social housing tenants as part of its Welfare Defence Programme.

Cardiff Metropolitan University worked with tenants by enabling them to design the research question and undertake the research themselves, using focus groups made up of their peers.The independent research, funded by the Oak Foundation, explores tenants’ experiences of UC, barriers to engaging with their landlord and solutions to overcome these barriers.

The report found that:

  • There can be 4-8 week delays in payments, causing significant anxiety and forcing several people to access food banks to get by.
  • Tenants often rely on their peers for support and information. A huge barrier for some tenants engaging with their landlord and the DWP was due to confidence ,literacy issues and the personal cost of contacting these organisations.
  •  Generic rent arrears letters were not seen as effective.
  • Participants wanted more communication between their landlord and the DWP as they had no way of knowing if rent increase charges had been taken into account as part of their new UC payment.

The UK average for rent arrears is £131. However, this more than trebles in Wales to £450 under UC which emphasises the importance of this piece of research.

Stuart Ropke, Chief Executive of Community Housing Cymru, welcomed the report’s findings. He said: “This report is the first of its kind about the impact of Universal Credit (UC) from tenants’ perspectives, uniquely undertaken by tenants themselves. CHC’s members are actively working to mitigate the impact of UC and, while it’s heartening to read the praise for support staff from tenants, there is a lot we can learn from this research.”

Stuart added: “UC has created a vacuum between tenants and landlords. Under the current system, many landlords do not know if their tenants are on UC and are therefore having to pay their rent themselves. They are often only alerted to the fact that they are on UC when they fall into arrears.

Paul Langley, Head of Business Development for CHC’s Your Benefits are Changing project added:‘We currently do not have automatic access to information about which tenants are on UC and we are working with the DWP on a solution to improve this. The landlord portal, once rolled out, will improve data sharing to enable a personalised approach which is essential to ensure that we support tenants moving on to UC.”

Amanda Protheroe, one of the report’s authors said: “Our hope is that this report reflects the experiences of tenants who are dealing with the issues around Universal Credit. Tenants were clear about issues and barriers to their communicating with both the DWP and their landlords but were most keen to discuss solutions. The overarching message was around the quality of relationships tenants had with these organisations with kindness being mentioned as something the tenants really valued.”

You can read the report here.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 17, 2017 at 2:23 pm