Ipswich Unemployed Action.

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Archive for the ‘Welfare Reform’ Category

Christmas is Coming and….. Universal Credit leads Revival of Christmas Day in the Workhouse.

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Image result for christmas day in the workhouse

Coming near you!

Local newspapers and on-line local sites have come into their own over the Universal Credit scandal.

Here are some stories today:

Universal Credit is threatening to break this city – THIS is how Liverpool is fighting back

Liverpool Echo.

Scousers from all walks of life coming out to support those affected by problem-hit benefit system.

Vulnerable families across Liverpool are bracing themselves for the full impact of Universal Credit – a benefit reform that is already pushing people into poverty.

This week, Job Centres in the deprived areas of Everton and West Derby switched claimants over to the troubled system, despite voices from all over imploring the government to halt the roll-out after the many problems that have been reported.

In Liverpool, the country’s 2nd most destitute city, people are taking things into their own hands to help out the most vulnerable neighbours -they know that to sit, wait and hope for a change of heart from this government would be living in fantasy land.

Manchester Evening News.

Universal Credit roll out means people applying for benefits in Stockport could face Christmas with no cash

It takes five weeks to apply for the benefit.

WalesOnline.

The existence of food banks is a national disgrace

Let’s be quite clear about the increase in foodbank usage: it’s do with government welfare policy and the implementation of Universal Credit.

 

And there is this, from the out-of-work’s essential daily read, the ‘I’.

Life on Universal Credit at Christmas: I have to save sugar packets from cafes to put in my daughter’s stocking

A mother explains how she is trying to make Christmas special for her disabled daughter despite having to sell her belongings

This is the song to sing at every food bank:
It is Christmas Day in the workhouse,
And the cold, bare walls are bright
With garlands of green and holly,
And the place is a pleasant sight;
For with clean-washed hands and faces,
In a long and hungry line
The paupers sit at the table,
For this is the hour they dine.

And the guardians and their ladies,
Although the wind is east,
Have come in their furs and wrappers,
To watch their charges feast;
To smile and be condescending,
Put pudding on pauper plates.
To be hosts at the workhouse banquet
They’ve paid for — with the rates.

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Written by Andrew Coates

December 7, 2018 at 2:08 pm

“Thousands of people will face a miserable Christmas” – UNITE Survey of Universal Credit Claimants.

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The Mirror reports,

Thousands of are facing a “very bleak Christmas” after a new survey found three quarters of people on botched benefits system Universal Credit said they had been left saddled with debt.

Three in five claimants said they had been pushed into struggling with housing costs because of the new welfare system.The survey of over 1,000 Universal Credit claimants was carried out by Unite the Union.

Other respondents raised the fear of eviction, and many reported problems with monthly budgeting on a low income.

The Department for Work and Pensions blasted the study as “completely unscientific” and said some of those questioned might not even be on UC.

Yet the DWP’s own research shows three quarters of those who moved onto UC struggle with bills constantly or “from time to time.”

Here is the UNITE Press Release:

Universal Credit pushing people into debt and housing problems reveals survey

More than three quarters of respondents in a survey of over 1,000 Universal Credit (UC) claimants said they had been put into debt, or pushed further into debt by UC with some forced to use foodbanks to survive as well as borrowing from friends and family. Shockingly 60 per cent of respondents said that they had been pushed into housing cost problems.

Thousands of people will face a miserable Christmas as a result of having to claim UC according to the new survey by Unite the Union published to coincide with a national day of action against UC on 1 December 2018 (see notes to editors).

During six weeks of October and November 1,141 people responded to the survey. The findings make grim reading and identify a number of issues facing a significant number of people claiming the benefit.

Rent arrears were raised by a number of people and the fear of eviction was evident in the responses. Many claimants reported the problems of monthly budgeting on a low income. Disabled people and those who are sick reported a huge drop in income as a result of moving on to UC.

The vast majority (82 per cent) have a negative view of the new benefit and a significant number had problems either claiming the benefit on-line or maintaining their claim through an on-line journal.

Unite is using the evidence collected from the survey to lobby politicians and is calling for a stop to the controversial new UC system.

Unite has called for Universal Credit to be scrapped before more damage is done.

Unite head of Community, Liane Groves said: “Universal Credit is causing misery and suffering as the survey results clearly show. Despite knowing this, the government is still intent on ploughing ahead regardless, while claimants are descending into debt, relying on food banks and getting into rent arrears and in some cases being evicted from their homes.

“Evidence from voluntary and community organisations as well as unions and local authorities seems to be ignored as the government presses on with the implementation of Universal Credit.

“Access to the benefit has been devised for the benefit of administrators not the recipients of Universal Credit. The damage done by forcing people into debt, far from helping people into work, as the government claims, is driving people away from the job market as spiralling debt impacts on people’s mental and physical wellbeing.

“As we head into winter, many claimants cannot afford warm clothing for themselves or their children and don’t have enough money to heat their homes. It will be a very bleak Christmas for thousands of families who are being abandoned by this government.”

“The survey was conducted outside job centres by volunteers and was also completed on-line. Unite will be submitting the raw data from the survey to independent academic researchers with a view to further analysis of the responses.”

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 30, 2018 at 11:29 am

1st of December Protests Against Universal Credit.

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Join the national day of action against universal credit

Join the Day of Action!

A few days ago Amber Rudd said this,

Rudd said she was going to specifically examine the impact of Universal Credit on women and single mums, amid concerns the scheme was making hundreds of thousands of single parents worse off – admitting that despite being a “force for good”, it currently has “real problems”.

Amber Rudd recognises ‘real problems’ with Universal Credit

What with ‘other issues’ dominating the news people may forget the constant stream of stories about these “real problems@>

Birmingham Live, today:

Dad-of-three living without heating after Universal Credit stopped in letter blunder

Ian Reynolds, 51, had Universal Credit payments cut after official letters sent to wrong address.

An unemployed dad has been forced to turn to foodbanks after his Universal Credit was stopped because he failed to respond to letters sent to the wrong address – five doors away.

Ian Reynolds, 51, now cannot afford to heat his home in Stafford after his payments were sanctioned without warning because he did not respond to the messages concerning Jobcentre appointments.

The Department for Work and Pension (DWP) made the benefit cut decision in September.

Since then Ian has been living on monthly ‘hardship payments’ of £187 and receiving support from the House of Bread charity.

The BBC today:

Concerns raised as Universal Credit rolls out in Edinburgh

The controversial Universal Credit benefit system is being rolled out across Edinburgh.

Foodbanks say they are preparing for increased demand, as those being moved to the new system can expect a five weeks wait for their first payment.

An estimated 10,500 local council tenants are expected to be moved to Universal Credit by 2023.

The Scottish Conservatives say the new system is widely supported and funds are in place to aid the roll-out.

But the Trussel Trust say they expect this December to be the busiest since foodbank records began.

Bethany Biggar, operations manager at the Edinburgh Food Project, told the BBC Scotland news website that her foodbank, like many support agencies are preparing to deal with an increase in usage.

She said: “Christmas is already a very difficult time of year for most families who are living in poverty, so it’s a double barrelled difficulty.

“In areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out already, the Trussel Trust has seen an overall increase in demand.

This is a good response (Common Space):

The roll-out of the ‘full service’ of the controversial welfare system – which has been condemned by critics as inefficient, punitive and likely to drive those reliant upon it further into debt and poverty – was greeted at Edinburgh’s Leith Jobcentre by anti-UC protestors, including representatives of the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP), Sisters Uncut and Oficina Precaria.

“We declare we will take direct action against any employer involved in Universal Credit workfare. We declare we will take direct action to defend people sanctioned under Universal Credit. We declare we will take direct action in solidarity with all under attack.” ECAP Declaration of Resistance to Universal Credit

Following today’s protest, which took place despite Storm Diana hitting Edinburgh with severe wind and rain, a spokesperson for ECAP told CommonSpace: “We are encouraged that people came out today in the rain to oppose Universal Credit.

“Universal Credit increases poverty, homelessness and misery. It massively increases the scope and length of sanctions. It attacks the disabled, young people, women, workers, migrants.  Research shows the majority of claimants will be worse off.

“The fact that new claimants have to wait many weeks for their first payment causes huge hardship and plunges many into rent arrears, from which many never recover, losing their homes. It’s all part of the Government’s austerity attack, designed to undermine everyone’s wages and conditions and force people to accept low-paid, insecure jobs.”

“Demonstrators today proclaimed a Declaration of Resistance to Universal Credit, multiple copies of which were fixed to the Leith Jobcentre wall. This read: ‘We declare we will take direct action against any employer involved in Universal Credit workfare. We declare we will take direct action to defend people sanctioned under Universal Credit. We declare we will take direct action in solidarity with all under attack.’

As is this:

Join the #StopUniversalCredit day of action

This Christmas will be cancelled for thousands of families claiming the new benefit Universal Credit. Despite knowing Universal Credit causes serious problems for claimants, Theresa May’s Tory government is pressing ahead and rolling it out to thousands of people who will have to wait weeks to receive any money. Claimants are descending into debt, relying on food banks, getting into rent arrears and in many cases getting evicted from their homes because of in- built problems with Universal Credit.

Take action NOW against Universal Credit

On Saturday 1 December 2018 Unite Community will be staging a national day of action to #StopUniversalCredit to send a message to the Tory government that it can’t be fixed. Join Unite in your area and back the call to #StopUniversalCredit. Check out the events where you are:

Events across the country.

London & Eastern.
  • Norwich City Centre stall/protest outside Tesco (NR2 1JH) from 11:00-13:00 close to the Job Centre
  • Ipswich – Alternate Carol Service on between 13:00-15:00 at The La Tour Cafe at 7, Waterfront, Ipswich (IP4 1FT)
  • Colchester- Carol Singing at 16:00 outside the Town Hall to raise Universal Credit awareness, songbooks provided
  • Woolwich Stall in Woolwich Town Centr DLR Station in Powis St/Woolwich Market (SE18 6AY) from 11:00
  • Brixton tube station from 11:00-13:00
  • Ladbroke Grove – Underground Station, London (W10 6HJ) Carol singing – 14:00
  • Chingford Chingford Mount, London (E4 8LG). 11:00 at Protesting in constituency of Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of Universal Credit misery.
  • Camden Town – outside the tube station at 11:00
  • Wisbech outside the local Job Centre Plus, Wisbech, (PE13 1AN) Friday 7 December 2018
  • Tottenham Job Centre, Carol Singing, Friday 7 December 2018

More information and details of events across the country here:

Join the #StopUniversalCredit day of action

Written by Andrew Coates

November 29, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Government Tries to Solve Housing Benefit (Local Housing Allowance) Universal Credit Disaster.

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Looks Complicated and is…

The latest in a long run of stories about Universal Credit:

Edinburgh families forced to wait five weeks to receive Universal Credit

FAMILIES face being left without cash over Christmas when Universal Credit starts being rolled out in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

Claimants will be forced to wait five weeks before they receive the new benefit, meaning first payments will not be made until January.

The shake-up is expected to mean more people relying on foodbanks and also lead to a rise in rent arrears.

Green councillor Susan Rae said: “The immediate impact is debt because the gap people have to wait for payment will throw people into rent arrears.

What is the background to this problem?

The DWP says,

You could get Housing Benefit to help you pay your rent if you’re on a low income.

Use a benefits calculator to check if you can get Housing Benefit before you apply. You may need to claim Universal Credit instead.

Housing Benefit can pay for part or all of your rent. How much you get depends on your income and circumstances.

You can apply for Housing Benefit whether you’re unemployed or working.

And,

The housing element of Universal Credit

When people are moved onto Universal Credit, the single payment for their household will include a ‘housing element’. This will replace the help they currently get from Housing Benefit.

Universal Credit – including the housing element – is paid monthly in arrears.

Direct payment of rent – what is it and when is it coming in?

If you’re a registered social landlord and you receive your tenants’ rent directly from your local council, this will change under Universal Credit. Instead, tenants will receive their ’housing element’ direct and be responsible for paying it to you themselves.

Before the new system comes in, some tenants who are not yet claiming Universal Credit might be selected to start receiving their Housing Benefit payment direct.

The Department for Work and Pensions has committed to consult with social landlords before deciding whether to move their tenants onto direct payments. They will take into account any information you provide about your tenants’ ability to manage with direct payments.

If your tenant can’t manage their rent payments

A tenant can ask to have their housing payments switched to the landlord for a period of time while they get the support they need to get their money under control.

If a tenant has rent arrears, then, as their landlord, you can ask for the rent payments to be temporarily switched to you.

When Amber Rudd became the latest in a long list of DWP Ministers she said (Sky 23rd of November).

The new work and pensions secretary also said she was going to review the five-week wait time for new claimants to receive their benefits; payment systems for the housing element of Universal Credit; access to cash and the repayment of upfront loans.

She said: “We need to give [claimants] more confidence in the fact that they can access cash immediately.

“You know people are nervous about moving from legacy benefits to Universal Credit because they cannot afford quite often to be without cash for a few days, a week, two weeks, three weeks.

“I have to make sure that they can have confidence in access in earlier.”

It does not take a genius to work out that with money in your hand, when you have little, it is tempting to spend on other things than rent.

But there are other problems:

If you live in a private sector property, it may not cover your full rent as it will take account of where you live and, if you are under age 35, whether you are expected to share accommodation.

If you live in a council or housing association property you will be asked about the number of bedrooms you have to compare with how many you are thought to need, to see if you are under occupying the property.

And there is a cap on the rent anybody can get.

Which seems reasonable but with rents in some cities…

So you can be out of pocket in the first place.

So, this is the Government’s latest attempt to solve some of these multiple problems by patching up relations with the (better) landlords.

Inside Housing today reports:

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will be promoting its Universal Credit landlord portal with a six-week social media campaign, starting today.

The portal allows social landlords to ‘verify’ claimants’ rent, which makes it easier for claimants to set up a claim for the housing elements of the benefit payment swiftly.

It also allows landlords to make a request for tenants to be switched back onto the direct payments arrangement, where the rental payments are paid directly to them rather than to the tenant.

This is the case for legacy housing benefit, but is a key reform introduced by the Universal Credit system.

There are currently 538 registered landlords from the social rented sector using the portal.

Justin Tomlinson, minister for family support, housing and child maintenance, said: “The landlord campaign aims to increase awareness of the ways landlords can support Universal Credit, and receive their payments in time. It’s fantastic we’ve signed up 538 registered landlords from the social rented sector already – the feedback we’ve had so far has been overwhelmingly positive.”

“The campaign is spearheaded by partners in the sector and features real life case studies from landlords who explain in their own words their experience of working with the Department of Work and Pensions to support tenants who are claiming Universal Credit.”

A spokesperson for housing association Riverside said: “The landlord portal allows us to verify tenants’ rent and offer support to them early in the Universal Credit process.”

When social landlords enrol with the landlord portal they are invited to accept ‘Trusted Partner status’, allowing them to apply for alternative payment arrangements such as managed payments.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 26, 2018 at 5:34 pm

The Universal Credit Journal – another Millstone in the System.

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Image result for Universal credit journal

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

Image result for starship enterprise communicator

UC Journal Log-in.

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

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

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

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

Tom Walker Red Pepper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 23, 2018 at 5:11 pm

Amber Rudd, “listening” on Universal Credit…..

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“Listening” Amber Rudd.

 

Universal credit: Amber Rudd to listen to ‘expert guidance’

The BBC reports,

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has agreed to listen “very carefully” to concerns over universal credit, conceding the system “can be better”.

Making her first Commons appearance since getting the job on Friday, she faced calls from Labour and the SNP to halt the rollout of the single benefit.

She said she would “learn from errors” and “adjust” the system, which she admitted had problems, where needed.

She also rejected a UN report on UK poverty as “extraordinarily political”.

And she made clear that universal credit had an important role to play in reducing the number of workless families and tackling in-work poverty.

The Express says

Amber BACKS Britain! Rudd LAMBASTS ‘wholly inappropriate’ UN report on poverty in UK

Standing up for her nation, she said: “I have seen the report by the rapporteur, I read it over the weekend, and I must say I was disappointed, to say the least, by the extraordinary political nature of his language.

The New Statesman has an account of her House of Commons Appearance:

Amber Rudd’s tricky frontbench return shows how toxic Universal Credit has become. 

Amber Rudd had a difficult return to the frontbench in her first set of ministerial questions since being appointed as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Strikingly, both for someone regularly tipped as a possible leadership contender, and as the latest occupant of an increasingly tricky brief, there was no “donut” – a ring of supportive MPs sitting around her for moral support and to make the pictures look better on telly – behind her.

And although most of the questions opened by welcoming her return to frontline politics, there were very few that could genuinely be described as properly sympathetic. Huw Merriman, Mike Penning, David Morris and Rachel Maclean all chipped in with supportive questions but even on the government side many of the questions were tricky ones.

Desmond Swayne, the New Forest West MP who, Brexit aside, is normally a government loyalist, asked about the case of a woman left severely disabled due to variant-CJD, a rare and fatal brain disorder, who is now facing both a work capability assessment and cuts to her benefits that will mean that she could lose her home. Chris Philp, the Croydon South MP and ultra-loyalist, had a detailed and tricky question about the implementation of the Universal Credit.

And the opposition parties were out in force – to a degree that you could almost have thought, looking at their benches, that it was Prime Minister’s Questions – with questions that were often detailed and uniformly critical.

Before the event, there was some talk of a “change of tone” or even a policy shift. Instead, what was offered was the same position with a different accent. Rudd’s response to a damning UN report into poverty in the UK – an angry condemnation of its “political” language – could have been said, word for word, by Esther McVey.

The BBC continues.

Expert guidance

Answering questions from MPs about her department’s work, Ms Rudd was pressed by Tory Sir Desmond Swayne to ensure the changes were “measured and continually improved”.

She replied: “I share his view that it is vital as it is rolled out that we do learn from any errors, we do adjust it to make sure it properly serves the people it is intended to.”

Ms Rudd said she would take heed of what campaigners have said about universal credit, following a call by 80 charities and other organisations for it to be halted.

Perhaps a few experts amongst us could give her a word of advice…

Written by Andrew Coates

November 20, 2018 at 11:54 am

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

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Sanctions Regime Remains in Place.

As I was walking out from my gaff this morning I saw a poster for today’s edition of the East Anglian Daily Times.

This is the story:

Children turn to emergency handouts as foodbank demand soars

Thousands of children in Suffolk and Essex are relying on emergency handouts from foodbanks, it can be revealed.

More than 1,500 youngsters turned to emergency food handouts in Suffolk from April 1 to September 30, up from 1,004 in the same period last year.

And the figure was even higher in Essex, with 6,338 children receiving three-day emergency food supplies at Trussell Trust foodbanks, up from 5,514.

The hard-hitting data, released by the organisation today, has seen volunteers warn of an impending “debt crisis” which could plunge even more families into poverty.

Problems with Universal Credit are being blamed for driving such an increase in foodbank use.

“It is unprecedented and the situation only seems to be getting worse,” warned Maureen Reynel, owner of the independent Ipswich foodbank FIND. “For a lot of families, it’s the impossible choice of whether to eat or heat their homes. Foodbanks are their lifeline.

By no coincidence whatsoever this is the main story about Universal Credit today:

MPs call for review of ‘pointlessly cruel’ benefit sanctions

Guardian. Patrick Butler.

Work and pensions committee concludes that current scheme carries too high a human cost.

A cross-party group of MPs has called for a review of the government’s controversial benefit sanctions regime after concluding that it was arbitrary, punitive and at times “pointlessly cruel”.

The Commons work and pensions committee inquiry said the human cost of stopping benefit payments to claimants judged to have breached job centre rules was too high and there was scant evidence that it helped or incentivised people to get a job.

It called for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions who have limited capability for work to be exempt from sanctions and said penalties for single parents and care leavers should be vastly reduced.

“We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counterproductive it just seems pointlessly cruel,” said the committee’s chair, Frank Field.

……

A five-year academic study of sanctions published in May found that they were ineffective at getting jobless people into work and were more likely to push those affected into poverty, ill health or even survival crime.

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “We’re committed to ensuring that people get the benefits they’re entitled to, but it is reasonable that people have to meet certain requirements in return for payments. Sanctions are only used in the minority of cases when someone doesn’t meet these requirements without a good reason, and work coaches will continue to offer support to claimants to identify and help resolve the issues that lead to that.”

The Independent is even more direct:

Ministers broke promise to review ‘pointlessly cruel’ system for benefit sanctions, MPs say

Rob Merrick

No evaluation carried out despite 2013 pledge – and repeated warnings of people being pushed into poverty.

Ministers have broken a promise to review the “pointlessly cruel” system for imposing sanctions on benefit claimants, a damning report by MPs warns today.

No evaluation has been carried out despite a pledge made back in 2013, it says – and despite repeated warnings of people being pushed into poverty after being wrongly stripped of benefits.

Meanwhile, the troubled expansion of universal credit has sparked a fresh rise in the number of sanctions – including on the sick and disabled, single parents and care leavers.

Among the people who told the committee about the suffering caused by sanctions were:

* Jen, a wheelchair user forced to “sofa surf” and sleep in a college library for an entire year – including through her exams – when she was wrongly sanctioned for failing to attend a jobcentre appointment.

The jobcentre had told her it was acceptable to miss an appointment that clashed with an A-level exam, but she still had her benefits stopped for almost one yea

* Luke, who was sanctioned after missing a jobcentre appointment because he had been admitted to hospital with severe epileptic seizures.

He was sanctioned for failing to show “good reason for missing his appointment” – a decision only overturned after a media outcry.

* Samantha, a single parent forced to switch to part-time working because of a lack of childcare and stress, who was sanctioned for “voluntarily leaving employment”.

Her income fell from £800 per month to £300, forcing her to rely on food parcels from friends and to beg for money.

Here is the Work and Pensions Committee summary:

For a long time, the UK’s out-of-work benefits have been framed in terms of responsibilities and rights, from which derives a system of conditionality and sanctions. There are certain things the state expects you to do as a condition of receiving out-of-work benefits; if you fail to do those things your benefit may be stopped. The Committee does not believe in unconditional benefits for those who are capable of moving into work. But unfair and disproportionate application of the current sanctions regime is causing unintended consequences.

The objective of conditionality and sanctions is to motivate people to engage with support and to take active steps to move them closer to work. But the evidence on the role of sanctions in achieving this goal is patchy. At the very least, it calls for more research. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 and subsequent changes have made sanctions longer, more severe and applicable to more people than ever before. The previous Government did not know the impact of these changes in 2012 and, six years later, it is still unknown. What we do know is that sanction rates are higher under Universal Credit than under the legacy system, and when applied inappropriately can have profoundly negative effects on people’s financial and personal well-being.

The failure to evaluate the 2012 reforms is unacceptable. It is time for the Government urgently to evaluate the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012, including an assessment of sanctions’ impact on people’s financial and personal well-being. Furthermore, until the Government can point to robust evidence that longer sanctions are more effective, higher level sanctions should be reduced to two, four and six months for first, second and subsequent failures to comply.

Some groups of people are disproportionately vulnerable to, and affected by, the withdrawal of their benefit. These include single parents, care leavers and people with an impairment or health condition. The Government must develop a better understanding of how sanctions affect employment outcomes for vulnerable claimants. Only strong causal relationships can justify these groups’ continued inclusion in the sanctions regime. In the meantime, we recommend that people who are the responsible carer for a child under the age of 5, or a child with demonstrable additional needs and care costs, and care leavers under the age of 25, only ever have 20% of their benefit withheld if sanctioned. As well as reduced sanctions, care leavers need better support. So we recommend that the Government review working practices between local authority personal advisers and work coaches to ensure they are collaborating as effectively as possible to support care leavers. It must also introduce a way of identifying care leavers within the benefits system to allow ongoing monitoring of their experiences, including of sanctions, and to inform further tailored support.

Of all the evidence we received, none was more compelling than that against the imposition of conditionality and sanctions on people with a disability or health condition. It does not work. Worse, it is harmful and counterproductive. We recommend that the Government immediately stop imposing conditionality and sanctions on anyone found to have limited capability for work, or who presents a valid doctor’s note (Fit Note) stating that they are unable to work, including those who present such a note while waiting for a Work Capability Assessment. Instead, it should work with experts to develop a programme of voluntary employment support.

We still believe that support for people in work to increase their hours and earnings has the potential to be revolutionary. But its promise risks being undermined by hasty roll-out of a policy not grounded in robust evidence. The Randomised Controlled Trial showed sanctions had no effect on in-work claimants’ outcomes and work coaches are not yet equipped to get decisions right every time for every claimant. Sanctioning people who are working is too great a risk for too little return. We recommend that the Department does not proceed with conditionality and sanctions for in-work claimants until full roll-out of Universal Credit is complete. Even then, the policy should only be introduced on the basis of robust evidence that it will be effective at driving progress in work. In the meantime, the Department should focus on providing in-work claimants with the right support.

Under Universal Credit, a sanction incurred under one conditionality regime continues to apply even if the claimant’s circumstances change and they are no longer able, or required, to look for work. At that point, the argument that the sanction will incentivise them towards work no longer holds water. The sanction becomes little more than a seemingly unfair punishment for non-compliance. We therefore recommend that sanctions are cancelled when a claimant’s change in circumstance means they are no longer subject to the requirement that led to their sanction in the first place.

Under Universal Credit, the maximum amount someone can be sanctioned is 100% of their standard allowance. In theory, housing and children elements are therefore protected. But in reality, this is not always the case: If someone is receiving less than their full standard allowance because of deductions, such as for rent arrears, a sanction representing 100% of their standard allowance eats into other elements. It is a technical glitch, but it puts housing and children’s welfare at risk and must be resolved with the greatest urgency. We therefore recommend that the Government immediately ensures any deductions from standard allowances are postponed for the duration of any sanction imposed to ensure that the children and housing elements are always protected.

Setting the right policy is important. But so too is implementing it on the ground. Over and again we heard stories of it going horribly wrong, resulting in inappropriate sanctions causing unjustified and sustained hardship. We heard about people being asked to comply with impossible requirements.

We also heard that work coaches were not consistently applying the exemptions (‘easements’) they have the power to use. Claimants did not know they existed and work coaches had neither the time nor the expertise to ask questions about every avenue of someone’s life. We recommend that the Department develop a standard set of questions, covering all possible easements, which work coaches routinely ask claimants when agreeing their Claimant Commitment. The Department should also review and improve information about easements made available to claimants.

If a work coach thinks someone has failed to comply with their Claimant Commitment they raise a doubt and put in motion the wheels that could lead to a sanction. We recognise that giving work coaches and decision-makers the right amount of flexibility is a challenge. But we heard too many stories of poor decision-making to believe the current system has got it right. The first hurdle is deciding what counts as ‘good reason’ for failing to comply, which is currently a judgment call for work coaches. This is a big ask when the consequences of getting it wrong can be so great. What’s more, it inevitably means that claimants in similar circumstances are treated inconsistently. But this could be easily fixed by carefully drafted regulations. We therefore recommend that the Department introduce regulations on what counts as good reason, which still allow work coaches to exercise judgment in any situation not included.

If a work coach concludes someone did not have good reason for failing to comply, they must refer them for a sanction. We heard repeatedly, however, that the welfare system is being reformed to reflect the world of work. But we do not think it is fair or proportionate for someone’s first mistake to be met with the harshest penalty, either in the world of work or benefits system. We welcome the Government’s announcement to trial a system of warnings, instead of sanctions, for first sanctionable failures, but it only applies to narrow circumstances. We therefore recommend that the Government use the trial as an opportunity to learn lessons, while taking steps towards introducing warnings, instead of sanctions, for every claimant’s first failure to comply.

We recognise the importance of an independent decision-maker to impose the sanction. It is, however, a missed opportunity that a work coach’s relationship with the claimant and insight into their circumstances—supposedly at the very heart of Universal Credit—plays no role at this stage of the process. What is more, a sanction can only be challenged once the decision has been made, by which stage the damage has been done, and the burden of proof falls to the claimant. We recommend that when a work coach refers a claimant for a sanction they are required to include a recommendation on whether a sanction should be imposed based on their knowledge of the claimant and their circumstances. Decision-makers should contact the claimant to let them know their ‘provisional decision’ and, if it is to impose a sanction, the evidence on which this is based. The claimant should then have 30 days to challenge the provisional decision or actively opt not to provide further evidence.

Claimants can challenge the final decision to impose a sanction first, through Mandatory Reconsideration, and then via First-tier Tribunal. But in the absence of any commitment from the Department on how long these decisions will take, people can endure the hardship of a sanction for weeks on end. This is all the more painful if, after all that time, the sanction is overturned. We therefore recommend that the Department commit to a timetable for making decisions about sanctions at Mandatory Reconsideration and appeal.

Hardship payments are made to those who would otherwise be left with nothing when sanctioned. But recovering that payment at a rate of 40% of someone’s standard allowance imposes further significant hardship. It is neither necessary for the Government—as it appears not to be financially motivated to recover the money—nor affordable for those who have been recognised as at risk of extreme poverty. Our final recommendation is therefore that the Department issues revised guidance to all work coaches to ensure hardship repayments are set at a rate that is affordable for the claimant, with the default being 5% of their standard allowance.

Full report: 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 6, 2018 at 11:01 am