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Posts Tagged ‘UN

UN Poverty Envoy Slams Universal Credit and Sanctions Regime.

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Image result for Jaywick meeting UN rapporteur

UN Rapporteur on Human Rights and Poverty in Jaywick, Essex (Ipswich delegation in Second Row….)

While Esther McVey snuggles up with a wheel-barrow full of her leaving prezzies:

Unicorn Poo

The UN envoy has issued this initial report on his visit to the UK.

UK austerity has inflicted ‘great misery’ on citizens, UN says

Poverty envoy says callous policies driven by political desire for social re-engineering

Guardian.

 ‘I’m scared to eat sometimes’

 Women reveal impact of cuts

 Children tell UN: ‘It’s unfair’

The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, the United Nations poverty envoy has found.

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ended a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK with a stinging declaration that despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, levels of child poverty are “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.

About 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials, he said, citing figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%.

“It is patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty,” he said, adding that compassion had been abandoned during almost a decade of austerity policies that had been so profound that key elements of the post-war social contract, devised by William Beveridge more than 70 years ago, had been swept away.

Pause.

Although the various media stories just breaking underline the general issue of the poverty the UN envoy found one thing stands out: i the thread running through the report’s initial findings is the central role of Universal Credit in creating poverty and misery. 

Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations  Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights London, 16 November 2018

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world.  It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.  And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.  Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centers have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centers have been sold off.  While the labour and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies.

 

Key extracts from the report:

14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line,1 and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.

But the full picture of low-income well-being in the UK cannot be captured by statistics alone. Its manifestations are clear for all to see. The country’s most respected charitable groups, its leading think tanks, its parliamentary committees, independent authorities like the National Audit Office, and many others, have all drawn attention to the dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well off in this country. But through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is.

The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial. Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the  government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan. Some tweaks to basic policy have reluctantly been made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention.

…..

UNIVERSAL CREDIT.

Universal Credit and the other far-reaching changes to the role of government in supporting people in distress are almost always ‘sold’ as being part of an unavoidable program of fiscal ‘austerity’, needed to save the country from bankruptcy. In fact, however, the reforms have almost certainly cost the country far more than their proponents will admit.

No single programme embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than Universal Credit. Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.

Social support should be a route out of poverty, and Universal Credit should be a key part of that process. Consolidating six different benefits into one makes good sense, in principle. But many aspects of the design and rollout of the programme have suggested that the Department for Work and Pensions is more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting. While some surveys suggest certain claimants do have positive experiences with Universal Credit, an increasing body of research makes clear that there are far too many instances in which Universal Credit is being implemented in ways that negatively impact many claimants’ mental health, finances, and work prospects.

Hardship.

In addition to all of the negative publicity about Universal Credit in the UK media and among politicians of all parties, I have heard countless stories from people who told me of the severe hardships they have suffered under Universal Credit. When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits.

The Universal Credit system is designed with a five week delay between when people successfully file a claim and when they receive benefits. Research suggests that this “waiting period,” which actually often takes up to 12 weeks, pushes many who may already be in crisis into debt, rent arrears, and serious hardship, requiring them to sacrifice food or heat.10 Given the delay, which will only be partially mitigated by a recent concession, it is no surprise that the majority of claimants seek “advance payments,” which in turn must be repaid to DWP in relatively short order.

Additionally, debts to DWP and to third-parties can be deducted from already meager Universal Credit payments at a rate much higher than is the case with the older benefit system. While supposedly deductions are capped at a maximum rate of 40% of the standard allowance portion of the payment (which will change to 30% in a year’s time), the Government told me that in fact additional clawbacks can occur. These so-called “Last Resort Deductions” are for matters such as rent, gas, and electricity arrears, if it is judged to be in the best interest of a claimant or their household..

……..

Sanctions.

One of the key features of Universal Credit involves the imposition of draconian sanctions, even for infringements that seem minor. Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the Special Rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time. As the system grows older, some penalties will soon be measured in years.

….

As I spoke with local authorities and the voluntary sector about their preparations for the future rollout of Universal Credit, I was struck by how much their mobilization resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic.

Universal Credit has built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements. Women, older people, people who do not speak English and the disabled are re likely to be unable to overcome this hurdle.

Artificial Intelligence and Threats to Freedom.

The merging of six legacy benefits into one new Universal Credit system aimed at reaching millions of UK citizens is in fact a major automation project. The collection of data via the online application process and interactions with the online journal provide a clear stepping stone for further automation within DWP.

The new institutions currently being set up by the UK government in the area of big data and AI focus heavily on ethics. While their establishment is certainly a positive development, we should not lose sight of the limits of an ethics frame. Ethical concepts such as fairness are without agreed upon definitions, unlike human rights which are law. Government use of automation, with its potential to severely restrict the rights of individuals, needs to be bound by the rule of law and not just an ethical code.

*****
This is also worth taking notice of,

“The United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union poses particular risks for people in poverty, but the government appears to be treating this as an afterthought,” said the UN’s expert on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, at the end of a 12-day visit to the country.

Independent.  UN condemns UK government’s ‘mean-spirited and callous approach’ to poorest, in damning report

Written by Andrew Coates

November 16, 2018 at 4:16 pm

Benefit Sanctions and UN Report on Disability Benefit ‘Reforms’: Abuse Continues.

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Image result for Sanctions benefits

News Seeker flags this important article.

I realise even the mice in my street are concerned about Trump but this goes on…

And on.

Benefit sanctions on North Wales job seekers ‘hitting most vulnerable’

Study reveals 17,596 of the 36,905 sanctions imposed were later overturned, with AM saying it raises questions about the accuracy of decisions

More than 17,000 people in North and Mid Wales had their benefits stopped forcing some to turn to food banks and loan sharks – only for the decision to be later overturned, it has been revealed.

A study by Plaid Cymru revealed 36,905 people were subjected to sanctions on their job seekers allowance (JSA) between 2012-2015 – but 17,596 of those sanctions were overturned on appeal or cancelled due to errors.

Plaid Cymru regional AM Llyr Gruffydd said the system meant often “vulnerable people” were being “left high and dry”.

Mr Gruffydd believes this questions the validity of the penalties, which are applied if claimants fail to complete agreed tasks with Job Centre staff.

These can range from not filling out enough job applications to failing to attend a prescribed number of interviews.

He said: “This relates to the Job Seekers’ Allowance as the Department of Work and Pensions has not released similar data on other benefits. However it paints a worrying picture of how sanctions – i.e. stopping benefits – can be applied without good cause and sometimes against people who are vulnerable and unable to represent themselves.

“These are the people who are then left high and dry, needing food banks, emergency loans or even loan sharks to tide them over. If more than half the cases end up without sanctions being applied it raises questions about the accuracy of the original decision.”

Between October 2012 and December 2015, 36,905 sanctions were applied in North and Mid Wales. Of those, 17,377 (47.1%) were cases where sanctions were actually enforced.

In a further 10,370 cases (28.1%) a decision was found in favour of the claimant and claims were reinstated. In 1,932 cases (5.2%) decisions were reserved because the claimant didn’t have a current claim and in 7,226 cases (19.5%) sanctions were cancelled due to errors, lack of information or the claimant stopped claiming before the sanction.

A recent Parliamentary select committee review of benefit sanctions heard from academics and employers.

One, Dr David Webster of the University of Glasgow, told MPs the DWP is sanctioning people “willy nilly”.

He added: “They say you have to apply for 30 jobs in a fortnight and you only apply for 29 and they sanction you. This is completely absurd.”

He also said it was unnecessary to run the system on the assumption most job seekers “don’t want to work”.

Mr Gruffydd added: “There’s plenty of evidence of people losing all their benefits at a stroke because of arbitrary sanctions.

“Job Centre staff have spoken out about being given targets in terms of sanctions and I’m concerned that the most vulnerable could be bearing the brunt of these.

“They are the easiest to sanction and are likely to have the least resources and support to fight back.”

And there is this as well (from the New Statesman, a good source of information and comment)

UN report finds UK disability benefit reforms “violate human rights”

The government’s welfare reforms show “grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities”, according to a UN report.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities painted a picture of a benefits system with a blunt mandate to get claimants back into work, but with little consideration of human rights.

Instead, people with disabilities have found their living conditions deteriorate due to a toxic cocktail of cuts to housing benefit, tightened budgets for local services, and blunt assessments that do not take into account complex needs. The Bedroom Tax also made it harder to find suitable accommodation.

But perhaps the most damning part of the report is the change in culture it observes.

Because disabled people are more likely to rely on some form of welfare support, they are also more likely to be a target of scapegoating, it noted.

As the government rolled out its welfare reforms, “high-ranking officers” issued statements telling the public the changes were supposed to make the welfare system fairer to taxpayers and reduce benefit fraud.

The report continued:

Persons with disabilities have been regularly portrayed negatively as being dependent or making a living out of benefits, committing fraud as benefit claimants, being lazy and putting a burden on taxpayers, who are paying “money for nothing”.

Its inquiry uncovered evidence that people with disabilities experience increasing hostility, aggressive behaviour and attacks. This was despite the fact there was nothing to suggest people with disabilities were any more likely to commit benefit fraud.

In response to the criticism, the government pointed to its campaigners to improve public awareness. But the UN committee is unconvinced.

It concluded that the government could have foreseen that its welfare reforms would have a negative impact on people with disabilities. But instead, those claimants undergoing assessments “felt that they were merely processed rather than being listened to or understood”.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 10, 2016 at 11:45 am

Equality Commission Inquiry Follows UN inquiry into DWP’s rights violations

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What the Government Really Cares About.

Last year this was reported.

David Cameron dismisses UN inquiry into DWP’s treatment of disabled people

We have not heard the results of this initiative.

This has now been announced: Equality watchdog to mirror UN inquiry into DWP’s rights violations

But not before this happened – for anybody still taken in by Iain Duncan Smith’s snivelling on the BBC.

Five months ago, Iain Duncan Smith, who resigned last month as work and pensions secretary, dismissed an EHRC offer to help MPs and peers understand the true impact on disabled people and other groups of his welfare reform and work bill, which has since been passed by parliament.

Letters between EHRC and Duncan Smith were published on the commission’s website, following a freedom of information request, and showed that he snubbed an offer from the watchdog to “work more closely” on the equality impact assessments the Department for Work and Pensions published alongside the bill.

In a briefing on its website published last year, EHRC said it was concerned that parts of the bill “could exacerbate, rather than reduce, existing inequalities”.

And it suggested then that measures such as reducing the benefit cap, freezing many benefit rates, and the cut of nearly £30-a-week from April 2017 for new claimants placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance could breach the government’s international human rights obligations, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The equality watchdog is to commission a major piece of research into whether the government’s welfare reforms have harmed the human rights of disabled people and other minority groups.

Welfare Weekly reports,

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says it wants to examine the impact of changes to the welfare system on independent living and poverty.

Its decision appears to mirror the decision of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities to carry out an unprecedented inquiry into “systematic and grave violations” of disabled people’s human rights by the UK government, which is examining the impact of a series of welfare reforms and social care cuts carried out since 2010.

The EHRC announcement was included in the watchdog’s new business plan for 2016-17, which was published on Monday (4 April) without any publicity.

The business plan says: “Everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living, including a minimum entitlement to food, clothing and housing.”

It adds: “It is not clear whether the government’s reforms to tax, welfare and public spending have taken into account the cumulative impact of these changes on the standard of living of disabled people and other groups who may have been disproportionately affected.”

EHRC says it will focus its work in this area in 2016-17 on commissioning an assessment to “determine how changes to the welfare system have affected equality of opportunity and the human rights of people who share certain protected characteristics”.

It adds: “This will enable us to identify whether the system effectively supports all groups into work and where improvements are needed to address unintended consequences.”

Five months ago, Iain Duncan Smith, who resigned last month as work and pensions secretary, dismissed an EHRC offer to help MPs and peers understand the true impact on disabled people and other groups of his welfare reform and work bill, which has since been passed by parliament.

Letters between EHRC and Duncan Smith were published on the commission’s website, following a freedom of information request, and showed that he snubbed an offer from the watchdog to “work more closely” on the equality impact assessments the Department for Work and Pensions published alongside the bill.

In a briefing on its website published last year, EHRC said it was concerned that parts of the bill “could exacerbate, rather than reduce, existing inequalities”.

And it suggested then that measures such as reducing the benefit cap, freezing many benefit rates, and the cut of nearly £30-a-week from April 2017 for new claimants placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance could breach the government’s international human rights obligations, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Other areas EHRC plans to focus on this year for the first time include the launch of a new inquiry examining the provision and choice of housing for disabled people and its impact on independent living.

It also plans to review progress made by public bodies on implementing the recommendations of its 2011 disability hate crime inquiry, Hidden In Plain Sight, which concluded that they were guilty of a “systematic, institutional failure” to recognise disability-related harassment.

Other work will include a major new project that aims to address the discrimination faced by some groups – including disabled people – in accessing health and social care, and it will develop a strategy for tackling gender, disability and race pay gaps.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 10, 2016 at 11:23 am