Ipswich Unemployed Action.

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Posts Tagged ‘Universal Credit

Ian Duncan Smith – Yes, Ian Duncan Smith – Calls for Reversing Universal Credit Cuts.

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Image result for ian duncan smith cartoon we're getting people off benefits

IDS: A Sinner Repents.

There is no doubt rejoicing in heaven at Ian Duncan Smith’s call.

But for those with a less than angelic disposition will remember this before reading today’s reports:

I, Daniel Blake: Iain Duncan Smith slams Ken Loach’s benefits sanctions film.

Mr Duncan Smith presided over £15bn of cuts to the benefits system in the five years after 2010.

Former Work and Pensions Secretary Mr Duncan Smith said: “I did think that whilst on the one level this was a human story full of pathos and difficulty, and I’m not saying  for one moment there aren’t serious difficulties and issues when you’re under pressure, when things like this happen … the film has taken the very worst of anything that can ever happen to anybody and lumped it all together and then said this is life absolutely as it is lived by people, and I don’t believe that.”

There were £15bn of cuts to the welfare budget over the five years between 2010 and 2015, during which time Mr Duncan Smith was Work and Pensions Secretary. He eventually quit over further cuts to the Universal Credit system he helped design.

Reverse universal credit cuts, Iain Duncan Smith tells chancellor


The former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has warned the chancellor that he risks undermining the whole purpose of welfare reform if he fails to reverse cuts to universal credit (UC) in his spring statement.

Philip Hammond is under mounting pressure from across the party to use better than expected tax revenues to reverse cuts made after the 2015 election. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that 340,000 people could be taken out of poverty by reversing the cuts to work allowances.

I think he’s under a lot of pressure. There are a lot of colleagues around who would like to see the money restored to UC as a step in the right direction,” said Duncan Smith. “Hammond has got more money to spend. But will he? He says no … The answer to that is, we’ll see.”

UC, which rolls six major working-age benefits – including job seeker’s allowance, tax credit and housing benefit – into one monthly payment, has been beset with problems. It is years behind schedule and there have been four different secretaries of state since Duncan Smith resigned in 2016, protesting about cuts to disability benefits – saying they were a “compromise too far” that made the cuts look political rather than economic.

These four Universal Credit changes spell bad news for families

Birmingham Live.

The four key benefit cuts coming in to force on April 9 are:

– Year three of the four-year cash freeze in working age benefits, affecting almost 11 million families.

– The 3% real terms cut in working age benefits this year is set to be by far the biggest of the four-year benefit freeze.

– A two child limit for benefit claims , costing up to £2,780 for a family having a third child. This will affect 150,000 families.

– Withdrawal of the family element of support for new tax credit and universal credit claims from families with children , costing up to £545 and affecting 400,000 families.

The rollout of Universal Credit , saving £200m this year due to lower entitlements than the existing benefit system for long term sick and working families in particular.

Before we feel warm and shed a little tear of sympathy for Ian Duncan Smith…

Not fit for work: All the times Iain Duncan Smith has got it badly wrong.

This week two heavily critical reports were published on Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit programme, joining a long list of damning critiques of his time as work and pension secretary. As a result, now seems as good a time as any to take a closer at his record and all the times he has got it badly wrong.

Claim: In 2012 IDS boasted that the roll out of Universal Credit would improve the lives of millions of claimants by “incentivising work and making work pay.”

Reality: A report published yesterday by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, says that although the policy would encourage some people into work this was’t the case for everyone. In fact some groups, like single parents, will have even less of an incentive to work under Universal Credit than under the old system. Crucially it also suggested the changes would leave working families worse off on average, with their research suggesting 2.1 million families will face an average loss of £1,600 a year.

Claim: The Bedroom Tax would help tackle the housing shortage

One of Duncan Smith’s key defences of the Bedroom Tax was that it would help free up social housing for those who most need it. The idea being that rather than take a cut in housing benefit for having a spare room, people would move out of their properties and into smaller accommodation, thereby freeing it up for larger families.

Reality: A shortage of smaller properties meant that the overwhelming majority of people affected by the bedroom tax stayed put. A recent government study into the impact of the changes found that 76% of those affected have been forced to cut back on food, with thousands more claimants being driven into taking on payday loans. Only a small fraction of those affected moved into alternative accommodation.

Claim: Face-to-face assessments of disability benefit claimants would mean payments would only go to those who most need them

Reality: Many people with serious disabilities and even life-threatening conditions have been judged as fit-for-work under the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) scheme. In 2013 Linda Wootton died in hospital just nine days after the government stopped her benefits and ordered her to go back to work. Amid growing criticism of the assessments, in March 2014, it was confirmed that ATOS, the private company contracted to carry out the assessments, were to end their contract with the government a year early.

Claim: Personal Independence Payments would “better reflect today’s understanding of disability” than the Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

Reality: The switchover from DLA to PIP was a disaster with thousands of people waiting months for their applications to be assessed. This was made even worse by the introduction of a new step in the appeals process. The Mandatory Reconsideration stage resulted in many of those who had already waited long periods for a decision to be made being left waiting even longer to have the opportunity to challenge .

And so it goes….

Role in Universal Credit as  Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

He also announced a far more radical series of reforms intended to simplify the benefits and tax credits scheme into a single payment to be known as Universal Credit. A major aim of welfare reform was to ensure that low earners would always be better off in employment. “After years of piecemeal reform the current welfare system is complex and unfair,” said Duncan Smith, citing examples of people under the existing system that would see very little incremental income from increasing their working hours due to withdrawal of other benefits.[30] Outlining the scheme in more detail in November 2010, Duncan Smith promised “targeted work activity for those who need to get used to the habits of work” and sanctions, including the possible removal of benefits for up to three years for those who refused to work. He said welfare reform would benefit all those who “play by the rules” and ensure “work always pays more” by easing the rate at which benefits are withdrawn as income rises.[31]

The next phase of welfare reform announced by Duncan Smith in late 2011 required benefits claimants with part-time incomes below a certain threshold to search for additional work or risk losing access to their benefits. “We are already requiring people on out of work benefits to do more to prepare for and look for work,” he said. “Now we are looking to change the rules for those who are in-work and claiming benefits, so that once they have overcome their barriers and got into work, in time they can reduce their dependency or come off benefits altogether.”[32] He said that benefits were not a route out of child poverty but hundreds of thousands of children could be lifted out of child poverty if one of their parents were to work at least a 35-hour week at the national minimum wage.[33]

He also argued that a proposed £26,000-a-year benefits cap, would not lead to a rise in homelessness or child poverty “The reality is that with £26,000 a year, it’s very difficult to believe that families will be plunged into poverty – children or adults,” he told BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme. “Capping at average earnings of £35,000 before tax and £26,000 after, actually means that we are going to work with families make sure that they will find a way out.”[34] but added there would need to be “discretionary measures”.[34] Duncan Smith led the governments legislation in the House of Commons in January 2013 to cap most benefit increases at 1%, a real terms cut.[35]

On 1 April 2013, Duncan Smith said he could live on £53 per week as Work and Pensions Secretary, after a benefits claimant told the BBC he had £53 per week after housing costs.[36]

In September 2013, Duncan Smith’s department cancelled a week of “celebrations” to mark the impact of enhanced benefit sanctions. Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) commented: “It is distasteful in the extreme and grossly offensive that the DWP would even consider talking about celebrating cutting people’s benefits.”[37] In the same month, Duncan Smith’s department was subject to an “excoriating” National Audit Office report. The department he runs was accused of having “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance; a fortress mentality, a “good news” reporting culture, a lack of transparency, inadequate financial control, and ineffective oversight” as well as wasting 34 million pounds on inadequate computer systems.[38]

The Department for Work and Pensions had said that 1 million people would be placed on the new Universal Credit benefits system by April 2014, yet by October 2014 only 15,000 were assigned to UC. Duncan Smith said that a final delivery date would not be set for this, declaring “Arbitrary dates and deadlines are the enemy of secure delivery.”[39] In 2014, it was revealed that his department was employing debt collectors to retrieve overpaid benefits, the overpayment purely down to calculation mistakes by HMRC.[


Written by Andrew Coates

March 14, 2018 at 11:30 am

Esther McVey Forced to Reveal Secret – Damming – Universal Credit Reviews.

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McVey Forced to Reveal Secret Universal Credit Reports.

Thanks to Whoknew for flagging this up.

Like the Liverpool Echo angle…

Tory benefits minister Esther McVey forced into embarrassing U-turn over Universal Credit

The Merseyside-born MP wanted to keep secret policy reviews from the public

Universal credit: Government to publish internal reviews of controversial benefit in new U-turn.

Tory cabinet minister Esther McVey has been forced to make an embarrassing U-turn over Universal Credit and release secret reviews of the controversial benefits shake-up.

The Work and Pensions Secretary announced today she will yield in a two-year battle keep the Project Assessment Reviews’ from the public.

Mirror Online’s political reporter Dan Bloom reports the decision comes just weeks after Ms McVey refused to publish the documents and was due to face challenges at a tribunal.

The contentious reviews chart the progress of the Tories’ massive benefits shake-up between 2012 and 2015 – and they don’t bode well for Universal Credit.

Mirror Online reports that of 10 reviews completed, not a single one gave Universal Credit a “green” rating – meaning a clean bill of health.


Assessments failed to produce evidence that more people would be helped into work, say MPs who viewed them.

Internal reviews of universal credit, which expose holes in the case for the controversial new benefit according to MPs, will be published in a government U-turn.

Ministers have abandoned attempts to keep the assessments under wraps after being forced to release them to a Commons committee and after criticism by the independent Information Commissioner.

Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, conceded there was “no point in continuing to argue” for restricted access to the documents, after the committee issued a report on them.


Ms McVey said the committee had agreed “the historic issues” have now been addressed and “substantial achievements have been delivered since 2013”.

They commended the department for running the universal credit programme “more professionally and efficiently with a collective sense of purpose”, she said.

And she insisted the decision to release the assessments to the public was “exceptional”, with future reports still to be “treated as confidential”.

Last year, Conservative MPs forced extra help for universal credit claimants, after joining with opposition parties in pleading for an urgent rethink.

The Government agreed to slash the wait for a first payment from six weeks to five, although the revolt had demanded a cut to four weeks.

However, cuts to the “work allowance” – the amount of earnings kept before claimants lose benefits – has swiped more than £1,200 a year from many families.


Written by Andrew Coates

March 8, 2018 at 1:32 pm

Universal Credit, the Revolt Continues….

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Some Public Day of Action Activities May be Postponed Because of Bad Weather but  Protests will continue as….

How a terminally ill man is leading the fight against inhumane universal credit 

Next month, a terminally ill man is set to take on the government – and with it, the disastrous universal credit (UC) policy. Known only as TP, a 52-year-old ex-City worker – who has non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the lymph node condition Castleman disease – is launching a landmark challenge at the high court after becoming financially worse off under the new benefit system.

This couldn’t come sooner. In October, I warned of the hidden cut within UC for disabled people: thanks to the abolition of both the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP). As a result, according to the disability charity Scope, the move to UC will see claimants lose as much as £395 a month. The outcome of the legal challenge could have widespread ramifications for 230,000 disabled people who it is estimated will be hit by the removal of disability premiums under UC.

Launching a multibillion pound benefit system only to remove vital income from some of the poorest people in the country is a particularly warped use of public money – and a move that exemplifies just how low the Conservatives are willing to sink in their rush to gut Britain’s safety net. The campaign group, Disabled People against Cuts, is launching a national protest in response on 1 March. As UC is hailed as the biggest reform to the welfare state since Beveridge, there’s a very real risk that its greatest achievement will be making more disabled people hungry and housebound. Led by one terminally ill man, the time has come to fight it.

Benefit delays leave hundreds of thousands penniless and reliant on foodbanks

Welfare Weekly,  Steven Preece

DWP failed to meet its own target of processing new benefit claims within ten days on 214,000 occasions last year, new figures show.

Delays in processing new benefit claims are leaving tens of thousands of vulnerable adults and children without money for long periods of time and dependent on foodbanks to stave off hunger, damning figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal.

Minister of State for Employment Alok Sharma confirmed in a written Commons answer that the DWP failed to achieve its own target of processing new claims within ten days on 214,000 occasions last year.

This is equivalent to more than 1 in 10 claims, leaving some of the poorest in society struggling to heat their homes and put food on the table.

The same figures also reveal how more than 970,000 claims took longer than a week to be processed.

The article follows this report on the ‘I’ yesterday,

Foodbank use driven by benefit delays

“How else can those people put food on the table and keep their homes warm, let alone apply for jobs, if it takes weeks and weeks to register their claim and establish an income?”

According to Mr Sharma’s answer, 110,180 Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants and 103,650 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants waited more than two weeks for their applications to be assessed.

A total of 671,250 JSA claimants and 302,900 ESA claimants waited more than a week for news of their applications.

The DWP does not have information about the number of claimants receiving emergency advances to tide them over.

Around one-quarter of people who use foodbanks say they are visiting because of delays receiving their benefit payments, according to the Trussell Trust, which co-ordinates the national network of foodbanks.

‘Cash advances available’ Mr Field said he was contacted last week by a mother with a one-year-old child who had been left with “7p to my name” as a result of her benefit claim being delayed. A DWP spokeswoman said: “We strongly believe people should be able to access support when they need it and the vast majority of JSA and ESA claims are processed within 10 working days. “Anyone who needs financial support during that time can apply for an advance on their first payment, or should speak to their jobcentre ..

Day of Action. Update.

We are sorry to announce that due to the bad weather forecast for London this week, and the associated travel difficulties this will bring, we have taken the decision to CANCEL the planned action this Thursday 1st March at the Houses of Parliament.

All of the online actions planned for 1st March will continue as planned

We leave decisions about local actions to the local groups and urge organisers to update us with any decisions (to proceed or to cancel) as soon as possible so we can get the word out.

Check DPAC for more information.  Updates on local actions against UC

And more reasons to Revolt!


Written by Andrew Coates

February 27, 2018 at 4:38 pm

The Feckless Poor, The Stigma of Welfare. Mary O’Hara

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Tory Pick-Pockets Idea of Poverty.

There is a theory, a well-attested theory, that the key to the  government ‘welfare reform’ is that they intend to make life for claimants as unpleasant as possible. This will not only reduce the number of people willing to apply for benefits, it will compel them to take whatever work they can get. Over the years they have tried to a variety of schemes, The Work Programme, and now (for a more limited group), the Work and Health Programme, that are intended to guide people into employment.

Over the years ‘nudges’ (this is not a joke, they tried at one point with this daft plan, “Jobcentres try ‘nudging’ the workless” 2013), were replaced with pushes, sanctions.

Some would say that the massive increase in rough-sleeper numbers, a result of housing crisis and the fact that these days the down and out get not benefits  is – for the more hard-line Tories – a welcome ‘nudge’, a constant reminder of where you could fall if you do not pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get work.

Now Universal Credit looks set to cause a lot more misery for a much wider group of people.

Not to mention this:

A lot has to do with the cock-ups of those who created the system, and the way its run.

But the message about the feckless poor keeps on and on.

Mary O’Hara is the author of Austerity Bites,

After coming to power in May 2010, the Coalition government in the United Kingdom embarked on a drastic programme of cuts to public spending and introduced a raft of austerity measures that had profoundly damaging effects on much of the population. This bestselling book by award-winning journalist Mary O’Hara chronicles the true impact of austerity on people at the sharp end, based on her ‘real-time’ 12-month journey around the country just as the most radical reforms were being rolled out in 2012 and 2013. Drawing on hundreds of hours of compelling first-person interviews, with a broad spectrum of people ranging from homeless teenagers, older job-seekers, pensioners, charity workers, employment advisers and youth workers, as well as an extensive body of research and reports, the book explores the grim reality of living under the biggest shakeup of the welfare state in 60 years. with a new Foreword by Mark Blyth, Professor of International Political economy and International Studies at Brown University, USA, Austerity Bites dispels any notion that “we are all in this together” and offers an alternative to the dominant and simplistic narrative that we inhabit a country of “skivers versus strivers”.

This is a review of the book,

Mary O’Hara, Austerity Bites: A journey to the sharp end of cuts in the UK, Policy Press, 2014, xiv + 320 pp, 1 4473 1560 5, hbk, £19.99

During 2012 and 2013 Mary O’Hara travelled the UK to find out what effects the Coalition Government’s public sector cuts were having by interviewing some of the people affected by them: both those suffering directly from the austerity measures and those working with them to try to mitigate the measures’ effects.

The introduction describes in broad terms the ways in which wages have fallen, poverty and debt have increased, new sanctions have been imposed on jobseekers, and public services have been cut – and all this in the cause of an austerity that further damages the economy.

O’Hara’s visits and interviews reveal the depth of the crisis: increasing food poverty (and hence the rise in the number of food banks); mounting pressure on household budgets as costs rise but incomes – both in and out of work – stagnate; the disruptive effects of the bedroom tax; and the rise of personal debt and of high-street high-interest lenders. They also reveal the increasing stigma imposed on people who cannot find employment, and on people with disabilities and long-term health problems; declining wages and job security; cuts in local authority services on which some of our most vulnerable citizens depend; and rising rents and homelessness.

This is in many ways a familiar story, but what gives this particular telling of it an added authenticity are the excerpts from the interviews. Here we find the voices not of statisticians, journalists, or politicians, but of those suffering the effects of cuts in services. In the concluding chapter, we hear the voices of those voluntary sector workers who are coping with increasing demand, disappearing grants, and staff redundancies. The concluding chapter ends with a description of the way in which the Government and the tabloid press have succeeded in persuading us that the previous Labour Government and the poor are responsible for the country’s financial problems, and therefore for austerity; and with a description of small-scale resistance to that austerity – as if local pressure groups can defeat the Government- and media-driven prejudice to which we have been submitted for the past four years. They can’t.

Perhaps for our readership the most significant finding from O’Hara’s visits and interviews is that ‘the social security system that had protected much of the population from the worst vagaries of inequality was being ripped from its foundations’. She goes on:

I saw at first hand how destabilised and fearful it was leaving people. What I observed during my travels was a society in deep existential as well as economic and political flux. It seemed to me that austerity was generating social and economic schisms faster than they could be tracked, never mind adequately countered. There was a sense of an expanding segregation of the rich and poor, the entrenchment of a ‘them and us’ view of the world that produced not only a lack of social contract but also a political gap so wide as to seem unbridgeable. (p.15)

As a society we need to take to heart what is being said here, and determine to build a new social security system that will protect everyone from ‘the worst vagaries of inequality’ and will heal our ‘social and economic schisms’.

Today she writes in the Guardian.

Let’s tell the truth about poverty – and stop this assault on welfare

When the Department for Work and Pensions last week decided to issue a Valentine’s message to people on benefits – clearly implying that recipients lie about their “living arrangements” to fleece the state – it was the latest attack designed to blame and shame. It is a well-worn pattern, especially for people who qualify for benefits.

Since the emergence almost a decade ago of the poisonous rhetoric of “skivers and strivers” that has helped to prop up the fiasco that has been Tory austerity, a culture of dismissing poor people has become well and truly entrenched. The despicable idea that being poor is somehow the byproduct of personal flaws rather than bad policy, and that strong welfare systems should be rejected, is pervasive.

How else to explain the fact that food banks have become normalised or that the repeated denial of benefits – and dignity – to people with disabilities has failed to provoke a nationwide revolt? How else to compute that a homeless person dies on the doorstep of the Houses of Parliament and registers only as a temporary blip on the national consciousness?

The DWP’s Valentine’s message on Twitter to benefit recipients


In the early days of austerity Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP framed the slashing of the welfare state as welfare reform in order to sell it to the public as an improvement that would prevent the system being exploited. This tactic was straight out of the American playbook from the mid-1990s when Bill Clinton all but ended the welfare system under the guise of reform, only to exacerbate poverty.

This pernicious, repetitive narrative that has underpinned bad poverty policy for so long is a maliciously clever ruse. But if what it means to be poor can be framed one way, then it can be framed in another, more truthful way, too. In fact, it is already starting. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has launched an initiative called “talking about poverty”,to which I will be contributing, that explicitly aims to examine how to change the conversation. It is incumbent on us to make that happen.

I am not entirely convinced that O’Hara is right to refer exclusively to the USA.

In France there’s been political and media attacks on unemployed ‘spongers’ – if not on the UK scale (France has no Daily Mail, no Express and no Sun for a start)  – for some time.

Presidential Macron announced at the end of last year something that looks to me a ‘job seeker’s agreement’ for the out-of-work on benefits complete with a sanctions regime if you don’t look hard enough for employment (Le gouvernement va renforcer le contrôle des chômeurs.  27.12.17).

I could extend this to other European countries.

But her overall points are well taken.


Written by Andrew Coates

February 20, 2018 at 4:36 pm

Tories Drop Proposed “gentler approach” to Sanctions Regime for Claimants.

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McVey Goes Back to Cruel Sanctions Regime.

The ‘sanctions regime’ is a long standing gripe of claimants.

In 2016  amongst many reports there was this: (Independent 30th of November), Benefits sanctions don’t work and plunge claimants into ‘hunger and depression’, National Audit Office finds

The benefit sanctions system has become a ‘postcode lottery’ and is doing more harm than good, according to the public spending watchdog

The public spending watchdog has launched a scathing attack on the benefit sanctions system, claiming that fining people for breaking the terms of benefits does more harm than good and costs more to enforce than it saves.

The National Audit Office (NAO) found that benefit sanctions were being inconsistently applied across the country, with some jobcentres being far stricter than others on people who, for example, are unable to show they have been actively seeking employment in order to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. The watchdog found that withholding of benefits, which it found to be commonplace, plunges claimants into hardship, hunger and depression.

The NAO said the Department for Work and Pensions must launch a proper investigation into how benefit sanctions are affecting the lives of people on benefits, and to bring to an end a system it described as “pot luck” and a “postcode lottery”.

Labour’s Meg Hillier, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Benefit sanctions punish some of the poorest people in the country. But despite the anxiety and misery they cause, it seems to be pot luck who gets sanctioned.”

She added: “While studies suggest sanctions do encourage some people back into work, other people stop claiming but do not start working and the Department for Work and Pensions has no record of them. If vulnerable people fall through the safety net, what happens to them?”

In October last year we learnt, (Disability News Service),

Ministers are to test a new approach to dealing with claimants who breach strict benefit conditions for the first time, in the latest sign that the government is finally listening to calls to soften its much-criticised sanctions regime.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has agreed to trial handing out warnings instead of benefit sanctions when a claimant breaches the conditions imposed on them for the first time.

It is one of five recommendations made in February’s report by the public accounts committee (PAC) on benefits sanctions, all of which have been accepted by ministers, according to a document sent by the Treasury to the committee earlier this month.

Today we hear:

By John Pring Disability News Service 15th February 2018

Ministers have quietly dumped their promise to test a gentler approach to dealing with claimants who breach strict benefit conditions for the first time.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) agreed in October to trial handing out warnings instead of benefit sanctions when claimants breach the conditions imposed on them for the first time.

It was one of five recommendations made in a report on benefit sanctions by the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) in February 2017.

But DWP has now said that it will not carry out the trial after all, because of “competing priorities in the Parliamentary timetable”.

There was no public announcement, but the decision was included on page 139 of the latest Treasury Minutes Progress Report, which describes progress on implementing those PAC recommendations that have been accepted by the government.

It was spotted by welfare rights advisers on the rightsnet online forum, and from Buckinghamshire Disability Service.

Although the progress report is dated 25 January, a DWP spokeswoman insisted that the decision to dump the sanctions trial had been taken before the appointment of Esther McVey as the new work and pensions secretary on 8 January.

She said: “The decision not to undertake a trial was taken at the end of 2017 – before Esther McVey took up her position as secretary of state.

“As you have read, introducing the trial through legislative change cannot be secured within a reasonable timescale.

“But we are keeping the spirit of the recommendation in mind in our thinking around future sanctions policy.

“To keep the sanctions system clear, fair and effective we keep the policies and processes under continuous review.”

Last October’s decision to trial handing out warnings had been seen as a sign that years of campaigning by disabled activists and anti-austerity protesters aimed at raising awareness of the harshness of the sanctions regime might finally be paying off.

It had come only weeks after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities made sweeping criticisms of the UK government’s welfare reforms.

The UN committee had called on the government to review “the conditionality and sanction regimes” linked to employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit, and “tackle the negative consequences on the mental health and situation” of disabled people.

David Gauke, at the time the work and pensions secretary, admitted at his party’s annual conference last October that sanctions often fail to work and can instead cause harm to claimants, particularly those with mental health conditions.

He promised then to try to find a way to make the sanctions system less damaging to people with mental health conditions, and the announcement of the trial soon afterwards appeared to demonstrate his department’s commitment.

But that commitment is now being questioned, following McVey’s appointment as his successor.

Universal Credit Sanctions

The rules about sanctions under Universal Credit mean that there will be more people who will be sanctioned than the previous benefits system. In fact evidence is suggesting that the rate of sanctions under Universal Credit is three times that of JSA. It is possible to be sanctioned even if you are in paid work.

It should also be noted that Hardship Payments are paid as loans and will have to be repaid at the end of the sanction.

The rules for the level of Universal Credit sanctions are based on the rules for JSA and ESA sanctions. Anyone who receives Universal Credit can be sanctioned and the level of the sanction depends upon the conditionality group that you are placed in. More information about the conditionality groups can be found in the article Your Responsibilities if you get Universal Credit.


Written by Andrew Coates

February 16, 2018 at 11:16 am

Work and Pensions Secretary makes a fool of herself as Sack Esther McVey Again Campaign takes off.

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In January, a campaign was launched, backed by Salford TUC, to Sack Esther McVey Again, building on a previous successful campaign to get her sacked as MP for the Wirral (see previous Salford Star article – click here). And this week she had to step down from the advisory board of The Samaritans after a similar outcry.

Today, McVey is set to face questions in Parliament about DWP benefit cruelty, and, to coincide, a new hard hitting but catchy track is being launched called No More (Sack Esther Now), written and sung by Salford’s Dominic Williams.

The track hits on issues like war on the poor and consequent benefit and sanction deaths, or ‘de-population by stealth’, with the chorus…

‘Take a look tell me can you see
She’s never ever going to let you be
The vitriol she’s aiming at the sick and at the poor…No more…’

The track is both a catalogue of McVey’s ‘crimes’ as a former Tory Employment Minister, and a call to arms for activists, or ‘She’ll finish what she’s started/Now her foot’s back in the door…’

“Yes, it is hard hitting, especially the second verse, but it’s not far off the truth” says Dominic “That’s what it seems to people and it’s how people have been treated in the system. The number of people who have been declared fit and then died in a matter of days; it’s like, ‘Hello‘…But you don’t choose to live in poverty, circumstances dictate that, and it’s wrong that we demonise them. It’s easier to go after the ones who can’t help themselves.

“I’m very passionate about things like the NHS and the way the DWP do these kind of things because I’ve seen what it does to people, and it’s wrong” he adds “What price do you put on a life?”


Tory welfare chief Esther McVey rebuked by House of Commons Speaker for attack on Labour’s use of statistics

The Mirror.

John Bercow slapped down Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey after she accused Labour of twisting statistics – instead of answering a question about pensions.

Tory welfare chief Esther McVey has been rebuked by the House of Commons speaker for an attack on Labour that was not “relevant”.

John Bercow slapped down the new Work and Pensions Secretary today after she accused Labour of twisting statistics – instead of answering a question about pensions.

In her first Commons Questions since she took office, Ms McVey repeatedly highlighted a letter from the UK Statistics Authority watchdog to her Labour rival Debbie Abrahams.

The watchdog has rebuked Ms Abrahams over Labour’s claim that “40,000 children will wake up in poverty on Christmas Day because the Tories refuse to pause and fix Universal Credit.”

Chair Sir David Norgrove said Labour’s claim was not “fully supported” by the statistics and sources it relied on.

But Ms Abrahams accused Ms McVey of using the letter to distract from the Tories’ dire record.

And Commons Speaker John Bercow repeatedly admonished the minister – and fellow Tory MPs – for bringing up the watchdog’s letter in a Commons session designed to look at her own record.

Esther McVey’s “disgraceful” answer to question on closing Job Centres in her “home town”

The controversial former Wirral MP has failed to impress in Parliament again.

Esther McVey was labelled a “disgrace” for dodging a question about the closure of Job Centres in Liverpool.

The new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was quizzed in the Commons by Wavertree MP Luciana Berger about the Tories’ plan to shut down the only two Job Centres in the area – leaving local people with nowhere to go for employment support.

Ms Berger asked the former Wirral MP if she had looked at plans by Liverpool City Council to try and co-locate Job Centres in some of its other buildings as a means of still offering people a place to get advice, support and benefits – but she managed to completely avoid the question and suggest things have vastly improved in her “home town” of Liverpool.

Ms Berger asked: “Can I ask the Secretary of State if she’s had the opportunity to review the very helpful and generous offer made by Liverpool City Council to her predecessor to provide office space for closure threatened Job Centres.

“There are two Job Centres in my constituency – not one but two – that her government wishes to close, leaving my constituents with zero Job Centres – and they are due to close in a few weeks’ time.

In her response, Ms McVey elected not to deal with the subject of Job Centres closing or the offer made by the city council at all.

She said: “It is really important that everybody gets the support they need and actually a lot of the support that will be going forward will actually be outreach work, so that they don’t need to go to the Job Centre Plus.”

She added: “But obviously I am pleased that in the Liverpool City Area, which is my home town – employment is now far higher than it was in 2010 and when you look at the unemployment rates of the Labour Government – unemployment 2.8m in 2008, even before the banking crisis.

McVee still has one friend, a certain Quinten, and it would take two seconds to guess which paper publishes him,

When Theresa May today makes her speech marking the women’s suffrage centenary, and deplores the ‘intimidation and aggression’ prevalent on social media, she should pause to toot brief salute to Esther McVey.

Miss McVey, who was recently promoted to Work and Pensions Secretary, has had to endure horrible abuse over the years.

She has put on a front of cheerfulness but inside I bet she has been through the mangle.

Labour activists have called her all sorts of names, far worse than anything any parliamentary sketchwriter would use.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell even spoke about lynching her.

The (successful) campaign to oust Miss McVey from her marginal Merseyside seat at the 2015 general election was almost unhinged, it became so personal.

All that from the party that accuses Righties of being intolerant and anti-women!

In all that time, Miss McVey never lost her composure in public.

She had no husband or children to comfort her but she did have her old dad. I met him once. Good bloke.

The only other man in her life is Philip Davies (Con, Shipley), with whom she shares digs.

Miss McVey, who returned to the Commons as MP for Tatton (George Osborne’s neglected seat) in 2017, was at the despatch box yesterday for her first departmental Questions.

She  has this to muse over,

Thousands of Universal Credit decisions could be reviewed as terminally ill man takes government to court

A terminally ill man has won the right to launch a legal challenge against the introduction of the universal credit.


Written by Andrew Coates

February 7, 2018 at 11:30 am

Gov.uk Verify System Creating Chaos for Universal Credit Claimants.

with 77 comments

Image result for Gov.uk Verify problems universal credit

A Cause of Major Snarl Ups for Universal Credit Claimants.

Computer Weekly is one of our favourite reads, an essential source for information about a crucial part of the Benefits system, IT.

One of our contributors pointed to this story way back in the mists of time (2014):  The IT risks facing Universal Credit.

A few days ago the esteemed organ flagged up yet another  major problem for Universal Credit, Gov.uk Verify.

The origin of the latest mess is, as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau said last year

One of the big changes under Universal Credit was the switch to a ‘digital’ benefit. For the first time with the full digital service, claimants both apply for and manage their UC claim online. The intention behind this change is to encourage UC claimants to develop their digital skills,” the report said.

Citizens Advice believes that being online could make it easier for people to find and secure work, and access information.

“A digitally-delivered benefit system also has the potential to become more efficient, allowing claimants to better manage their payments and any changes of circumstances,” it said, but added that rolling out a fully digital Universal Credit requires “significant support”.

The Advice Service (facing cuts be it noted) stated the origin of the difficulty was this,

One in five adults in the UK lack basic digital skills and one in seven don’t have access to the internet at home.

“These people are disproportionately likely to be disabled or have a long-term health condition, and to be unemployed or on low incomes. These are also the groups most likely to be making a claim for UC,” the report said.

“A survey of our UC clients in full service areas found nearly half (45%) had difficulty accessing or using the internet – or both.”

This makes it difficult for citizens applying for benefits to do so online. In fact, 52% of the people surveyed by Citizens Advice said they found the online application difficult and felt that the support they needed was not available. Most people have also not been informed that there are other options than applying online.

Without accessible facilities and support, there is a risk that the significant minority of claimants who lack digital literacy or internet access will experience additional delays and errors in their initial claim,” the report said.

Plenty of posters on this site have said the same based on the well-known scientific research principle of common sense.

Thousands of Universal Credit claimants unable to use Gov.uk Verify to apply for benefits.

Bryan Glick

Government research shows that barely one-third of benefits claimants can successfully apply for new Universal Credit digital service using flagship online identity system.

Hundreds of thousands of benefits claimants could be unable to register for the new Universal Credit (UC) digital service because of problems using the government’s online identity system Gov.uk Verify, according to new figures that show barely a third of UC users successfully use Verify.

The Universal Credit (UC) digital system, which is due to be introduced at all Jobcentres by the end of 2018, works on the basis that people applying for benefits will set up an account online and prove their identity electronically using Gov.uk Verify – either on their own computer or with assistance from Jobcentre staff.

But the Government Digital Service (GDS), which develops Verify, has revealed research showing that while 35% of UC users can set up a Verify account online, 30% are not able to, and the remaining 35% could use Verify, but do not.

“Further research at a job centre showed that out of 91 users, 48 needed help with the process,” according to the latest minutes from GDS meetings with the Privacy & Consumer Advisory Group (PCAG), a panel of independent identity experts who advise on Gov.uk Verify issues.

The article  continues,

Benefits claimants tend to have less of a digital footprint than people in employment, who are more likely to have mortgages or credit cards, and as a result Verify finds it harder to gather enough data to prove their identity. The new GDS research is the first time Verify figures have been published that are specific to the UC digital service.

Most of the 1.2 million UC claimants so far have used the original “Pathfinder” system, which handles only a limited number of benefit types and does not rely so heavily on Verify. It is being replaced by the digital service – now known as UC Full Service – which is being rolled out across the country and will be used for all new UC claims by the end of the year.

In the month to 14 December 2017, 77,000 people applied for Universal Credit, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). With the UC Full Service being introduced at, on average, 50 Jobcentres a month this year, hundreds of thousands of new claimants will soon be expected to use Verify as part of the application process. Based on the latest GDS figures, at least three in 10 people will not be able to do so and many more will struggle.

A telephone helpline is available to help apply for UC, and Jobcentre staff can also assist, but the expansion of UC Full Service assumes that the majority of claimants will prove their identity using Verify. If many thousands of people are unable to successfully use Verify to submit a claim, it is likely to cause significant extra work for Jobcentre staff.

The Gov.UK Verify system has faced other charges in the recent past (May 2016)

Gov.UK Verify finally launches but critics warn of security and privacy problems

Campaigners warn people will lose control of their identity

Gov.UK Verify, the Cabinet Office’s in-house identity scheme intended to govern access to public services, has finally been launched, years late and to intense criticism.

Verify’s purpose is for citizens to register to use government services quickly and easily by matching their identity to other systems.

“When you use Gov.UK Verify to access a government service you choose from a list of companies certified to verify your identity,” the government said.

“It’s safe because information is not stored centrally, and there’s no unnecessary sharing of information. The company you choose doesn’t know which service you’re trying to access, and the government department doesn’t know which company you choose.”

However, campaigners have argued that Verify is unnecessary and limited, potentially insecure and will encourage users effectively to cede control of valuable personal information to the eight private contractors picked to oversee the scheme: Barclays, CitizenSafe, Digidentity, Experian, Post Office, Royal Mail, SecureIdentity and Verizon.

LOGJAM signals that after the above article Computer Weekly has now written its own criticisms,

There’s a growing body of opinion that the government’s flagship digital identity system, Gov.uk Verify, has now become a major hindrance to the development of the UK’s digital identity infrastructure.


Written by Andrew Coates

February 4, 2018 at 10:48 am