Ipswich Unemployed Action.

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Posts Tagged ‘work and pensions select committee

Work and Pensions Select Committee Hearing on Sanctions, this Wednesday.

Right Hon Esther McVey MP looking a Right Sight.

Hat-tip: Obi.

 The Work and Pensions Select Committee announce the final oral evidence session for its inquiry into benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review.

Witnesses

At 9.30am, Wednesday 4 February 2015, Wilson Room, Portcullis House

Department for Work and Pensions:

  • Rt Hon Esther McVey MP, Minister of State for Employment
  • Chris Hayes, Director, Labour Market and International Affairs

Purpose of the session

The session is intended to explore the Government’s position on a range of issues highlighted during the inquiry, including

  • The development of benefit sanctions policy and the evidence base
  • The Government’s response to the Oakley Review and progress towards implementation of its recommendations
  • The setting of appropriate benefit conditions and the sanctions decision-making process
  • The culture around conditionality and sanctions within DWP/JCP and the case for an independent review
  • Protecting claimants against hardship
  • The appropriateness of ESA sanctioning

Oakley sanctions review – responses from other organisations January 2014

From the PCS  response:

Target and expectation culture must be stopped

PCS is demanding that DWP must take action to stop the target and ‘expectation’ culture for sanction referrals, which is shown by 23% of those surveyed having an explicit target for sanction referrals, and 81% having an ‘expectation’ level. These levels are shocking as both DWP and Ministers claim that targets do not exist at all.

It is no longer acceptable for WSD Management to deny that there is a problem or claim that issues are just isolated incidents. They must take responsibility for the regime that sees 61% of surveyed members experiencing pressure to refer claimants where they believe it may be appropriate.

Performance action used to threaten staff

Worryingly 36% of members stated that they have been placed on Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), and 10% have gone through formal poor performance procedures for not making ‘enough’ referrals.

It’s clear that performance procedures are being used to push staff into making more and more referrals, rather than used to challenge staff who ‘refuse to sanction’ as DWP claim. Poor performance action can lead to dismissal, it is therefore a thinly veiled threat to your employment if you don’t make ‘enough’ referrals. Nor is there any evidence that staff who make an excessive number of referrals are challenged using the same procedures.

The specific PIP tool designed by WSD management to monitor sanction referrals completely contradicts the Employment Minister’s statement to Parliament on 24th January 2014 which said that “there are no sanction targets or expectations for numbers of referrals.”

The GEC will continue to challenge WSD management and provide advice to members on how they can resist this action. Members are encouraged to seek help and support from a PCS representative if they find themselves under threat of action.

And,

Social Consequence of sanctioning

We believe the survey results highlight the devastating impact the conditionality regime has on benefit claimants. 70% of members completing the survey did not believe that sanctioning has a positive impact on a claimant finding work, and 76% have seen an increase in foodbank referrals.

The government has stated that they make no assessment of the link between sanctioning and foodbank referrals. We believe that the Government must analyse and take responsibility for the effects of sanctioning on claimants and their families.

Campaigning

The GEC is working with the Unite Community branches and the Unemployed Workers Centre on joint work to raise claimants’ awareness of their rights and to produce campaign material. This survey shows that whilst some members may support some aspects of conditionality, the punitive regime with its target culture is opposed. PCS understand but do not accept the anger directed towards DWP staff because of sanctioning and other welfare reform issues. We will use the survey results to campaign against the regime, and also raise awareness of the views and feelings of our members.

From the previous discussion,

House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee report of 20 Jan 2014 on The Role of Jobcentre Plus in the Reformed Welfare System made the following recommendations on sanctions:

para. 97 We recommend that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by benefit sanctions, including by collecting, collating and publishing data on the number of claimants “signposted” to food aid by Jobcentres and the reasons for claimants’ need for assistance in these cases.

para. 100 It is important that JCP makes fair and proportionate sanction referrals and that the process is transparent. We welcome the current independent review which will focus on the clarity of communications between JCP and claimants in relation to the conditionality and sanctioning process; the availability of hardship payments for sanctioned claimants; and the clarity of the review and appeals process. We strongly believe that a further review is necessary and welcome the Minister’s commitment to launch a second and separate review into the broader operation of the sanctioning process.

para. 101 We recommend that the second review of sanctions investigate: whether sanction referrals are being made appropriately, fairly and proportionately, in accordance with the relevant Regulations and guidance, across the Jobcentre network; and the link between sanctioning and benefit off-flow, including whether benefit off-flow targets have an influence on sanctioning rates. We also recommend that this review consider whether, and to what extent, the use of sanctions is having the desired effect of encouraging claimants to engage more actively in job-seeking. We further recommend that this review is launched as a matter of urgency and reports before the end of 2014.

The Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee held an evidence session on sanctions on 1 April 2014.

The House of Commons had a debate on sanctions on Thursday 3 April, the following motion by Michael Meacher which was carried.

‘Resolved, That this House notes that there have been many cases of sanctions being wrongfully applied to benefit recipients; and calls on the Government to review the targeting, severity and impact of such sanctions.’ (col.1082)

The government published its reply to the Work & Pensions Committee report on 3 April 2014.

The government has gone back on the commitment to a further inquiry post-Oakley which was made to the Work and Pensions Committee by the Employment Minister Esther McVey on 20 November (Qu. 570-71) and reaffirmed in a letter of 1 February 2014.

Now, the government reply states:

‘We have already committed to an independent review by Matthew Oakley which will look primarily at the communications to claimants and offer recommendations to improve the operations of the sanctions process.And we will be publishing further information on sanctions through the forthcoming Work Programme Evaluation and the claimant commitment research to help inform our future strategy. We are fully committed to monitoring the current regime to ensure it continues to deliver the intended outcomes and will assess whether any further evaluation is needed once the current evaluation programmes have concluded.’

 

Labour to Keep Benefit Cuts: Will They Keep a (renamed?) Work Programme?

This is a key part of Miliband’s speech on Welfare,

State benefits could rise by less than inflation each year under a Labour government because of the cap on welfare spending announced by Ed Miliband.

Until now, Labour has suggested it would restore the link between benefits and inflation if it regains power. It voted against  breaking the link in April, when the Coalition Government pegged the annual uprating to 1 per cent for the next three financial years up to 2015-16.

Is this clear? Well not entirely,

Labour sources told The Independent that a decision on whether to restore the link would  not be taken until much nearer the election. It would not be financed by extra borrowing. If the party were in government now, restoring it would be funded by bringing back a 50p top rate of tax on earnings over £150,000 a year, which was cut to 45p in April.

Katy Clark, a Labour MP, warned that “some of the most vulnerable,” including the disabled, would lose out if Mr Miliband’s benefit cap were not set high enough. “The devil will be in the detail,” she said.

Miliband also said this,

“Overcoming worklessness, rewarding work and tackling low pay, investing in the future and recognising contribution: these are the Labour ways to reform our social security system.

“We have always been against the denial of opportunity that comes from not having work. And against the denial of responsibility by those who could work and don’t do so. This country needs to be a nation where people who can work, do. Not a country where people who can work are on benefits.”

Now what are they going to about the failing Work Programme?

To remind us all, Richard Johnson said in the Guardian that the work and pensions select committee found this.

The committee acknowledges that the WP simplified the sector. It has shifted things to payment by results, supposedly reducing risk to the public purse. The contractors are highly variable in quality. Their performance is improving, for some jobseekers anyway, but they are running the service with massive caseloads. “Creaming and parking” (helping the jobseekers that are easier to find work for and ignoring the hard ones) is endemic. Specialist services, to address complex jobseeker needs such as disability or homelessness, are underused, and specialist subcontractors get a raw deal. The WP also fails to engage adequately with employers and has a poor relationship with Jobcentre Plus.

The fundamental flaw is laid bare in the £248m that the committee says the Treasury is clawing back for underspend on the WP in 2012-13 – money that was allocated and that contractors haven’t earned.

The initial WP concept (as set out by Lord Freud, now responsible for the rollout of universal credit) was based on the simple notion that it costs a shedload of money to keep people on benefits – more than £100m a day. Surely, it is better to invest in welfare-to-work programmes to reduce the benefit bill through moving people into work. If the Treasury can’t find the additional cash for extra welfare-to-work programmes, then get private sector firms to fund it and pay them back out of the benefit savings they generate.

Some people, even after years of unemployment, find their own job. Money spent helping this “deadweight” will be wasted. Some people, however, are at risk of getting stuck on benefits and never moving off them. The higher the levels of disadvantage, the more complex their needs are likely to be, and the more expensive any solutions. But the jobseekers that cost more to help will be the ones that deliver a greater return in reduced long-term benefit liability.

It appears that this link between programme investment and savings has been forgotten. The payments made to WP contractors, as noted by the committee, are ineffectively targeted. The contractors are not incentivised to risk spending on jobseekers who appear hard to help. With limited overall funding, contractors are trying to protect themselves by disinvesting in the programme, running with caseloads of up to 180 jobseekers per adviser. This creates a vicious cycle, with high caseloads meaning low outcomes, meaning further disinvestment.

The £248m underspend gleefully recouped by the Treasury represents a massively increased risk to the public purse. It indicates lower levels of “off-flow” from benefits to employment, which will push up the benefit bill in future years. With those mostly likely to be parked on the WP representing the biggest risk. The programme is applying a sticking plaster, counting the unused splints, and leaving the patient crippled.

We would add that that

  • The Work Programme is simply not finding people jobs.
  • It offers no real training.
  • The companies that run it form a lobby to grab more public money regardless of results.
  • It creates an army of people unhappy with their treatment (sanctions, bullying, absence of courses).
  • It is bloody useless.

The worst thing that Labour could do is to offer a new version of the Work Programme.
We need work creation, not another system of outdoor relief for the unemployment business.

Benefits System Leaves People in “Destitution, Hardship and Hunger.”

Massive cuts to social safety nets have led to “destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale” in Britain, with more than half a million people now forced to rely on food banks for sustenance, key poverty charities have warned in a report.

The Guardian continues,

Welfare changes and mistakes by Jobcentre Plus staff are causing delays in benefits and errors or sanctions, which push vulnerable people into precarious situations, the report from Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam warns. The charities want an urgent parliamentary inquiry.

“The shocking reality is that hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are turning to food aid,” said Mark Goldring, Oxfam’s chief executive. “Cuts to social safety nets have gone too far, leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale. It is unacceptable that this is happening in the seventh wealthiest nation on the planet.”

“The report, Walking the Breadline, is backed by the Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest provider of food banks. It blames the increasing pressure on food banks on far-reaching changes to the benefits system, as well as on unemployment, increased underemployment, low and falling incomes and rising food and fuel prices.

Changes to the benefit system are the most common reasons for people using food banks, including delays in payments, sanctions, sickness benefit reassessments and changes to crisis loan eligibility rules, according to the report.

You can read the report here.

Walking the breadline call for an inquiry into links between benefit sanctions and food poverty

“We urge the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee to conduct an urgent inquiry into the relationship between benefit delay, error or sanctions, welfare reform changes, and the growth of food poverty.

Petition calling for an enquiry Here.