Tagged: academic

The welfare state: Charity that wounds?

Could too much compassion in the welfare state hurt the very people it is supposed to help?

> How would we know ? Its never been tried….

Ed Miliband suggests that might be the case.

In a recent speech he drew on the ideas of a sociologist – Richard Sennett – who said compassion had the power to wound.

One of the Labour leader’s closest aides – the shadow minister Lord Wood – says that Sennett has made a “deep impression” on Miliband.

If the language sounds a bit academic, the reaction to Sennett’s theory at a South London woman’s group called Skills Network is anything but.

In a couple of rooms beside a railway line, women gather for training, moral support and shared childcare.

Many are single parents, some do not have permanent homes.

Most rely on the state. None trusts it.

“We are patronised by all these people that are supposed to be there for us,” says Onley.

“Anyone of official status comes to visit a family you’re almost on edge, even down to midwives after you’ve had a baby,” adds Hannah.

They are not merely sceptical of the state’s professionals, they see them as a threat.

One mother explains her experience of being visited by social workers.

They always have a tick register in their purse and they take it out,” she says. “All these things are useless. Nothing is changing my life. In fact they’re wasting my time and their time.”

The feeling for some is not of disenchantment, but outright hostility.

Onley says: “Because you’re given something does that mean we should just lie there and take whatever you give us and don’t argue about anything or ask any questions?

“People need to be treated as equal human beings.”

Sennett blames that attitude on the way the state works. He has written: “Charity itself has the power to wound; pity can beget contempt; compassion can be intimately linked to inequality.

> Yeah, but the biggest problem surely is not too much compassion – its not enough compassion.

Like the lack of compassion that enforces benefit sanctions that drive people to poverty and crime. Like the lack of compassion that claims that people at death’s door are fit for work.

The danger here is that the likes of Milliband (just another neo-liberal, after all) will use dodgy concepts like “too much compassion being bad for people” as a basis for more cuts.

And perhaps any sociologist who thinks “Charity itself has the power to wound; pity can beget contempt; compassion can be intimately linked to inequality”, wants to wait until they’re actually reliant on it before they start talking bollocks.

In an interview for BBC Radio 4’s the World at One programme, Wood says Labour is interested in the idea that inequality is partly about the gap in respect and power between the state, and people on the receiving end of its services and benefits.

In embracing some of Sennett’s thinking, Wood suggests Miliband intends to do things differently from the way previous Labour administrations have behaved.

Here’s the difference with maybe Labour parties of before,” he says. “In addressing inequality you can’t just have a central state that adds up the ledger of who is doing well and who is doing not and just sort of reshuffle money around and ask people to fit certain categories that the government’s devised.

“You’ve got to think about shifting power back down as well as thinking about inequality in a deeper sense.”

> I’ve read that several times. It still seems to say exactly nothing…

That sounds a little like the critique of Gordon Brown’s attempts to deal with child poverty: that he was merely redistributing money to nudge people over a statistical line so they were no longer classed as impoverished.

Wood – who worked for Brown – does not repeat that criticism.

Pressed for examples of how his concerns translate into policy he highlights plans to hand control of parts of the work programme to some towns and cities and ideas about giving people more of a voice about where housing is built and how it’s allocated.

He argues that responsibility for policy needs to change so people affected by decisions feel they have a say.

Labour’s opponents will say that this is vague stuff.

The government argues it already understands the problem.

Ministers say they are changing the culture for benefit claimants, making their responsibilities clearer, and giving social housing tenants control of their own housing benefit.

Others will simply reflect that a focus on getting people off benefits and into jobs would sidestep many of these issues. With public money tight, officials would need to think carefully before skimping on the scrutiny they apply to the way funds are spent.

> If you wanted to be really radical, you could accept that the number of unemployed is around  five times greater than the number of vacancies, and you will never get a quart into a pint pot.

Then, when you’ve got your head around this fact, then you might want to start thinking about where we go from here.

But until politicians can be honest enough to admit what the rest of us know – that there will always be more unemployed than jobs – then we’re never going to get anywhere.

Sennett is – unsurprisingly – pleased that Miliband embraces his thinking, but he doesn’t easily fit the mould of a “Miliband guru“.

He votes for the Green party and describes Miliband as “not a particularly charismatic politician” who may never have the chance to implement his idea.

And if Miliband does want to reshape Britain’s relationship with its welfare state, it won’t be easy.

In South London Hannah reflects on her encounters with its professionals.

It’s almost like having the crocodile smile,” she says.

“You see all the smiley teeth and you’re waiting for the bite to come and get you.”

Source BBC News  17 April 2014

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27066705

Successful benefits appeals soaring

A Scottish academic has published analysis showing a dramatic rise in the number of people successfully appealing against decisions to stop their benefit payments.

Rising rates of successful appeals have been seen as a sign that the system for penalising those deemed to have broken job-seeker agreements is flawed.

Dr David Webster described the latest figures as “sensational” as they show nearly nine in 10 of those who challenge decisions to stop benefits at a tribunal now have their appeal upheld. However only a few of those who are “sanctioned” by having their payments stopped ever appeal.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures reveal that over the period from October 22, 2012 until September 30 last year, 58% of those sanctioned successfully appealed against the decision.

However Dr Webster, of the Urban Studies School of Social and Political Sciences at Glasgow University, said the most recent quarter has seen a more dramatic rise. In the three months to September 30, the figure has risen to 87%, he says.

“There has been a sensational increase in the success rate of claimants at tribunal. It has been going skywards since May 2012. Tribunals are now upholding almost nine out of 10 appeals against the DWP. But only one in 50 claimants appeals.”

The backdrop to this is an ongoing acceleration in the number of people claiming benefits who are falling foul of rules under the job-seeker’s agreements which tie benefit payments to a responsibility to actively seek work.

Citizens Advice Bureaux and other welfare advice agencies report increasing concerns over decision making which they say is often unfair or arbitrary. While most agree people who claim benefits should be genuinely looking for work if they are able to, anecdotal evidence suggests Job Centres are imposing penalties based on requirements that are unrealistic or unfair.

> Anecdotal evidence ? Like its only a rumour or something ?

There have also been repeated claims that staff are given targets to sanction more claimants, and equally repeated denials from the DWP that this is the case.

Nevertheless, across the UK the number of people sanctioned in the year to September 30, 2013 was 874,850, the highest since Jobseeker’s Allowance was introduced in 1996. More than 75,000 of the these sanctions were in Scotland.

Much of the increase has come under the Coalition government – the figure in the last year of the Labour government was 500,000.

The rate at which sanctions are being applied is also accelerating, Dr Webster’s analysis shows. Under Labour 2.46% of claimants were sanctioned each month, but the average under the Coalition is 4.46% a month so far, and rising.

Figures for the whole of last year show 5.11% of claimants were sanctioned each month last year, Dr Webster says, and over the last three months the figure is 6%.

“These are the highest rates recorded since the start of JSA in 1996,” he explains.

Although sanction figures for those receiving the benefit for sick or disabled job seekers, Employment Support Allowance, are lower, they too are rising.

The new figures show 22,840 sanctions for ESA claimants in the last year, the highest for any 12-month period since sanctions were introduced in 2008. More than 1500 of these were in Scotland.

According to Dr Webster the low level of appeals against sanctions reflects the difficulty of the process. Only 2.44% of those who were penalised appealed in the last three months. “The vast majority of claimants find the process too difficult,” he said.

The reasons why people are given sanctions has also changed markedly in recent years. Dr Webster says the most likely reason for sanctions is failing to participate in an employment or training scheme, or failing to actively seek work.

Historically, leaving a job or being dismissed from it for misconduct were the most common reasons someone might be disqualified from benefit, he says.

“Since the start of the recession, they’ve hardly featured at all. Abundant historical evidence shows that is because people are more careful to hold on to a job when they know it is more difficult to get another,” he says.

Another striking finding from the recent statistics relates to the government scheme to help long-term unemployed people find work.

The Work Programme may be finding work for some, but it is also fuelling the sanctions regime, Dr Webster says. “To date, Work Programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have produced ‘job outcomes’ – a job placement which lasts for a certain minimum period.”

The comparison shows that across the UK, the firms contracted to run the Work Programme have delivered 198,750 such job outcomes, but made referrals resulting in 394,759 sanctions, the academic’s figures show. This might be even higher, but the figures also show that about 30,000 sanctions decisions for people on the programme are cancelled every month – most usually because the paperwork for the referral has not been properly completed.

Dr Webster says: “It appears that Work Programme contractors are making mistakes in their paperwork on a big scale – even though one of the things they are supposed to help claimants with is filling in forms.”

There is an irony in this, he says. “Claimants are being given severe sanctions for making similar mistakes.”

A DWP spokesman said: “It’s only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able. The rules regarding someone’s entitlement to Jobseekers Allowance are made clear at the start of their claim.

“We will provide jobseekers with the help and support they need to find a job, but it is only fair that in return they live up to their part of the contract.

“Sanctions are used as a last resort and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal.”

The fact only a small proportion of sanctions decisions are appealed means decisions makers get the “vast majority” of decisions right, he said.

The Work Programme has delivered 208,000 job outcomes so far, he added, and while nearly 395,000 sanctions have been issued through the work programme, only 208,000 individuals have been sanctioned.

Source – Herald Scotland,  28 Feb 2014

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/successful-benefits-appeals-soaring-says-scots-academic.23532954