A mental health patient took a knife to a benefits tribunal so he could stab a judge at the hearing after his payments were stopped.
Kenneth Nicholson said he planned to carry out the attack so he could get locked up.
Newcastle Crown Court heard the 49-year-old confessed he was armed when he met his psychiatric nurse outside South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court in South Shields just before the hearing last April.
Prosecutor Jolyon Perks told the court:
“On the day of the tribunal, judges became aware of the fact there had been prior notification from the community psychiatric nurse that this defendant harboured an intention to take a knife to the tribunal.
The court heard that one of the judging panel has since been left living in fear.
Mr Perks added;
“She says she was extremely frightened, worried that the defendant might be in a position to find out where she lives. She has an ongoing fear for her safety and that of her family.”
> I wonder how she felt before, making decisions that could drive people to desperate measures ? Perhaps she has a better understanding of the consequences her actions might have.
The court heard Nicholson had been receiving benefit payments after an incident at work almost 20 years ago resulted in mental health problems.
His payments were stopped after a new doctor concluded his mental state may not be linked to the industrial accident.
His case had been listed for an appeal hearing against the decision to stop the benefits, which was ultimately successful.
Nicholson, of no fixed address, admitted possession of a knife.
Recorder Andrew Baker told him:
“You had formed an intention, deluded and resulting from your mental condition, to use the knife on a member of the tribunal if you had the chance to do so.
“The thought process being it would get you locked up and you might be in a position to get legal representation.
“The fact that you were prepared to at least approach a court room of this country with an intention to do harm with a bladed weapon makes this a particularly serious case.”
The judge gave Nicholson a 20-month jail sentence suspended for 18 months, with mental health treatment requirements.
He was warned by the judge:
“You are a risk that can be managed in the community but I hope you understand you must treat this as a, literally, once in a lifetime opportunity for you.”
Graeme Cook, defending, said Nicholson gave the weapon to his health worker as soon as he was asked.
Mr Cook said:
“He would not have got through the security anyway, but he handed it over straight away.”
Jobseekers could be forced to “sign on” every week to continue receiving benefit payments, under new plans being considered by the Government.
Currently, only benefit claimants who are deemed not to be doing enough to find a job are required to visit a Jobcentre every week.
Trials in East London and parts of the West of Scotland, where claimants signed on every week instead of every fortnight after the 13th week of their claim, found that unemployed people spent “at least an average of 2.6 fewer days on benefits than fortnightly signers”.
Other approaches to the analysis suggest that jobseeker’s spent an average of six fewer days on benefits, but the DWP said they have “less confidence in the higher figure”.
However, the DWP is said to be taking the findings “very seriously” and could eventually force all of the UK’s 1.91 million Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants to sign on every week.
Researchers also tested “speed signing” in other parts of the UK, where claimants had shorter fortnightly jobsearch reviews.
“Flexible signing” was also trialled, giving Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches the flexibility to change how often JSA claimants were asked to sign on.
Speed signing had “no effect”, while flexible signing resulted in one day more on benefits. A figure which the DWP says isn’t “statistically significant”.
Pilots lasted for 52 weeks following random assignment. Participation ended sooner where individuals were referred to the Work Programme or where they ended their claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Unions have condemned the idea, with the PCS union – who include Jobcentre staff among its members – accusing the Government of “punishing the jobless”.
The plan would also require “massive investment in Jobcentres and staff”, said PCS.
A PCS spokesperson said weekly signing “doesn’t appear to be designed to help claimants, it’s just another way for the Government to turn the screw”.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 02 Feb 2015
New research published by the TUC reveals the future impact of a controversial new welfare reform – the five-week wait – on workers in North West England, with 39,000 newly unemployed people set to be hit each month.
Currently most workers who lose their job have to wait two weeks before they get their first benefit payment. But under new Universal Credit rules for assessing unemployment claims, most people will face a wait of more than five weeks before they get any money. This could mean going two months into rent arrears before any cash support arrives.
The TUC’s new research reveals the monthly average number of newly unemployed people broken down by region, local authority (county and unitary) and constituency. This indicates how many people can be expected to be hit by the five-week wait when Universal Credit replaces workers’ current safety net benefits.
Across the region, Lancashire is the most affected local authority where over 5,000 people each month are expected to be hit by the five-week wait, in Manchester more than 3,600 people will be affected whilst in Liverpool just under 3,500 people will be affected.
These local authorities are amongst the biggest affected in the UK, ranked 4th, 9th and 11th respectively. The DWP’s own analysis suggests that the measure may increase claimants’ reliance on short-term loans.
The TUC has launched a new campaign, Saving Our Safety Net, to highlight the five-week wait and other welfare reforms that cut safety net protection for working people.
North West TUC Regional Secretary Lynn Collins said:
“We know workers in the North West have suffered cuts in real earnings over the last 5 years, and will have relied on savings to get by, which means that many workers have no financial buffer if they lose their job. Help should be there when it is needed, but instead people will be left to rely on food banks and pay day loans to see them through the wait.
“Welfare reform is one thing but the five week wait is a collective punishment for anyone who loses their job. People need to focus on finding new work, instead of being stressed-out about how they will pay the rent, feed the kids and keep the heating on.
“Job security has got worse since the recession. Government ministers are out of touch and fail to understand the anxiety many people feel not knowing if they’ll still have work next month. If your job goes, the five-week wait puts you at greater risk of a downward spiral where you’re trapped in debt, lose your home, become ill from the stress and fall too far to climb back again.
“With these escalating bills, worsening job security and only a limited recovery in the jobs market, a 5 week wait could easily push many more families into poverty through no fault of their own. These people have paid for, and deserve, a safety net.
“We are launching the Saving Our Safety Net campaign to expose government welfare plans for what they are – cuts to the National Insurance safety net we’ve all paid into on the understanding that it will be there when we need it.”
Source – Welfare News Service 07 Aug 2014
This article was written by Toby Helm, political editor, for The Observer on Saturday 14th June 2014
The Condition of Britain study by the IPPR thinktank, to be launched by Ed Miliband on Thursday, will also contain proposals to devolve large amounts of power and funding out of Whitehall, including the control of housing benefit to councils, in order to stimulate innovative housing policies and more housebuilding.
The project was set up in February 2013 as part of Labour’s policy review to consider how institutions and policies need to respond to today’s needs – including more childcare and better care for the elderly – within the confines of tight budgets and inevitable further cuts.
A key theme is expected to be that early intervention at every stage of life can prevent society having to continue “paying for the costs of failure”.
> “early intervention at every stage of life” – now isn’t that an ominous phrase ?
The report will argue that a stronger society can be built on the three “pillars” of shared power, contribution (through changes to the national insurance system) and strong institutions. While some proposals, such as a plan to freeze child benefit to fund a network of children’s centres, are likely to be rejected by Miliband, many of its central ideas will be considered by the party’s national policy forum in July.
The report is expected to look at whether benefit payments can be linked more closely to levels of contributions through changes to the national insurance system.
Senior figures believe that Labour must counter the impression that it supports a “something for nothing” benefits system by looking at radical change.
> Oh great – so it’s all about image and trying to appeal to those sectors of the electorate who wouldn’t vote Labour anyway. And once again those at the bottom of the pile will get a kicking… just so Labour look tough, just like the Tories.
Not a single original thought among them, is there ?
Writing on theguardian.com, the chair of the policy review, Jon Cruddas, suggests that such ideas could form a major part of Labour’s manifesto at the 2015 general election.
Looking ahead to the report’s publication, Cruddas says: “It sets out three broad strategies for social renewal: spread power and responsibility to build democracy and strengthen society; foster contribution and reciprocity to re-establish a sense of fairness and justice; and strengthen our shared institutions to help tackle social problems for good. These establish the foundations on which we can build a competitive wealth-creating economy.”
The report will contain proposals for a one-off levy of £450m on Britain’s £180bn consumer credit industry which the IPPR says could create enough affordable lenders to take on Britain’s legal loan sharks.
It says that, as well as a new legal cap on the total cost of credit, Britain needs a new generation of not-for-profit lenders with enough capital to compete with firms like Wonga, Quick Quid and Payday Express.
The IPPR launch will be followed later in the summer by Andrew Adonis’s growth review, which will focus on developing the economic potential of cities. Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester city council, will then publish work by his local government innovation taskforce setting out plans to redistribute power across England and reform public services so that they can be tailored better to meet local needs.
Source – Welfare News Service, 15 June 2014
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
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Tuesday 18th February 2014
Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions is presiding over “a culture of fear” in which jobseekers are set unrealistic targets to find work – or risk their benefits being taken away, leading charities have told an official inquiry.
Hostel residents with limited IT facilities are being directed to apply for 50 jobs per week, while single parents are being told they must apply for full-time jobs to continue receiving jobseeker’s allowance, the charities say in evidence to an official inquiry. On Wednesday, new figures are expected to show a record number of claimants have had cash withheld.
The weight of evidence also supports controversial claims by Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, in the week he is due to be made a cardinal by the pope. “Something is going seriously wrong when, in a country as affluent as ours, people are left in that destitute situation and depend solely on the handouts of the charity of food banks,” Nichols said on Tuesday.
The Department for Work and Pensions acknowledged mounting concerns about the increasing use of benefits removal – a process known as sanctioning – by appointing a former Treasury official, Matthew Oakley, to look at how the DWP is operating its tougher regime. His review, due to be published next month, has been criticised for its limited terms of reference, but nevertheless it has been swamped by criticism of how the unemployed and the disabled are being driven off benefits, often due to poor communication, bad administration or unexpected expectations being placed on the vulnerable.
In evidence to the Oakley inquiry, the charities Drugscope and Homeless Link warn that “the current sanctions regime creates a culture of fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. That may in fact lead to further benefit dependency and harming engagement with employment services, as vulnerable clients fear having benefits removed and never being reinstated.”
Crisis, the homeless charity asserts: “People who have been sanctioned are already on very limited incomes and face a significant further reduction, meaning they are left facing decisions between buying food, paying for heating and electricity and paying their rent. Debt is common and many face arrears, eviction and in the worst instances homelessness”.
In its evidence, Gingerbread, which lobbies for the rights of single parents, also warns: “While sanctions may be necessary for a small minority of claimants who deliberately evade their jobseeking responsibilities, the current high levels of sanctions across all [jobseeker’s allowance] claimants reveal a system in crisis and one that is systematically failing single parent jobseekers.” It says single parents are being told they must work full-time.
The National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers says “claimants are being sent on schemes with no discussion about whether they are appropriate to their needs and no opportunity for them to make representations about it . Adequate notification is also not routinely being given”.
It says some claimants have been told: “You need to spend 35 hours per week doing job searches and show evidence of 50 to 100 job searches or job applications per week.”
The evidence acts as a counterpoint to those who suggest welfare claimants are seeking a life on benefits. The government has been sufficiently embarrassed by the allegations that it has conceded it will look at a further inquiry into sanctions once the Oakley review has completed.
The number of sanctions in the year to 30 June 2013 was 860,000, the highest for any 12-month period since statistics began to be published in their present form. The figures due to be published on Wednesday cover the year to September 2013, and are likely to show a further increase in the number of claimants debarred from receiving benefits for as long as three years.
Disabled people are losing access to jobseeker’s allowance at the rate of 14,000 a month, the charities say. In total, the number of them having their benefits sanctioned each month has doubled since the regime was toughened in October 2012.
A spokesman for the DWP said: “The point of the review is to ensure the way we communicate with claimants is as clear and straightforward as possible. It is looking at where a sanction has been issued, the clarity of the information provided to the claimant about their sanction, and the options they then have including applying for hardship payments, and an explanation of the review and appeals process.”
Since 2012, benefit payments can be suspended for a minimum of four weeks and for up to three years where a claimant fails to take sufficient steps to search for work, to prepare themselves for the labour market or where they turn down an offer of employment or leave a job voluntarily.
A survey by Manchester CAB found 40% said had not received a letter from the jobcentre informing them of the benefit sanction, and almost a quarter did not know why they had been sanctioned.
Source – Welfare News Service 18 Feb 2014