The Conservative manifesto launched today gives no further clues about which benefits they intend to slash in order to cut £12 billion from the social security budget. The manifesto does, however, include plans to look at enforced treatment for people with long-term health conditions.
The 83 page document repeatedly confirms the Conservative’s plan to find £12 billion in ‘welfare savings’. But little more than a page is devoted to the details of how ‘welfare savings’ are to be achieved.
The manifesto confirms that the household benefits cap will be lowered from £26,000 t0 £23,000 – with exemptions for people getting disability living allowance or personal independence payment.
There is also confirmation of the freeze on working age benefits for two years from April 2016, with exemptions for some benefits, including disability benefits.
The manifesto pledges that the Conservatives will ‘work to eliminate child poverty’ which, in the Conservative’s view is caused by ‘entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency’ .
To aid their attack on poverty the Tories have also committed to review how people with long-term treatable conditions ‘such as drug or alcohol addiction, or obesity’, can be helped back into work. People who refuse help will face having their benefits cut, as the manifesto explains:
‘People who might benefit from treatment should get the medical help they need so they can return to work. If they refuse a recommended treatment, we will review whether their benefits should be reduced.
There is also a promise of ‘significant new support for mental health, benefiting thousands of people claiming out-of-work benefits or being supported by Fit for Work’.
Whether refusing this help, likely to be primarily online and telephone-based cognitive behavioural therapy, will also lead to benefits cuts was not discussed in the document.
However, there is no doubt that conditions such as anxiety and depression are regarded as ‘treatable’ conditions by the DWP. There is, therefore, no obvious logical reason why they should not be dealt with in a similar way to conditions such as substance dependency, which will very frequently have a mental health element.
The Tory manifesto also promises to extend the right to buy to tenants of housing association homes. Whether some claimants in social housing will consider voting for Tory benefits cuts in the hope they will then get a chance to own a home of their own remains to be seen.
But, for most claimants, the Conservative manifesto simply prolongs the terrible anxiety of not knowing how deeply their benefits will be slashed if the Tories win power on May 7th.
Source – Benefits & Work, 14 Apr 2015
Tough measures designed to force benefit claimants to find work are instead making them ill, a study by North East academics has warned.
Claimants who have their benefits cut are sometimes left to go without food or the ability to heat their homes, a study found.
And this has an impact on their health – particularly because some of these affected are already ill or disabled.
The study was carried out by researcher Kayleigh Garthwaite and Professor Clare Bambra of Durham University.
Their findings were presented to MPs on the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which is holding an investigation into “sanctions” which can imposed on people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and some people claiming Employment and Support Allowance, a benefit paid to people who are ill or disabled.
Claimants can have their benefits cuts off, known as a sanction, if officials believe they have failed to prove that they are looking for work.
But critics including a number of North East MPs argue that some claimants have lost benefits for no good reason. In a Commons debate in January, Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman and other Labour MPs said they believed job centre staff were given unofficial targets for the number of sanctions issued.
The study by Dr Garthwaite and Professor Bambra was part of a five year project looking at why some groups of people are healthier than others, which has focused on foodbank users in Stockton on Tees.
In a paper presented to MPs, they said:
“Sanctions led to loss of their only source of income, resulting in sanctioned ESA recipients often going without sufficient food and/or energy required to maintain good health or recover from illness.”
In some cases, benefits were taken from people who did not understand the complex rules, including people mental health conditions, the academics said.
“Sanctions have led to cases of a total loss of income resulting in an inability to eat or heat at the levels required for maintaining good health or recovering from ill health.
“Indeed sanctions have exacerbated ill health. The sanctioning of people with mental health problems is a particular problem – with the stress and anxiety of income loss adding to their underlying condition.”
The academics said sanctions for ESA claimants “should be relaxed or removed – particularly for those with mental health problems”.
Dr Garthwaite also spoke to MPs at Westminster, where she warned that claimants often had no idea that there was an official hardship fund available to help people who had entirely run out of money.
She told them that some food bank users had resorted to eating food they knew would be bad for them because of medical conditions – such as an intolerance for wheat – because they had nothing else.
Defending the policy, Employment Minister Esther McVey told the committee that studies had shown sanctions encouraged people to find work.
“All the international evidence suggests that sanctions do have a positive impact on people getting into work, and there are two parts of that: as a deterrent, it has a positive impact on moving people into work, and there is further research that, should somebody have been sanctioned, it helps them into work afterwards.”
The Government publishes figures showing how many sanctions have been imposed.
In Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and Tees Valley, sanctions were imposed 92,326 times since 2012.
The job centre which has cut benefits most often is James Cook House in Middlesbrough, which imposed 7,068 sanctions.
John Street job centre in Sunderland imposed 4,922 sanctions.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Feb 2015
A shocking report launched today (Thursday 12 June) has found that the back to work support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is causing severe anxiety for people with disabilities and pushing them further from the job market.
‘Fulfilling Potential? ESA and the fate of the Work Related Activity Group’ is based on data from over 500 people with a range of physical and mental health problems.
All respondents had been assigned to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) having applied for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
People in the WRAG can have their benefits stopped if they do not engage with work preparation schemes.
This research found that the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus had helped just 5% of respondents move into work, while 60% of people said that their health, finances, confidence and sense of purpose had all suffered as a result.
Most people who responded to the survey had been compelled to undertake compulsory back-to-work activities or have their benefits cut.
The majority said their disabilities were not acknowledged or accommodated and made engaging in such activities difficult.
80% of people said they felt anxious about not being able to access activities and 70% were worried about their benefits being cut.
The actual or threatened cutting of benefits is meant to motivate people to get back to work, but the report suggests motivation is not a problem.
For most people (90%), their health or impairment was the main barrier to work.
The report was produced by Catherine Hale, a Work Programme service user, with support from the mental health charity Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Catherine currently claims ESA due to myalgic encephalopathy (ME), a long term health condition, and said:
“The majority of disabled people want to work. However, people who have been awarded ESA have genuine and often severe health problems which make it difficult to access employment.
“The current system ignores these difficulties, and relies on the threat of sanctions to get people into work.
“It is no surprise that it is not only failing disabled people but causing additional distress and anxiety, on top of the barriers that they already face.
“People claiming ESA need to be placed with specialist organisations experienced in supporting disabled people into employment, not into mainstream welfare-to-work schemes.”
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, commented:
“This report adds to the existing evidence that the current benefits system is failing people with disabilities and mental health problems.
“There is far too much focus on pressuring people into undertaking compulsory activities, and not nearly enough ongoing, tailored support to help them into an appropriate job.
“We urgently need to see an overhaul of this system.”
The report has been endorsed by a further 18 organisations including Mencap, RNIB, Parkinson’s UK and the National Autistic Society.
Read Catherine Hale’s report here
Mind is promoting a campaign in support of changes to the current system, which you can read about and sign up to here
Source – Benefits & Work, 12 June 2014