Tagged: benefits system

Food poverty under spotlight in South Tyneside

Measures needed to tackle food poverty across Britain are being scrutinised in South Tyneside today.

Members of an all-party Parliamentary inquiry team, including South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, visited the town’s Churches Together Key Project, at St Mary’s Centre, last summer as part of a fact-finding exercise.

The team also held a discussion session at St Jude’s Church Hall at Rekendyke, South Shields, and visited the New Hope Food Bank, in the town’s Robinson Street.

They heard poignant personal accounts from young borough people forced to rely on food banks to survive, and they were told that more than 1,680 people in South Tyneside had visited food banks in 2013.

Everything the team learned in the borough has helped inform the recommendations they made to the Government on the extent of hunger across the country and the actions needed to address it.

Today Mrs Lewell-Buck and the Rt Rev Mark Bryant, the Bishop of Jarrow, are among those meeting at South Shields Town Hall to discuss the findings of the hard-hitting report.

The report identifies a clear link between the use of food banks and tougher restrictions on access to benefits.

> Like it wasn’t always obvious ?

It insists that, contrary to Government claims, food banks have spread because of greater need.

Among a raft of recommendations, the report calls for bigger food banks to distribute more free food and advise people on how to claim benefits and make ends meet.

And it recommends a rise in the minimum wage and the provision of free school meals during school holidays for poorer children.

The report says:

“We do not believe food banks should take the place of statutory welfare provision in this country, but our evidence suggests there is a strong desire for longer-term interaction between food banks and vulnerable households, and an eagerness for these relationships to become embedded within local communities so they can help people overcome the deep-seated causes of hunger.”

Mrs Lewell-Buck said:

“We’ve had a great response to our report, and we’ve managed to get the Government to accept that some aspects of the benefits system aren’t working and are causing a lot of hardship.

“I think the Government’s priority needs to be dealing with low-paid and insecure work, as well as the harsh way benefit sanctions are being imposed.

> Yes, we all think so too. So are you actually going to do something about it ? Will your party, if they win the general election ?

“The group’s work doesn’t stop with the report, however. This is an ongoing mission to put an end to food poverty, and that is why I am holding today’s meeting to discuss the next steps for the group and for Shields.”

The Government is now considering the findings of the inquiry team.

A Government spokesman said:

“This report is a serious contribution to an important debate, with many good ideas, and recognising that the reasons behind demands for emergency food assistance are complex and frequently overlapping.

“As a country, we have enough food to go around, and we agree that it is wrong that anyone should go hungry at the same time as surplus food is going to waste.

“There is a moral argument, as well as a sustainability one, to ensure we make the best use of resources.”

SOME OF THE REPORT’S 77 RECOMMENDATIONS:

–  The Government should provide support for 12 pilot projects across the UK to draw together voluntary and public expertise to eliminate hunger.

– All supermarkets should follow the example of Tesco and add 30 per cent to any food given by its shoppers to food banks.

> Bought by shoppers in Tesco.  It might look a bit more magnaminous if they just gave something without those kind of strings ?

– Local authorities should work with food organisations to free up land for food production, retail and storage.

> But don’t we have all those things already ? Surely the problem facing people using foodbanks is that we have plenty of food, but not the money to buy it ?

– Credit unions accounts’ should be made eligible for receipt of Universal Credit to encourage use among low-income households.

– Local authorities should begin collecting information on whether landlords in receipt of housing benefit are providing basic cooking facilities for their tenants.

– The Government should reform the benefits system so it can deliver payments within five working days.

> I’m sure it could right now… if it wanted to.

– The Department of Work and Pensions ought to simplify access to hardship payments.

 > And it could do that right now too… if, of course, it wanted to…
Source –  Shields Gazette,  06 Feb 2015

British people stopped believing in the benefits system due to Tony Blair, researchers claim

The exact moment that the British public lost its faith in the benefits system has been pinpointed by researchers.

Tony Blair’s famous pronouncement in 1999 that welfare should be “a hand-up, not a hand-out” in reference to Labour’s New Deal policies coincided with a fundamental change in public attitudes towards benefits claimants, according to a paper published today by academics at the University of Bristol.

Using data from the British Social Attitudes survey, the researchers argue that around the time Mr Blair introduced his fresh approach to the benefits system, public opinion on the subject reached a “point of intersection”.

Throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, they argue, there was a widespread belief in Britain that out-of-work benefits were set at derisory levels, causing significant hardship for those who relied upon them. But by 1999 people had started to feel they were set too high – ushering in an era of benefit “scroungers” rhetoric which has continued to this day.

Attitudes towards unemployed people are clearly changing and hardening fast. Solidarity with unemployed citizens, poor people and welfare claimants has declined significantly in recent times,” said Dr Chris Deeming of the University of Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences, who led the research.

“The British public now sees work aversion and the declining work ethic as one of the main issues facing society. Coupled with this trend is a growing belief that out-of-work benefits are now too generous and act to promote the ‘dependency culture’,” he added.

> But who exactly believes this ? Certainly no-one who has actually had to live on benefits for any length of time.

Nor, you’d suppose, anyone who had close relatives of friends who had to survive on them.

Still, wasn’t it Sid Vicious who once remarked: “I’ve met the man on the street, and he’s a cunt” ?

The research also reveals that support for the welfare state among Labour voters has been in steep decline for two decades. In 1987, around 73 per cent of the party’s supporters agreed that the Government should spend more on welfare benefits for poor families, compared with just 36 per cent in 2011.

The study, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is published in the journal Social Policy and Administration.

Source – The Independent, 25 Sept 2014

Government Criticised For Over-Emphasising 0.7% Benefit Fraud

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has accused the coalition government of over-emphasising benefit fraud in a report on fraud and error in the benefits system.

According to official statistics included in the report, of the total £5.1 billion of ‘incorrectly’ paid benefits, £1.6 billion was underpaid and £3.5 billion overpaid.

 Of the £3.5 billion in overpaid benefits £700 million was due to ‘official’ DWP or local government errors, £1.6 billion was blamed on ‘claimant error’ (unintentional errors on claim forms etc) and £1.2 billion was due to claimants deliberately seeking to “mislead DWP or local authorities”.

The amount lost to claimant fraud represents just 0.7% of the entire 2012/13 benefits expenditure and the figure has remained relatively constant for several years.

The report says that “there is a large disparity between the official estimate of benefit fraud and the public perception”.

> Something that neither the DWP or the media has gone out of its way to emphasis. Quite the opposite, in fact…

A survey by Ipsos Mori in 2013 found that the general public believed that 24% of all benefits were claimed fraudulently, 34 times greater than the official 0.7% estimate.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee, which consists of MPs from all the main political parties, say that the government’s approach to tackling fraud and error in the benefits system “appeared to place emphasis on addressing fraud”.

Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud and David Gauke MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, “appeared to place emphasis on addressing fraud” in a strategy document announced in 2010. They highlighted the government’s intention to:

  • Employ private sector firms on a payment by results basis, where appropriate, to ensure the full adoption of cutting-edge private sector fraud prevention techniques;
  • Redirect resource to the front line to prevent fraud and error from entering the system in the first place, through enhanced checks and tougher sanctions for those even attempting to defraud;
  • Ensure that anti-fraud activity is protected from cuts, including through the recruitment of over 200 new anti-fraud officers to sanction a further 10,000 fraudsters every year;
  • Remove the current silo-based approach to tackling fraud, by creating new integrated cross-departmental data-matching and fraud investigation services (see Single Fraud Investigation Service, chapter 4);
  • Introduce a system for rewarding members of the public who provide information that results in significant recovery of public funds;
  • Respond to the growing threat of organised fraud through a new Identity Fraud Unit and far tougher sanctions for those involved;
  • Introduce a new mobile regional fraud taskforce to investigate each and every claim in high fraud areas, to increase the certainty of detection;
  • Address the weakness of the current penalty regime by abolishing cautions as a penalty for fraud, increasing asset seizures, and introducing far tougher one-strike and two-strike penalties, and a new three-strike rule;
  • Clean up nearly 2 million claims to remove error; and
  • Increase the frontline support provided by “Big Society partners” to help educate and support customers to get it right first time.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee say that of these measures, “seven focus solely on benefit fraud, one is aimed at fraud and error generally, and only two appear to be specifically designed to combat error”.

> That’s because their starting point is believing that anyone claiming benefit must be doing something illeagal. I mean, its what those poor people do, isn’t it ?

Benefit fraud and error is extremely complex with many different causes and ‘risk factors’. Analysis by the National Audit Office (NAO) shows that the incorrect reporting of income accounts for 47% of all benefit overpayments.

Claims made by a single person when they are living with a partner accounts for 13% of all overpayments, whilst claims made by people living ‘abroad or untraceable’ represent 11% of benefit overpayments.

The incorrect disclosure of savings accounts for 8% of all benefit overpayments, according to official statistics.

The report says that the over-reliance on claimants to report changes in their circumstances to different parts of the DWP, HMRC, local authorities and other official bodies, means that they “aren’t always aware who needs to be told what information, and when”.

Criticising the government’s over-emphasis on benefit fraud, the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that:

Whilst we understand that making a distinction between claimant error and fraud is not always straightforward, we believe that DWP could be clearer about the official estimated level of benefit fraud.

> They certainly could be clearer – but that wouldn’t suit the Government’s agenda.

“We therefore recommend that DWP publish, on separate days, discrete statistical summaries of its estimated rates of a) fraud and b) official and claimant error in the benefits system, alongside its more detailed report, to reduce the risk of confusion or conflation of these statistics in media reporting and public perceptions about benefit fraud, and to emphasise the importance of actions to reduce error as well as fraud.”

Source –  Welfare News Service,  19 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/government-criticised-emphasising-0-7-benefit-fraud/

More Jobseeker’s Allowance Claimants Subject To Benefit Sanctions

> Something to bear in mind in the light of today’s claims that unemployment is falling.  The number of people claiming JSA might be falling… but not necesserily because they’ve found work.

This article  was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 14th May 2014

 The number of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants who were subject to a benefit sanction rose to 227,629 in the last three months of 2013, an increase of 69,600 on the equivalent quarter in 2012.

 In total, 870,793 claimants were subject to an adverse decision to lose their benefit in 2013 due to a failure to meet Jobcentre Plus requirements to make themselves available for work.

 In October alone a total of 88,489 were subject to adverse decisions, a record number of sanctions for a single month since the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) started compiling the figures.

 The figures released on Wednesday alongside the labour market statistics also show an additional 530,957 JSA claimants were referred for a sanction throughout 2013, but the adjudicator rejected the proposed sanction. A further 95,400 decisions were reserved and nearly 500,000 referrals were cancelled.

 Across Britain between October 2012 and December 2013 just over 1 million people have been subject to an adverse sanction, 633,000 were allowed to keep their benefit after a referral and 580,273 has a referral cancelled. The DWP introduced a more demanding claimant commitment regime in October 2012.

 The government made no comment on the figures and produced no accompanying analysis of the figures, although the new sanctions regime represent some of the most important welfare reforms the government has introduced.

> Well, there’s a suprise…

 Ministers argue it is vital they do not repeat the mistakes of the 1980s recession when hundreds of thousands were allowed to stay on incapacity benefit without any serious effort keep them close to the labour market.

> Mistakes ? Wasn’t putting people on incapacity benefit  just another Thatcherite fiddle to reduce the unemployment figures ? 

 Critics claim the regime is punitive and some jobcentres effectively are given targets to sanction a proportion of claimants. Jobcentre managers acknowledge they have management information on the proportion of claimants who are being sanctioned, and questions can be raised if a jobcentre is out of line with other jobcentres. They insist they are no targets.

 Between October 2012 and December 2013 the number of lower-level adverse decisions for JSA claimants were 550,033, a further 388,324 were intermediate and just under 90,000 were the most serious sanctions. A first offence for a lower-level sanction can lead to loss of benefit for a month. A second failure at this level of offence leads to loss of benefit for 13 weeks.

 The bulk of those subject to intermediate sanctions were found not to be actively seeking work, and those subject to a low-level sanction were found to be failing to participate in the government work programme.

 Since the new regime was introduced more than 120,000 of those JSA claimants subject to an adverse decision were classified as disabled.

 The number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants subject to adverse decisions is also steadily rising albeit at much lower levels. The number of ESA claimants subject to a sanction in December 2013 was 4,879, mainly due to a failure to attend an interview.

 The DWP work services director, Neil Couling, told the Scottish parliament welfare select committee in April that: “My experience is that many benefit recipients welcome the jolt that a sanction can give them. Indeed, I have evidence – which I can share with the committee if members want it – of some very positive outcomes from just those kinds of tough conversations. They are tough conversations to have on the jobcentre side, as well as for the claimants.

 “Some people no doubt react very badly to being sanctioned – we see some very strong reactions – but others recognise that it is the wake-up call that they needed, and it helps them get back into work.”

> Or into a life of crime,  a life on the streets or out of life altogether…

 He said the essence of the DWP approach is managing to encourage, support and move people through the different attitudinal groups into the determined seekers’ group.

> And that means what exactly ?

 He conceded the numbers being sanctioned had risen but said it was too early to say if this was a trend. He argued that any rise in sanctions may be due to a rise in the numbers of times the unemployed can be called to a jobcentre. He said: “The chances of having a sanction in the course of interaction with the state organisation are going up, so there might well be an increase in the numbers. However, that is not an outcome that we are driving towards.”

 Couling also said the rise in use of food banks was due to an increase in supply rather than an increase in demand due to the rise in sanctions. He said: “If somebody is sanctioned, they will have no benefit income for the period of the sanction unless they claim for hardship, so those individuals will present to food banks. In fact, there have been sanctions in the benefits system since it started.”

> The man’s a moron – unfortunately he’s a moron in a position of power.

Source – Welfare News Service  – 14 May 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/jobseekers-allowance-claimants-subject-benefit-sanctions/

Zero-hour Contracts In New Benefits System Will Be ‘Enabling’, Claims McVey

This article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 8th May 2014

Zero-hours contracts will actually be “enabling” for workers under the coalition’s new benefits system, the Tory employment minister, Esther McVey, has claimed.

The minister said the new universal credit scheme – which rolls all benefits into a single monthly payment – would be beneficial for workers on the controversial zero-hours contracts, even though the use of such contracts has been fiercely criticised for not guaranteeing people minimum hours or pay.

It comes after the Guardian revealed that jobseekers could lose their benefits for three months or more if they refused to take zero-hours contracts for the first time under the new system. Previously, jobseekers have not faced penalties for refusing to apply for or accept the contracts, which have been blamed for creating insecurity in the labour force.

Speaking at an event on women and politics, McVey defended the coalition’s policies, saying: “Universal Credit is going to turn not only employment on its head but benefits on its head because every hour you work, you will get money for. You won’t be penalised. You will be supported, you will constantly be on benefits but you will get more money.

> Eh ?  “you will constantly be on benefits but you will get more money” ?

“That is the single biggest thing. There was zero hours. We know there were zero-hours, they came in under Labour, they’ve been there since 2000. But by changing the benefits system, it’s no longer zero, it’s enabling hours. So that every hour you work you will get some money and we will protect you and give you benefits.”

> Eh ??   “ it’s no longer zero, it’s enabling hours” ?  What is she talking about ? 

At the same event, which was organised by Asda, McVey also acknowledged the need for politicians to talk in a clearer way, saying those who talk in “fancy language” might be trying to hide something or may not actually understand their own policy.

> Ha ha ha !  You said it. McVile – “it’s no longer zero, it’s enabling hours“…

We do have to listen. And I think what Storm [a mother in the audience] said may be at the heart of it too. She said: do us a favour: use language that we understand. Sometimes fancy language in a fancy way could be because you’re trying to disguise something or could it be that you don’t quite understand it yourself?

“I think understanding that basic language really is key and explaining to people … Never has the world been so complex. A woman’s life is complex, whether we are a mum, there may be a single mum and then looking after a teenager, then coming back into the workplace, and then looking after your elderly parents. How do we get all those complexities into law, which have usually been so rigid, so linear and that is difficult.”

Last week, the Office for National Statistics revealed the number of contracts that do not guarantee minimum hours of work or pay but require workers to be on standby had reached 1.4 million.

More than one in 10 employers are using such contracts, which are most likely to be offered to women, young people and people over 65. The figure rises to almost half of all employers in the tourism, catering and food sector.

The change in policy under universal credit was revealed in a letter from McVey to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, who had raised the issue of sanctions with her.

The senior Tory confirmed that, under the new system, JobCentre “coaches” would be able to “mandate to zero-hours contracts”, although they would have discretion about considering whether a role was suitable.

The Department for Work and Pensions said jobseekers would not be required to take a zero-hours contract that tied them exclusively to a single employer. The government is already consulting on whether to ban this type of contract altogether.

Source – Welfare News Service  08 May 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/zero-hour-contracts-new-benefits-system-will-enabling-claims-mcvey/

Welfare Reform Impacting On Mental Health, Say SNP

Scottish National Party (SNP)  Press Release:

The Scottish National Party has criticised the UK government for failing benefits claimants with mental health problems.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate today [7 May 2014] on Improving the Employment and Support Allowance application process for people with mental health problems, SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP will condemn the UK government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for its shortcomings with regard to people with mental health conditions.

 Concerns have been raised by mental healthcare professionals and representative organisations that WCA doesn’t capture the impact of more serious mental illnesses on a person’s capacity to function in a working environment, and leads to poor decision making.

According to a Freedom of Information request, in 2013, 58% (6 out of 10) ESA claimants hit by sanctions were vulnerable people with a mental health condition or learning difficulty – an increase from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 – indicating that people with mental health problems are being inappropriately sanctioned.

Commenting, Dr Whiteford said:

“The UK government must do more to help some of society’s most vulnerable people.

“I have seen an increasing stream of people with quite serious mental illnesses over the last couple of years who are falling through our now very frayed social safety net because of Welfare Reforms. I’m sure it goes without saying that many people with a mental illness won’t ever need to depend on the benefits system. But some of those with more severe mental illnesses do require support, and some of them are extremely vulnerable.

“A key problem is that too often assessors and decision makers have little or no relevant background information about claimants’ complex medical histories, and too rarely seek input or opinions from claimants’ clinicians.

“A report recently published by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, SAMH, details findings on how the experiences of living in poverty affect peoples’ mental health, and how SAMH service users with mental health problems have been affected by UK government welfare reforms. A truly shocking finding was that 98% of respondents said that welfare reforms were impacting on their mental health, including increased stress and anxiety, while 79% were facing financial impacts such as reduced income.

“In six cases reported to the 2013 survey, SAMH staff had to carry out suicide interventions directly related to the welfare reforms.

“The information is there in black and white, and the UK government cannot continue to ignore it.”

> I’ll bet you anything that they can…

Source – Welfare News Service  08 May 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/welfare-reform-impacting-mental-health-say-snp/

Conservative warns that benefit changes are making more use North foodbanks

> Yes, you did read that headline correctly…

A broken benefits system is causing people to turn to food banks, an aspiring Conservative politician has said.

In comments more normally seen from Labour politicans, Berwick Tory Anne-Marie Trevelyan has said the number of people needing handouts to eat may be as a result of changes to the benefits system.

Mrs Trevelyan is bidding to take the seat from Sir Alan Beith when the Liberal Democrat steps down in 2015.

Much of her campaign has focused on the jobs potential of dualling the A1 north of Newcastle.

But last night she said that after visiting a Northumberland food bank, the evidence put to her was that those dependant upon benefits were suffering the result of changes to the system.

The Conservative-led coalition Government has come in for criticism from a variety of sources over its cuts to benefits.

Reductions in benefits have been criticised as indiscriminate while changes to the way benefits are handed out has seen delays as a result.

Mrs Trevelyan said: “All users of food banks in Northumberland have been referred by social services, Citizens Advice Bureaux or other groups like Sure Start. The reasons given are often delays in benefits being paid or other financial pressures leaving families with no money to buy food.

“I am concerned by the recurring message from the volunteers who run our local food banks, that the majority of those who come to them do so because the benefits payment system is not working.

“It should be there to support those who need a safety net while they find work or arrange long term support.

“There seems to be a serious breakdown in the effective management of the payments system. I am going to be talking in more detail with our job centre teams to try to find out what they need to solve this issue effectively.”

> Oh bugger – don’t ask them ! They’re  a major part of the problem.

The Conservative candidate said that a rapid rise in the number of food banks began under Labour in 2006 when there were 3,000 nationally. This rose to more than 40,000 by 2010.

In addition to this leading food bank provider the Trussell Trust has been expanding, inevitably leading to more hard-pressed families making use of their services.

Mrs Trevelyan’s comments are similar to many of those expressed by Northern Labour MPs, though of a far less critical nature.

Also adding their concerns to the growing number of food banks was former Bishop of Durham Justin Welby. Now Archbishop of Canterbury, he has called for a greater level of awareness from the Government on the causes behind the growing number of food banks in the UK.

Senior Tories have tried to play down the rise of food banks.

Education Secretary Michael Gove came under fire for saying that financial mismanagement was the reason many people were going to food banks.

And Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, the man ultimately responsible for changes to the benefit system, refused to meet the Trussell Trust and accused it of being politically motivated.

Source – Newcastle Journal  15 Feb 2014

Benefits claimants are shortchanged by £5bn a year, says thinktank

It’s part of their culture…back in the 1980s I knew someone who worked for the DHSS (as it then was) but left precisely because she was always being told NOT to help people claim their full entitlements, only the barest minimum she could get away with. Things haven’t changed at all, except to get nastier.

The lovely wibbly wobbly old lady

Reposted from the Guardian Society

Job centres
Benefits claimants are being shortchanged, says the Demos thinktank. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Millions of benefit claimants – who as a group fail to receive £5bn a year that they are due from the state – are being shortchanged by the welfare system rather than overindulged, a thinktank says on Sunday.

Rather than cutting benefits, ministers should seek to ensure that those on welfare receive their full entitlement, Demos says. Official figures show that one million people a year do not receive their full entitlement of housing benefit, equating to a failure by the state to pay out up to £3.1bn.

More than two million people a year do not apply for relief from paying their council tax bill, equivalent to more than £1.7bn in savings to the state. Meanwhile, the number of pensioners that were estimated to be entitled but not claiming…

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