Not too long before the general election, but that doesn’t stop the government’s personal money making machine slow down.
In the latest abuse of their power, the government are selling off the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) who are responsible for food safety in the UK.
Guess who the government are trying to sell it to? Their ‘preferred partner’ Capita.
Professor Tim Lang, a Westminster adviser, told The Independent that the sale of the key government research unit to the outsourcing giant Capita could undermine essential work on food safety and lead to commercial concerns being put before the public interest.
Capita formally takes over the agency next Wednesday. But Professor Lang, who heads City University London’s food policy unit, said: “I think it’s absolutely scandalous. This is selling the state, and the moment a state loses its access to science it’s in trouble.”
He claimed many food policy…
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The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has condemned the Government’s decision to privatise part of the administration of Universal Credit.
Private firm Capita will be gifted with the responsibility for booking initial work search interviews for new Universal Credit claimants.
Capita is currently facing a second inquiry into a £1.5bn Whitehall jobs contract, which small companies claim could leave them facing financial ruin.
A press release on the union’s website reads:
“Their intention is that the process for booking the appointment for a claimant’s initial work search interview will be handed to the private company Capita. No DWP staff will be transferred to Capita under this proposal.
“There is no justifiable business reason for doing this. DWP claim that Capita will be able to make these appointments at weekends for claimants who make a claim online at a weekend, but in practice the appointments could just as well be done by DWP staff the following Monday, as has happened up to now.
“Capita already have been handed the same task for claims to Jobseekers Allowance and this announcement extends that arrangement to Universal Credit claims.
“PCS has protested strongly to DWP about this decision. Seeing their work privatised is a kick in the teeth for our hard working members.
“Members will also be understandably concerned that this privatisation is a foretaste of further private sector involvement in the delivery of Universal Credit.
“PCS has also made the point to the department that Capita is consistently failing to meet its key targets in relation to JSA First Contact calls that are currently out sourced to them. This failure contrasts with the DWP staff in CCS who are consistently meeting the very same targets.
“Again the failure of the private sector to out-perform the public sector has been ignored as the tired, false dogma of ‘private sector good, public sector bad’ is wheeled out once again.
“PCS will continue to argue against all privatisation of DWP work and will continue to campaign for all privatised work to be brought back in-house where it belongs.”
> Hear, hear – claimants should be harrassed by public sector, not private company , workers.
Jobcentres are, I would guess, high on the list for selling off to private companies if the Tories win the next election. Possibly if Labour win too.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 22 Feb 2015
An NHS whistleblower has claimed that the A&E crisis is being made worse because highly trained NHS paramedics across the country are being poached by Atos and Capita to do assessments for personal independence payment (PIP), instead of saving lives.
There is a severe shortage of paramedics throughout the UK, but Hampshire – where our whistleblower works – has a particularly acute problem. South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) had over 250 vacancies for paramedics in November of this year.
Our whistleblower claimed that the situation was being made even worse because experienced paramedics are leaving to take up full time posts with Atos, who carry out PIP assessments in the region.
Paramedics in the NHS usually have to train to degree level, yet salaries range from just £21,478 to £27,901 for the most experienced paramedics. In addition, the job involves a good deal of shift work and unsocial hours.
Atos, on the other hand, offer paramedics who join them as full-time PIP assessors a salary of £32,000 plus private medical insurance, life assurance, income protection insurance and no unsocial hours.
It is hardly surprising if paramedics choose to make the move to Atos, or to Capita who offer a very similar package.
The effects of the paramedic shortage can be seen on a daily basis. Just this week an injured cyclist was left lying on the pavement for more than two hours in central London whilst waiting for paramedics to arrive.
The paramedic shortage is also taking desperately needed cash from the NHS. In Hampshire 16% of paramedic cover is currently provided by much more expensive private companies while health trusts around the UK are having to advertise abroad to try to attract paramedics to the UK.
Paramedics are also vital for reducing pressure on A&E departments by providing effective treatment on the spot. In many cases this reduces the amount of time spent on patients when they arrive at A&E or removes the need for a visit altogether.
Dismissal for speaking out
The SCAS employee who contacted us about the crisis was afraid to speak out publically because staff have received an email this week warning them that telling outsiders about problems in SCAS, especially online, could lead to dismissal. The email threatened:
“Everything you say online is subject to the same disciplinary procedure that covers your conduct in the real world. There have been disciplinary hearings that have resulted in staff being dismissed for breaches to the SCAS Code of Conduct.
“Don’t let this happen to you!
“We value our staff and it is important that when staff and the organisation are feeling the pressure, that we try and provide the appropriate support through internal and external means rather than airing frustrations that may damage public confidence.
“If you have any concerns, queries or want to ask us about this please do contact us. In the meantime for more information go to:
“The SCAS Discipline & Conduct Policy & Procedure”
We contacted SCAS and asked them how many staff have left to work for Atos or Capita in the last six months. A spokesperson told us:
“South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust are unable to advise on the numbers of staff who have left the organisation to join the organisations you have named. Unless staff are leaving to join another NHS Trust, they are not obliged to inform us of the name of their new employer.”
SCAS also denied that the recent email to staff was related to concerns about paramedics leaving to join the private sector.
Cash before lives
Atos and Capita have not even begun the massive task of assessing millions of existing disability living allowance claimants for PIP as part of the Coalition’s effort to reduce benefits spending. When they do, they will need to take on hundreds more assessors. How many of these will be poached from the NHS?
The crisis in paramedic numbers is not new, it has been growing since 2010. There would have been nothing to prevent the DWP stipulating in the PIP contracts for Atos and Capita that they did not recruit paramedics. There would be nothing to stop them doing so now.
The fact that they don’t reinforces the impression that, for the DWP, saving cash is always more important than saving lives.
Source – Benefits & Work, 20 Dec 2014
The quality of decision making for personal independence payment (PIP), is being called into question following the revelation that hundreds of staff without the proper experience and training are being temporarily promoted to the rank of PIP decision maker.
The promotions are being made because Atos and Capita have taken on many more health professionals to clear the backlog of PIP applications. Without hundreds more decision makers the bottleneck would simply move from the assessors to the decision makers.
According to the Public and Commercial Services union:
“Pressure of work continues to affect PIP members in other ways. There are high numbers of staff on temporary promotion: at one site 50 staff are on TDA [Temporary Duties Addition for staff acting up to a higher grade]. There is an expectation that even more Decision Makers will be needed as reassessment ramps up. Despite this, there are no permanent promotion opportunities. Transfers out of PIP are being blocked. There are reports of a harsh Managing Attendance regime at some sites.”
The mass promotions appear to be having an effect throughout the DWP:
“PCS were recently informed that the training for new apprentices has been very poor: they have been given just two weeks’ classroom training. When the apprentices start their consolidation there are very few Band B staff available to help them because so many staff are on TDA as Decision Makers.
“Training for all grades was reported as poor.”
With poorly trained and under qualified staff being drafted in as temporary decision makers, it is even more vital that the difficulties you face are spelt out as plainly and in as much detail as possible in your PIP application and backed up with supporting evidence where this is available.
Source – Benefits & Work, 02 Dec 2014
HMRC are to stop paying Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to people claiming to the new Universal Credit, it has been revealed.
Previously, when people were moved to Universal Credit their tax credits accounts with the HMRC would remain open until the end of the tax year.
Tax credit payments will now form part of a households total Universal Credit award. Those who have not yet been moved (claiming) Universal Credit will continue to have their tax credits paid by the HMRC.
The changes, revealed in October’s issue of the DWP’s Touchbase magazine, come into force from this month (October) and will affect all existing and new Universal Credit claimants.
From this month, the HMRC will begin contacting affected claimants to inform them that their tax credit payments will stop, and give details on what they need to do.
The DWP say that claimants who are already getting tax credits do not need to contact the HMRC, while they wait for the changes to affect them. But they must report any changes in their circumstances as soon as possible, to ensure they receive the correct amount within the Universal Credit system.
People will be moved to Universal Credit ‘at different times’ depending on where they live, their circumstances and what benefits they are currently claiming. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith recently announced plans to accelerate the roll-out of Universal Credit across the UK.
Tax credits will eventually be scrapped to form part of Universal Credit, as will a number of existing benefits including Housing Benefit and Income Support.
The HMRC is also changing the way it recovers overpaid tax credits. People who have been overpaid tax credit, largely due to HMRC blunders or accidental claimant error, may have their tax credit award reduced to repay outstanding debts. Depending upon a person’s circumstances this may include one or more previous claims.
Those affected will receive letters from the HMRC informing them of the overpayments. The amount deducted from their tax credit award could be as much as 25%. Those who have already made an arrangement to repay with the HMRC will not be affected.
Touchbase also reveals that Atos and Capita have employed more staff to increase the number of assessments they do for the new disability benefit, Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The reports used by assessors have also been improved, claim the DWP, and changes have been made to the PIP IT system. DWP say that PIP decision-makers have doubled their output since April 2014.
They also claim that disabled people will not have to wait more than 16 weeks for a PIP assessment by the end of 2014.
The news comes after charities and politicians raised concerns over a growing PIP assessment backlog.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 13 Oct 2014
Sick and disabled claimants are experiencing severe distress and some are even close to suicide due to botched disability benefit reform, an insider has revealed.
Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for Britain’s sick and disabled, but the assessment process which should take no longer than 26 weeks is sometimes taking twice as long.
The two companies are set to make £540 million from the new benefit in the next five years. Atos will receive the larger share of around £400 million, despite heavy criticism and a poor record in delivering ‘fit for work’ tests for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), while Capita will make roughly £140 million.
PIP can be claimed by sick and disabled people regardless of their employment status.
Under the new disability benefit PIP, claimants are required to attend face-to-face assessments to determine their eligibility and the level of benefit they will receive. The whistleblower claims that mismanagement, IT problems and staff shortages are to blame for a backlog of 145,000 cases.
While waiting to be assessed for PIP, many sick and disabled people are often left penniless and unable to pay their rent, because their DLA has been stopped, the whistleblower said.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, the whistleblower said:
“I’ve had people on the phone crying their eyes out and saying they are going to commit suicide.
“On one occasion I had to call an ambulance because they said they had stopped taking their medication. Some people have been going for months and months without money.”
“We’ve started getting calls from people saying their DLA will run out in a month’s time and they’ve not even got an appointment for an assessment.
“Others have been left with nothing because their DLA has been stopped. People have lost their home because they can’t pay their rent.”
She continued: “It’s a shambles. Day in, day out there are people ringing up to say, ‘Why is my appointment cancelled?’ I’ve seen appointments cancelled time and time again.”
According to the whistleblower, Capita call centre staff have been given instructions on what excuses to use when claimants ask why their PIP assessment has been delayed or cancelled. “I am having to lie on a daily basis about why things are taking so long”, she said.
Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper told the Daily Mirror: “By the autumn, we anticipate that no one will be waiting for an assessment for longer than 26 weeks.”
Capita said they would be hiring more staff to help reduce the backlog.
Source – Welfare News Service, 03 Aug 2014
This article was written by Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Tuesday 18th March 2014
MPs have criticised the Department for Work and Pensions for a series of rule breaches in which official statistics were used inaccurately, inappropriately, or to “spin” stories about benefit claimants.
The Commons work and pensions committee also criticised the DWP for shortcomings in the management of claims for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), a disability benefit that replaces the Disability Living Allowance, saying it was unacceptable claimants were having to wait six months or more to find out if they were eligible.
A report by the MPs warned the DWP to exercise care in the language used in its press releases and ministerial comments to ensure they do not feed into “negative preconceptions and prejudices about people on benefits”.
> exercise care in the language used in its press releases and ministerial comments to ensure they do not feed into “negative preconceptions and prejudices about people on benefits – as if they strayed into negative preconceptions by accident ! Its what they were designed to do. Where have these MPs been for the past few years ?
It cites examples in the past few months where the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) criticised the use of DWP statistics, including by the secretary of state, Iain Duncan Smith, and Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps.
Dame Anne Begg MP, the committee chair, said: “Statistics should be used to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views or feed preconceptions.
“Government efforts to promote a positive image of disabled people will be undermined if the language used by DWP when communicating benefit statistics to the media feeds into negative perceptions and prejudices about benefit recipients, including disabled people.”
The committee said it had warned the government as early as 2011 to take more care over the way it presented information on benefits statistics to the media. Ministers had replied then by saying they had a “robust” system in place to ensure no abuses took place.
However, the committee notes in a report into DWP performance, published on Tuesday , that problems still remained and that the UKSA had reprimanded the department a number of times in 2013 for the way it handled welfare statistics.
In one case, the Conservative party had put out a press release which quoted party chair Grant Shapps citing DWP figures that purported to show nearly a million people had dropped their incapacity benefit claim rather than face a work capability test. The UKSA found that two sets of figures had been erroneously and misleadingly conflated.
Duncan Smith said he and his officials had not prepared one criticised Conservative party release, and he had had “conversations” with Shapps to ensure in future he checked with the department if he was going to say something about DWP statistics.
In a separate case, Duncan Smith was officially reprimanded for claiming that the threat of the benefit cap had directly persuaded 8,000 of claimants to get a job. This clearly demonstrated that the cap was working, he said. But the UKSA ruled that there was no statistical evidence to support this.
The DWP director of communications John Shield told MPs that Duncan Smith had the right to make clear his “opinion” on “what he thinks the data are saying”. But he admitted that on this occasion the DWP press office had been involved in the preparation of the secretary of state’s claims.
The committee report says government statistics should be presented fairly, accurately and unspun, “and this is especially the case when they are being used to justify a particular policy or a particular allocation of resources.”
Regarding delays in PIP, the report urges ministers to involve financial penalty clauses to force private contractors Atos and Capita to speed up the claims process.
Begg said: “Many disabled or sick people face waits of six months or more for a decision on their PIP eligibility. Even those with terminal illnesses are having to wait far longer than was anticipated. This not only leaves people facing financial difficulties whilst they await a decision, but causes severe stress and uncertainty. It is completely unacceptable.”
The committee’s findings echo a recent National Audit Office report, which concluded that the PIP programme suffered from “poor early operational performance” leading to long and uncertain delays for claimants.
A DWP spokesman said: “PIP is a completely new benefit with a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews. In some cases this end-to-end claims process is taking longer than the old system of Disability Living Allowance, which relied on a self-assessment form.
“We are working with providers to ensure that all the steps in the process are as smooth as they can be and the benefit is backdated so no-one is left out of pocket.
“Claims for terminally ill people are fast-tracked and Macmillan has acknowledged that improvements in the system have already been made. Latest statistics show over 99% of people with terminal illnesses who have applied have been awarded the benefit, which means over 9,500 terminally ill claimants are now receiving PIP.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 18 March 2014
This article was written by Jane Dudman and Rowena Mason, for The Guardian on Friday 14th March 2014
Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions is facing “meltdown” over three of its biggest projects, Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Commons public spending watchdog, has said.
Ahead of a damning report on government contracts with private firms, Hodge singled out the DWP as a department particularly struggling with the delivery of welfare changes, which involve managing a relationship with private IT contractors, back-to-work providers and benefit assessors.
The public accounts committee report turns up the pressure on ministers to allow all government contracts to be subject to freedom of information (FOI) laws and examined by the National Audit Office (NAO).
Given that half of all spending on public services now ends up in the hands of private providers, departments must stop hiding behind “commercial confidentiality” when people want to know more about how these contracts work, it said.
The committee said two examples of contracts that the public deserved to know more about were the scandal of G4S and Serco charging for the electronic tagging of offenders who were in prison or dead, and the “complete hash” that G4S made of supplying security guards for the Olympics.
Following a stretch of negative publicity, the major outsourcing companies – G4S, Serco, Atos and Capita – are now willing to be subject to FOI laws when it comes to public sector contracts, but the government is still resisting, it said.
“Time and again when we see failures … it’s a failure of government to manage contracts,” Hodge said, adding that departments “simply have to up their game and get a grip”.
The committee said the DWP is particularly bad when it comes to private firms’ involvement in public services, including Universal Credit, its new IT system that will deliver an overhaul of benefits, the Work Programme, its back-to-work scheme, and the personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for disability living allowance.
“All their programmes are on the verge of meltdown,” she said at a briefing to launch the report.
On Monday, a leaked internal review from the DWP said the government’s ambitious welfare strategy is at risk because of the speed and depth of the cuts imposed on the department, while a recent NAO report said the new PIP payment will cost almost three and a half times more to administer than the existing scheme.
Hodge said it was deeply ironic that if the DWP had been more open about the Universal Credit scheme – which she said was a “good policy” – there would have been a far better chance of the programme being implemented. Instead, she said, it was being “appallingly handled”.
> the Universal Credit scheme – which she said was a “good policy” – Is this a hint that a future Labour government intend to keep right on with UC regardless ?
A spokesman for DWP said the department has a “track record of delivery”. “We’ve already successfully launched the benefit cap, Universal Credit and the new personal independence payment. The industry tells us that the work programme has got almost 500,000 of the hardest to help into jobs. We are bringing in our reforms safely and responsibly,” he said.
John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, a business lobby group, said the report notes that the the private sector “plays an increasingly important role in running public services”.
“The public has a right to know how its money is being spent and the industry has pledged to meet a higher bar on transparency,” he said. “Businesses running public services agree that open-book contracting should become the norm. The National Audit Office should also be able to audit government contracts as long as this is done in a systematic way with the triggers for inspection, like missed performance targets, agreed from the outset.
“Rather than relying on individual Freedom of Information requests, we think FOI should be built into contracts when they are agreed.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 14 March 2014
This article was written by Randeep Ramesh, Social affairs editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 10th March 2014
More than 20 councils have used or plan to use controversial lie detector tests to catch fraudulent benefits claimants, despite the government dropping the technology because it was found to be not sufficiently reliable.
Responding to freedom of information (FOI) requests, 24 local authorities confirmed they had employed or were considering the use of “voice risk analysis” (VRA) software, which its makers say can pick out fraudulent claimants by listening in on calls and identifying signs of stress.
> Of course, people in genuine need never show signs of stress !
Although in 2010 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced it had given up VRA software, the FOI responses show councils have been spending, in some cases, millions of pounds on the technology.
Local authorities have continued to use the system to check whether people are honestly claiming the single person council tax discount, which allows single adults to pay 75% of the amount levied on a family.
Tory-controlled Derbyshire Dales said it had taken part in a county-wide review of council tax in 2011 that had used the technology – a contract worth £280,000 to Capita.
> Crapita – who’d have guessed they’d be involved in something like this ?
The same company was hired by Labour-run Southwark in south London and was paid £2.5m over three years. The council says VRA technology “was used as one tool to assist in determining the customers’ eligibility for the discount”.
The council said it did not record how effective the scheme had been but did say that its real worth was in making the public aware that it would crack down on benefit cheats. A council minute last year records: “Although [VRA was] used in a minority of cases, a significant amount of publicity was received that assisted in communicating to residents the council’s intention to remove discounts if property occupancy could not be evidenced.”
VRA is supposed to detect signs of stress in a caller’s voice by analysing short snippets of speech, and is still used in the insurance industry to catch fraudsters. Critics say the system is not powerful enough to distinguish cheats from honest callers.
A number of councils – Redcar, Middlesbrough, West Dorset and Wycombe – said they were convinced of VRA’s merits and were considering use of the system in the future.
False Economy, the trade union-funded campaign group that put in the freedom of information requests to more than 200 local authorities, told the Guardian: “It says a lot about council outsourcing – and the benefits-bashing agenda – that this pseudo-scientific gimmick is now making its way in through the back door. Capita is a firm with a long rap sheet of expensive failure. Neither they nor their technological snake oil should be trusted.”
There have been complaints from claimants who were assessed using the technique. In South Oxfordshire two people formally protested after having their voices tested in 2013. The council says that Capita’s system helped reduce the number of people claiming the single person discount by 3%, and would consider using it again.
Voice risk analysis has been mired in controversy since scientists raised doubts over the technology soon after it reached the market. In 2007, two Swedish researchers, Anders Eriksson and Francisco Lacerda, published their own analysis of VRA in the International Journal of Speech, Language and Law. They found no scientific evidence to support claims for the device made by the manufacturer.
Lacerda, head of linguistics at Stockholm University, told the Guardian that VRA “does nothing. That is the short answer. There’s no scientific basis for this method. From the output it generates this analysis is closer to astrology than science. There was very good work done by the DWP in the UK showing it did not work, so I am surprised.”
However, the Local Government Association, which represents English and Welsh councils, said the tool was used to help identify possible fraud. Peter Fleming, chair of the LGA’s improvement board, said: “Councils detect almost £200m-worth of benefit fraud committed every year. Every pound fraudulently claimed by people trying to cheat the system is a pound less that councils have to help those who need it most.
“No one is going to be prosecuted for benefit fraud on the result of voice analysis tests alone. But, in a small number of areas, councils use this technology as part of a wider range of methods to identify cases which may need closer scrutiny.”
The DWP told the Guardian: “Local authorities are free to design their own approaches to preventing benefit fraud.”
In a statement Capita said that, when it “undertakes a council tax single person discount review, councils can choose to use voice risk analysis technology as part of the process. The technology is never used in isolation. It is only used in cases which are deemed ‘high risk’, when earlier stages of the review have indicated that more than one person may be living at the property.”
Capita added: “The selective use of VRA technology is a useful additional tool in the validation process of identifying potentially fraudulent claims for single person discount.
“The decision of whether to revoke benefits is made by councils, based on the range of information gathered during the review process. The removal of claimants receiving discounts that they are not entitled to reduces council spend, enabling money to be directed to those who really need the council’s support.”
> Tell you what – a compromise. You can use it on claimants after it has undergone an extensive test – 5 years, say – on all MPs, local councillors, Jobcentre staff, etc
Source – Welfare News Service, 10 Mar 2014
“The new personal independence payment, which will replace the disability living allowance, will cost almost three and a half times more to administer and take double the amount of time to process”.
Says it all really, doesn’t it ? I can’t help thinking that when they talked about benefit “reform”, they really meant “deform”.
Reposted from Guardian Society
Sick and disabled people trying to claim a new benefit introduced by Iain Duncan Smith are facing “distress and financial difficulties” because of mismanagement by civil servants and the outsourcing firms Atos andCapita, a spending watchdog has found.
The National Audit Office discovered that the new personal independence payment, which will replace the disability living allowance, will cost almost three and a half times more to administer and take double the amount of time to process.
It has released a report into the new benefit as the government’s £500m contract with Atos comes under increasing scrutiny. Disability minister Mike Penning described the contract with the benefits testing firm Atos as a “mess”. Atos says that it wants to pull out of the contract early…
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