The Coalition’s Lobbying Act has largely succeeded in scaring charities into not speaking out on behalf of vulnerable people in the run up to the election, a report by the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement has found.
The Lobbying Act obliges charities and other non-governmental organisations to register if they are planning to spend more than £20,000 – including staff time – on campaigning activities during the run up to the election which could possibly influence the way people vote. There is then a strict limit on how much money may be spent.
The rules apply even if the campaigning is entirely non-party political. Where two or more organisations mount a joint campaign they must jointly remain within the cost limits, further limiting how much they can spend.
So, for example, campaigns relating to food banks, homelessness or benefits cuts would all be likely to fall within the terms of the Lobbying Act.
As a result of uncertainty about the law, fear of getting caught up in huge amounts of costly administration and concerns about being targeted by politicians many charities are remaining silent during the election period.
One charity which wished to remain anonymous told the commission:
“We are re-considering our usual manifesto activity leading up to the election.
“Although none of it is intended to be – or has ever been – party political, there is now a risk that certain politicians will try to make examples of anything we do and try to harm us financially or harm our reputation.
“For this reason we have to be careful about what we say. Even though the issues are very serious and we need to be hard-hitting in our communications to all politicians.
“Anything we say is now at risk of being wilfully misinterpreted.”
The Commission on Civil Society has recommended that the Lobbying Act should be repealed.
You can download a copy of Impact of the Lobbying Act on civil society and democratic engagement here.
Source – Benefits & Work, 03 Feb 2015
In a move that will bring new hope to struggling payday lenders, the DWP have extended the waiting days for employment and support allowance (ESA) and jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) from 3 days to 7 days from today.
The new rules mean that claimants applying for ESA or JSA will not be entitled for any payments during the first 7 days that they would otherwise be eligible for benefits.
Claimants will not be affected if they have made a previous claim for ESA or JSA in the preceding three months, however, as they will be considered to have already served their waiting days. ESA claimants will also not be affected if they have claimed statutory sick pay immediately before claiming ESA.
Terminally ill claimants are exempt from serving waiting days.
The move has brought condemnation from trade unions and charities, but the chancellor, George Osborne, argues that: “Those first seven days should be spent looking for work and not looking to sign on.”
Last month Wonga was forced by the Financial Conduct Authority to write off £220 million in loans interest and charges to people who should never have been given loans in the first place. There have been calls for other payday lenders to suffer similar penalties.
But the decision by the Coalition to extend the waiting period for ESA and JSA to seven days means that there is likely to be an upsurge in applications for short-term loans by people with no other resources to fall back on.
Given that waiting times for a first payment of Universal Credit (UC) are likely to be around 6 weeks – and up to six months for people whose earnings were too high, according to new government proposals – and bearing in mind that UC also includes a housing costs element, the future for payday lenders is beginning to look rosy again.
Source – Benefits & Work, 27 Oct 2014
This article was written by Patrick Wintour and Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Monday 3rd March 2014
Nearly 70,000 job seekers have had their benefits withdrawn unfairly, making them reliant on food banks, the right-of-centre thinktank Policy Exchange has said .
The intervention is the first by a respected rightwing voice claiming that something has gone wrong with the administration of benefits.
A chorus of churches, charities and Labour has been warning the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, for months that the administration of benefit sanctions has become too punitive.
Duncan Smith has commissioned a limited independent review into the administration of sanctions, and this is likely to confirm problems in the way they are imposed, but not challenge their level.
Policy Exchange says almost a third of all people who break their job search conditions for the first time have their benefits taken away by mistake and face unnecessary hardship as a result.
Guy Miscampbell, the author of the Policy Exchange report, said: “It is clear that there are a significant number of people who have their benefit taken away from them unfairly. Four weeks without any money is driving people to desperate measures including a reliance on food banks”.
The report suggests: “With some 874,000 adverse decisions being made between October 2012 and September 2013, and over 146,000 of them being successfully appealed or reconsidered it is clear that the possibility of wrongly applied sanctions, and what their effects might be, is an important one. With some estimates suggesting that 43% of those referred to food banks are there due to benefit stoppage or being refused a crisis loan, it is clear that there is not currently an adequate safety net for those who are wrongly sanctioned”.
The report comes as a public health specialist, Professor Elizabeth Dowler of Warwick University, said that poverty–stricken families who cannot afford to buy sufficient food are overtaking unhealthy eating as the most pressing public health concern.
The claim is made in a BBC Panorama documentary broadcast on Monday evening, which found that over a third of local authorities in England and Wales were providing funding for food banks, despite government claims that charity food is not a part of the social security system. “Food banks are an inadequate plaster over a gaping wound,” Dowler said.
On Sunday, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, repeated his criticisms of the welfare system, saying that “some of the priests who are right there on the ground say it comes across as punitive”. He revealed that he was bringing a group of priests together to discuss the evidence, and welcomed the inquiry into food banks being chaired by the archbishop of Truro and Frank Field.
Policy Exchange suggests issuing first-time offenders, who may or may not have been fairly sanctioned, with a ‘yellow card’ in the form of a benefits card. It says this would be a more compassionate way of trying to help people back into work.
Benefits would be accessed via this card for a maximum of eight weeks. If the claimant continues to breach job search conditions, the card and benefits would be taken away. This system would provide a safety net, mitigating hardship while a sanction is appealed, forcing claimants to re-engage with Jobcentre staff and deterring non-compliance through the added inconvenience of daily sign on.
They would also be asked to sign on daily as part of a proposal to create a more compassionate but stricter sanctions regime.
It suggests that repeat offenders should be punished more seriously.
> So its still all sticks and no carrots…
The report also recommends more stringent penalties for people who consistently break the terms of their job search requirements. According to the research, between October 2012 and September 2013 there were 30,000 claimants on their third sanction or more for lower tier offences such as missing an interview with a Jobcentre adviser. Repeat offenders should have their benefits taken away for a longer period of time from 13 to 26 weeks for a third breach. For each offence, a further 13 weeks should be added.
Monday’s Panorama also uncovers evidence that a jobcentre appears to be explicitly alerting its staff to the financial savings to be made through “sanctioning” job seekers when they are judged to have broken benefit conditions.
A wall chart in a Grantham jobcentre explicitly sets out the cash savings available to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) through stopping the benefits of claimants, ranging from £227.20 a week for a four-week sanction to £3,728 for a sanction lasting one year.The DWP told Panorama: “This was an isolated incident and does not reflect our policy on sanctions.”
> And we don’t believe you.
In a way, its more comforting to believe that they do have targets…otherwise you’d be left with the impression that a large proportion of Jobcentre staff are vicious, sadistic bastards willing to wreck people’s lives on a whim.
Source – Welfare News Service, 03 Mar 2014
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 19th February 2014
The total number of sanctions against benefit claimants in the year to September 2013 was 897,690, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker’s allowance was introduced in 1996.
The figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions cover employment support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance.
The number of JSA sanctions in the year to 30 September 2013 was 874,850, the highest since JSA was introduced in 1996. It compares with 500,000 in the year to 30 April 2010, the last month of the previous Labour government.
In the year to 30 September 2013 there were also 22,840 sanctions imposed on claimants of ESA – the chief benefit for the sick and disabled – in the work-related activity group. This is the highest for any 12-month period since sanctions were introduced for such claimants in October 2008.
The figures are derived from the latest quarterly set of sanctions totals published by the DWP.
The large numbers come before the government introduces its tougher claimant commitment that will require claimants to do more to prove they are actively seeking work.
Asked if an excessively punitive approach to sanctions claimants had contributed to the latest fall in unemployment, Esther McVey, the employment minister, said the DWP had brought the same clarity of requirements to those out of work that applies to those in work.
Critics, including members of the work and pensions select committee, will claim those on ESA and JSA are likely to be more vulnerable and chaotic than those in work. There is also criticism from charities about the way in which sanctions are administered and communicated.
The archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, has also suggested something has gone wrong with the welfare state, prompting David Cameron to restate the moral case for his reforms.
Ministers have set up an external inquiry into how sanctions decisions are communicated to claimants, which is due to be published next month.
Analysis produced by Professor David Webster at Glasgow University of the latest set of statistics shows in the year to 30 September 2013, JSA claims were being sanctioned at the rate of 5.11% a month, and in the three months to 30 September 2013 at a rate of 6.00% a month. These are the highest rates recorded since the start of JSA in 1996.
Over the whole period of the coalition government, JSA sanctions have run at 4.42% of JSA claimants a month. This compares with approximately 2.46% during the Labour government from May 1997 to April 2010.
In the period 22 October 2012 to 30 September 2013 (a period of 49 weeks), 527,574 individuals received a sanction. The highest published number for any 52-week period was 528,700 in the financial year 2010/11.
The figures also show a large increase in sanction activity. A total of 560,371 decisions were taken in three months to September, of which 236,786 were adverse and led to some kind of benefit withdrawal, a further 157, 633 were non-adverse and 138,554 were cancelled.
The number of decisions is up from 513,327 in the same three months of 2012 when 217,871 were adverse and 137,713 were non-adverse.
This represents a doubling of sanctioning activity since the last full year of the Labour government. In the same three months of 2009 121,584 adverse decisions were taken and the total number of decisions was 237,622, less than half the activity of the same period in 2013.
Source – Welfare News Service 19 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
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.
Reposted from the Guardian Society
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…
View original post 514 more words
Whoopee ! I have now completed my two-year stint on the Work Programme (WP).
Looking back, my initial reaction is: “what the hell was the point of that ?”
It is pretty difficult to see much point to it, either personally or on a wider level. A 2012 report found that only 18,270 people out of 785,000 people enrolled on the WP had held down employment for six months or more – a success rate of 2.3%.
Given that 5% of the long-term unemployed would be expected to find employment if left to their own devices the WP can be considered less successful than doing nothing at all.
“Less successful than doing nothing at all.” That says it all, really.
Of course it was always doomed to failure, simply because it was based on unrealistic expectations – that the only reason people are unemployed is because they are lazy / stupid / feckless, and all they need is a kick up the arse.
There was a fatal flaw in their plans – simply that there is something like 2.5 million unemployed and only 500,000 vacancieas. You can kick arses until your foot drops off, you still can’t fit a quart into a pint pot.
Mind you, my expectations weren’t very high anyway.
Prior to WP was New Deal (ND), and in this city we had two companies providing it. I had the chance to sample both, and found both to be pretty useless.
When I turned up for my WP induction I amused myself by spotting familiar faces – just about all of the staff in this new organization were formerly with one or other of the two crap ND companies that preceeded it.
And that’s how it works. A new company wins a contract to provide WP or ND or whatever, but doesn’t actually have any staff or premises. So they rent some cheap office space and re-employ all the crap advisers from the failing companies they replaced, and so the vicious circle starts all over again. Its the same old people, same old ideas (or lack of), same old same old…
The new WP provider with all the old faces in our town was called Ingeus. I was never quite sure how it was pronounced (in-ghee-us ? in-jhee-us ?) but it’s a suitably ugly name for an ugly organization.
All these WP providers are for-profit companies, and you, the unemployed, are commodities. You might be the most wonderful, talented, compassionate person but your value to them is purely financial. Get you into a job, any job, get paid for doing so.
Getting paid being by far the most important part from their point of view.
It has been argued that payment-by-results whereby companies only get paid for finding people work has meant that they focus on the “easiest” cases among the long-term unemployed with the most “difficult” effectively sidelined.
The term “creaming and parking” has been used to describe this process. The Department for Work and Pensions have denied that “parking” is an issue, but then they would, wouldn’t they ?
A study by the Third Sector Research Centre at Birmingham University found widespread “gaming” of the Work Programme by private sector providers. They argue that because providers are not paid until an unemployed person has been in work for two years it makes little economic sense to concentrate on the most “difficult cases”. study also found that the largest private sector providers known as “primes” were guilty of passing more difficult cases onto sub-contractors.
Furthermore “parking” means that charities are not getting referrals under the Work Programme as such customers are not considered likely to result in a payment for the provider.
One interviewee told the study:
“It’s not being PC but I’ll just say it as it is … you tend to get left with the rubbish; people who aren’t going to get a job … If the [prime] thought they could get them a job, they wouldn’t [refer them to] someone else to get a job.”
I got parked. At least I assume that was the reason why I heard nothing from Ingeus for a period of 10 consectutive months in the middle of my 2 years. It goes without saying that that was probably my most productive time on the WP.
When I returned it was with a bang…
To be continued…