Plans to make the medical test for employment and support allowance (ESA) harder to pass and increase the amount of bedroom tax some claimants have to pay have been leaked to the Guardian.
The cuts documents drawn up by civil servants and seen by the Guardian, relate to ways that the benefits bill could be reduced if the government goes over the national spending cap for welfare benefits.
However, sources in the DWP told the Guardian that these are the same options that will be presented to Conservative ministers wanting to cut £12 billion from the benefit bill if they win the election.
The cuts include:
- Stricter fit for work tests or ‘tighter limits on eligibility’
- Increasing the bedroom tax on certain categories of renters
- Stopping under-25s from claiming ESA or housing benefit
- Freezing all benefits payments
The DWP documents also reveal that IDS has failed to meet his targets for cutting the cost of IB/ESA, DLA/PIP and housing benefit and that ‘welfare reform’ is not saving money. The only way to cut costs now, according to the papers is to make cuts, some of which have been rejected in the past by ministers, which are “very/highly/extremely controversial”.
Little wonder then, that the Conservatives don’t want to reveal them before an election.
You can read more in the Guardian
Source – Benefits & Work, 05 May 2015
Universal credit is still on the amber-red warning list of the Major Projects Authority and the business case for the new benefit has still not been signed off by the Treasury, it was revealed at a public accounts committee meeting yesterday.
According to evidence given by civil servants, a ‘twin track’ approach to delivering the benefit could lead to all but £34m of a £697m IT programme being written off, if the new digital system now being trialled is a success. However, so far only 17 claimants have used the new digital system.
The Treasury says that it may be next summer before it can decide whether to sign off the business case for universal credit.
Meanwhile, Neil Couling, one of the DWP staff now in charge of universal credit told the committee he had been ‘blown away’ by how positively claimants had responded to the new benefit.
Couling previously gave evidence to the Scottish parliament that claimants welcome the ‘jolt’ of being sanctioned so much that “jobcentres across the country have been inundated with thank you cards from people who have received sanctions.”
> Mr Couling’s nose is several feet long and growing…
Source – Benefits & Work, 11 Dec 2014
This article was written by Jane Dudman, for theguardian.com on Friday 26th September 2014
Sir Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, has said that the timetable for the government’s controversial universal credit benefits scheme was “too tight” and that a “culture of good news” in the Department for Work and Pensions prevented this being recognised.
In 2013, the plan to introduce universal credit, which has been described as involving “fiendishly complicated calculations” had to be “reset to zero”, after more than £600m had been spent.
Kerslake, the former chief executive of Sheffield city council, said leaders needed to be prepared to hear bad news and that those in local government, closer to people directly using services, were more likely to do so.
Reflecting on an often-turbulent two years as head of the civil service, Kerslake reiterated that his greatest regret was the delay in producing a plan on improving civil service diversity. “The story on diversity is still too variable across departments,” he said. “We need in particular to tackle the macho culture that too many women experience and increase the number of BME staff at senior level, which has flat lined in recent years.”
Kerslake said he was proud of the civil service reform plan, published in June 2012, but he regretted trying to push through changes to civil servants’ terms and conditions at the same time as the plan. He also said that there would be at least five more years of austerity in public spending, whoever wins the next general election, and that the next five years of spending cuts would be tougher because the “easier savings” have already been made.
He also said there should be greater devolution of power from Whitehall to local government, even if that meant accepting that, as in the Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal, sometimes “things go wrong”. Kerslake said devolution could not be evenly spread around the country. Some places such as Birmingham, he said, are less far forward in working as combined authorities, but they would be spurred towards action if they saw other regions getting greater powers.
Kerslake refused to comment on the new arrangements following his resignation, including the appointment of a new chief executive. Whoever takes that job will report in to the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, who has taken on Kerslake’s former role as head of the civil service. He said he and Heywood had a “positive working relationship”, but added that “noises off” – briefings against civil servants – had been the most damaging thing to civil service morale.
Source – Welfare News Service, 26 Sept 2014
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has denied urging civil servants to vote ‘No’ in the Scottish Independence referendum in September.
A memo written by the permanent secretary Robert Devereux sent to DWP staff reads:
“This is because the UK government has a clear position to maintain the Union and so it is legitimate and necessary for UK civil servants to support the government in this objective.”
A DWP spokesman said the memo set out guidance to staff on how to communicate referendum information to the public. However, the PCS said it was “poorly written, ill-judged and patronising”.
PCS Scottish Secretary Lynn Henderson said:
“This is a very sensitive issue north of the border and one in which civil servants are all too aware of from both the UK and Scottish governments’ respective positions on independence. They remain bound by the civil service code.
“The wording of this memo is not only clumsy but it also seeks to blame lower-graded civil servants for not understanding the instruction on how to conduct themselves as civil servants, rather than as voting citizens in a democracy. I suspect that the intent may have backfired somewhat.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 20 Aug 2014
Thousands of public sector workers went on strike in a bitter disagreement over pay and pensions, as part of the biggest day of industrial action seen in the country for years.
More than 400 schools in the region were fully or partially closed as teachers downed tools during the walk out.
Joining them were home helps, lollipop men and women, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, parks attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners, as well as firefighters, civil servants and transport workers.
Picket lines were mounted outside schools, council offices, Jobcentres, fire stations and Parliament in outpourings of anger over the coalition’s public sector policies.
Nationally, around 1m workers took part in the 24-hour strike, which unions claimed was one of the biggest in the country in years.
The Cabinet Office blamed union leaders for “irresponsible” strikes.
A spokesman claimed most public sector workers had reported for work and “nearly all key public services were being delivered as usual”.
The biggest issue in dispute is pay, after ministers froze public sector salaries in 2010 and introduced a 1% cap on pay rises in 2012 which remains in place.
Thousands joined a march through Newcastle City Centre campaigning against cuts, changes to pensions, pay and work conditions.
Chants of “they say cut back, we say fight back” could be heard as the crowd of teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants led the procession from outside City Pool, near the Civic Centre, as part of the one-day walk-out with teachers also highlighting concerns over children’s education and firefighters raising their fears that cuts risk lives.
Among those lending their support was Blaydon MP Dave Anderson who said: “It’s a really good turn-out. I’m impressed and spirits are really high.
These people do a tremendous job day in day out and we are not looking after them properly. It’s time we did.
“It’s time we said enough is enough. They are at the end of their tether and a cry for help.”
The procession of workers, carrying banners and placards and flanked by mounted police, headed towards Northumberland Street then through the throng of shoppers onto New Bridge Street for speeches on the blue carpet area outside Laing Art Gallery.
Most were delighted at the turnout.
Shirley Ford, 50, an administrative assistant at Marine Park Primary School in South Shields, said: “I was also on the picket line in South Shields this morning and when you’re in a small school it’s hard to sense how everyone else is feeling so this is great to see – and the sun has come out!”
Andy Nobel, executive member for the FBU in North East which is the middle of its own industrial action following the loss of 300 firefighter posts and station closures in the wake of the Government’s austerity measures, said: “Public support during our whole dispute has been fantastic.
“When they’ve heard our arguments there hasn’t been a great deal, if any, adverse public reaction.”
A further eight days of action is expected to be announced.
One firefighter, who did not want to be named, said the chief concern of colleagues was pensions not pay.
Meanwhile, teacher Tony Dowling, 57, the members’ secretary for Gateshead NUT, said: “The main reason is the pension and pay but I’m really on strike because I care about the education of the children.
“Michael Grove is making the jobs of teachers impossible and ruining children’s education.”
Cheers greeted the speakers at the rally who included Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s deputy regional convenor for public services alliance, who called the national turn-out “the second biggest turn of action since the end of the Second World War”.
Gordon Thompson, a councillor from Newsham ward in Blyth Valley, known for his refusal to pay his Poll Tax, was among the supporters at the rally and stressed the importance of making a stand.
And a familiar face lending his support was local actor Joe Caffrey, accompanying his father, retired Unison member Joe Caffrey senior, who was standing up for service providers whose pensions are taking a hit.
The 69-year-old from Whitley Bay said: “I’ve got a pension but I’m here for the people still working, particularly the young people.”
Picket lines were also formed outside some of the region’s schools and council offices, including Newcastle’s Civic Centre and the Department for Work and Pensions, in Longbenton.
Newcastle’s Grainger Market was closed to the public for the first time in two years because of the industrial action.
Reports suggest there was around 5,000 people at today’s march.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 10 July 2014
Thousands of North East workers are gearing up for one of the biggest days of industrial action in this country in years.
Teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants will join up with around 1.5 million colleagues nationwide in a 24-hour walk-out in a protest over pay, pensions and work conditions.
Bin collections will be suspended, council buildings including libraries will be closed and most controversially it will result in the sweeping closure of hundreds of schools across the region.
Mike McDonald, Regional Secretary of the NUT which has 20,000 members in the region, said: “Teachers are extremely reluctant to strike because of the impact on children’s education.
“However they feel that this current Government’s attacks on education will cause far more damage.
“Morale in the profession is at rock bottom, teachers are wasting hours on pointless paperwork and scores are quitting in their first years because of unmanageable workload, uncertain pay and worsening pensions.
“Children deserve teachers who are motivated, enthused and valued. Education Secretary Michael Gove would do well to engage properly with the profession and address teachers’ concerns to end this dispute.
“For teachers, performance-related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and heavy workload for 60 hours a week is unsustainable.”
The Fire Brigade Union is protesting at changes to firefighters’ pensions and a later retirement age.
Meanwhile the GMB, Unite, UNISON and the Public and Commercial Services Union are protesting over pay rates.
A pay freeze was imposed in 2010 for three years followed by a 1% increase last year and the same offer this year.
They say that represents an 18% fall in pay in real terms, back to the level of the 1990s.
Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s Deputy Regional Convenor and a local government employee said: “The pay offer from the local government employer is derisory in the extreme.
“This year’s pay offer would see 90% of school and local government workers receive a further pay cut. The offer of a 1% pay rise if you earn £7.71 per hour or more, or if you earn below that it is slightly more to take us just above the National Minimum Wage.
“This pay offer does not keep pace with price increases and our pensions will suffer. This pay offer is nowhere near enough.”
Karen Loughlin, the union’s Regional Lead Officer on Local Government, said: “Part-time workers – mainly women and more than half the local government workforce – have been particularly hard hit, with their hourly earnings now worth the same as they were 10 years ago.
“Many low paid part-time Local Government workers need benefits and tax credits to keep their families out of poverty.
“It is deeply disturbing to hear the continuing stories of Local Government workers resorting to food banks.
“UNISON is demanding a decent pay rise in recognition of the valuable role that our members perform in delivering public services to children, young people, the elderly and vulnerable in our communities.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The vast majority of dedicated public sector workers have not voted for this week’s strike action, so it is disappointing that the leadership of the unions are pushing for a strike that will achieve nothing and benefit no one. Union leaders are relying on mandates for action that lack authority – the National Union of Teachers is relying on a ballot run nearly two years ago.
“As part of our long-term economic plan, this Government has been taking tough decisions to address the budget deficit we inherited in 2010.
“One was to introduce pay restraint in the public sector, while protecting the lowest paid. Pay restraint protects public sector jobs, supports high-quality public services and helps put the UK’s finances back on track.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 July 2014
Hundreds of civil servants staged a walkout in a dispute over Government plans to cut 10,000 jobs nationally and close offices.
Around 95 per cent of the 400 workers at the HMRC offices in Peterlee who are members of the PCS (Public and Commercial Services) union, went on strike yesterday.
It was part of a national day of action across revenue and customs staff and was the first day in a week of rolling industrial action across the country.
The union could also join 1.5m public sector workers in a walkout on July 10 over a Government offer of a pay rise of just 1 per cent.
PCS northern regional secretary Simon Elliott said: “The key is the strong support we have had across the region and that’s been borne out in Peterlee where over 90 per cent of staff have stayed away from work.
“The Government is threatening to cut another 10,000 HMRC jobs and they have already closed a whole number of offices and have already cut about 10,000 jobs.
“The Department has a vision for reducing HMRC staff down to a handful of regional offices.
“There has been a threat to HMRC offices for a long time, but this HMRC vision is a relatively new thing that’s come out in 2014.”
As well as the Peterlee staff, civil servants in the rest of the North-East, Cumbria and Scotland also staged walkouts yesterday.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 23 June 2014
A new super council will be formed on April 1, allowing the North East to compete for millions of pounds in Government funding.
After months of internal rows and territorial battles, the North East’s seven council leaders have secured Government backing to form a Combined Authority.
The move means, for example, that decisions over major transport and jobs investment in Northumberland or Newcastle must be made only after the views of the other council leaders have been taken into account.
There will be no changes to local councils, with voters still electing their local councillor and the same group collecting bins and looking after those in care.
> But we won’t get to vote in matters directly involving this super council ?
But behind the scenes the North East Combined Authority will be seen as the lead voice for the region in Whitehall.
The seven leaders, and their chief executives, will share decision making over skills, transport and investment, have the chance to secure control over any devolved Government budgets and a say in how the region bids for the £2bn Government Growth Fund.
> And no doubt they’ll also share an extra wad in their pay packets.
Cities minister Mr Clark has told MPs he thinks it is “a huge advance in the North East” and called for council leaders, MPs and other jobs groups to come together to formally discuss with him the next steps for the region.
> And will we – those most affected by any decisions – have any input ?
Former regional minister Nick Brown recently secured a series of regular meetings with the cities minister amid concerns the region’s case was not being heard in parliament.
Last night he told The Journal: “If we want access to the money we have to comply with the Government’s preferred structures, and it is very important that members of parliament are involved and can represent their constituents.”
The combined authority sees Durham County Council, Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council, South Tyneside Council, Northumberland County Council and Sunderland City Council form a legally binding structure with the power to borrow cash and the responsibility to share risk.
Simon Henig, the Durham council leader set to chair the combined authority, said: “Working together is the best way to promote jobs and growth and to secure devolution of funding, powers and responsibilities from Government.
“We share ambitious plans for the future of our area and we are determined to work together to deliver them.
“We are therefore delighted to receive today’s news from Cabinet Office and look forward to the necessary formalities being progressed so that we can launch on April 1 this year. This is an important and exciting moment in our history and we are ready now to deliver on our ambitious plans.”
Hopes of forming a combined authority had appeared slim earlier this year when Sunderland Council had halted the process amid concerns that Newcastle would hold too much influence.
Ministers, civil servants and council officials put pressure on Sunderland to drop its objections, but it was only once leader Paul Watson secured a stronger negotiating hand on the leaders’ board that it could go ahead.
There were then further delays when Sunderland decided to hold out for a multi-million pound investment package from the Government for Wearside before going ahead.
This Sunderland City Deal, set to see some £50m spent on a new business park based around Nissan, is now in the final stage of negotiations.
> So it’s all decided, signed, sealed and delivered. You had no input, it doesn’t appear you’ll ever get the chance for meaningful input… but then, this is all about the really important people, like councillors and businessmen. Business as usual, in fact.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 March 2014
> A masterful summing up of the current situation, by John Wight.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are engaged in the widespread bullying and intimidation of benefit claimants in Jobcentres up and down the country.
The evidence can no longer be denied and the union’s leadership must now take steps to educate its members that solidarity is more than just a word on a leaflet during a PCS pay dispute, or else face the accusation of collaborating with the government’s vicious assault on the most economically vulnerable in society under the rubric of austerity.
The upsurge in the number of claimants having their benefits sanctioned for increasingly minor infractions correlates to the upsurge in the demand for the services of the nation’s food banks. This shocking revelation was contained in a report by MPs in January, the result of an investigation by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which called for an independent review into the rules for sanctioning claimants to ensure that the rules are being applied “fairly and appropriately“.
Among its findings the report stated: “Evidence suggests that JCP staff have referred many claimants for a sanction inappropriately or in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied.
The report continued: “Some witnesses were concerned that financial hardship caused by sanctioning was a significant factor in a recent rise in referrals to food aid. The report recommends that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by sanctions.”
The majority of Jobcentre staff are members of the 270,000 strong PCS, the sixth largest trade union in the country, which represents the majority of Britain’s civil servants and public sector workers.
The union’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka, has been a high profile and strong critic of the coalition’s austerity policies in recent years, appearing on numerous public platforms and a ubiquitous presence in the mainstream press making the case for an investment led recovery from recession and calling for mass opposition to the cuts that have ravaged the public sector and been accompanied by a concerted campaign of demonisation of the unemployed and economically vulnerable that is unparalleled in its viciousness.
It is a campaign that has largely succeeded in diverting the blame for the worst recession to visit these shores since the 1930s onto the poor. Meanwhile the rich, whose greed lies at the root of the nation’s economic woes, have seen their wealth and incomes increase over the course of the recession, evidence that austerity and economic and social injustice are one and the same.
It is unconscionable that any self respecting trade union would allow its members to engage in the wilful and systematic sanctioning of benefit claimants without meaningful resistance. It flies in the face of the very principle of social solidarity that is the cornerstone of a movement founded on the understanding that the interests of working people – employed and unemployed – are intrinsically the same.
The human despair not to mention humiliation being inflicted on people in the nation’s Jobcentres is evidence that the Tory campaign of dividing working people section by section has borne fruit. It has reached the point where the oppressive atmosphere found in your average Jobcentre is on a par with the oppressive atmosphere associated with a district or sheriff court.
Jobseekers are not criminals and those sanctioning them so readily are not parole officers, yet you could be easily mistaken in thinking they are after spending just a few minutes in a Jobcentre in any town or city up and down the country.
Enough is enough.
This shameful culture of bullying, harassment, and intimidation against the unemployed must be confronted by the leadership of the PCS as a matter of urgency. By no means are all PCS members working in Jobcentres guilty of this shameful behaviour and treatment of claimants – indeed many are low paid workers reliant on various benefits to survive themselves – but enough are involved in the practice to leave no doubt that we are talking about an institutional problem rather than the actions of a few rotten apples.
Making matters worse is the fact that many of those being sanctioned are being trapped due to mental health issues or language issues making them more vulnerable to violating the plethora of rules regarding the obligations they must fulfil when it comes to searching for work. Many are being sanctioned for turning up five minutes late to a scheduled appointment, regardless of the reason why.
The sheer barbarity of this is staggering, plunging people who are already living on the margins into extreme poverty and destitution. In some cases suicide has been the result.
Those PCS members involved would do well to imbibe the words of the American union leader Eugene Debs: “…years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
Any trade union member who allows him or herself to be used as an instrument to attack the poor and the unemployed is deserving of contempt. And any trade union leadership that fails to act to prevent it happening is reactionary.
Source – Huffington Post, 25 Feb 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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