Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has branded attempts by Labour MPs and welfare campaigners to force the government into publishing benefit-related death statistics ‘disgraceful’.
A petition calling on the government to publish figures revealing how many people have died within six weeks of having their benefits removed, including those who have committed suicide, has now passed 220,000 signatures.
Civil servants have admitted that they collect the data, reports the Daily Mirror. And the Information Commissioner recently ordered the DWP to publish the figures.
Iain Duncan Smith continues to resist the mounting pressure to release the requested data, even insisting that the Department for Work and Pensions “doesn’t collate the numbers”. This is despite of the DWP releasing similar statistics in 2012, showing that thousands of Incapacity Benefit claimants tragically lost their lives between 2009 and 2011.
Treasury officials have asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to find even deeper cuts to welfare spending, according to reports.
BBC Newsnight’s Political Editor, Allegra Stratton, has reported that treasury officials have asked Iain Duncan Smith to find £15bn of welfare cuts, rather than the £12bn originally promised in the Tory manifesto.
A treasury source allegedly told Stratton that both child tax credits and working tax credit could be in the firing line for £8bn in cuts.
More than 60,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to publish statistics into the number of benefit claimants who have died after benefits were removed.
The number of signatories is growing fast and could force the government to come clean about the impact of welfare reforms on vulnerable people.
A number of attempts by journalists and campaigners, using the Freedom of Information Act, to force the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to publish the statistics have been rebuffed.
The government argues that drawing a direct link between the deaths of seriously ill people and the removal of benefits would be irresponsible.
Welfare Weekly reported last month that the DWP had been ordered by the Information Commissioner to disclose details into deaths related to welfare reforms, following a complaint by political blogger Mike Sivier. It is our understanding that this is currently being appealed by the DWP.
The petition, on the change.org website, claims that this appeal is a direct attempt by the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to block publication of benefit-related death statistics.
Do you ever miss the era when you didn’t know what a benefit sanction was?
That innocent time, before the Department for Work and Pensions renamed a family a “benefit unit”?
One of the great luxuries of no longer having a Conservative-led government would be not having to learn any more about their intricately boring, functionally brutal social security innovations.
Look, I’m no Pollyanna. There are clearly question marks over a possible Labour/SNP coalition: how is it going to work, for a start, now that Labour has explicitly promised not to talk to the SNP? Prime minister’s questions would look like a cocktail party with two exes blanking each other. We’ll know they’re in love, but they’ll be too angry to see it.
And what, exactly, is Ed Miliband’s rent capping idea?
The beginning of a new courage, as he sets his face to the blizzard of the rentier economy?
Or a canny bid for the votes of people who don’t think any politicians are capable of anything?
These are battles for the future, and I would have them 1,000 times rather than watch unfold the nightmare of “in-work conditionality”.
As part of the universal credit pilot, last week saw the beginning of new requirements on the number of hours worked: under these regulations, anyone earning less than the equivalent of 35 hours on the minimum wage would be subject to pressure which could end in a sanction.
The second parent in the “benefit unit” would be required to work a minimum of 16 hours, taking the working week for the family up to 51 hours, before the threat of sanctions would be lifted.
Over the coming year, 15,000 families will be placed on this regime, to varying degrees of stringency: some will just be nudged with a fortnightly phone call, others will have to attend regular interviews which, as we’ve seen with the regular social security picture, comes with the ever-present risk of having your benefits removed and being left with nothing.
Labour’s Baroness Sherlock asked some searching questions in the Lords in January about the ethics of doing a randomised control trial in which one of the groups suffered a real risk to their wellbeing.
Lord Freud waved the problem off, but this is the man, remember, who thinks people use food banks because there is an “infinite demand for a free good”. He probably thinks these families only had children in the first place because they presented no immediate unit cost.
It may sound as though there is no moral dishevelment more profound than deliberately leaving parents without the money to feed their children (the cost of the trial, incidentally, is £15m, which I am prepared to bet real money is more than the scheme will ever save). But there are two other aspects, one cultural and one democratic, to consider.
First, as Lindsay Judge, who conducted research on the pilot for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) to be released on Monday, points out:
“If you focus on hours, you individualise the problem of low pay. It allows employers to take their eye off pay, and it allows the state to take their eye off benefits.”
To be on low wages under this regime is to be at the mercy of many different pressures: employers who think you’re expendable and are less likely to make accommodations for you, whether that means flexibility or extra hours; government agencies who will focus on increasing your hours, regardless of what that does to your family; and an inbuilt discrimination in the fact that people on the minimum wage are expected to work more in the first place (since the “conditionality” element of universal credit is based on family income, not hours worked).
But if you were to take this policy, and the demands it makes of parents, and lay it over other debates – education, where the worthy parent is at the school gates and all over the homework; or health, where good parenting involves a lot of home baking – you can see that to be on the minimum wage is, by steady increments, becoming incompatible with “respectable” parenting. This is even starker for single parents, who are of course often judged as deficient in the first place.
The democratic deficit emerges from the CPAG’s research, in which it asked two groups, one high income and one low income, how much other parents should be expected to work. Judge describes “parents being shocked at the sharpness of the state in other parents’ lives. You come up against these sharp edges all the time when you’re a low-income family and they’re really unpleasant. People who don’t have that interaction with the state are really surprised.”
CPAG found that people tended to approach the issue as parents first and taxpayers second, concluding overwhelmingly that it has to be a question of individual choice; parents must decide for themselves how many hours they work.
“Everyone said, people should be able to make the same choices about work-life balance across the income spectrum. Policies that bear down in a coercive manner are not acceptable – and that response was found in the higher- as well as the lower-income group.”
So many benefit reforms are justified on the basis that the country is sick of a something-for-nothing culture. But when you ask in-depth questions about what other people’s lives should be like, and what kind of dignity a state should respect and uphold, a much more generous, human picture emerges.
The genius of so many of these reforms has been in the naming – “spare-room subsidies” and “work-related activity groups” – they sound like technicalities rather than financial traumas. I don’t know what the in-work conditionality would have to be called for parents to stand together against it: I’d sooner not find out.
Source – The Guardian, 26 Apr 2015
A man who has battled a debilitating illness for more than 20 years says he has gone through “hell” after he was declared fit for work and his benefits were stopped.
Cash-strapped Colin Orton, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 14, was told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) six months ago that his employment support allowance would be halted, even though he says he is not well enough to return to work.
The former labourer – who takes medication every day and requires injections every eight weeks – has submitted sick notes from his doctor but has been told he is fit and able for a return to work.
He is now in the process of appealing against the decision.
Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system.
The 35-year-old, who lives in Lincoln Road, South Shields, with mother Margaret Harwood, 63, said;
“I went for an assessment with the DWP six months ago, and they said I am able to go back to work. My benefits were then stopped.
“I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 14 but it has become progressively worse over the last two years. I suffer from stomach pains, and am very weak and have no strength.
“I take immune suppressants every day and require a B12 injection every eight weeks. I would love to be fit and healthy and able to go back to work, but that’s not the case.
“My mum is having to spend her money supporting me.”
“Before she was paid, we were scraping through the cupboards just to have something to eat for tea. The stress of the situation has made me feel even worse. I just feel it’s wrong.
“I used to work as a skilled labourer, but it is physical work that I can’t do now. I don’t know where to turn.”
A DWP spokesman said:
“The work capability assessment is designed to look at what work someone can do with the right support – rather than just writing people off on sickness benefits as happened in the past.
“The decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough independent assessment, and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist.
“Anyone who is found to be fit for work and then experiences a significant change in their health condition may be able to make or continue a claim for employment support allowance.”
> What the DWP spokesperson wont say, won’t even admit, is that even if he was super-fit, there are still not enough jobs to go round. People suffering from ill-health are now being treated like malfunctioning robots, when it’s the whole system that’s broken.
Source – Shields Gazette, 02 Feb 2015
An impassioned debate over claims that strict sanctions on benefits claimants are causing severe poverty ended with Stockton Borough Council passing a motion criticising Government policy.
The motion called for a review of the Department for Work and Pensions‘ (DWP) sanctions where benefits claimants, including those on Job Seekers Allowance, who miss an appointment or is late can be left without any money at all for five to six weeks.
Several councillors speaking at the authority’s full council meeting said they had examples of where the policy was being used “unfairly” while deputy leader Jim Beall branded it as a “deliberate, cynical measure” to alter the unemployment statistics.
However Conservative councillor Andrew Stephenson argued against the motion saying the sanctions helped people back to work.
The motion concluded:
“The Council resolves to write to our MPs requesting that they raise this deplorable situation with the responsible Minister urging an immediate review of national policy and guidance on sanctioning.”
Council leader Bob Cook told of a case where a young man got a letter informing him of a morning appointment but didn’t receive it until the afternoon and lost his benefit.
Meanwhile Cllr Norma Stephenson said she knew of 19 families on the Hardwick estate who had been sanctioned while Cllr Barry Woodhouse cited the case of a Billingham resident who lost her disability benefit for having zero points, only for a review to say she had 33 points.
Cllr Eileen Johnson said she had a friend working for the DWP who told her staff had been in tears “because they can’t bear what they are doing.”
> But they carry on doing it nevertheless…
Cllr Norma Wilburn said she had heard a national story on the radio about an amputee who had lost his benefit because he couldn’t answer the phone. She said: “This seems like a coordinated attack on the vulnerable. This is evil.”
Cllr Mark Chatburn, Ukip, said the policy was “deliberate” and “the epitome of nasty.“
> This from the representive of a party who’s members have called for the unemployed to be denied the vote and banned from owning cars.
The motion was passed and Stockton’s two MPs, Alex Cunningham, Labour, and James Wharton, Conservative, will be contacted by the council.
Source – Northern Echo, 22 Jan 2015
Coalition claims that it has presided over a jobs revival have come under fresh scrutiny with research showing that as few as a fifth of the 2 million jobless people whose benefit has been taken away are known to have found work.
The research, due to be presented at a Commons select committee inquiry into welfare sanctions on Wednesday, suggests that hundreds of thousands are leaving Jobseeker’s Allowance because of benefit sanctions without finding employment, though the report’s authors decline to provide an exact figure.
Written by academics at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the report raises questions about why so many of those losing their benefit then disappear from the welfare system – possibly to rely on food banks.
Prof David Stuckler, of Oxford University, said that benefit sanctions “do not appear to help people return to work. There is a real concern that sanctioned persons are disappearing from view. What we need next is a full cost-benefit analysis that looks not just narrowly at employment but possibly at hidden social costs of sanctions.
> No, what we need next is a stop to sanctions. Then you can do all the cost-benefit analysis stuff, in the knowledge that your research is not being made obsolute by people continuing to be sanctioned every day.
“If, as we’re finding, people are out of work but without support – disappeared from view – there’s a real danger that other services will absorb the costs, like the NHS, possibly jails and food support systems, to name a few. Sanctions could be costing taxpayers more.”
However, the Department for Work and Pensions, which is expected to hail a further rise in UK employment on Wednesday, countered that it was proud that 1 million jobless people were now subject to the “claimant commitment”, which sets out tougher requirements on the jobless to find work or risk losing their benefit payments.
Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said:
“It is only right that in return for government support – and in return for their benefits – jobseekers are expected to do all they can to find work. Although on benefits, they still have a job: the job is to get back into work.
> This would be the government support we paid into, via National Insurance, when we were working, right ? So its our money, IDS, not yours.
“The claimant commitment, which is deliberately set to mimic a contract of employment, makes this expectation explicit. It has created a real change in attitudes. Already more than a million people have signed up to – and are benefiting from – this new jobseeking regime.”
> What real-life employment contract does it mimic !? The sort used for slaves on the old southern US plantations perhaps ?
The Oxford-based research showed that between June 2011 and March 2014, more than 1.9m sanctions were imposed on people receiving jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), with 43% of those sanctioned subsequently ceasing to try to claim the benefit. Only 20% of those who left gave as their stated reason that they had found work.
The Department for Work and Pensions conducts no systematic research into what happens to those sanctioned, so the new findings start to fill an evidential gap in what has been one of the biggest but least publicised changes to the welfare system since the government came to power.
The 1.9m benefit removals between June 2011 and March 2014 represent a 40% increase compared with the previous seven years. The figures are based on official monthly and quarterly data from databases covering UK local authorities between 2005 and 2014.
The highly emotive dispute about a central aspect of government welfare reform centres on whether jobcentre staff, driven by senior management, are following arbitrary and poorly communicated rules that punish not just the feckless but some of the most vulnerable in society, including mentally ill and disabled people. Many independent witnesses have urged the DWP inquiry at least to suspend the sanctions regime for those claiming employment support allowance, the main disability benefit .
Study author Dr Rachel Loopstra, from Oxford University, said:
“The data did not give us the full picture of why sanctioned people have stopped claiming unemployment benefit. We can say, however, that there was a large rise in the number of people leaving JSA for reasons that were not linked to employment in association with sanctioning. On this basis, it appears that the punitive use of sanctions is driving people away from social support.”
The study also shows widespread variation in how local authorities used sanctions. In Derby, Preston, Chorley and Southampton, researchers found particularly high rates of people being referred for sanctions. In some months, more than 10% of claimants in these areas were sanctioned – the highest rates nationwide.
Co-author Prof Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:
“There is a need for a cost-benefit analysis of sanctioning, looking at it not just in narrow terms of unemployment benefit, but also the bigger picture, focusing on employment, health, and other social costs.”
“The coalition government has embarked upon an unprecedented experiment to reform social security. I hope policymakers will be informed by these findings and see the value of investigating the consequences.”
Separate evidence in front of the DWP select committee inquiry includes witness statements from former jobcentre staff suggesting senior management threaten staff if they do not take a harsh approach to claimants. There is also cumulative evidence that many of those sanctioned have little or no knowledge of why they are being punished.
The main union representing jobcentre staff, PCS – also due to give evidence on Wednesday to the select committee inquiry – suggests:
“While there is considerable anecdotal evidence about the inappropriate use of sanctions, there is a lack of empirical evidence. We believe that DWP should publish a more detailed breakdown of sanctions, and specifically more detailed explanations as to why they were imposed. PCS’s survey of our adviser members showed that 61% had experienced pressure to refer claimants to sanctions where they believed it may be inappropriate to do so.”
DWP select committee inquiry member Debbie Abrahams said:
“This government has developed a culture in which Jobcentre Plus advisers are expected to sanction claimants using unjust, and potentially fraudulent, reasons in order get people “off-flow”. This creates the illusion the government is bringing down unemployment.”
The government counters that its policies are turning the UK into the jobs factory of Europe, and dismisses the idea that the unemployment figures are being subverted by sanctions.
This article was written by Frances Perraudin and Patrick Wintour, for The Guardian on Tuesday 20th January 2015
Benefit claimants are treated as “second class citizens” by Government officials, an MP is to claim.
Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah will call for an end to the “demonisation” of claimants, as she leads a Commons debate.
> Well, its nice to see that you’ve caught up, Chi, but this really isn’t anything new you know ? Still, general election looming and all that…
She will warn claimants are being mistreated by the Department for Work and Pensions, for example by having benefits stopped for no reason – and this can have a devastating effect on their physical and mental health.
And she will recall that she was largely bought up in a single-parent family in Newcastle which depended on benefits.
It follows claims that claimants are being “sanctioned” by Department staff, which means their benefits are stopped, without good reason.
> “Claims” ? Like there might be some doubt about it ?
Ms Onwurah will highlight the case of an IT worker who lost his job and applied “for every possible vacancy” but was sanctioned by the Jobcentre because his work search record was judged inadequate in the week his father died.
Speaking in advance of the debate, she said:
“Benefits claimants are by definition going through a tough time; they may have lost a job, have an illness or disability or are in low-paid or part time work, or they are caring for young children or relatives, making it harder to work.
“They need our support, our care, concern for and understanding of the challenges they face.”
Jobcentres and the HMRC offices that administer tax credits, are “vital public services that British citizens pay for with their taxes” and people who use them have a right to expect fair and respectful treatment, she said.
Ms Onwurah will point out that the number of people on benefits who abuse the system is a very small proportion, as estimates show that only 0.7% of welfare spending is lost to fraud in comparison with 1.3% lost to overpayment because of Department for Work and Pensions mistakes.
And she will ask why there is not more focus on catching tax evaders – when there are adverts on buses urging: “Think you know a Newcastle upon Tyne Benefits Cheat? Report them anonymously.”
Recalling her own childhood, the MP said:
“It was very hard for my mother who was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and also suffered breast cancer, not only because of our poverty but also because of her shame at taking hand outs.
“I am very glad she did not have to face the sort of vilification and abuse experienced now, abuse caused in part by a sustained campaign from some politicians on the right.
> Although lets not forget New Labour didn’t have such a good record either, and in some respects did the groundwork for the coalition’s excesses.
“Contrary to what many of them would imagine, I was brought up with a strong work ethic, and also to believe that the state would provide a robust safety net for those that needed it.”
> Now – what we really need to know is what will Labour do to rectify the situation should they win the general election ? Anything ? Nothing ?
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 Jan 2015
Jobcentre staff are to target job seekers in ‘unusual locations’, as part of a new ‘blitz’ against Britain’s unemployed people.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) say an ‘army’ of government ‘jobs experts’ will target unemployed people at a number of locations, in a new bid to ‘support’ them back into work.
Specialist jobcentre staff, known as work coaches, will target unemployed people in places such as children’s centres, youth hubs, homeless shelters, and rural work clubs, ‘to offer targeted support to people who need it most’.
> There’s nothing specialist about Work Coaches – they’re just what used to be called Advisers. And they are, of course, working towards targets for sanctioning people.
DWP say work coaches have already partnered up with a number of professional football clubs including Arsenal, Everton, and Tottenham Hotspur, with schemes designed to build confidence and new skills to prepare unemployed people for work.
It’s unclear as to whether the DWP plan to adopt a similar approach in other locations. However, it’s highly likely people will at least be offered the option of signing up to the Work Programme as part of this new ‘blitz’ on Britain’s unemployed.
Employment Minister Esther McVey said:
“Our hardworking Jobcentre Plus staff have made a huge contribution to Britain’s jobs success this year. By doing things differently, and getting out to where job seekers are, they’re helping thousands into work every day.
“We have broken record after record in 2014 – with huge falls in youth and long-term unemployment and the highest number of women in work on record.
“This new approach is working. What we can see at the end of the year is that our welfare reforms are ensuring that people have the skills and opportunities to move into work.
“But behind these record figures there are countless stories of individual hard work and determination – stories of people turning their lives around, of families who are now feeling more secure over the Christmas period with a regular wage, and of young people escaping unemployment and building a career.”
The Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, has come under heavy criticism for helping only a relatively small number of people into work.
Official figures show less than 22% of 18-24 year-olds claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) find work lasting at least six months after 12 months on the scheme, falling to 17.6% for over 25’s.
This falls to 10.3% for sick and disabled people newly claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who find work lasting at least three months, with some commentators claiming the combined figure for both new and older claims is just 8%.
A recent survey from the charity Mind revealed how the vast majority of people with mental health problems saw their health worsen while on Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Work Programme.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 26 Dec 2014
The coalition government’s controversial Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, has been slammed by a leading charity for worsening the health of unemployed people with mental health problems.
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal how less than 8% of sick and disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) find work through the Work Programme.
Mental health charity MIND said the figures provide “further evidence that the overwhelming majority of people with disabilities and mental health problems are not being helped by the Government’s flagship back-to-work support scheme”.
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, added:
“A recent report from Mind found that people with mental health problems are less likely to be supported into employment through the Work Programme than those with other health conditions and are more likely to have their benefits sanctioned”.
According to the survey 83% of people who lost their jobs due to mental health problems got worse while on the government’s flagship back to work scheme.
The survey also revealed how 76% felt less able to work, while nearly one in four (24%) were hospitalised or sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of MIND, said: “If someone is depressed and out of work a CV course won’t help.”
Tom Pollard added: “Mind is calling for everyone with a mental health problem who is receiving mainstream support through this scheme to be placed onto a new scheme and offered more personalised, specialist support which acknowledges and addresses the challenges people face in getting and keeping a job.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 21 Dec 2014