Tagged: Department for Work and Pensions

Hartlepool Jobcentre Plus – the sky is falling !

Hartlepool Jobcentre Plus office has re-opened after a ceiling collapsed this morning.

Firefighters from Stranton Fire Station rushed to the scene earlier today.

The building was closed temporarily while the damage was assessed.

A spokesoman for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said there had been a high-pressure leak in the building’s heating system, which lead to the collapse.

It is believed that three floors of the office, in Wesley Square, were affected by the leak

The spokesman said the damage had happened before the office had opened and no one was hurt.

He added:

“The damage is being repaired but the office is open now.
“There is some leeway and people are being excused from attending today.

“It happened before the office opened so there was nobody there and nobody was hurt.”

Source – Hartlepool Mail, 14 Oct 2014

Labour Pledge New ‘Work Support Programme’ For Disabled Benefit Claimants

A future Labour government would introduce a new ‘Work Support Programme’ for unemployed disabled people, in a bid to reduce the number of people claiming sickness benefits.

Analysis of figures uncovered as part of an investigation into government spending reveals that the coalition has overspent on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by around £8 billion, claim Labour.

This comes at the same time as figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that the number of people claiming ESA has risen by 50,000 in just six months.

Labour say this is due to the ‘failure’ of the controversial Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by its opponents, in helping sick and disabled people into work. Only around one in twenty ESA claimants who participate in the scheme find secure and lasting jobs, while the overwhelming majority find themselves back at the jobcentre and trapped on benefits.

Labour would ‘improve the employability’ of sick and disabled unemployed people, says the shadow minister for disabled people Kate Green MP, through the introduction of a specialist programme designed to support them into work.

>  Phrases like ‘improve the employability’  always send a shiver up my spine. And it sounds like business as usual should Labour get in… the poor are the enemy – punish them !

The ‘Work Support Programme’ would help support ESA claimants regarded as being the ‘furthest from work’, say Labour.

The programme would also utilise ‘existing resources’ from underperforming government schemes, such as the Work Programme and Work Choice, and then make use of those ‘resources’ to reform the discredited Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Labour say they want to ensure that the WCA ‘provides a gateway to back-to-work’ support, rather than a barrier.

The majority of sick and disabled openly say they would welcome the opportunity to work, if they are able to, but many claim that employers discriminate against them in favour of healthier, more abled-bodied job seekers.

Kate Green MP, Labour’s shadow minister for Disabled People, said:

Thousands of disabled people who want to work are being failed by the Tories. The Work Programme isn’t working for disabled people, with just one in 20 finding jobs, while this Tory-led Government slashes specialist support in job centres.

“The Tories’ failure to help disabled people into work comes at a huge cost to disabled people in every corner of the country who are being let down and to taxpayers who are facing an £8 billion bill.

“We must bring down social security spending and doing that requires a new approach to tackle the root causes of these costs directly. That’s why Labour will give disabled people the support they need to find a job.

“Our Work Support programme will bring hope to thousands of disabled people who have been let down by David Cameron’s government.”

No further details were available at the time of publication.

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  09 Oct 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/labour-pledge-new-work-support-programme-disabled-benefit-claimants/

Work Programme Still Not Working, DWP Figures Show

The controversial Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents to the scheme, is still failing to help large numbers of unemployed people into permanent work, figures show.

Figures released today by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that less than one in ten (9.5%) Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants, completing a year on the scheme, find work lasting at least three months. The DWP admits that outcomes are well below expected levels but standards appear to be improving from a low of 3.9% in June 2011.

 However, the bar set for ESA claimants of achieving at least three months in work is half that for non-disabled participants (six months). Only those in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA can be expected to take part in the scheme.

For Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants on the programme the short to mid-term prognosis is little better. Around 20% of 18 to 24 year-olds find work lasting six months or more. The figure falls to one in six for those aged over 25 and other JSA groups. Minimum accepted levels set by the DWP are around 1 in 7 and 1 in 9 respectively.

In total 13.8% of Work Programme participants find work lasting six (JSA) or three (ESA) months upon completing the scheme.

The long-term prognosis for all those who take part on the Work Programme is extremely poor and shows that the scheme is failing to help unemployment people stay in work. Of those completing the programme (both ESA and JSA claimants) less than a quarter were still in work after two years. Around 70% returned to Jobcentres to rejoin the unemployment merry-go-round.

Only 29% of the most recent participants to complete two-years on the Work Programme had a minimum of three/six months in work.

Earlier this year a report from the IPPR said the Work Programme is failing those most in need and should be broken up’.

 It’s clear that the Work Programme is still failing to help the majority of unemployed people secure long-term permanent employment.

The low bar the DWP sets itself would appear to show that the government is prepared to accept a less than successful programme.

Source – Welfare News Service, 18 Sept 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/work-programme-still-working-dwp-figures-show/

Unemployment rate in the North East rises to 9.9% despite fall overall in the UK

The jobless rate for the North East has risen to 9.9% – despite a fall in the overall UK figure.

As the Government celebrates the national rate dropping from 6.4% to 6.2%, saying it is the lowest since the height of the economic crisis in 2008, the trend in this region is upwards.

The only other UK region to see an increase in its jobless total from May to July was the South West where it rose 0.1% to 5%.

The latest rise in the region, from 9.8% to 9.9%, is the third in the last three quarters.

However a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the rate is down 0.5% drop on this time last year.

We know the jobs are there,” he said.

Meanwhile the figures, released by the Office for National Statistics, revealed the full extent of the affect of Government policies on the Public Sector.

They showed that since the May 2009 election, won by the Tory Lib-Dem Coalition, the number of people working in this sector has plummeted 58,000 from 296,000 to 238,000.

The Northern Public Services Alliance which campaigns to defend public services is now calling for an urgent Public Services Summit on November 29, to deal with what it describes as the “devastating scale of attack on our region’s public services.”

Over the last quarter the employment rate has dropped 11,000 while economic inactivity is up 13,000.

Despite this the latest Claimant Count for August was 58,700, down 1,700 on the previous month and a 23,900 drop year-on-year.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Sept 2014

North East councils picked to pilot expansions of ‘troubled families’ scheme

North East councils have been picked to pilot an expansion of the Government’s scheme to help “troubled families”.

They were chosen for the because they are among authorities which have been successful with the existing troubled families scheme, according to the Government.

The programme is designed to help families which have problems with truancy, crime, anti-social behaviour or unemployment.

But it is to be expanded to include families which have suffered from domestic violence or poor mental and physical and health or debt. It will also be expanded to include children under five, whereas previously only school-age youngsters were included.

Gateshead, Newcastle, Durham and Middlesbrough are all to pilot the expanded scheme.

So far, Newcastle has “turned around” 652 families out of 1080 “troubled families” identified, according to official figures. This means it has helped the families deal with at least one of the problems facing them.

Durham has helped 676 out of 1,320 families, Gateshead has helped 301 out of 595 and Middlesbrough has helped 303 families out of 570.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “The Troubled Families Programme is an excellent example of how re-thinking public services can have a huge positive impact on the lives of families across the UK.”

The Department for Work and Pensions will provide 300 specialist troubled families employment advisers.

The troubled families programme was launched in 2011, following riots in the summer, when David Cameron vowed to turn around the lives of 120,000 problem families by 2015.

But a report last year by the National Audit Office raised concerns including the fact that only 62,000 families were currently in the programme nationwide, 13 per cent below the number that “might reasonably” have been found, and a family can be counted as being “turned around” if it shows improvement in just one area.

> Perhaps there just aren’t so many “problem families” as politicians would have us believe ?

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  19 Aug 2014

Universal Credit: Only 6,570 Claiming Iain Duncan Smith’s Flagship Benefit, DWP Figures Show

Figures released today (13 August 2014) by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that only 6,570 people were claiming Universal Credit by the end of May 2014.

The figure represents a tiny increase of just 570 people on the previous month and has risen by only 2,810 since December 2013.

 Over 6 in 10 of new claims for Universal Credit are for people aged under 25 and male claimants outnumber women by 7 to 3.

DWP figures also show that the number of ‘new starters’ has fallen from a high of 1,150 in January 2014 to a meagre 540 in May 2014. In total 8,500 people have ‘started’ on Universal Credit Between April 2013 and 31 May 2014.

Only 28 Jobcentre offices are currently delivering Universal Credit, over half of which will not yet be included in DWP statistics, however the DWP say that they will gradually roll-out the new benefit to more areas over the next few years.

> By years  they quite possibly mean decades

Source – Welfare News Service,  13 Aug 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/universal-credit-6570-claiming-iain-duncan-smiths-flagship-benefit-dwp-figures-show/

Police chiefs blame welfare cuts for rise in shoplifting

Police chiefs have blamed savage welfare cuts for a sharp rise in shoplifting figures.

Ron Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Durham, claims people are “stealing to live” after a 35 per cent rise in his force area in shoplifting cases.

Despite not having direct evidence to back up his claim, Mr Hogg says people are turning to crime as they do not have enough money to feed themselves after the Government’s welfare reforms.

He said: “Shoplifting is up 35 per cent year on year and an awful lot of people are stealing to live.

“We predicted this would cause massive problems for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

“With more welfare reform yet to be implemented the situation will only get worse.”

Mr Hogg’s claims were echoed by Barry Coppinger, the PCC for Cleveland, after a 7.3 per cent hike in his force area.

He said: “Deep and relentless welfare reforms have a knock-on effect on other crimes, particularly shoplifting, as families turn to the black market to buy food and items they can’t afford.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said there was no evidence linking reforms to increased crime.

He said: “Ending the spare room subsidy was absolutely necessary in order to get the soaring housing benefit bill under control, returning fairness to the system and making better use of social housing stock.

“These rules already applied to the housing benefit claimants in the private sector – introduced by the previous Government.”

A recent DWP report found 522,905 households were affected by the so-called bedroom tax by last August and nearly a fifth of claimants had registered an interest in downsizing.

More than half of claimants had cut back on household essentials, a quarter had borrowed money and three per cent had taken pay day loans.

Mr Hogg and Mr Coppinger advised people who have found themselves struggling financially to use credit unions.

Source – Hartlepool Mail,  07 Aug 2014

Benefit sanctions hit most vulnerable people the hardest, report says

Systematic problems in the way the government administers and imposes benefit sanctions, including disproportionate burdens on the most vulnerable, are revealed in a report commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The report found the way in which the DWP communicated with claimants was legalistic, unclear and confusing. The most vulnerable claimants were often left at a loss as to why benefits were stopped and frequently not informed by the DWP about hardship payments to which they were entitled, it said.

It also revealed serious flaws in how sanctions were imposed, with Work Programme providers required to send participants for sanctions when they knew they had done nothing wrong, leaving “claimants … sent from pillar to post”.

> Personal experience – I was sanctioned by the Work Programme for not attending an appointment that didn’t exist – in actual fact the appointment was  for the following week, which I did attend. Nevertheless, if I hadn’t appealed it (and won) the sanction would have stood.

The independent report was written for the DWP by Matthew Oakley, a respected welfare expert who is widely acknowledged as one of the leading thinkers on welfare on the centre right and as a result his criticisms, couched in careful language, are all the more damaging for a government that has consistently said the sanction regime is fair.

> This would be the very same Matthew Oakley who last year was pushing the idea of lower wages for regions like the North East. At that time he was talking as head of economics and social policy at the right wing “think tank” Policy Exchange. Just how independent a report he’s likely to produce is open to question.

His main recommendations, which have been accepted by ministers, are:

  • All correspondence with claimants, including its style and content, should be reviewed
  • Claimants must be given personalised information about why they have been referred
  • Clear information must be given about the appeals process and access to hardship payments
  • A guide to benefit sanctions must be easily accessible in hard copy and online
  • Claimants who need particular help in understanding letters must be identified and spoken to
  • People should get information through their “preferred channel
  • Procedures should be reviewed to ensure people have a clear understanding of their responsibilities

The DWP responded to the report by saying it would be updating the way it talked to benefit claimants, setting up a specialist team to look at all communications, including claimant letters, and working more closely with local authorities and advice centres to simplify the system.

Read more on this story in the Guardian and on BBC News

Read Matthew Oakley’s full report on the government website here

Source –  Benefits & Work, 23 July 2014

North East public sector strike news – 1

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

Work Programme: Bonuses Paid Even To Worst Performing Providers

Welfare-to-work providers will receive undeserved bonuses of up to £25m even though they have failed to hit government targets for placing people in to long term jobs, official auditors have found.

The National Audit Office has discovered that flaws in work programme contracts meant that the Department for Work and Pensions is obliged to make incentive payments to even the worst performing providers.

In a report released today, auditors also say the success rates of contractors has fallen. Around nine in every 10 claimants of employment and support allowance, who include many people with illnesses and disabilities, are failing to maintain a job.

The report is the latest damning assessment of Iain Duncan Smith’s £2.8 billion programme which has been beset with problems since its inception in 2011.

The amount paid out in bonuses from the public purse is likely to be around £31 million in 2014-15, whereas a measure of performance more dependent on results would have triggered payments of just £6 million, according to the report.

Flawed contractual performance measures mean the department will have to make incentive payments to even the worst performing contractors,” the report said.

Auditors said that the way the contracts were drawn up also made it more expensive to sack under-performing providers. When the Department for Work and Pensions decided it wanted to drop the Newcastle College Group, it was unable to argue it had breached its contract by failing to meet minimum performance levels and instead had to use a voluntary break clause to negotiate the termination costs.

Despite claims by ministers that the work programme would be an improvement on previous schemes, auditors found that the actual performance levels were very similar.

Performance for the harder-to-help groups was also below expectations with only 11% of claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) – paid to those with disability or long-term illness – finding work compared to a forecast of 22%, according to the report. The contractors’ own estimates showed they were now planning to spend 54% less on the harder-to-help groups than they were when they originally submitted their bids, auditors said.

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the public accounts committee which oversees the work of the NAO, expressed anger at the failure of the DWP to help those who needed it the most.

The work programme is absolutely critical to getting people, especially some of the most vulnerable in society, into work and helping to keep them there in the longer term,” she said.

Unusually, the report was not signed off by the DWP prior to publication on the grounds that it did not reflect its view of “the relevant facts”.

The department said that no incentive payments had been made so far, and that any future payments would be included in ongoing contract negotiations.

The work programme is helping more people than any previous employment programme and has already helped half a million people start a job and 300,000 into lasting work,” a DWP spokesman said.

The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), representing work programme providers, insisted the scheme was working well.

It’s quite an achievement that performance is the same level as predecessor programmes despite there being less cash in the scheme,” said ERSA chief executive Kirsty McHugh.

This article  was written by Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 2nd July 2014

Source – Welfare News Service,  02 July 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/work-programme-bonuses-paid-even-worst-performing-providers/