A scandalous picture of suffering, trauma and destitution is painted by a former Work Programme adviser who was tasked with getting claimants off the employment and support allowance (ESA) sickness benefit.
Speaking to the press for the first time since she quit the job last year, Anna Shaw (not her real name) says:
“Some of my clients were homeless, and very many of them had had their money stopped and were literally starving and extremely stressed. Many had extreme mental health conditions, including paranoid schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder and autism.
One guy [diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and homeless] came to see me for the first appointment and mentioned that he had not eaten for five days. I offered him my lunch, thinking he would refuse it out of pride, and he fell upon it like a wild animal. I’ve not seen a human being eat like that before.”
Shaw can only speak out anonymously, because when she resigned, after just a few months in the job, her employer made her sign a confidentiality clause.
She believed that the majority of her ESA caseload of about 100 clients were not well enough to have been on the government’s welfare-to-work Work Programme, but should instead have been signposted to charities that could support them with their multiple problems.
“Almost every day one of my clients mentioned feelings of suicide to me,” she says. Shaw says she received no training in working with people with mental health issues or physical disabilities.
Under the government’s welfare reforms, Shaw’s clients would have completed a controversial test, called the work capability assessment (WCA), currently conducted by contractor Atos, and been placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of ESA because they were judged capable of working, albeit with appropriate support.
Shaw’s employer was subcontracted by one of the 18 “prime providers” the government pays to implement its Work Programme to get jobless people into employment. However, Shaw says she was never given a copy of her clients’ WCA, which details their health conditions, so it was difficult to provide the support they needed.
Shaw thinks many of her ESA claimants wanted to work, but the “fundamental issues” – their physical and mental disabilities, often coupled with situations such as homelessness or domestic abuse – were not dealt with.
“Every person who came in needed specialist help on a whole range of things, and to be supported, not under imminent threat of losing their benefit the whole time.”
She believes many of her clients had been wrongly assessed as fit to work. “I had a woman with multiple sclerosis who had been domestically abused and was suffering from very severe depression and anxiety, and she had a degenerative condition and she was deemed fit for work,” she says. “I gave people advice under the radar about how to appeal … but it was absolutely not in our remit to encourage people to appeal.”
The most recent government figures (to June 2014) show that only 2% of longer-term ESA claimants find sustained employment. Independent research by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion has found that disabled people are about half as likely to find employment as non-disabled people. Last week, a report suggested that officials were considering cutting ESA, which is paid to around 2 million people, by as much as £30 a week as the chancellor, George Osborne, seeks a £12bn cut in the welfare bill.
Shaw says she was expected to enrol claimants on back-to-work courses.
“It was very much ticking boxes. My managers were just obsessed with compliance with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). We would be penalised as an organisation if we didn’t sanction people who failed to show up… but with ESA they realised there was very little chance of getting these people into work. They were kind of parked.”
In the past year, sanctions for ESA claimants who fail to turn up for interviews with their job adviser have increased more than sevenfold. In each case, claimants lost at least one week of their benefit money, even if they said they were too ill to get to an appointment.
“One minute we had to sanction and the next minute we were told absolutely not to sanction,” says Shaw. “I think this was in response to [hostile coverage to sanctions in] the press… so the advice was given that we weren’t sanctioning them but we weren’t to let them know we weren’t sanctioning them… so they would come for appointments.”
According to one of Shaw’s former colleagues who is still working for the organisation, sanctioning has intensified.
“She said: ‘It’s got a lot worse since you left and now we’re having to sanction all the ESA claimants if they don’t turn up for appointments,’” says Shaw.
Two months ago, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, stated that the WP “revolutionises the way we provide support to those who are the hardest to help, supporting a move from dependency to independence and getting people into work so that they have financial security for the future”.
But Shaw’s revelations contradict the ministerial architect of welfare reform. She says:
“I felt that my job was really a non-job and as long as I ticked the boxes, they didn’t really care what I did with them… but they missed the point that these were actually human beings that I was coming into contact with, and going home every night wondering if these people were still alive.”
Shaw’s claims are backed up by a recent report, Fulfilling Potential, compiled by a WP client, Catherine Hale , with support from Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Of the 500 people on ESA who responded to an online survey, 82% said their WP provider made no effort to adapt jobs on offer or make it easier for them to work. Only 7% said their adviser had a copy of their WCA.
A spokesman for the DWP says Work Programme providers “have the freedom to design any work-related activity so it is appropriate to the person’s condition”, and the DWP “offers more money to providers for helping the hardest-to-help groups into work, such as people on ESA”.
But there is no breakdown of how much of the £1.37bn WP expenditure from June 2011 to 31 March 2014 was spent on helping ESA claimants. He insists that sanctions are “used only as a last resort” and “about 99% of ESA claimants don’t get a sanction”. He adds that the DWP is looking at how to share information about clients’ medical conditions with WP advisers.
Source – The Guardian, 05 Nov 2014
Benefit sanctions can lead to a spiral of decline and potentially destitution, often getting in the way of people getting back to work, according to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee.
In its report Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck?, the committee refers to a climate of fear around jobcentres rather than one that encourages people to engage with them and find their way back to work.
Evidence presented showed that the loss of income that sanctions can lead to is now twice the maximum that can be imposed in fines by the courts.
The report identifies a number of weaknesses in the current system –
- a consistent failure to notify people that they are being sanctioned and why;
- a lack of flexibility and misapplication of sanctions reducing the likelihood of people finding work;
- a failure to appreciate that many people on benefits do not have the necessary IT skills at day one to utilise the DWP’s Universal Jobmatch facility or other IT technology;
- a failure to make those sanctioned aware of the availability of hardship payments;
- the consistent triggering of a stop in housing benefit as a result of a sanction, which should not happen and can lead to significant debt being incurred even for a minor sanction;
- the lack of a deadline for decision-making on DWP reconsiderations leading to delays in redressing wrong decisions; and
- the shunting of the costs of dealing with sanctioned claimants onto other agencies: local authorities, health board, third sector agencies etc.
Noting that four in ten decisions to apply a sanction are overturned, the report calls for a review of the current regime and makes several recommendations for change.
Commenting on the report, Committee Convener Michael McMahon said:
“The system is so broken that many people do not know why they have been sanctioned, which totally undermines the DWP assertion that sanctions ‘teach’ people a lesson.
“How many of us could manage if we did not get paid one week, without any notice or often explanation?
“This demonstrates once again the enormous gulf between reality and DWP thinking.”
Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck? is available from scottish.parliament.uk
Source – Benefits & Work, 12 June 2014
This year’s five reasons for child poverty are predictably unemployment, along with low levels of qualifications, single parent families, having more than three children and ill health. Such is Iain Duncan Smith’s desperation to blame children being poor on anything other than not having enough money that this is his fourth re-definition of poverty in just three years. Previous reasons for poverty, which included step-parents, mothers with mental health problems, being disabled, and of course drugs, no longer make the top five.
The main thrust of the latest strategy is to tackle what is repeatedly referred to as ‘worklessness’ – as if raising children requires no effort at all. The measures to combat this great social ill – which can mean parents spending time raising their…
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When David Cameron stands up in all his hypocrisy and tells you that tearing apart the basic safety net that guaranteed people would not be left in hunger or destitution is part of his “moral mission”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the country has taken a turn for the worse.
When he defends an administration that has become so punitive that applicants who don’t get it right have to wait without food for months at a time, by claiming he is doing “what is right”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the man who claims he is Prime Minister has diverged from reality.
That is precisely what he has done, and you can bet that the Tory diehards will quietly go along with it because they think it is far better for other people to lose their lives than it is for their government to lose face.
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Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric has accused the Coalition of leaving increasing numbers of people facing “hunger and destitution”.
Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said that while the need to reduce spending on benefits is widely accepted, the Government’s reforms have now destroyed even the “basic safety net”.
Archbishop Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the welfare system had also become increasingly “punitive”, often leaving people with nothing for days on end if they fail even to fill a form in correctly.
He said it was “a disgrace” that this was possible in a country as rich as Britain.
His intervention comes as he prepares for a Consistory in Rome where he will receive a red Cardinal’s hat from Pope Francis.
The Archbishop’s criticism will be felt acutely by the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who is a practising Roman Catholic.
Last year Mr Duncan Smith accused Church of England bishops who criticised aspects of the reforms of ignoring the concerns of ordinary people.
“People do understand that we do need to tighten our belts and be much more responsible and careful in public expenditure,” said the Archbishop.
“But I think what is happening is two things: one is that the basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart.
“It no longer exists and that is a real, real dramatic crisis.
“And the second is that, in this context, the administration of social assistance, I am told, has become more and more punitive.
“So if applicants don’t get it right then they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks with nothing – with nothing.
“For a country of our affluence, that quite frankly is a disgrace.”
The Archbishop is one of 19 senior clerics from around the world chosen by Pope Francis to be elevated to the highest rank of Roman Catholic clergy. It grants him a place in the secret Conclave which will elect the next Pope.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The benefits system this Government inherited was broken, trapping the very people it was designed to help, with around five million on out of work benefits and millions of children growing up in workless households.
“Our welfare reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with Universal Credit making three million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.
“It’s wrong to talk of removing a safety net when we’re spending 94bn a year on working age benefits and the welfare system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.”
> The Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson’s nose suddenly grew to an unfeasible length – an occupational hazard for those tasked with defending the DWP.
Source – Telegraph 14 Feb 2014
Reblogged from Another Angry Voice (he’s from Yorkshire, he calls a spade a spade and I like his style!)
One of the big mysteries in politics is why so many right-wing people support Iain Duncan Smith’s Stalinist Workfare schemes, which are designed to force people (under threat of absolute destitution) to give away their labour for free, often to highly profitable foreign corporations.
There are many glaringly obvious complaints that the right-wing thinker should have against these economically illiterate schemes, yet the typical Tory voter tends to enthusiastically support Workfare. First I’ll look at the big reasons that right-wing people should be highly suspicious of Iain Duncan Smith’s Workfare schemes, then I’ll try to consider the reasons that they might over-look these problematic factors in order to convince themselves that Workfare is a good idea, or even to actively propagandise in favour of mandatory unpaid labour schemes.
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The UK unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since 2009, official figures show.
At 7.4%, this is the lowest rate since the February-to-April period in 2009, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The number of people out of work fell by 99,000 to 2.39 million in the three months to October, the ONS said.
The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in November fell by 36,700 to 1.27 million.
In Northern Ireland the unemployment rate was slightly higher at 7.5%, while Scotland’s figure was 7.1.%. England and Wales matched the national figure of 7.4%.
The North East of England had the highest unemployment rate, at 10.1%, while the lowest rate was 5.6% in the East of England.
The North East also had the highest claimant count rate at 6.1%, compared with the South East, which had the lowest, at 2.3%.
Employment Minister Esther McVey wasn’t slow to grab the credit – “It is really encouraging news that the number of people in jobs has increased by a quarter of a million in the last three months, bringing the total number of people in work to a record-breaking 30 million.
“Together with a big fall in unemployment, this shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan to get people off benefits and into work is proving successful.
“It’s also thanks to British businesses up and down the country who are feeling increasingly confident about taking on workers. This is a great sign that the economy is growing.”
Good of her to give a mention to the businesses employing people – “It’s also thanks to British businesses up and down the country” – you might have thought that it’s entirely thanks to them.
Or would you ? Perhaps, against all probability, there is actually some truth to be found in her statement – “this shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan to get people off benefits and into work is proving successful”.
Now if you were to amend that to – “this shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan to get people off benefits is proving successful” you might be getting closer to the truth.
“Latest figures show Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants who failed to do enough to find work had their benefits payments suspended 580,000 times.” – https://www.gov.uk/government/news/benefit-sanctions-ending-the-something-for-nothing-culture
The government’s propaganda site was quick to trumpet their “success” a few months ago.
Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, commenting on the above statement:
‘Figures published today show that half a million people face the threat of destitution as their benefits are taken away in a bid to mould behaviour and encourage people to take jobs.
International evidence is that while conditionality, has its uses, it is a blunt and uncertain instrument for driving behaviour. In the US the evidence is that people disappear below the radar altogether, which may recue the claimant count but creates huge risk.
’The threat of destitution is a poorly evidenced high risk way of trying to influence the behaviour of the poorest people in the country.’
Vanishing under the radar – that’s all part of the government’s long-term economic figure-manipulating plan. It’s not about tax payers money being saved – Jobseekers Allowance payments only amount to around 3% of the budget. Almost three times that – around 8% – is paid in benefits to those IN work.
Consider the words of a Job Centre whistleblower – from 2011, and its got worse since…
A whistleblower said staff at his jobcentre were given targets of three people a week to refer for sanctions, where benefits are removed for up to six months. He said it was part of a “culture change” since last summer that had led to competition between advisers, teams and regional offices.
“Suddenly you’re not helping somebody into sustainable employment, which is what you’re employed to do,” he said.
“You’re looking for ways to trick your customers into ‘not looking for work’. You come up with many ways. I’ve seen dyslexic customers given written job searches, and when they don’t produce them – what a surprise – they’re sanctioned. The only target that anyone seems to care about is stopping people’s money.
“‘Saving the public purse’ is the catchphrase that is used in our office … It is drummed home all the time – you’re saving the public purse. Feel good about stopping someone’s money, you’ve just saved your own pocket. Its a joke.”
Unfortunately a not very funny joke, with a punchline that causes real damage.
“We were told suddenly that [finding someone to sanction] once a week wasn’t good enough, we were far behind other offices, and we went to a meeting where they compared us with other offices, and said we now have to do three a week to catch up. Most staff go into work and they’re thinking about it from moment one – who am I going to stop this week?”
“The young often fall into it, because they haven’t been there long enough, they are generally a major target. The uneducated are another major target. I’ve seen people with … seriously low educational standards and it’s easy to exploit them.”
He said staff had different ways to ensure they could stop benefits for a set amount of people.
“So, for example, if you want someone to diversify – they’re an electrician or a plumber, they may not want to go into call centres or something. What you do is keep promoting such and such a job, and you pressure them into taking it off you, the piece of paper. Then in two weeks you look at the system, you ask them if they applied for it … they say no – you stop their money for six months.”
The whistleblower says his office has been told there is no more money for back to work training from April. “From April, we offer no provision … nothing, no training course, nothing. The funding ends at the end of March.
“[Now] your office can shine through one of two targets. You can either shine through getting people into work, but that’s really difficult. Or you can stop their money, and that’s really easy.”
Well, that was 2011. Things have got worse as it becomes ingrained in the DWP culture. One perceptive reader of the above Guardian article wrote at the time :
” At some point Osborne or Cameron will triumphantly brandish figures about how many ‘scroungers’ they cut off from benefits. Remember, this is how they did it.”
Anyone hearing Cameron in the media yesterday might like to consider that.
And its going to get worse yet – consider an article published a few days ago on the Boycott Workfare site –
100,000 people given historic sanctions
In August 2012 it was ruled in the high court that the letters given to claimants mandating them onto workfare schemes of up to 780 unpaid hours did not communicate to people what was required of them on these schemes. This meant all the sanctions that had been awarded through a range of different workfare schemes were unlawful and had to be repaid. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) went about appealing this ruling, but in February 2013 the decision was upheld.
After this the DWP rushed through the retrospective Jobseekers (Back to Work) Act, making the unlawful withdrawal of benefits from an estimated 179,000 people now apparently legal – although obviously this Act did not change the fact that people were not fully aware of what was required of them at the time.
This Act was supported by the Labour Party and deprived people who would have suffered significant hardship of a total of £130 million that was unlawfully stolen by the government.
It now turns out that the cruelty of this Act did not stop there. Since the first court case decision in August 2012 they had stopped sanctioning for cases that would be affected by the courts decision, and had started to stockpile these decisions. The introduction of the Jobseekers (Back to Work) Act allowed them to start sanctioning all these stockpiled sanctions. At the time they rushed through the act 63,000 sanctions had been stockpiled, and by the time they started to sanction people in July 2013 this could have reached over 100,000 sanctions.
Over the last 3-6 months people have been notified of these sanctions with letters such as the one shown. As can be seen there can be a year long gap between the alleged event and you being notified of the sanction making it almost impossible to appeal as it is unlikely you have knowledge of what you did on that day (and neither do the work programme providers!).
Not only were all 3 main political parties involved in depriving the poorest people of £130 million that was rightfully theirs, but are now chasing another 100,000 claimants for money through these historic sanctions with little hope of claimants forming a strong case of appeal. All benefit sanctions are wrong, but this retrospective law shows how happy the government are to even sanction illegally – as they’ll just change the law later and sanction people a year down the line.
You wonder that the unemployment rates seem to be falling ? Even though there are apparently no more vacancies than before, still masses of empty shops and factories and the local media continues to report job losses on an almost daily basis ?
Do you wonder why, in Parliament, Labour MPs failed to ask questions about the role of sanctions in the supposed improved figures ?
Or why, on the day the figures were released, the Sunderland Echo – hardly a radical publication – headlined with Bleakest Times For The City’s Homeless ?
Come April 2014 and the introduction of compulsory workfare – allied to all those retrospective sanctions they’re currently harvesting – you can just bet those figures will be tumbling yet again.
Please remember why… someone, somewhere, perhaps even you, will have been sacrificed on the altar of political ambition.
Does that dull the feelgood factor perhaps just a little ?