The shocking extent of the number of sick and disabled benefit claimants having their benefits cut, through the use of sanctioning, has been revealed in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
According to the response from the DWP, 172,750 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants were referred for potential sanctioning between October 2008 and June 2013. Of those referrals, 76,300 received an adverse decision, meaning their sickness benefits were cut or stopped completely. 11,600 of those benefit sanctions were in Greater London alone.
On 3 December 2012 the DWP introduced a new system for sanctioning claimants which is described by the DWP in the FOI as a ‘sanctions regime’. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith has repeatedly denied accusations that Jobcentre staff are being pressurised to sanction benefit claimants through the use of ‘targets’, and yet the FOI shows that the changes to the ‘sanctions regime’ has led to a startling 45,480 ESA claimants being threatened with the removal of their sickness benefit between December 2012 and June 2013. 11,400 of those people received an ‘adverse decision’, the DWP admitted.
Perhaps the most startling statistic revealed in the FOI is the revelation that 85% of ESA claimants who had their benefits axed or slashed under the new ‘sanctions regime’ have NEVER been sanctioned before. The figure rises to 89% for Greater London. This calls into question the DWP claim that sanctions are only ever used as a ‘last resort’ and only when benefit claimants repeatedly fail to ‘participate in work related activity’, which includes ‘failure to participate in the Work Programme’.
The coalition government’s Work Programme has been accused of failing sick and disabled people with only 6.8% of ESA claimants referred to the programme finding long-term employment, according to a report by the Guardian. The Work Programme has been estimated to cost the public between 3-5bn over five years.
Figures show that the use of benefit sanctions has soared under the coalition government, with the Guardian newspaper reporting last year that the new ‘sanctions regime’ had led to 600,000 jobseeker’s having their benefits slashed in just five months.
The news that sick and disabled people are also now being targeted for draconian benefit sanctions will be seen by some as not only cruel and callous but also totally unjustified. Particularly when we take into account the undeniable truth that ESA claimants have some of the biggest barriers to employment – including but not limited to mental health issues, disabilities, poor physical health and other issues – drastically reducing their employability and work capability at a time when there are still an average of five unemployed people chasing every single job vacancy in the UK. The majority of which may be fit and healthy and arguably more ‘appealing’ to employers.
Gail Ward from the Facebook campaign group Grassroots Welfare responded angrily to the revelation by saying:
“The brutality of the sanctions affecting those claimants on ESA are at unacceptable high . We have been informed by JCP staff that they are subject to targets by their managers. What is not clear is who is setting the targets, the DWP state there are no targets, the JCP say they are set targets or face disciplinary action for failing to achieve them, both sides blame the other.
“Daily in our work we are being told by claimants they were sanctioned because they did not attend an interview when the claimants claim they never received any letters advising them to attend JCP. Some are sanctioned because they arrived late due to travel problems, regardless of mode of transport used.
“These people live in the most fragile circumstances, leaving them with arrears on rent and bills and relying on Doorstep Loans/Credit Cards to survive until the decision to reinstate benefit is resolved. Where benefit is denied they are thrown into [the] abyss of debt for a number of years resulting in some losing their homes. Some are left unable to pay for care packages they need to function on a daily basis.
“The workfare programme is a cruel regime for those who are already at a disadvantage in seeking employment and the barriers that they face from employers, even in cases where it is clear that they have ‘fit/sick notes’ to state they are unable to participate reliably in the workplace due to sickness and disability, they are forced onto the programme because decision makers have decided otherwise. This clearly cannot continue.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of the grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), added:
“DPAC are getting more and more emails from disabled people who have been sanctioned for ridiculous offences, such as being 5 minutes late for an appointment when travelling by public transport or for going to a job interview even though they had informed DWP beforehand.”
Source – Welfare News Service 10 Feb 2014
Vulnerable children and adults with disabilities or high support needs may be forced to pay the Bedroom Tax, despite protestations to the contrary by Lord Freud, after it was revealed that creating more protections would cause ‘political embarrassment’.
Current rules mean some supported housing is protected from the Bedroom Tax, benefit cap and the effects of Universal Credit (if a working version ever arrives) – but this accommodation is not exempted if the landlord is not the care provider or when the landlord is a local authority.
This means that, for example, supported housing provider Habinteg has 1,200 wheelchair-accessible properties for the disabled – but only 516 of them are exempt from the benefit changes.
Lord Freud, who is minister for social security reform, said last April that the DWP was working to ensure all supported accommodation would be protected from what he called the “unintended consequences” of the government’s…
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Universities and colleges in the North East could be stripped of millions of pounds in funding used to give students from poorer backgrounds a fairer chance of getting a degree.
The cash is at risk because the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for higher education, needs to make savings of £1.4bn.
Teesside University currently receives £5.9m each year, the University of Northumbria at Newcastle receives £3.5m, University of Sunderland receives £3.3m, University of Newcastle upon Tyne receives £1.1m, University of Durham receives £660,000, Newcastle College receives £959,00 and New College Durham receives £637,000.
The money, known as Student Opportunity funding, is allocated to universities and higher education colleges which succeed in attracting students from neighbourhoods where few people have traditionally taken part in higher education.
It also goes to institutions which succeed in retaining students who would statistically be more likely to drop out, and to those that recruit students with disabilities.
Leaked documents have revealed that the Department for Business is looking for ways to save £570m this year and a further £860m after the election.
Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is reported to be pushing for Student Opportunity funding to be abolished, while Business Secretary Vince Cable and Higher Education Minister David Willets are lobbying to keep it.
Asked to comment on the reports, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said in a statement: “The Department is going through the process of allocating budgets for 2014-15 and 2015-16 and will set out plans in the usual way.”
Prof Peter Fidler, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sunderland, was one of nine university leaders across the country to write a public letter warning: “The removal of this fund will damage economic growth and have a wider impact on sectors beyond higher education.”
The letter said that axing the fund “suggests that the Government is willing to abandon the cause of social mobility in higher education.”
The future of the fund was raised in the House of Commons by Labour’s Shadow Higher Education Minister Liam Byrne as MPs discussed funding for engineering students. He said: “On top of the huge cuts for educating 18-year-olds in college, we now hear rumours that the student opportunity fund that helps poorer future engineers will be completely axed.
“Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to promise the House that he will not sacrifice social mobility to pay for the chaos in his Department’s budget?”
In reply, Business Secretary Vince Cable highlighted £400m in funding for science, technology, engineering and maths courses – but did not comment on the future of the Student Opportunity Fund.
The National Union of Students has launched a campaign to preserve the funding.
Toni Pearce, NUS president, said: “Cutting the Student Opportunity Fund is an absolute disgrace and, in the wake of cuts to the National Scholarship Programme, looks like the Government is backtracking on its commitment to support social mobility in favour of balancing the books on the backs of the poor.”
Mr Byrne said: “The Department for Business budget is a complete mess because high paying students at private colleges got access to the state student loan system. Now it looks like help for poorer students will be axed to pay for it.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 25 Jan 2014