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
HMRC are to stop paying Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to people claiming to the new Universal Credit, it has been revealed.
Previously, when people were moved to Universal Credit their tax credits accounts with the HMRC would remain open until the end of the tax year.
Tax credit payments will now form part of a households total Universal Credit award. Those who have not yet been moved (claiming) Universal Credit will continue to have their tax credits paid by the HMRC.
The changes, revealed in October’s issue of the DWP’s Touchbase magazine, come into force from this month (October) and will affect all existing and new Universal Credit claimants.
From this month, the HMRC will begin contacting affected claimants to inform them that their tax credit payments will stop, and give details on what they need to do.
The DWP say that claimants who are already getting tax credits do not need to contact the HMRC, while they wait for the changes to affect them. But they must report any changes in their circumstances as soon as possible, to ensure they receive the correct amount within the Universal Credit system.
People will be moved to Universal Credit ‘at different times’ depending on where they live, their circumstances and what benefits they are currently claiming. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith recently announced plans to accelerate the roll-out of Universal Credit across the UK.
Tax credits will eventually be scrapped to form part of Universal Credit, as will a number of existing benefits including Housing Benefit and Income Support.
The HMRC is also changing the way it recovers overpaid tax credits. People who have been overpaid tax credit, largely due to HMRC blunders or accidental claimant error, may have their tax credit award reduced to repay outstanding debts. Depending upon a person’s circumstances this may include one or more previous claims.
Those affected will receive letters from the HMRC informing them of the overpayments. The amount deducted from their tax credit award could be as much as 25%. Those who have already made an arrangement to repay with the HMRC will not be affected.
Touchbase also reveals that Atos and Capita have employed more staff to increase the number of assessments they do for the new disability benefit, Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The reports used by assessors have also been improved, claim the DWP, and changes have been made to the PIP IT system. DWP say that PIP decision-makers have doubled their output since April 2014.
They also claim that disabled people will not have to wait more than 16 weeks for a PIP assessment by the end of 2014.
The news comes after charities and politicians raised concerns over a growing PIP assessment backlog.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 13 Oct 2014
Sick and disabled claimants are experiencing severe distress and some are even close to suicide due to botched disability benefit reform, an insider has revealed.
Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for Britain’s sick and disabled, but the assessment process which should take no longer than 26 weeks is sometimes taking twice as long.
The two companies are set to make £540 million from the new benefit in the next five years. Atos will receive the larger share of around £400 million, despite heavy criticism and a poor record in delivering ‘fit for work’ tests for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), while Capita will make roughly £140 million.
PIP can be claimed by sick and disabled people regardless of their employment status.
Under the new disability benefit PIP, claimants are required to attend face-to-face assessments to determine their eligibility and the level of benefit they will receive. The whistleblower claims that mismanagement, IT problems and staff shortages are to blame for a backlog of 145,000 cases.
While waiting to be assessed for PIP, many sick and disabled people are often left penniless and unable to pay their rent, because their DLA has been stopped, the whistleblower said.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, the whistleblower said:
“I’ve had people on the phone crying their eyes out and saying they are going to commit suicide.
“On one occasion I had to call an ambulance because they said they had stopped taking their medication. Some people have been going for months and months without money.”
“We’ve started getting calls from people saying their DLA will run out in a month’s time and they’ve not even got an appointment for an assessment.
“Others have been left with nothing because their DLA has been stopped. People have lost their home because they can’t pay their rent.”
She continued: “It’s a shambles. Day in, day out there are people ringing up to say, ‘Why is my appointment cancelled?’ I’ve seen appointments cancelled time and time again.”
According to the whistleblower, Capita call centre staff have been given instructions on what excuses to use when claimants ask why their PIP assessment has been delayed or cancelled. “I am having to lie on a daily basis about why things are taking so long”, she said.
Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper told the Daily Mirror: “By the autumn, we anticipate that no one will be waiting for an assessment for longer than 26 weeks.”
Capita said they would be hiring more staff to help reduce the backlog.
Source – Welfare News Service, 03 Aug 2014
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Sunday 15th June 2014
The proposal is one of a series from the Institute for Public Policy Research in its Condition of Britain report, to be published on Thursday, including a proposal for a “daddy month” – four weeks’ paternity leave on the minimum wage, a plan that would cost the taxpayer £150m. More than 400,000 working fathers a year would benefit.
The thinktank’s report, the product of two years’ research, is due to be launched by Ed Miliband. It will look at the social and economic problems facing the country and cover areas such as welfare, housing, childcare and improvements to social care, as well as handing more power to local councils.
The current legal entitlement for working fathers is paid at a flat rate of £138.18 a week – equivalent to just £3.45 an hour for a 40-hour working week, little more than half the minimum wage. The IPPR proposes that the statutory paternity leave entitlement should not only be extended but should be paid at least the national minimum wage, with employers also encouraged to bridge the gap between the statutory rate and the father’s actual pay.
Only 55% of fathers take the full two weeks off work when their child is born and a third do not take any of their statutory leave. Most say this is because they cannot afford to.
On the Work Programme, the report concludes that the scheme is especially failing mentally ill people, and the task of helping those on employment support allowance – the main disability benefit – to find work should be devolved to local authorities, with councils recouping some of the possible savings from the Department for Work and Pensions.
However, the report says private contractors should be left to find jobs for the mainstream long-term unemployed using a modified version of the current system of payments by results.
> So… get rid of the Work Programme, and replace it with something like the Work Programme ? And we all know how good private companies are at milking the system despite poor results… which brings us back to the Work Programme !
It says: “The Work Programme, while delivering acceptable results for the mainstream job seekers, is letting down those furthest from the labour market. Whilst one in five mainstream job seekers will find work through the Work Programme as few as one in 20 of those furthest from the labour market will.”
> 20% is delivering acceptable results ?
It also says those in areas of highest unemployment are receiving the least effective help.
It adds the “DWP has carved up the country between providers without any accountability to citizens or regard to local labour market conditions. Therefore for those out of work the system represents a postcode lottery in which success is determined not by individual effort but by geography.”
The report also says the government should offer a guaranteed six month minimum job paid at the minimum wage or above to anyone who has been unemployed and claiming job seekers allowance for more than 12 consecutive months.
> Or another work scheme, in other words. And after 6 months ?
The report will also set out plans to freeze child benefit to help fund a new network of children’s centres and extra free childcare, although it is understood that Miliband will reject this proposal.
Source – Welfare News Service, 15 June 2014
A benefits study in two Middlesbrough suburbs has revealed almost £100,000 of entitlements going unclaimed.
The project could now be rolled out across the town, ranked eighth across the country in the index of multiple deprivation, following the results of the ‘It’s your right to claim’ campaign.
Money experts spent a week in Coulby Newham and Hemlington in March when they spoke to 1,000 people which flagged up 52 potential new claims for help.
Along with a number of follow-up calls made to Middlesbrough Citizen Advice Bureau it is estimated that £93,200 in unclaimed benefits has been identified to assist these residents.
Councillor Tracy Harvey, Middlebrough Council’s executive lead for welfare reform, said: “It may well be that we have only scratched the service and we will now need to look at rolling this project out across Middlesbrough.
“This campaign is about removing any stigma attached to welfare and letting people know what their circumstances entitle them to.
“The amount of money we have found going unclaimed in such a short space of time is a real eye-opener and shows this is an important issue that we need to tackle.”
Latest statistics show 24 per cent of householders in the town claim disability benefit and 7.5 per cent are in receipt of Jobseekers’ Allowance.
John Daniels, Manager of Middlesbrough Citizen’s Advice Bureau, said: “Many people in Middlesbrough are finding it difficult to make ends meet.
“At a time when household expenses like gas and electricity seem to be constantly rising, it is important that local people receive all the income to which they are entitled. Campaigns like this are a useful way of ensuring that happens.”
> So that’s £93,200 in unclaimed benefits in just two areas of one town. Now extend this across the North East. Then across the rest of the UK…
Source – Northern Echo 02 May 2014
With Labour voting for the government’s bill to cap welfare spending, the debate on the welfare state has taken a decisively wrong turn. The issue is not the cap itself, its level, or even its design. The problem lies in the very way in which the welfare state is understood.
Even if one accepts the need for the cap, there are many problems with the way in which it is designed. Many people have rightly pointed out that the capping scheme is not as “recession proof” as it is portrayed. One defence of the bill offered by the government – and accepted by Labour as the key justification for its support – is that it exempts “cyclical” spending, such as unemployment benefit (now given the Orwellian name jobseekers’ allowance). But there are other elements of welfare spending that increase in economic downturns that won’t be exempt. For example, recessions may increase the need for disability benefit because more people are incapacitated due to the psychological and physical impact of unemployment, poor diet, and lack of heating.
Important though these criticisms are, the biggest issue is the very way in which the “problem” of the British welfare state has been defined and understood. The cap is based on the view that the UK needs “to prevent welfare costs spiralling out of control”, given the wasteful nature of such spending. This is not backed up by the evidence.
The British, having supposedly invented the modern welfare state (a debatable proposition), have the mistaken notion that they have an exceptionally generous welfare state, as evidenced by the widespread worries about “welfare scrounging” and “welfare tourism”.
However, measured by public social spending (eg income support, pensions, health) as a proportion of GDP, Britain’s is not much bigger than the OECD average; 24.1% against 22.1% as of 2009. And the OECD includes among its 34 members a dozen or so relatively poor economies – Mexico, Chile, Turkey, Estonia and Slovakia, for example – where the welfare state is much smaller for various reasons (eg younger population, weaker parties of the left).
Even when it comes to income support for the working-age population – the element targeted by the new bill – the UK is not a particularly generous place. In 2007 it spent 4.5% of GDP for the purpose. This was only slightly above the OECD average (3.9%) and way below other rich European economies: the figures were 7.2% for Belgium, 7% for Denmark, 6% for Finland and 5.6% for Sweden.
And it is not even as if the need for social spending goes away if you reduce the welfare state. For many British supporters of a smaller welfare state the role model is the US, which has a very small welfare state (considering its level of income), accounting for only 19.2% of GDP as of 2009. However, it has a huge level of private spending on social expenditure, especially medical insurance and private pensions, which is equivalent to 10.2% of GDP. This means that, at 29.4%, the US has total social spending that is almost as high as that of Finland, which spends 30.7% of GDP on it (29.4% public and 1.3% private). Moreover, if the cost is “spiralling out of control” anywhere, it is in the largely private US healthcare system, thanks to over-treatment of patients, rising insurance premiums and soaring legal costs.
Most importantly, the view that social spending is wasteful needs to be seriously challenged. The frequently used argument against the welfare state is that it reduces economic growth by making the poor workshy and the rich reduce their wealth creation, given the tax burden involved.
However, there is no general correlation between the size of the welfare state and the growth performance of an economy. To cite a rather striking example, despite having a welfare state that is 50% bigger than that of the US (29.4% of GDP as against 19.2% of GDP in the US, in 2009), Finland has grown much faster. Between 1960 and 2010 Finland’s average annual per capita income growth rate was 2.7%, against 2% for the US. This means that during this period US income rose 2.7 times while Finland’s rose by 3.8 times.
The point is that the welfare state – if well designed and coordinated with labour market policies to re-train people and get them back into work – can encourage people to be more accepting of change, thereby promoting growth. Firms in countries such as Finland and Sweden can introduce new technologies faster than their US competitors because, knowing that unemployment need not mean penury and long-term joblessness, their workers do not resist these changes strongly.
Most American workforces are not organised and thus incapable of resisting technological changes that create unemployment – but the minority that are organised, such as the automobile workers, resist them tooth and nail because they know that if they lose their jobs, they will not even be able to afford to go to hospital, and will find it extremely difficult to get back into the labour market at the same level.
The British debate on the welfare state needs to be recast. The false premise that the country has a particularly generous welfare state whose cost is spiralling out of control needs to be abandoned. The structural factors driving up welfare costs, such as ageing, should be accepted – rather than denied and so putting undue pressure on other elements of social services.
Above all, the debate should be redirected into reforming the welfare state in a way that promotes structural change and economic growth.
Source – Welfare News Service 28 March 2014