By Jenny Howarth
Chancellor George Osborne has delivered his fourth budget. It was clear from his opening gambit – “If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you” – that this budget would help the few and not the many. If you were not a ‘hard-worker’, business owner or saver then there would be no point in listening any further.
For Osborne, the budget was an opportunity to say that their long-term economic plan is delivering security for the people of this country. The emphasis was on support for businesses who invest and export, on support for manufacturers, on support for savers or rather making sure “hardworking people keep more of what they earn – and more of what they save” – all aimed towards the central mission: economic security for the people of Britain.
By the end of his 55 minute speech it was very clear that the economic security he spoke of was for the few not the many. He tried to convince people that his budget was for the “makers, doers and savers”, yet it came across as “I’m hoping to gain the over-50 vote”. He promised a budget of “hard truths” which could be implied as “if you think I’m going to help the unemployed, disabled and vulnerable then think again”.
Osborne’s budget was more ‘out of touch with reality’ than ‘hard truths’. He spoke of economic growth, a Britain on the road to recovery, even mentioning the new resilient pound coin to match the resilient economy. However, for thousands of families waking up the morning after the Budget, life is still a struggle. For them the budget was meaningless, doing nothing to improve their desperate situation and here is why.
Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:
“This is a Budget for the people who already have, not for the people who need to benefit most from the return to growth. It is a lost opportunity for the 13 million people in poverty who need active intervention to tackle the structural barriers that keep them in poverty”. Adding, “People on low incomes are unlikely to see the welcome benefits of growth unless there is targeted help with household and housing costs, with child care and with the nature of jobs and training. The expense and inefficiency of high levels of poverty continue to put a drag on growth”.
A view shared by other charities. William Higham, Save the Children’s director of UK poverty, said:
“The Budget was a missed opportunity to address the needs of families that are struggling to pay their food bill and children whose parents cannot afford to pay for uniforms and school trips”.
It is for these reasons, George Osborne’s fourth budget was a budget for the few. It failed to address the fact that living standards are falling – despite the 2010 Manifesto promising “An economy where…[people’s] standard of living…rises steadily and sustainably”. It failed to help the 350 000 reliant on food banks or the 400 000 disabled people paying bedroom tax. His “resilient pound for a resilient economy” ignores the fact that working people are £1600 worse off.
Osborne may believe that increasing personal tax to £10 500 will help improve living standards but whilst it lifts three million out of taxation, it does nothing for the many families who depend on housing benefit to top up the little wage they get. “The vast majority of this will be deducted from their benefits – giving with one hand while taking with the other”, says Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society.
Matthew Reed’s comment raises another important point – benefits. Osborne had nothing to say on this except to announce a cap on the welfare budget. This will see Tax credits and housing benefit limited to £119.5bn in a bid to cut the deficit. Critics say that this limit to benefit claims over the next four years will hit disabled people and the low paid without tackling the underlying causes of Britain’s growing social security bill.
Whilst it may appear to be political suicide by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls saying Labour will vote for the cap, it is not. According to Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the cap was simply a “gesture” and served no purpose other than to kick the “problem of spending cuts into the next parliament”.
For Portes it was “meaningless” to put a number on the cap without having policies in place to deliver it or to state how the cuts would be achieved. Adding that the charter would commit MPs to renewing the cap each year. “As Parliament already votes on measures to change social security budgets, this charter will not make much difference”.
It would appear that Osborne’s welfare cap charter is not new but something that already exists. It could be argued that whilst Labour is voting for it, there is plenty scope to amend the limit and bring in policies that would help not hit. Moreover, the question that needs to be asked is would a successive conservative government do that or would they continue with their long-term economic plan that they insist is bringing security to the people of Britain.
For now it would appear they are committed to helping the few, committed to bringing security to the hard-workers, business owners and savers. Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, says:
“Today’s Budget tries to lock-in austerity for millions of low-paid families, poor children, carer’s and disabled people. Announcing a cap for social security spending without a plan to address the root causes of low pay, high rents and high childcare costs, simply forces the most vulnerable in society to pay the price for inaction”.
Source – Welfare News Service, 20 March 2014
Latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claim that nearly a million people who applied for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have been found fit for work.
The figures released this week by the DWP claim that a third (32%) of new claimants for ESA were assessed as being fit to work and capable of employment between October 2008 and March 2013 – totaling 980,400 people. In addition, the figures also show that more than a million others withdrew their claims for ESA before being assessed for eligibility through a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). This can be because of individuals recovering and either returning to work, or claiming a benefit more appropriate to their situation.
The claim has come under criticism from Disability Campaigners. A Disability Rights UK (DRUK) spokesman, speaking to BBC News, said “They are finding people fit for work when they aren’t and they are not even giving them the support they need to get a job. It is a disgrace”.
Indeed many of those passed as ‘fit for work’ will not, in fact, be capable of entering the workplace in any meaningful sense due to physical or mental health problems.
However, Mike Penning, Minister of State for Disabled People disagrees, saying “As part of the Government’s long-term economic plan, it is only fair that we look at whether people can do some kind of work with the right support – rather than just writing them off on long-term sickness benefits, as has happened in the past. With the right support, many people with an illness, health condition or disability can still fulfil their aspiration to get or stay in work, allowing them to provide for themselves and their family.”
A second report from the DWP, also released this week, appears to support what Mike Penning says, as it shows that the number of successful appeals against being found “fit for work” has also fallen sharply. This would suggest that the WCA and the way it is conducted by ATOS Healthcare – both of which have come under heavy criticism – are gradually becoming fairer to disabled people. A DWP spokesman said there has been “significant improvements” to the WCA, which has become “fairer and more accurate”, supports this. Adding, “If it is more fair and accurate and people are moving onto the right groups then of course we would welcome that.”
His comments, will not ‘sit well’ with the many families who have lost loved ones following being found ‘fit to work’. Earlier this week, Welfare News Service, reported on how DWP statistics published 9th July 2012 show that in total, between January 2011 and November 2011 10,600 claimants died within 6 weeks of being declared fit for work by Atos.
Indeed, it would appear that this is something they wish to hide as they have refused Freedom of Information Requests for subsequent years – 2012 and 2013 – claiming it would be “vexatious”. Furthermore, his comments will bring little comfort to the Holt family. This week, The Mirror reported on how bipolar patient Sheila Holt, 47, was sectioned in December after being taken off Income Support.
Days later she had a heart attack and fell into a coma. Despite this, benefit assessors are still sending letters, with ATOS asking why she is not working.
Her dad Kenneth said: “It’s just not right what they have done. It sent my daughter hypermanic” adding “She hadn’t had a job for 26 years. Anyone who knew her would tell you she couldn’t do a job.”
Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, Littleborough and Milnrow said:
“I am in favour of welfare reform but trying to bulldoze through changes in a reckless and insensitive way is not the right way to go about it. This Government is causing a huge amount of damage and I have no doubt that Sheila’s story is being repeated in towns and cities up and down the country. She has a complex disability caused by severe trauma in her childhood and you cannot aggressively push vulnerable people, like Sheila, back into work because it can have, as we’ve seen, very serious health consequences.”
Consequences, which Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, appears to ignore. In a speech, described by DRUK as “more of the same old, same old”, he speaks of “a twilight world where life is dependent on what is given to you, rather than what you are able to create”, and pointed to the “falling numbers claiming the main out-of-work benefits”.
However, in the figures released by DWP, the opposite is true – at least for disabled people. In the first DWP report “early estimates” suggest that upto August 2013 there were 2,430,000 people claiming ESA and old-style incapacity benefit. Moreover, in November 2013 the figure had increased by 35000 to 2,465,000. However it is unclear if this trend will continue.
The second DWP report shows a continuing fall in numbers of claimants found ‘fit to work’ following a WCA. The figures range from a high of 65 per cent for those whose claims began in 2009 to 39 per cent for those whose claims started in the first quarter of 2013. In addition to this 39 per cent were placed in the support group and 23 per cent in the work-related activity group. The figures also show that there has been a significant drop in successful appeals against being found fit for work. Dropping from 41 per cent, for claims starting in early 2009, to 23 per cent for claims begun in the third quarter of 2012. The changes are suggested in the report, as being possibly caused by improvements made to the WCA by the coalition government in the wake of the independent reviews carried out by Professor Malcolm Harrington.
It would appear that the figures released by the DWP do not show people “languishing on welfare” as claimed by Iain Duncan Smith, nor do they appear to paint a picture of a social security system that he claims has become “distorted” under the previous Labour government and was too often an “entrapment – as it has been for a million people left on incapacity benefits for a decade or more”.
However, whilst the DWP still refuses to release figures showing how many have died within 6 weeks of being found ‘fit to work’ and stories, such as Shiela Holt, now in a coma after being found ‘fit to work’ are still being reported, maybe it is not “unnecessary fear” Labour is creating as Iain Duncan Smith says, as he mounts a renewed attack on Labour adding that the Conservatives will put further welfare changes at the heart of their 2015 election manifesto.
Source – Welfare News Service, 25 Jan 2014
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 ?