Secret Tory plans to slash sickness benefits for people unable to work have been leaked in a document, it has been reported today.
Tory ministers are considering slashing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) by as much as £30 a week, affecting thousands of sick and disabled people.
The move would see the value of ESA for this group of jobseekers falling from £102.15 a week to the same level as Jobseeker’s Allowance – £73.10 a week for jobseekers over the age of 25.
Work Capability Assessments (WCA) would also be overhauled and renamed “Employment Capability Assessments”, to “focus attention on work seeking, not benefit seeking”, reports the Daily Mirror.
Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit could spark a ‘substantial increase’ in the number of Britain’s poorest people hammered by benefit sanctions, according to a leading think tank.
Punitive and spurious benefit sanctions have become common place over recent years, with the poorest in society being pushed ever-further into poverty rather than supported and helped into work.
More than 686,000 desperate people saw their benefits slashed or removed in 2014, including 37,000 sick and disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Around 50% of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants referred for potential sanctioning in 2014 saw their benefit payments docked – an increase on previous years.
The ‘sanction rate’ in 2014 – the number of sanctions per month compared to the total number of claimants – stood at 5.1%, according to research from the New Policy Institute (NPI). This is a slight fall on 2013 levels, but still represents the second highest on record.
According to NPI’s research, a fall in the number of sanctions between 2013 and 2014 was mainly due to a reduction in JSA claimants and not because of ‘the system becoming less harsh’.
More than a quarter of sanctioned JSA claimants were disabled or lone parents, highlighting a lack of understanding and compassion for the ‘hardest to help’.
Sanctions against vulnerable people on employment and support allowance nearly doubled in Teesside in 2014.
A total of 865 sanctions were dished out across the 12,190 people in the ESA work related activity group in the Durham and Tees Valley jobcentre district last year.
This works out as 71 sanctions for every 1,000 claimants and is 81% up on the rate of 39.2 per 1,000 claimants in 2013.
This is a result of the number of people claiming that type of ESA decreasing at the same time as the number of sanctions being awarded dramatically increased.
In 2013, there were 515 sanctions issued and 13,130 claimants, according to the figures from the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Government must use the “hard lessons” it learnt from welfare reforms which caused “significant financial and human costs”, says the National Audit Office (NAO).
In a new report published today, the NAO criticised the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “important and high profile failings” in implementing an unprecedented number of welfare reforms and employment programmes.
The report says the Government “relied too heavily on uncertain and insufficiently challenged operating assumptions, and did not have a sufficient understanding of its portfolio of programmes or overall capacity.”
It adds that the DWP has a “high-level vision but needs to think more strategically when considering how reforms will work in practice.”
“The Department has thought too late about the management information and the leading indicators it needs to understand progress and performance”, says the NAO. “This meant the Department took several weeks to identify backlogs in Personal Independence Payment claims.”
Auditors credited the Government for responding well “to uncertainty”, but added that it “should be able to set out plans with specific timetables, costs and impacts and reflect where flexibility is needed.”
“They should also have clear processes for revising plans against changing circumstances or expectations”, says the NAO.
The NAO criticised the DWP’s initial handling of the Universal Credit. The NAO says the department “held too rigidly to fixed deadlines and now has adopted a more flexible approach. It will need to reconcile this approach with the requirement to monitor progress against milestones.”
In implementing a significant welfare reform programme, the DWP “relied too heavily on reacting to problems and has not been able to anticipate possible failings or establish the principal ways in which performance and progress can be measured”.
The NAO called on the Government to “plan more openly for the possibility of failure, and build an integrated view of portfolio risks and capacity”.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said:
“Any large portfolio of reforms will run into problems. The Department has shown a resolute approach to dealing with them. However, we think it has relied too much on dealing with difficulties as they emerge rather than anticipating what might go wrong.
“As a result it has had to learn some hard lessons with significant financial and human costs. It is important that the Department use these hard lessons to improve how it manages change and anticipates risk.”
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said the Government must learn from the mistakes of previous changes to welfare.
Citizens Advice has found that delays and problems with the delivery of reforms such as Employment and Support Allowance increased hardship and anxiety for many people. Last year we helped people with almost two million benefit issues, more than any other type of problem.
“As Ministers look to make further savings from the welfare budget it is important they fully understand the impact proposed reforms have on people’s lives.
The Government must be certain that further cuts won’t just shift costs away from the welfare budget and into other areas such as health and social care.
Changes to benefits can have a far-ranging impact on people’s lives, so any reforms need to delivered at a safe and steady pace.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 29 May 2015
The number of employment and support allowance claimants being hit by sanctions has increased by 25% in a single month, DWP figures released today reveal. The vast majority of sanctions are for failure to take part in work-related activities, often because claimants are too ill to do so.
The latest statistics, which run up to the end of December 2014, show that ESA sanctions have increased from 2,626 in November 2014 to 3,274 in December. This is the highest number of sanctions since May 2014.
Just 16% of sanctions were for failure to attend an interview. The other 84% were for failure to participate in work-related activity.
Previously released statistics show that a disproportionate number of ESA claimants who are sanctioned have a mental health condition or learning disability
Very often the failure to participate stems from the fact that the claimant was not able to undertake the activity, for example because their health condition meant they could not travel or they could not cope with attending a group activity at an unfamiliar venue.
The reality is that the work programme has primarily become a means to stop ESA claimants’ benefits rather than a method of helping people move closer to employment. Benefits and Work expects to see the sanctions numbers continue to rise over the coming months and years.
Source – Benefits & Work, 13 May 2015
The prime minister has announced that the new minister for disabled people is Justin Tomlinson, Conservative MP for North Swindon. Tomlinson has a strong anti-benefits and anti-human rights background.
Tomlinson has replaced Mark Harper, who is now the Conservative chief whip.
Tomlinson is a former national chairman of Conservative Future, the youth wing of the Conservative party and has been an MP since 2010.
He is a party loyalist, with a strong record of voting against the interests of sick and disabled claimants.
According to They work For You, Tomlinson:
- Voted strongly for of the bedroom tax
- Voted very strongly against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices
- Voted very strongly against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability
- Voted very strongly for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial need afford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such support
- Voted very strongly for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits
- Voted very strongly against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed.
Tomlinson also voted in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act.
His responsibilities a minister for disabled people include:
- cross-government disability issues and strategy
- Employment and Support Allowance, Work Capability Assessment and Incapacity Benefit Reassessment Programme
- disability benefits (Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment and Attendance Allowance)
- appeals reform
- fraud and error (including debt management)
Tomlinson has some interest in health issues, but does not seem to have shown any great interest in disability issues during his time as an MP.
Source – Benefits & Work, 12 May 2015
Plans to make the medical test for employment and support allowance (ESA) harder to pass and increase the amount of bedroom tax some claimants have to pay have been leaked to the Guardian.
The cuts documents drawn up by civil servants and seen by the Guardian, relate to ways that the benefits bill could be reduced if the government goes over the national spending cap for welfare benefits.
However, sources in the DWP told the Guardian that these are the same options that will be presented to Conservative ministers wanting to cut £12 billion from the benefit bill if they win the election.
The cuts include:
- Stricter fit for work tests or ‘tighter limits on eligibility’
- Increasing the bedroom tax on certain categories of renters
- Stopping under-25s from claiming ESA or housing benefit
- Freezing all benefits payments
The DWP documents also reveal that IDS has failed to meet his targets for cutting the cost of IB/ESA, DLA/PIP and housing benefit and that ‘welfare reform’ is not saving money. The only way to cut costs now, according to the papers is to make cuts, some of which have been rejected in the past by ministers, which are “very/highly/extremely controversial”.
Little wonder then, that the Conservatives don’t want to reveal them before an election.
You can read more in the Guardian
Source – Benefits & Work, 05 May 2015
George Osborne has refused to categorically rule out rolling child benefit into Universal Credit (UC) to help contribute towards Conservative plans to save £12 billion from the welfare budget.
The Chancellor was asked repeatedly to rule it out and did not, but said that if the Tories had wanted to include child benefit in the new welfare system, they would have done so when it was created.
The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said that scrapping child benefit and increasing UC for eligible families could save £4.8 billion a year.
But such a measure would mean that 4.3 million families who receive child benefit at the moment but would not be entitled to UC in the future would lose more than £1,000 a year, the IFS said.
At a Westminster briefing, Mr Osborne was asked to rule out rolling child benefit into UC.
The Chancellor replied:
“If you judge us on our approach in this parliament and if we wanted to put child benefit into Universal Credit, we would have done it when we set up Universal Credit.
“We have got a track record, we have got a plan that’s based on clear principles about making work pay and sharpening work incentives…”
Asked again to rule it out, Mr Osborne replied:
“I’ve just given you an answer. If we wanted to do it we would have done it when we created Universal Credit.”
Asked again, Mr Osborne said:
“I’ve given a very clear answer and you have to be a contortionist to think I’m not giving a pretty clear answer to that.”
The Conservatives’ plans for the next parliament involve saving £30 billion to contribute to deficit reduction, with £12 billion set to be cut from the welfare budget.
But the party has faced criticism from the IFS and Labour for failing to set out how it would achieve the majority – around £10 billion – of those welfare cuts.
The Chancellor said:
“If you look at our track record, the £21 billion we’ve saved in this parliament, you can look at principles we will apply to future such savings.
“We want to go on creating a welfare system which rewards work and the aspirations of families and protect the most vulnerable.”
Universal Credit is the coalition Government’s flagship welfare reform and simplifies the system by rolling a string of benefits and tax credits into one payment.
It is being rolled out in stages after being hit by delays and IT problems but will eventually take in jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit.
Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said Mr Osborne had put middle income families in the firing line.
The Labour frontbencher said:
“The Tories won’t admit where their £12 billion of welfare cuts will come from, but after this press conference it’s now clear middle income families are in the firing line.
“George Osborne repeatedly refused to rule out rolling child benefit into universal credit. This would mean 4.3 million families losing over £1,000 a year, according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies.”
Treasury Minister Priti Patel said rolling child benefit into UC was not Conservative policy.
She told BBC News:
“We’re very clear as well, we have made it clear and we’ve said that we need to find £12 billion of welfare savings but it’s not our policy, that suggestion, and that there are other ways in which we can find those savings.”
But Ms Patel would not be drawn on whether the Tories will pay child benefit only for the first two or three children.
Asked if it was a possibility, she said:
“I’m not going to come here and start talking the ins and outs of the spending review because that will all be for the next government.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said he was not surprised by Mr Osborne’s failure to rule out the move as he insisted the change would not feature in his own party’s manifesto.
Speaking in Newtown, Mid Wales, he said:
“It’s no surprise to me that the Conservatives are considering pretty dramatic changes like taking child benefit away from lots of families because they have committed to taking £12 billion away from some of the most vulnerable families in this country.
> And we’ve been helping them for the last five years…
“They have committed to taking the equivalent of £1,500 away from eight million of the poorest families in this country to balance the books; they are not asking the very wealthy, those with the broadest shoulders, to make a single contribution through the tax system in balancing the books.
“Even if they did what is now being floated by George Osborne, they would still have £8 billion or £9 billion to fund. Who are they going to affect next, those with disabilities?
“Which other vulnerable groups will be affected by this unfair plan from the Conservatives?”
Asked whether the Lib Dems would rule out the move, Mr Clegg said:
“Child benefit rolled into the Universal Credit will not be in our manifesto because we are not planning the very, very extensive reductions in support given to the most vulnerable in our society that the Conservatives are.”
> But if anyone’s interested we’ll sell our souls again. Cheaply.
Pressed on whether it would be a measure he would block in coalition as a red line issue, Mr Clegg said:
“There’s no way the Liberal Democrats would ever endorse, of course not, in government or in opposition an approach which takes £1,500 away from eight million of the most vulnerable families in Britain.”
Source – Northern Echo, o7 Apr 2015
Mental health campaigners have criticised new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) guidance, which could make it more difficult for women to claim sickness benefits than men.
New guidance issued by the DWP to healthcare professionals assessing people for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), suggests that men and women should be tested differently.
A man who has been diagnosed with mental health problems and in danger of self-harm or suicide may be assessed as having limited capability for work. Whereas a women in the same position could be asked to show additional ‘personal factors’, such as a family history of suicide, in order to receive ESA.
The Government says the advice has been issued because suicide is “more prevalent among men than women”.
However, campaigners say the new guidance is over-simplistic and added that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has already been heavily criticised over fairness and accuracy.
Carolyn Roberts from the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) warned that the changes were “potentially harmful” and urged the DWP to withdraw the advice.
“The Work Capability Assessment has already been heavily criticised for not being able to accurately assess mental health problems, with independent reviews recommending its assessors should have more experience in mental health”, she said.
“And while it is undoubtedly true that more men lose their lives to suicide than women, this looks like the addition of a blunt and unsophisticated method of assessment to a system that is already failing people with mental health problems. SAMH calls on the DWP to withdraw these new rules.”
Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at mental health charity Mind, said the charity is “seeking further clarification from the DWP on the reasoning behind this decision, which massively oversimplifies the issues around suicidal thoughts, feelings and actions”.
He added: “Although men account for around three-quarters of all suicides, this doesn’t tell the whole story as attempted suicides are not taken into account.
“There is still a huge lack of understanding within the welfare system around mental health and we want to see greater expertise on mental health and the impact it can have on somebody’s ability to work.”
The DWP said the guidance is included in a handbook given to health professionals who assess sick and disabled people for ESA and should not be regarded as “hard and fast rules”.
They added: “In the subject areas covered by the guidance there are some differences between men and women – for example, men have higher suicide rates than women – and the way the guidance is written is designed to take that into account.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 06 Apr 2015
Iain Duncan Smith yesterday warned that claimants face “dramatic”, “life-changing” cuts if the Conservatives win the election. He refused to rule out cutting disability benefits and the support group, whilst explaining that the Conservatives “may not decide that it’s relevant” to tell people prior to the election where the cuts will be made.
In an interview on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday, IDS gave what many sick and disabled claimants will view as a chilling warning that:
“I didn’t come into this job after years looking at this to just make cheese paring cuts.”
Instead, he said, he wanted to do things that will have a “life changing, dramatic effect, and that is about getting people back to work and improving their life chances.”
The ‘back to work’ reference appears to be a clear warning that employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants are in the firing line of any ‘dramatic’ changes.
This is especially the case as Jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) is expected to cost just £2.39 billion in 2016-17, when the cuts come in, compared to £14.47 billion for ESA. So cuts to JSA would go nowhere near meeting the £12 billion in welfare savings the Conservatives have said they will make in just two years.
But cuts to ESA would still not go far enough and IDS refused to rule out an attack on disability benefits as well. He argued that:
“Throughout all of my changes, we have protected the most disabled, we have kept disability benefits out of the freeze and we’ve supported the support group.”
But when Marr asked: “Will that continue?”
IDS would only respond that:
“Well, as I said, as and when the time is right, we will make it very clear what our position is.”
“When we’re ready”
Unfortunately for voters, IDS repeatedly made it clear that the right time to reveal their plans may not be until after the election, saying that “when we’re right and when we’re ready, we will talk about what we plan to do.”
When specifically asked by Marr:
“Will they know before they vote what you plan to do?”
“Well you know we may, we may not decide that it’s relevant to put something out there about some of those changes.”
No decisions made yet
In fact, according to IDS it would be impossible for the Conservatives to reveal their plans to voters because, in spite of warning for two years that they planned to make £12 billion in benefits cuts, no decisions have been made yet about what to cut.
“I can tell you now no decisions have been made. As and when decisions are made, of course we will be very open to the public.”
Improved quality of life
Perhaps the most alarming claim made by IDS was that his time at the DWP has resulted in an improvement in people’s lives:
“And I’ve said that these changes would improve the quality of lives, and I have to tell you right now our welfare reforms have improved the quality of life for the vast majority of the British people and also saving taxpayers’ money – which is the key point.”
Sick and disabled claimants have already been hit by the bedroom tax, the switch from DLA to PIP, the time-limiting of contribution-based ESA, changes to council tax, changes to the way benefits are uprated and more.
The prospect of IDS spending another five years improving their lives may ensure a very high turnout of claimants on May 7th.
Source – Benefits & Work, 30 Mar 2015