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.
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 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
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
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been ordered to disclose details into deaths related to coalition welfare reforms, it has been revealed.
DWP officials have been told that they must disclose the number of Incapacity Benefit and ESA claimants who have died between November 2011 and May 2014.
The ruling was made by the information commissioner following a formal complaint from blogger Mike Sivier, who runs and operates the website Vox Political.
So far, the DWP has refused to publish details into at least 49 benefit related deaths it has admitted to have investigated.
In his ruling, the Commissioner states:
“It appears … that the DWP has had reasonable time to prepare for publishing [the] information and that disclosure was not so novel or unusual given the previous requests and disclosures made.
“DWP have not supplied any detailed or convincing evidence about the time needed and what preparation would need to be undertaken during this time or what the specific impact of disclosure would be… The DWP has previously published similar information.”
The decision notice continued:
“It is not reasonable for the DWP, having had enough time to extract the information and prepare internally for publication, to seek further time to provide the information requested.
“The Commissioner also finds that delaying publication is not reasonable in light of the requests DWP have received from the public and the fact that the previous statistics published were around two years old at the time of the request.”
Mr Sivier said he had first asked for information on benefit-related deaths in the summer of 2013:
“It was almost a year after the DWP had published an ‘ad hoc’ report entitled Incapacity Benefits (Deaths of Claimants).
“That document stated that 10,600 people had died between January and November 2011, while claiming benefits that should have helped them survive with a reasonable quality of life.
“Some of those people may have died because of their conditions, but evidence that has become available since suggests that many died due to the stress of constant reassessment by an unsympathetic government department that was determined to clear as many people off its books as possible, no matter what the health risks might be.”
“I knew that other FOI requests had been made in November 2012 – a year after the last date covered in the ‘ad hoc’ report – but they had been refused.
“When I made my request in June 2013, I publicised it via my website, Vox Political, and asked for others to submit a similar request in the hope that weight of numbers might sway the DWP. This was a mistake as the department was able to use FOI rules to dismiss my request as being ‘vexatious’.
“I made a new request last May, and the DWP illegally delayed its response by several months. When ministers finally denied me the information, claiming they would be publishing it at an unspecified date in the future, I checked the rules and found that they were wrong. That is why I appealed to the Information Commissioner – and I am delighted that the Commissioner has upheld my appeal.”
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the DWP may appeal to the Information Rights Tribunal, but Mr Sivier said he doubted any such appeal would succeed:
“I took my first request to a tribunal and, although the decision was upheld, the judges stated that they were extremely sympathetic to my cause”, he said.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 02 May 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
Working age claimants are likely to face an average cut in income of over £19 a week if the Conservatives form the next government .
The drastic drop, likely to be taken from housing benefit (HB), employment and support allowance (ESA), disability living allowance (DLA) and personal independence payment (PIP), will be needed to allow the Tories to cut £12 billion from benefits spending.
The cuts will come in the years 2016-17 and 2017-18, after the current agreed spending round ends.
The chancellor’s plan is to have huge cuts in these two years, followed by much more modest cuts in 2018-19 and then a big surplus to pay for giveaways in the year leading up to the 2020 election.
The Tories are still refusing to say which benefits will be cut until after the election.
But the reality is that pensioner benefits, which make up well over half the benefits bill, are entirely protected.
And the proposed limiting of child benefit to the first three children would save just £300 million.
While cuts to housing benefit for some under 25s could save as little as £50 million.
So, the only place cuts can realistically come from is working age benefits. And Jobseeker’s allowance makes up only a tiny proportion of these, so rising employment will make little difference.
Jobseeker’s allowance is expected to cost just £2.39 billion in 2016-17, compared to:
- Employment and support allowance: £14.47 billion
- Disability living allowance: £10.11 billion
- Housing benefit: £24.8 billion
- Personal independence payment: 4.78 billion
The benefit that was supposed to transform the system and save billions, universal credit, doesn’t even make up one hundredth of a percent of the benefits bill and the DWP refuse to make predictions about future totals.
£2,000 per claimant
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the cuts the chancellor has outlined so far, primarily a freeze on the uprating of most working age benefits, including the ESA personal allowance but not the two additional components, would save just £2 billion.
So that still leaves around £10 billion in cuts to be absorbed by the 5 million working age claimants in the UK. That’s a terrifying £2,000 per claimant over two years, averaging out at over £19 a week.
We have no way of knowing how the chancellor plans to make these cuts.
But it could be a combination of measures such as abolishing the work-related activity component of ESA; removing the lower rate of DLA care and/or mobility for working age claimants; making the points system for PIP much harsher; reducing the percentage of rent that housing benefit covers . . . and much more.
One possible way out of devastating cuts for sick and disabled claimants would be for the chancellor to pile a large part of the cuts on to tax credits. But there are major problems with this.
Firstly, ‘welfare’ has a precise meaning for a chancellor – particularly one delivering a budget – and tax credits are not part of the welfare budget at all, so Osborne would have clearly been misleading voters and the commons.
More importantly, the Tories have resolutely divided people into ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’ over the past five years. ‘Skivers’ get ‘welfare’, ‘strivers’ go out to work and get tax credits if they are on a low income. The reality, of course, is very different, but this is the tale politicians and the press tell.
If it turns out that Osborne was pretending he was going to hit the ‘skivers’ with another round of cuts , but in reality planned to slash the incomes of millions of ‘strivers’ instead, his reputation will suffer enormous harm. So too will the idea that work always pays more than benefits.
The Tory party will quite possibly recover from the damage by the time of the next election, but George’s chances of becoming the next leader of the Conservatives in 2018 or 2019 will probably have been irreparably damaged.
It’s very unlikely to be a risk he wants to take.
“Radical changes” will be needed, says IFS
It’s not just Benefits and Work that is arguing that the chancellor will have to make radical cuts to disability benefits and housing benefit.
Paul Johnston of the IFS told the BBC, following the budget:
“He has told us he wants to freeze working age benefits. That will save up to about £2 billion. That’s something he has told us. It’s the other £10 billion we know nothing about.
“It’s of course possible to cut benefits by £10 billion or £12 billion, if that’s what you really want to do.
“But you need to recognise especially if you’re protecting pensioners which the conservatives have said they want to do, this will involve radical changes to, for example, the housing benefit system, big cuts to child benefit, big cuts to disability benefits.
“These are the big benefits. If you want to save £10 billion you have to find radical things to do to those big parts of the benefits system.”
Labour and Tories no different?
Our ‘Benefits sanctions and deaths survey’ found that 59.5% of respondents thought that the Conservatives would be harshest with claimants, but 40% believed Labour and the Conservatives are as bad as each other.
In truth, all the indications so far are that the Conservatives will be vastly worse for claimants.
Labour are only aiming to make a total of £7 billion in cuts over the course of the next parliament, compared with the Conservatives £30billion.
We are no fans of Labour here at Benefits and Work. We despise the way they have privatised chunks of the benefits system and helped to demonise claimants.
But, for the coming five years, we have absolutely no doubt which party will plunge millions of claimants into unbearable poverty and, like Tory minister Hugo Swire, find it all mildly amusing.
Source – Benefits & Work, 25 Mar 2015
A radioactive man, who has been told not to be in close proximity with other people, has been found ‘fit for work’ by government officials.
Peter Foley, 54, from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, was stripped of his sickness benefits by officials from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), despite being banned from standing in queues at his local Jobcentre.
Mr Foley is undergoing radioiodine treatment for an overactive thyroid, which means that his body gives off radiation that could be harmful to other people.
The condition has led to an alteration in Mr Foley’s brain chemistry, leading to depression, anxiety and involuntary tremors. Mr Foley says the experience of having his benefits removed had a detrimental effect on his health and worsened his symptoms.
Mr Foley told the Wakefield Express:
“I am amazed that the DWP decided I am fit for work, even though I am radioactive because of the radioiodine treatment I’m having.
“I’m not allowed near anyone, or on public transport and yet they say I should go to work. I wasn’t even allowed to stand in the queue at the job centre as I had to tell them about my condition. I had to fill in the paperwork in the doorway.
“I have been unable to work because of my overactive thyroid for around five months now.
“The condition has altered my brain chemistry and it gives me terrible tremors and severe depression and anxiety and this situation is just making it worse.”
Intervention from the Wakefield Express has resulted in Mr Foley’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) being reinstated.
His daughter Samantha Foley said: “I can’t thank the Express enough. I’m so pleased the DWP have changed their minds and given my dad the back pay he was owed.
“It was absolutely ridiculous and a huge worry for us.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said: “For someone to claim benefits they need to provide evidence to back up their claim.
“Mr Foley has now provided additional information and has been awarded Employment and Support Allowance.”
His ESA payments have been backdated.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 22 Mar 2015
George Osborne has confirmed that there will be further massive cuts in the benefits budget, but refuses to say where they will fall, leaving working age claimants the likely target for the worst excesses.
In his budget speech yesterday Osborne confirmed there will be a further cut of £12bn in benefits spending, but gave no further details. Given that pensioners are largely protected, that leaves unemployed, sick and disabled claimants as the only realistic target for big savings.
This morning Osborne told the Today programme:
‘I’m proposing the same pace of cuts as over the last five years.”
“We’ve saved £21 billion in this Parliament and we need £12bn in the next. People can judge me by my track record”.
We know that there are plans to reduce the household benefit cap further and to stop housing benefit for some under 25 year olds. But these measures will be nowhere near enough to meet the proposed level of savings.
This is especially so when you consider that, with out-of-control rents, the housing benefit bill is set to continue to expand.
It certainly is possible to judge Osborne and his fellow ministers by their track record.
Over the last five years we have seen the introduction of the bedroom tax, the replacement of DLA with PIP, the time limiting of ESA, massive increases in sanctions and the destruction of the social fund, to name but a few.
None of these measures were in the Conservative party manifesto. And none of them, it seems, have come close to being harsh enough in Osborne’s view.
Where is there left now to make cuts in the benefits budgets? Where do you think the axe will fall?
Source – Benefits & Work, 19 Mar 2015