To say I am gutted at the outcome of the 2015 General Election would be an understatement.
I am lucky. I work. I don’t claim benefits, due to a small inheritance from a late relative, I don’t have to worry about money. I am relatively healthy.
But, we are all one malignant cell, one car crash, one redundancy from having to rely on the welfare state.
Although I had a bit of a twitter argument with an SNP voter this morning, I admire Scotland for coming together and ousting the tories completely. I just wish they’d voted Labour which would have reduced the tory majority.
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To be honest, I try not to think about Esther McVey, the television host turned Tory minister-cum-tormentor of the poor and disabled. It’s enough to give me nightmares. However, things aren’t going her way in West Wirral and if the polls can be trusted, she’ll be out on her ear next week.
So what lies ahead for McVey if the voters kick her out? Well, for starters, she could be ‘kicked upstairs’ and become ‘Baroness McVey of Somewhere Or Other’. On the other hand, she may do what IDS did when he lost his job as Tory leader and don sackcloth and ashes, and claim she’s doing her penance (like IDS, she’s a Catholic). Readers may recall IDS visited housing estates during his penitent period. He claimed to ‘understand’ the poor, while posing for photographers outside a block of flats before quickly scuttling off in his limo. He also set…
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The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) being subjected to benefit sanctions is creeping up, with nearly one in five being penalised last year.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 3,097,630 JSA claims were made in 2013-14 and 568,430 individuals were subject to a sanction, a total of 18%. In 2012-13, 16% of claims were subjected to sanctions and 15% in 2010-11. They are imposed on people who fail to keep appointments, reject jobs or walk out of jobs without good reason.
Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said:
“The huge rise in sanctions since 2010 shows the government’s system is in chaos. The number has doubled since 2009 to a level where one in five of all JSA claimants receive a sanction. This will lead to further concerns that unofficial targets imposed on jobcentres by the Department for Work and Pensions are forcing up the number of people who have their benefits withdrawn.
“Under a Labour government, there will be no targets for sanctions and the system will focused on helping people into work, not simply finding reasons to kick jobseekers off benefits.”
> So under a Labour government there will be no targets for sanctions. That’s not quite the same as saying there will not be a vicious sanctions regime…there always were people in the system who’d impose sanctions just because they could. They will presumably keep right on doing so.
The figures also show that 372,461 claimants were subject to one adverse decision, 99,621 to two and 35,170 to three between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2014.
The DWP stressed the figures were derived from unpublished information that had not been quality assured to Official Statistics publication standards, and should therefore be treated with caution.
David Webster, an honorary senior research fellow at Glasgow University, said:
“The DWP is still regularly claiming that it is only a ‘tiny minority’ of claimants who are sanctioned – most recently by Esther McVey last week – but this suggests it is not a tiny minority.”
The employment minister, Esther McVey, said:
“All the international evidence suggests that sanctions do have a positive impact on people getting into work, and there are two parts of that: as a deterrent, it has a positive impact on moving people into work and there is further research that, should somebody have been sanctioned, it helps them into work afterwards.”
> Actually, all it seems to prove is that sanctions reduce the unemployment figures – their real aim. And that’s very much not the same as people vanishing from the figures because they’ve found work.
The DWP pointed to OECD research on northern member states which suggested that having a credible benefit reduction leads to increased work searches and a subsequent increase of flow into employment of up to 50%.
Source – The Guardian, 13 Feb 2015
Tough measures designed to force benefit claimants to find work are instead making them ill, a study by North East academics has warned.
Claimants who have their benefits cut are sometimes left to go without food or the ability to heat their homes, a study found.
And this has an impact on their health – particularly because some of these affected are already ill or disabled.
The study was carried out by researcher Kayleigh Garthwaite and Professor Clare Bambra of Durham University.
Their findings were presented to MPs on the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which is holding an investigation into “sanctions” which can imposed on people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and some people claiming Employment and Support Allowance, a benefit paid to people who are ill or disabled.
Claimants can have their benefits cuts off, known as a sanction, if officials believe they have failed to prove that they are looking for work.
But critics including a number of North East MPs argue that some claimants have lost benefits for no good reason. In a Commons debate in January, Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman and other Labour MPs said they believed job centre staff were given unofficial targets for the number of sanctions issued.
The study by Dr Garthwaite and Professor Bambra was part of a five year project looking at why some groups of people are healthier than others, which has focused on foodbank users in Stockton on Tees.
In a paper presented to MPs, they said:
“Sanctions led to loss of their only source of income, resulting in sanctioned ESA recipients often going without sufficient food and/or energy required to maintain good health or recover from illness.”
In some cases, benefits were taken from people who did not understand the complex rules, including people mental health conditions, the academics said.
“Sanctions have led to cases of a total loss of income resulting in an inability to eat or heat at the levels required for maintaining good health or recovering from ill health.
“Indeed sanctions have exacerbated ill health. The sanctioning of people with mental health problems is a particular problem – with the stress and anxiety of income loss adding to their underlying condition.”
The academics said sanctions for ESA claimants “should be relaxed or removed – particularly for those with mental health problems”.
Dr Garthwaite also spoke to MPs at Westminster, where she warned that claimants often had no idea that there was an official hardship fund available to help people who had entirely run out of money.
She told them that some food bank users had resorted to eating food they knew would be bad for them because of medical conditions – such as an intolerance for wheat – because they had nothing else.
Defending the policy, Employment Minister Esther McVey told the committee that studies had shown sanctions encouraged people to find work.
“All the international evidence suggests that sanctions do have a positive impact on people getting into work, and there are two parts of that: as a deterrent, it has a positive impact on moving people into work, and there is further research that, should somebody have been sanctioned, it helps them into work afterwards.”
The Government publishes figures showing how many sanctions have been imposed.
In Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and Tees Valley, sanctions were imposed 92,326 times since 2012.
The job centre which has cut benefits most often is James Cook House in Middlesbrough, which imposed 7,068 sanctions.
John Street job centre in Sunderland imposed 4,922 sanctions.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Feb 2015
> Part 93 of the ongoing Labour MPs Suddenly Discover Sanctions series….
THE cases of a Hartlepool benefits claimant whose money was cut because she missed an appointment due to roadworks and another who did not turn up for an appointment which had been cancelled have been raised in Parliament.
MP Iain Wright was speaking in a Commons debate on the effects of the DWP’s benefits clampdown on claimants across the North East, prompted by Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah.
Mr Wright said he accepted the need to tackle fraud, but the system had to take account of people who had genuine reasons for falling foul of the rules.
“Most people would accept the principle that if people flagrantly and persistently fail to adhere to mutually accepted requirements, they should face consequences,” he said.
“However, I have noticed a large increase in the number of sanctions imposed, often for a first or light transgression, and often with no regard to the context.”
Cases of people who had seen their benefits suspended unreasonably included:
– A man who realised he had missed an appointment, contacted the Jobcentre immediately and went in the next day, only to be informed by post that his benefits were being cut for a month;
– A woman sanctioned because she was late after her bus got delayed by roadworks in the centre of Hartlepool;
– A woman who was told her appointment for a work capability assessment had been cancelled who was then sanctioned for failing to attend;
– And a woman who was sanctioned for a month because she missed an appointment to attend her grandfather’s funeral.
“In all those cases, and in others, I have been able to get the sanctions overturned; but that itself raises some issues,” said Mr Wright.
“Is it an efficient use of taxpayer resources to apply a sanction, only for staff time to be employed in overturning it? How robust, efficient and effective is the process if that continues to be the case?”
The culture in JobCentres needed to change, he said:
“Front-line staff do not have any flexibility to determine whether a benefit claimant has failed to comply with a requirement. They have to see things in black and white and they cannot provide personalised support.
“The system is geared not to help individuals, but merely to process them.
“Claimants can suffer appallingly as a result of their treatment.”
The system was also failing to help workers whose traditional skills were not suited to the modern jobs market.
“The JobCentre is simply not interested in helping them secure a new job,” said Mr Wright.
“Through its indifference and latent hostility, it is consigning my constituents to the scrap heap long before their time.”
He highlighted the case of a former factory worker who had been told to apply for benefits on-line despite not owning a computer and never having used one.
“There are many people like my constituent in Hartlepool and the North East. The digital divide is creating social exclusion that is affecting the most vulnerable people,” said Mr Wright.
“My constituents deserve better, as do many others in the North East and elsewhere.
“They are treated shabbily and with contempt.”
Work minister Esther McVey defended the Government’s record and told the debate the sanction rate for Jobseeker’s Allowance was between five and six per cent a month and less than one per cent for Employment and Support Allowance.
> Presumably depending on what targets for sanctions Jobcentre managers have set their staff….
“In the past year, the number of people sanctioned actually decreased,” she said.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 10 Jan 2015
Ministers have refused to apologise after MPs from across the North East highlighted the “cruel and inhumane” treatment of benefit claimants in the region.
Officials such as Jobcentre staff had been encouraged to strip claimants of benefits for no good reason, MPs said.
In a Commons debate led by Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, MPs highlighted a series of wrong decisions and abuse of benefit claimants.
* Veterans injured in Afghanistan or Iraq stripped of benefits after they were told they were fit to work
* A Newcastle man stripped of benefits because he was accused of failing to seek work in the days after his father died
* A man in Bishop Auckland constituency who was a collecting a sick daughter from school and was accused of inventing a “fictional child”
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck said her constituents had been “humiliated” by job centre staff.
“Constituents of mine have been refused a private room to discuss intimate personal or medial issues … the general attitude of staff is confrontational and sometimes just downright rude.”
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said Jobcentre staff provided a valuable service and took their role seriously – but they were under pressure to “sanction” as many people as possible, suspending their benefits on the grounds that they had broken rules or failed to prove they were seeking work.
The debate, attended by Labour MPs from across the North East, followed long-running complaints that benefit claimants are being sanctioned for no good reason.
> Very long-running complaints… its a shame it takes a looming General Election to get Labour’s collective arse into gear, and also leads the cynical to wonder whether the situation will just revert after the election (whoever wins).
But Work Minister Esther McVey infuriated MPs by refusing to discuss whether the criteria for imposing sanctions were fair, despite repeated requests for her to address this topic.
She denied her department deliberately inflames talk of “scroungers”, saying: “I have never put forward a story like that and I never would.”
Ms Onwurah recalled that she was largely bought up by her mother in a single-parent family in Newcastle which depended on benefits.
She said: “I am so glad she did not have to face the sort of vilification and abuse that benefit claimants face now.”
She added: “I want to know what this government is doing to prevent the demonisation of those who are now claiming benefits.”
> That’s easy – nothing. Why would they, it’s their policies that encouraged it in the first place.
What we want to know now is what Labour would do, should they win the next election.
Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said one constituent had been told to go to an office in Felling, Gateshead. He walked to the office – because he had no money to pay for public transport – where he was given a telephone number to call.
People with disabilities, but who were judged to be fit to work, were being trained for jobs it was very unlikely they would be able to do, he said.
> There must be more unemployed forklift drivers in the North East than anywhere. Qualifications that are basically useless because the majority of jobs requiring a forklift licence also specify a period of experience in a real situation, not a poxy do-it-or-get-sanctioned course.
And, in Sunderland at least, they send qualified and experienced forklift drivers on these courses too… Southwick Jobcentre advisers in particular were notorious for that.
Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said Jobcentre staff were under pressure to sanction claimants.
“They work hard and are put under enormous pressure. Staffing levels have diminished dramatically since 2010.
“We hear anecdotally about the pressures of informal targets on sanctions – we all know they are in place – from people who are too frightened to say something, so they tell us off the record.”
> Ah… definitely an election looming. Julie Elliott is my MP, but failed to respond to a complaint against Jobcentre staff that I made a couple of years ago. That’s not the way to win votes, Jules – electorates are for the full term of the parliament, not just a general election.
Mrs Lewell-Buck accused the Government of encouraging the public “to think of claimants as spongers or skivers, so that working people struggling to get by will blame the unemployed man or woman next door”.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Jan 2015
Esther McVey has once again refused to visit Holyrood to give evidence in support of cruel and callous benefit changes, it has been reported today.
It’s the third time the Tory Employment Minister has snubbed requests from the Scottish welfare reform committee to explain why the UK Government is “failing to support vulnerable people”, reports the Daily Record.
McVey’s excuse for failing to attend was that she was busy preparing evidence for a Westminster committee.
When she was last invited to give evidence to Scottish MSPs, cowardly McVey instead chose to send Neil Couling; who is now responsible for overseeing Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit project.
The Daily Record says Iain Duncan Smith has also refused invitations from the committee on FOUR occasions, while welfare reform minister Lord Freud has rejected one request.
MSPs have accused Esther McVey of “running scared” of the committee, and not caring about people affected by welfare reforms and punitive benefit sanctions.
SNP MSP Christine McKelvie said it was “totally unacceptable” for McVey to refuse to give evidence before the committee, on how Westminster cuts “imposed on Scotland” are affecting Scottish families.
She added: “A Tory minister has been repeatedly invited to come to Scotland and appear before the welfare reform committee to provide answers on their track record of failing to support vulnerable people, but this invite, and seven previous invitations, have all been snubbed.
“This refusal sends a clear message that McVey and her Government don’t care about Scotland.”
McVey defended punitive benefit sanctions in a letter to the committee, in which she wrote: “It is widely accepted that they play an important role in the benefit system.
“They are effective in encouraging compliance and we continue to manage the process so they are only imposed as a last resort.”
> effective in encouraging compliance – is that a chilling statement or what ? Do what we say or we will make you destitute.
Figures show the number of people affected by benefit sanctions in Scotland has rocketed since 2009, with the biggest increases occurring under the new sanctions regime introduced by the UK Government in October 2012.
The same figures also show a 65% rise in the number of sick and disabled Scots having their benefits slashed by sanctions.
Opponents of the new sanctions regime claim too many unemployed and vulnerable people are being sanctioned for punitive and unfair reasons. Such as turning up five minutes late for a work focused interview, even though they had informed the Jobcentre that they had a hospital appointment.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 07 Jan 2015
Jobcentre staff are to target job seekers in ‘unusual locations’, as part of a new ‘blitz’ against Britain’s unemployed people.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) say an ‘army’ of government ‘jobs experts’ will target unemployed people at a number of locations, in a new bid to ‘support’ them back into work.
Specialist jobcentre staff, known as work coaches, will target unemployed people in places such as children’s centres, youth hubs, homeless shelters, and rural work clubs, ‘to offer targeted support to people who need it most’.
> There’s nothing specialist about Work Coaches – they’re just what used to be called Advisers. And they are, of course, working towards targets for sanctioning people.
DWP say work coaches have already partnered up with a number of professional football clubs including Arsenal, Everton, and Tottenham Hotspur, with schemes designed to build confidence and new skills to prepare unemployed people for work.
It’s unclear as to whether the DWP plan to adopt a similar approach in other locations. However, it’s highly likely people will at least be offered the option of signing up to the Work Programme as part of this new ‘blitz’ on Britain’s unemployed.
Employment Minister Esther McVey said:
“Our hardworking Jobcentre Plus staff have made a huge contribution to Britain’s jobs success this year. By doing things differently, and getting out to where job seekers are, they’re helping thousands into work every day.
“We have broken record after record in 2014 – with huge falls in youth and long-term unemployment and the highest number of women in work on record.
“This new approach is working. What we can see at the end of the year is that our welfare reforms are ensuring that people have the skills and opportunities to move into work.
“But behind these record figures there are countless stories of individual hard work and determination – stories of people turning their lives around, of families who are now feeling more secure over the Christmas period with a regular wage, and of young people escaping unemployment and building a career.”
The Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, has come under heavy criticism for helping only a relatively small number of people into work.
Official figures show less than 22% of 18-24 year-olds claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) find work lasting at least six months after 12 months on the scheme, falling to 17.6% for over 25’s.
This falls to 10.3% for sick and disabled people newly claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who find work lasting at least three months, with some commentators claiming the combined figure for both new and older claims is just 8%.
A recent survey from the charity Mind revealed how the vast majority of people with mental health problems saw their health worsen while on Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Work Programme.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 26 Dec 2014
Single parents participating in the Government’s flagship back-to-work scheme are being told to leave children as young as nine at home unsupervised in order to attend, according to a North-East MP.
Labour’s Jenny Chapman, the member for Darlington, told MPs some of her constituents undertaking the Work Programme had been to see her to raise their concerns about advice given to them.
Speaking during work and pensions questions in the Commons on Monday (December 8), she said:
“Single parents in the Work Programme in Darlington have been to see me because they are being told to leave their nine and ten-year-old children at home unsupervised during the school holidays to be able to attend.
“Will you urgently look into this and make sure that this foolish, dangerous, reckless advice is never given to parents?”
Employment minister Esther McVey said it was key to ensure the right support was being offered to lone parents.
She went on:
“Obviously, we work closely with charities like Gingerbread to ensure that when people are lone parents that actually the hours they have to work and the commitments they have to live up to are actually fit around their lifetime and also the children they are looking after.
“That is really key in offering the right support for those lone parents.”
This Work Programme aims to provide support, work experience and training for up to two years to help people find and stay in work.
It was launched in 2011 with the goal of helping 2.1 million people by March 2016.
In a leaflet explaining the Work Programme, published in December 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), said those with young children would have their benefits protected.
“Benefit recipients will be expected actively to look for work, and where this is not possible to prepare for work – except for a few exceptional groups, for example those who are seriously disabled or have very young children.”
It added: “Some people with health problems… continue to receive incapacity benefits; lone parents with younger children and some other groups are eligible for Income Support.”
Source – Northern Echo, 08 Dec 2014