Tagged: freedom of information requests

100 Sickness Benefit Claimants With Mental Health Problems Sanctioned Every Day

Benefits claimants judged as unfit to work due to mental health problems are more likely to have their benefits stopped by sanctions than those suffering from other conditions, according to new data released today.

Policy advisers for the Methodist Church obtained the data using Freedom of Information Requests to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

It shows that people who receive the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), because of a long-term mental health problem, are being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day.

In March 2014 – the last month for which data is available – approximately 4,500 people with mental health problems who in receipt of ESA because of mental health problems were sanctioned.

Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church, warned that the true number could be “a great deal higher than the 100 a day”.

Not included in these figures are people who receive ESA due to a physical illness, but who have a higher risk of mental health difficulties”, said Mr Morrison.

Homeless charity Crisis warned in 2014 of a “shocking increase” in the number of ESA sanctions. In the first three months of 2014 alone, 15,995 disabled people had their benefits docked, compared with 3,574 during the same period the previous year.

Whilst it isn’t possible to say how many of these ESA claimants also suffered from mental health problems, disability is often accompanied by mental health issues – such as anxiety and depression.

According to the DWP data, the most common reason for being sanctioned is that a person has been late or not turned up for a Work Programme appointment.

“Sanctioning someone with a mental health problem for being late for a meeting is like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for limping”, said Mr Morrison.

He added: “The fact that this system punishes people for the symptoms of their illness is a clear and worrying sign that it is fundamentally flawed,” said Mr Morrison, who is also the author of an upcoming report on the sanctions regime.

“Churches have increasingly seen people in desperate need because they have been sanctioned. The suffering and injustice we have seen caused by the sanctions system deserves serious scrutiny.”

Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind, said:

“We’re very concerned about the number of people having their benefits stopped. This causes not just financial problems but added emotional distress.

“It’s unjustifiable that people with mental health problems are being sanctioned disproportionately compared to those who have another health problem.

“Stopping benefits does not help people with mental health problems back into work. In fact, it often results in people becoming more anxious and unwell and this makes a return to work less likely.

“Sanctions are based on a false assumption that individuals lack motivation and willingness to work, but it’s the impact of their illness and the environment in which they are expected to work which actually present the toughest challenges. That’s why they should only be used as a last resort, when someone simply refuses to engage.”

These figures – and other new data on the sanctions regime – will feature in a report that is due to be launched in the spring by a coalition of major Churches, including the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the Church in Wales.

The Revd Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said:

“With others in the Scottish Leaders’ Group on Welfare, we are, sadly, well aware of the negative impact of sanctions on vulnerable people, often left with no income and no security and no way out of the deeper hole they have fallen through.

“We welcome the publication of the upcoming report. It is important that we highlight these facts and begin to counter this troubling trend.

“We will use the new data in our 28 February conference looking ‘Beyond ’, for which sanctions are a key trigger.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  21 Jan 2015

Only 7% Of Benefit Fraud Allegations Are Substantiated

The Government has launched yet another campaign to clamp down on fraudulent benefit claims, supposedly costing the taxpayer an estimated £16 million a year.

Voters are led to believe by politicians and the media that there is a ‘cheat’ and ‘scrounger’ lurking on every street, but the facts say otherwise.

The government and press have turned society against itself with relentless stories of the ‘fake’ or ‘cheat’ lurking in every neighbourhood. People have become amateur sleuths and doctors, who feel it is their civic duty to report their neighbour for benefit fraud without any solid evidence.

In many people’s minds, their hard-earned taxes gives them the right – with full backing from the government – to report people they think are claiming benefits fraudulently, even if they have no real evidence. Jealousy and selfishness from people who think their neighbour (perhaps even a friend) is getting something they aren’t, or don’t deserve?

The debate turns into a discussion about the deserving and undeserving poor, marked by a cultural shift of divide and rule and encouraged by a socially divisive government with little thought for the impact upon the poor and disabled.

We all accept that benefit fraud is a crime that should be dealt with accordingly. However, benefits fraud accounts for just 0.7% of the entire welfare budget. Claimant and DWP Error accounts for 1.4% of the benefit budget.

0.9% is underpaid and more than 6% remains completely unclaimed, but then you won’t read that in the press.

If the government’s interest is fairness and accuracy, then it would do better to tackle error and under-claiming. Although I’ve yet to see government advertising campaigns saying: “Health getting worse? Let us know – you might be eligible for more benefits”.

Benefit fraud investigators are waiting for (potentially malicious) calls from members of the public to decide who to investigate. Risk-profiling, on the other hand, means deciding to investigate someone because they are part of a high-risk group, which can be more accurate and is less affected by spurious or unfounded accusations.

Of concern is not just whether this is the best way to tackle benefit fraud, but also the culture of hate and suspicion it creates. Public perception is that benefit fraud is sky-high and this wrongly motivates people into reporting claimants.

Fraud investigators are receiving several thousands of accusations of benefit fraud from members of the public, and yet the vast majority are proven to be false or incorrect.

The culture of hatred and demonisation of benefit claimants is perpetuating high volumes of false accusations. It is an outrage that taxpayers are being led to believe a high percentage of benefit claims are fraudulent.

Both myself and Welfare Weekly responded by making Freedom of Information Requests to the DWP. What we found out left us speechless and infuriated.

The figures we obtained bring into question the government’s policy of encouraging members of the public to report alleged benefit fraud, through new advertising campaigns on TV and social networks.

benefit-fraud-reports-stats

Only 7.34% of benefit fraud cases reported by members of the public in the last year were substantiated by investigators, the remainder being incorrect or rejected due to a lack of evidence.

While investigators review allegations, those reported face potential benefit delays and may be forced to turn to food banks. The DWP says benefit sanctioning as a result of a malicious allegation is “unlikely to occur”.

DWP also admit they don’t record how many people make malicious allegations – mainly due to the anonymity they provide accusers – and take no action (legal or otherwise\ against those who do.

We are unable to confirm the number of claimants who have been incorrectly reported to be claiming benefits fraudulently, and who have their benefit payments docked or suspended as a result of this information, because this information is not recorded.

“However an incident of this nature would be very unlikely to occur. The Department receives information from a number of sources that might warrant an investigation into a customer’s entitlement to benefit. This includes those from members of the public both anonymously and named.

“The referral management and investigation of benefit fraud process is robust and greatest of care is taken to corroborate the information to ensure we are directing our resources appropriately.

“When an investigation concludes the alleged fraud is unsubstantiated the investigation is closed with no further action. This can occur at any stage of the investigation and judgement of this is on a case by case basis and influenced only on the basis of established facts, gathered through these processes. This does not necessarily imply this as a malicious allegation.

“Without the facility to report benefit fraud anonymously there is a risk that the public may be deterred from providing valuable intelligence that assists in protecting the public purse.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  20 Nov 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/exclusive-7-benefit-fraud-allegations-substantiated/

NHS spending on private ambulances has soared in the North East

NHS spending on private ambulances has soared in the North East, new figures have revealed.

The North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust’s spending on private ambulance services has more than quadruped between the financial years 2011/12 and 2013/14, figures from Freedom of Information Requests show.

In 2011/12 the amount spent was £639,820, but this rose a staggering 353% to £2,898,275 in 2013/14.

However, other ambulance services maintained lowest levels of spending across the period while one even reduced its reliance on private vehicles.

Over the same period, average ambulance response times – the period between a logged call and the vehicle’s arrival – increased by 51 seconds in the North East.

A spokesperson for the North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said:

While it’s true that average ambulance response times have increased over the last three years, so too has the volume of calls being dealt with by our contact centre.

“Despite this marked increase in activity, the North East Ambulance Service remains one of the best performing in the country for reaching those patients most in need.

“To put it in perspective, our average response time to an emergency in 2011 was 5 minutes 11 seconds. In 2014, it is six minutes. Both of which are well within the national target of eight minutes.

“Organisations such as Red Cross and St John have been used to a greater extent over the last year, again as a consequence of demand.

“There is also a national shortage of paramedics due to the longer three-year-period it now takes to complete the required degree. NEAS hopes to have an extra 140 paramedics by 2016.”

Official NHS figures show that across the country even ambulances for the most serious cases are taking over a minute longer to reach patients than three years ago.

NHS ambulance services across England are now spending close to double the figure on private ambulances when compared to 2012, with parts of the country seeing a 10-fold rise.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary said:

“These figures show just how quickly the NHS is changing under David Cameron. Blue-light ambulance services have traditionally been considered part of the public core of the NHS. It is clear that no part of the NHS is now immune to privatisation.

“When people dial 999, most would expect an NHS ambulance crew to turn up. People have never been asked whether they think blue-light ambulance services should be run by private companies. Before this practice goes any further, there should be a proper public debate about it.

“NHS paramedics have raised concerns over whether private crews have sufficient training, competence and are fully equipped. The Government needs to provide urgent answers to these questions and provide assurances that this practice is not compromising patient safety.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  21 Oct 2014

Why The Latest DWP ‘Fit For Work’ Figures Don’t Show The Full Picture

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

http://welfarenewsservice.com/latest-dwp-fit-work-figures-dont-show-full-picture/

Local government UK councils benefit from half a million hours of unpaid labour

Scores of UK councils have benefited from more than half a million hours of unpaid labour through government back-to-work schemes, a series of freedom of information requests has found.

The FOI requests filed by the group Boycott Workfare, which campaigns against workfare schemes, found 62% of the 271 councils that responded had used unpaid workers on government schemes during the past two years.

Boycott Workfare, which says unpaid schemes such as work experience and mandatory work activity (MWA) exploit tens of thousands of unemployed people, found Newport council had used 112 people, mainly in its street cleaning and rubbish collection department for about four weeks at a time.

Scarborough council has used 120 people through the MWA scheme since 2011. Seventy one people completed the placements, all in the parks department.

Bexley borough council in London has taken more than 100 unpaid placements, including 71 through the mayor of London’s unpaid work scheme, which is funded by the European social fund. One person was offered full-time employment (!)  and 15 an apprenticeship.

The council said most of these placements were in library services, where 35 paid jobs were lost after services were merged with neighbouring Bromley in 2012.

Of the reported 1,929 placements, only one in 14 led to jobs according to Boycott Workfare, though this figure did not include apprenticeship placements.

Northumberland county council said it had put 44 people into unpaid work in its council services during the past two years.

“These work placements are intended to be positive experiences, not punitive and must be of community value and not replace anyone’s job,” the council said.

Boycott Workfare said half of council placements were part of the voluntary work experience scheme. But nearly 300 placements were on MWA, where the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can compel people to work without pay for a month or have their benefit cut for up to three years.

A further 300 people were sent to work for councils through the Work Programme, with placements lasting up to 26 weeks.

Since February 2012 the DWP has resisted a series of rulings from the information commissioner that it should make public the locations of people sent on government employment schemes, saying the data was commercially sensitive and a public outcry could damage the schemes’ operation. A high court hearing on the matter is expected to take place in the spring.

“data was commercially sensitive and a public outcry could damage the schemes’ operation.” But aren’t we always being told that if we’ve done nothing wrong we have nothing to fear ?  What are they scared of ?

Boycott Workfare said it was “disturbing to find so many councils putting local people at risk of destitution by using schemes that threaten people with up to three years’ benefit stoppages.

“Workfare doesn’t help people find work and councils aren’t offering people jobs at the end of their placement. Instead local authorities are clearly using workfare in an attempt to plug the gaps left by government cuts to public services.”

The group said a six-month employment scheme due to start this year would extend this trend of unpaid work in councils and charities.

“Unless it is stopped, it will mean both more devastating welfare sanctions and fewer paid jobs for everyone,” it said.

The DWP said: “Most of these placements are undertaken voluntarily and work experience is successful in helping people off benefits and into work.

“Mandatory placements give jobseekers in need of more help the vital workplace skills and experience – especially if they’ve never worked before – to find work.”

“Claimants are expected to complete placements which are of benefit to the community, including helping charities. It is only right that people claiming jobseeker’s allowance take part in programmes to improve their skills.”

> Fine – then if it’s work at least pay them the minimum wage. Even New Labour’s New Deal fiasco used to pay you 15 quid a week extra.

Forcing people to work for nothing under threat of sanctions for not complying = slavery.

And talking of Labour, New or present, I dont hear any protests coming from that direction. Of course, it seems most likely that they, should they win the next election, will just continue along the same course as the present government – in the same way that the Tories are using measures brought in by New Labour, like sanctions, to such devastating effect.

Different arseholes, same old shit.

Source – Guardian, 03 Jan 2014