Mental health workers and their clients are marching on a jobcentre in south-west London in protest at a scheme they say frames unemployment as a psychological disorder.
The Department for Work and Pensions announced in March that Streatham’s jobcentre would be the first to have therapists giving mental health support to help unemployed people back into work.
The DWP has now said that announcement was a mistake. But by coincidence, next week Lambeth council will open a £1.9m mental health clinic in the same building.
Mental health workers and service users, furious at what they see as an attempt to embed psychological treatment in a back-to-work agenda, were to go ahead with their demonstration anyway.
They said they regarded Lambeth’s decision to locate the borough’s main community mental health centre in the same building as the jobcentre as being in the spirit of the plan to give psychological treatment to the unemployed.
Anger has been growing since the March budget announced a scheme to bring counsellors into jobcentres to offer “integrated employment and mental health support to claimants with common mental health conditions”.
Under the plan, therapists from the NHS’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme would support jobcentre staff to assess and treat claimants, who may be referred to online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) courses.
Government officials have been reported as saying that up to 30,000 DWP staff could be axed, if the Tories win the next general election.
The startling figure represents a significant reduction in the DWP’s 83,000 full-time staff.
But even under a future Labour government, the number of DWP staff could be slashed by up to 20,000.
If true, the reductions would occur gradually over the course of the next parliament.
A spokesperson for the PCS union, who include DWP staff among their members, said:
“If carried through this would devastate the delivery of essential social security support.”
It’s unclear as to whether these cutbacks would affect front-line Jobcentre staff.
Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have confirmed or denied the allegation.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 13 Mar 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
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
Rachel Reeves ,the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Stephen Timms, shadow Employment Minister have said that if labour is elected next year they will end targets for sanctions. But how much difference would this actually make?
According to Reeves and Timms:
“. . . we urgently need to get a grip on the delays and administrative errors that can mean the difference between eating and not eating for people trying to make a few pounds last for days.
As MPs we have had to refer people to food banks because of problems like this. In one case a mother who worked three jobs as a cleaner but ended up living on payday loans because she had been forced to wait months on end to get the tax credits. We should take this kind of system failure as seriously as we do a delay to an important medical appointment or a failure to respond adequately to a crime report.
“We also need to ensure that sanctions are fair and proportionate, and based on transparent procedures and appropriate safeguards. Sanctions have been part of our social security system since its foundation, and the principle of mutual obligation and putting conditions on benefit claims were integral to the progressive labour market policies of the last Labour government, from the first New Deals to the Future Jobs Fund.
“We in the Labour movement have always believed that the right to work goes hand in hand with the responsibility to prepare for, look for, and accept reasonable offers of suitable work.
“That’s why we have pledged that there will be no targets for sanctions under a Labour government so that jobcentre staff are focused on helping people into work, not simply finding reasons to kick them off benefits. We will also ensure that rules and decisions around sanctions are fair and properly communicated, and that the system of hardship payments is working properly.”
But, without a change in the criteria for sanctions and a change in the attitude towards claimants of both politicians and the civil servants at the top of the DWP, how much difference would ending targets that are never explicitly stated in the first place actually make?
Let us know what you think.
You can read the full statement on the Labour List website.
Source – Benefits & Work, 24 Nov 2014
This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 13th November 2014
The YMCA, the UK’s oldest youth charity, has warned the government that its changes to welfare policy are driving vulnerable young people to become reliant on food bank handouts rather than preparing them for jobs.
About 5,000 young people were referred by YMCAs to food banks last year, it said in a report, with benefit sanctions cited as the main reason for what it called a “significant increase” in the number of clients falling into food poverty.
The YMCA accused ministers of having their “heads in the sand” over welfare changes and they must urgently fix flaws in the benefits system that leave an increasing number of young people penniless.
The charity, which has 114 branches in England, works with care leavers and youngsters who have left home to escape abuse or family breakdown. The majority of those referred to food banks were people living in special supported accommodation.
Denise Hatton, YMCA England chief executive, told the Guardian:
“For me, the benefit system is there to support the most vulnerable people. We are in touch with young people and we know the system which is there to protect them is failing them, and the government must want to do something about that.”
She said the government could no longer ignore the way jobcentres were treating vulnerable young people.
“The welfare system was set up to protect and provide a safety net for those individuals in their time of need and so that no one would be left without money to be able to afford food. However, our evidence shows it is failing in this role.
“It is unacceptable in this day and age that anyone should have to rely on the kindness of strangers in order to eat.”
The YMCA’s criticisms of a rigid “tick box” approach to benefits that imposes strict punishments for infringements but fails to meet the needs of individuals with complex needs echoes the findings of the government-commissioned Oakley review of sanctions, published in July, which said the system placed disproportionate burdens on the most vulnerable.
Ministers have persistently rejected claims that the rise in referrals to food banks has been driven by sanctions and delays in benefit payments, but Hatton said the link was incontrovertible.
“I have been in this kind of work for 30 years, working with young people on the ground, and I have never known it like this.”
The charity said a lack of flexibility in jobcentre culture and practice meant the benefits system was unable to respond to the challenges faced by youngsters who had chaotic lifestyles or learning difficulties.
Jobcentre staff focused on pushing claimants into intensive work-search activity such applying for jobs and completing CVs, even when young people were emotionally unprepared for work. When they failed to meet these tough conditions they were punished by having their benefits stopped, with the effect that they were left further from the job market.
The YMCA cites the case of Joshua, 21, from Nelson, Lancashire, who was sanctioned after attending one of its residential courses designed to prepare him for volunteering. Although he told the jobcentre about the course and provided evidence it would help him find a job, he was sanctioned for having missed an appointment and had his jobseeker’s allowance stopped for three months.
“I went three months living on food parcels from the local mosques and the church, which was really degrading because you lose all your dignity. The assistance I got was purely from the YMCA and Stepping Stones [a housing charity], other than that I think I would have starved.”
The YMCA said:
“We are fortunate to live in a country where people and communities give so charitably. However, relying upon this goodwill and other organisations to pick up the pieces should not be seen by the government as a substitute to fixing a welfare system that is driving many young people into hardship rather than employment.”
Although jobcentres are able in theory to offer hardship payments to vulnerable and penniless claimants who have been sanctioned, the YMCA says one in four of its clients said they were not told of this potential source of support, while even fewer knew they could apply to their local councils’ welfare assistance scheme for crisis help.
Even where they did know this help was available, however, many youngsters were deemed ineligible, with nearly a third of YMCAs referring clients to food banks because they had been turned down for hardship payments or crisis loans.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that the proportion of young people having their payments stopped for alleged infringements has doubled since tighter conditions were applied to unemployment benefit claims in October 2012.
The YMCA says in its report:
“While there is recognition among YMCAs and young people that conditionality is an important element of any benefit system, the way it is being administered and the focus on punishing perceived ‘bad behaviour’ over rewarding those doing the right thing is having a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of young people.”
A DWP spokesman said:
“There is no robust evidence that our reforms are linked to increased use of food banks and these claims are based on anecdotal evidence. “The reality is benefit processing times are improving and we continue to spend £94bn a year on working age benefits to ensure there is a strong safety net in place.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 13 Nov 2014
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Tuesday 17th June 2014
Technology flaws, implementation delays and Whitehall infighting has led to deep cynicism about the scheme, which is due to be fully implemented in 2017-18 covering as many as eight million households.
Many critics claim the scheme is dead, but although Labour has been fiercely critical of the way in which universal Credit has been implemented, the shadow work and pensions secretary, Rachel Reeves, has not yet said that she would scrap the reforms.
The expert review, to be chaired by the welfare expert Nicholas Timmins, is being launched by the Resolution Foundation thinktank and will focus on structural redesigns that may be required to restore work incentives.
The scheme is currently being implemented on a limited pilot basis in some jobcentres, and that progress is likely to be re-examined in a second report by the National Audit Office before the election.
In total, eight million households – half of them in work – will be eligible for UC, which has been designed as a single payment to replace six existing types of benefit or tax credit. Half of all families with dependent children will be eligible, so making it vital that UC’s structure works and that recent revisions do not undermine its effectiveness.
Initial work by the Resolution Foundation shows that by 2018 cuts to the basic and work allowances will mean UC is £685 a year less generous for a couple with one child, saving the government £1.8bn a year.
The structure of UC may be badly targeted to protect second earners, according to Resolution Foundation. At present, a second earner under UC can lose as much as 76% of their earnings once they make enough to pay income tax.
The review will also look to see whether the coalition was wise to omit council tax support from UC. There has been widespread concern that a household receiving UC will see its earnings eaten away by the means-testing of council tax support.
The review will look at how those in work may face loss of UC if they cannot show jobcentre staff that they are unable to earn more than £220 a week. If they are earning less than this they may be required to take a different job or work longer hours.
> And of course there are so many other jobs for people to take. Why stop at just two ?
It appears that claimants of UC could face the same sanctions regime as applied to claimants of jobseekers allowance if they cannot show they are seeking longer hours, but there is a much scepticism about how this would apply. Similarly, the self-employed under the UC regime will be subject to interviews to see that they are truly gainfully employed.
Finally, the review will examine the way tax cuts prioritised for after the election could be undermined by the impact on UC. The review team suggests families receiving UC will lose at least £65 out of every £100 tax giveaway, and £72 in every £100 where council tax is already withdrawn.
Gavin Kelly, the Resolution Foundation chief executive, said: “Universal credit is an incredibly ambitious and important reform but the recent focus on the slipping timetable together with the complexity of the underlying policy means that some of the underlying policy changes have not received the scrutiny they deserve.”
He said the beginning of the next parliament was likely to be the last opportunity to make changes to UC.
The review team includes Giles Wilkes, a former economic adviser to the business secretary, Vince Cable, as well as Mike Brewer, a former IFS economist who was one of the first advocates of the reform five years ago.
> All people who have probably never had to claim benefits for basic survival, and probably never will. How far would you trust them ?
Source – Welfare News Service, 18 June 2014
Single parents with children under the age of five face the threat of ‘punitive’ benefit sanctions, due to the introduction of tough new rules and over-stretched jobcentre’s, the charity Gingerbread has warned.
Jobcentre staff have been given new powers to remove benefits from single parents with young children in receipt of Income Support, otherwise known as sanctioning, should they fail to adhere to strict new requirements which may include attending more jobcentre appointments, participation in training programmes or work experience placements, depending on the age of their child(ren).
Gingerbread say the new rules ‘focus too heavily on sanctions’ in what the charity has described as a ‘tick box exercise’, rather than providing single parents with tailored support which would enable them ‘to get work ready’.
Failure to comply could result in single-parents having their Income Support payments cut by 20 per cent a week for an ‘indefinite period’. Sanctions will be lifted if and when those parents comply to the requirements imposed upon them or are able to prove their benefits should not have been cut in the first place.
Gingerbread claim that they are already hearing from single parents with children as young as six months who have wrongfully had their benefits sanctioned after being told they must begin looking for work.
The charity has drawn attention to the number of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants who have wrongfully been hit with benefit sanctions and are having those decisions overturned following appeal (nearly four in 10 or 38%). Gingerbread has expressed concerns that 423,000 single-parents in receipt of Income Support could be subjected to the same fate.
Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said:
“Many single parents do want to work before their child reaches school age, some decide that’s not right for their family, and others have little choice financially. Whenever parents decide they’re ready to go to work, they should get support that helps them do just that; but we’re concerned that the new rules will become little more than a tick box exercise with punitive sanctions attached.
“We know that single parents are already often wrongly sanctioned and, based on the calls our helpline is already getting, we fear that this situation will only get worse as these new rules are introduced.”
Gingerbread have called on the coalition government to ensure that jobcentre staff fully understand the new rules to reduce the probability of single-parents wrongfully having their benefits slashed. They are also urging the government to consider investing in ‘voluntary tailored support and training for single parents’.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee has recently recommended that an independent review be carried out in order to determine whether some benefit claimants are having their payments docked inappropriately.
Referring to the use of benefit sanctions against JSA claimants, chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee Dame Anne Begg said:
“The number of JSA Sanctions are at a 12 month high, and probably the highest ever on record. Yet, we don’t even know if these Sanctions are working. There have been many examples of people being sanctioned and not knowing why. If the aim of a sanction is to change peoples’ behaviour then people need to know why their benefits have been stopped otherwise it is just a punitive punishment which is trying and save money.”
Source – Welfare News Service 29 April 2014
According to IDS, figures showing that the number of self-employed workers has jumped by 600,000 is a sign of “entrepreneurial spirit” and proves that his bungled and reckless policies are working. What is really going on is very different and lays the foundation for an unemployment time bomb at the heart of Universal Credit.
Some of the rise in self-employment is almost certainly down to falling living standards. People who have taken early retirement are setting up small businesses in an effort to pay soaring bills, along with so-called mumpreneurs – parents forced out of the workplace due to huge childcare costs and shit wages. The rise of the internet has also allowed some of those who are unemployed to generate a…
View original post 571 more words
Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and collated from the Labour Market System (LMS), show that a total of 635,000 jobseeker’s signed the new Claimant Commitment pledge between 14 October 2013 and 11 April 2014.
The Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) Claimant Commitment was launched by the coalition government in October 2013 and described as “the start of a redefinition of the relationship between the welfare state and claimants”, by the then Employment Minister Esther McVey.
Under the new regime jobseeker’s are required to sign a claimant commitment, or work plan, to “agree regular specific tasks and training opportunities and the penalties claimants could face for failing to meet their responsibilities to get into work will be clearly spelt out”.
These ‘tasks’ could include agreeing to apply for a certain number of jobs each week, taking part in ‘training opportunities’, furthering their education and other ‘tasks’ set out in a personal work plan.
The DWP say that a total of 26,300 Jobcentre staff have been trained to deliver the new JSA Claimant Commitment with the majority of those being in central England and London area’s.
Unemployed people on Universal Credit are also required to sign a claimant commitment as a means of supporting them back into work ‘at the earliest opportunity’.
The new JSA Claimant Commitment has been partly blamed for a shocking 60 per cent rise in the number of jobseeker’s having their benefits sanctioned; where a claimant can see their benefits cut or stopped completely for weeks, months or even years for failure to adhere to the jobseeker’s agreement.
Far from helping unemployed people back into work, the Citizens Advice Bureau say benefit sanctions can create barrier to employment.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“People need a system that can take into account their situation, set suitable work search requirements and where necessary apply sanctions at a level that won’t limit their chances of employment.
“Whilst it is vital that people receiving taxpayers’ support do their utmost to find work, the model needs to work and not make it harder for claimants to find a job.”
> I do wish people like the CAB would remember that everyone receiving benefits is also a taxpayer – be it Council Tax, Bedroom Tax, or VAT, being on benefits does not exempt anyone from paying taxes.
Young people have been hit particularly hard by the new JSA Claimant Commitment and subsequent benefit sanctions.
Despite only making up 27 per cent of all JSA claimants, young people have received 43 per cent of all benefit sanctions dished out by sometimes overzealous Jobcentre staff.
Perhaps even more shocking are the DWP statistics which show 38,969 of these decisions were later overturned following an appeal.
Many jobseeker’s, particularly young people, say they do not understand why their benefits were sanctioned, despite having signed the JSA Claimant Commitment.
Some sanctions have been for what most people would regard as ridiculous reasons: such as failing to turn up for a Jobcentre appointment despite already informing staff that they were attending a job interview.
Benefit sanctions, and the JSA Claimant Commitment, have also been blamed for a 163 per cent surge in the number of people turning to food banks in the past year.
Around 31 per cent of those who had been referred for food parcels from the Trussell Trust say their benefit payments had been delayed, mainly due the draconian sanctions regime introduced by the coalition government.
The Trussell Trust Chairman, Chris Mould, said:
“In the last year we’ve seen things get worse, rather than better, for many people on low-incomes. It’s been extremely tough for a lot of people, with parents not eating properly in order to feed their children and more people than ever experiencing seemingly unfair and harsh benefits sanctions.
“Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low-incomes we won’t see life get better for the poorest anytime soon.
A more thoughtful approach to the administration of the benefits regime and sanctions in particular, increasing the minimum wage, introducing the living wage and looking at other measures such as social tariffs for essentials like energy would help to address the problem of UK hunger.”
Source – Welfare News Service 24 April 2014