Tagged: Jobcentres

Botched Universal Credit Roll Out Set To Continue Under The Tories

The botched roll out of Universal Credit is set to continue under the Conservatives, it has been announced today.

Universal Credit is replacing six existing benefits including Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credits and Housing Benefit, with one single monthly payment.

Described as a “welfare revolution” by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Universal Credit will be made available to new single claimants in Richmond, Kirkwall, Lerwick and Stornoway, from today (11 May 2015).

According to the Department for Work and Pensions, all Jobcentres in the country will be offering Universal Credit to some groups of claimants by spring 2016.

 Iain Duncan Smith MP, said:

“Universal Credit is bringing welfare into the 21st Century by restoring fairness to the system and making work pay in a modern labour market.

“We’ve already seen remarkable successes with Universal Credit claimants moving into work faster and staying in work longer.

“As part of our long-term economic plan, today sees the next stage of this welfare revolution with the continual roll out of Universal Credit.”

The new benefit is currently available in one-in-three Jobcentres (260). The government initially targeted the roll out of Universal Credit at the ‘easiest to help’ claimants, such as single people without children. For example, only 96 Jobcentres are currently offering Universal Credit to couples, families and lone parents.

DWP figures show that more than 64,000 people have made a claim. However, this is far short of the one million originally promised by Mr Duncan Smith to be in receipt of Universal Credit by April 2014.

Universal Credit has been dogged with delays and IT problems. DWP officials have already been forced to write off millions of pounds in failed IT software.

HM Treasury officials admitted last year that a potential £633 million could be written off by the time Universal Credit is completely rolled-out across the country and to all groups of claimants.

Children’s charity Gingerbread warned in October 2013 that working single parents will be worse off under Universal Credit. Researchers found that there will be little financial incentive for single parents to increase their hours beyond ‘mini-jobs’.

The charity also found that non-working single parents’ income will be on average lower under universal credit than it is now.

Commenting on the findings, Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said at the time:

“Government claims that universal credit will make work pay, but in fact working single parents will be the biggest losers under the new system.

“The simple fact is that universal credit won’t deliver on its promise to make work pay. Single parents on low wages will be under considerable pressure to extend their hours under universal credit, but our research shows that financially, extra hours often won’t stack up.”

However, the DWP claims that Universal Credit will leave three million families better off and provide a £7 billion boost to the economy.

The department also claims that Fraud and Error will be reduced under Universal Credit, with officials having access to real-time HMRC earnings data.

Universal Credit will enable benefit payments to be calculated more accurately, says the DWP, ‘including topping up claimants earnings when they are on a low income’.

Source – Welfare Weekly,  11 May 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/botched-universal-credit-roll-out-set-to-continue-under-the-tories/

Work Programme Still Not Working, DWP Figures Show

The controversial Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents to the scheme, is still failing to help large numbers of unemployed people into permanent work, figures show.

Figures released today by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that less than one in ten (9.5%) Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants, completing a year on the scheme, find work lasting at least three months. The DWP admits that outcomes are well below expected levels but standards appear to be improving from a low of 3.9% in June 2011.

 However, the bar set for ESA claimants of achieving at least three months in work is half that for non-disabled participants (six months). Only those in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA can be expected to take part in the scheme.

For Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants on the programme the short to mid-term prognosis is little better. Around 20% of 18 to 24 year-olds find work lasting six months or more. The figure falls to one in six for those aged over 25 and other JSA groups. Minimum accepted levels set by the DWP are around 1 in 7 and 1 in 9 respectively.

In total 13.8% of Work Programme participants find work lasting six (JSA) or three (ESA) months upon completing the scheme.

The long-term prognosis for all those who take part on the Work Programme is extremely poor and shows that the scheme is failing to help unemployment people stay in work. Of those completing the programme (both ESA and JSA claimants) less than a quarter were still in work after two years. Around 70% returned to Jobcentres to rejoin the unemployment merry-go-round.

Only 29% of the most recent participants to complete two-years on the Work Programme had a minimum of three/six months in work.

Earlier this year a report from the IPPR said the Work Programme is failing those most in need and should be broken up’.

 It’s clear that the Work Programme is still failing to help the majority of unemployed people secure long-term permanent employment.

The low bar the DWP sets itself would appear to show that the government is prepared to accept a less than successful programme.

Source – Welfare News Service, 18 Sept 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/work-programme-still-working-dwp-figures-show/

North East public sector strike news – 1

Thousands of public sector workers went on strike in a bitter disagreement over pay and pensions, as part of the biggest day of industrial action seen in the country for years.

More than 400 schools in the region were fully or partially closed as teachers downed tools during the walk out.

Joining them were home helps, lollipop men and women, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, parks attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners, as well as firefighters, civil servants and transport workers.

Picket lines were mounted outside schools, council offices, Jobcentres, fire stations and Parliament in outpourings of anger over the coalition’s public sector policies.

Nationally, around 1m workers took part in the 24-hour strike, which unions claimed was one of the biggest in the country in years.

The Cabinet Office blamed union leaders for “irresponsible” strikes.

A spokesman claimed most public sector workers had reported for work and “nearly all key public services were being delivered as usual”.

The biggest issue in dispute is pay, after ministers froze public sector salaries in 2010 and introduced a 1% cap on pay rises in 2012 which remains in place.

Thousands joined a march through Newcastle City Centre campaigning against cuts, changes to pensions, pay and work conditions.

Chants of “they say cut back, we say fight back” could be heard as the crowd of teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants led the procession from outside City Pool, near the Civic Centre, as part of the one-day walk-out with teachers also highlighting concerns over children’s education and firefighters raising their fears that cuts risk lives.

Among those lending their support was Blaydon MP Dave Anderson who said: “It’s a really good turn-out. I’m impressed and spirits are really high.

These people do a tremendous job day in day out and we are not looking after them properly. It’s time we did.

“It’s time we said enough is enough. They are at the end of their tether and a cry for help.”

The procession of workers, carrying banners and placards and flanked by mounted police, headed towards Northumberland Street then through the throng of shoppers onto New Bridge Street for speeches on the blue carpet area outside Laing Art Gallery.

Most were delighted at the turnout.

Shirley Ford, 50, an administrative assistant at Marine Park Primary School in South Shields, said: “I was also on the picket line in South Shields this morning and when you’re in a small school it’s hard to sense how everyone else is feeling so this is great to see – and the sun has come out!”

Andy Nobel, executive member for the FBU in North East which is the middle of its own industrial action following the loss of 300 firefighter posts and station closures in the wake of the Government’s austerity measures, said: “Public support during our whole dispute has been fantastic.

“When they’ve heard our arguments there hasn’t been a great deal, if any, adverse public reaction.”

A further eight days of action is expected to be announced.

One firefighter, who did not want to be named, said the chief concern of colleagues was pensions not pay.

Meanwhile, teacher Tony Dowling, 57, the members’ secretary for Gateshead NUT, said: “The main reason is the pension and pay but I’m really on strike because I care about the education of the children.

“Michael Grove is making the jobs of teachers impossible and ruining children’s education.”

Cheers greeted the speakers at the rally who included Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s deputy regional convenor for public services alliance, who called the national turn-out “the second biggest turn of action since the end of the Second World War”.

Gordon Thompson, a councillor from Newsham ward in Blyth Valley, known for his refusal to pay his Poll Tax, was among the supporters at the rally and stressed the importance of making a stand.

And a familiar face lending his support was local actor Joe Caffrey, accompanying his father, retired Unison member Joe Caffrey senior, who was standing up for service providers whose pensions are taking a hit.

The 69-year-old from Whitley Bay said: “I’ve got a pension but I’m here for the people still working, particularly the young people.

Picket lines were also formed outside some of the region’s schools and council offices, including Newcastle’s Civic Centre and the Department for Work and Pensions, in Longbenton.

Newcastle’s Grainger Market was closed to the public for the first time in two years because of the industrial action.

Reports suggest there was around 5,000 people at today’s march.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  10 July 2014

High Court challenges UK work schemes

The High Court has ruled emergency laws underpinning a government back-to-work scheme are “incompatible” with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ruling stems from a case brought by Cait Reilly in 2012, who said being forced to work for free at a Poundland store breached her human rights.

The government brought in new rules in 2013 allowing unpaid work schemes to continue pending further legal appeals.

Ministers said they were “disappointed” by the ruling and would appeal.

But lawyers for Miss Reilly claimed the government owed about £130m to people who had fallen foul of the retrospective legislation and ministers should admit they made a mistake.

The 24-year old graduate challenged the legality of an unpaid work placement she undertook in 2011, part of the government’s “mandatory work activity” programme.

She said that she was told that if she did not agree to take part in the scheme, which she said involved stacking shelves, she would lose her Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The government was forced to pass emergency legislation amending the scheme last year after Court of Appeal ruled that the regulations underpinning it did not comply with existing laws giving the Department for Work and Pensions the power to introduce the programme

The legislation was designed to reinforce the rules to make it clear that claimants must do all they can to find work in order to claim benefits and to ensure the government did not have to repay money to claimants who had not complied with the conditions of their benefit claim.

But Mrs Justice Lang, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled on Friday that the retrospective legislation interfered with the “right to a fair trial” under Article Six of the Convention on Human Rights.

The Department for Work and Pensions said it was “disappointed” by the ruling – which it said applied to a minority of claimants – and would launch an appeal.

We disagree with the judgment on the legislation and are disappointed,” a spokeswoman said.

“It was discussed, voted on and passed by Parliament. While this applies to only a minority of past cases and does not affect the day to day business of our Jobcentres, we think this is an important point and will appeal.”

She said the legislation remained “in force” and the government would not be compensating anyone who had been docked benefits pending the outcome of its appeal.

But Paul Heron, a solicitor for Public Interest Lawyers, said it was a “massively significant” ruling and the DWP’s decision to appeal against it would be a further blow to the “upwards of 3,000 cases sitting in the tribunal system waiting for this judgement“.

He claimed people were owed anything from four weeks benefit, about £250, to several thousand pounds and were having to mostly represent themselves at tribunals.

He told BBC News it was “about time the DWP just held their hands up, admit they made an error, and pay people the money they were entitled to at the time. That is what a responsible government would do.”

The back-to-work schemes have been condemned by critics as “slave labour” because they involve work without pay but are seen by supporters as a good way of getting the unemployed back into the world of work.

The Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the regulations last year although the judges also rejected claims that the schemes were “exploitative” and amounted to “forced labour“.

Ministers said that the most recent legal judgement had upheld this view.

“We’re pleased the Court recognised that if claimants do not play by the rules and meet their conditions to do all they can to look for work and get a job, we can stop their benefits,” the spokeswoman added.

Poundland, one of several employers which took part in the scheme, withdrew from it in 2012.

Source –  BBC News,  04 July 2014

Cuts May Undermine Work Incentives In Universal Credit

This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Tuesday 17th June 2014

 A cross-party review of universal credit is being launched amid new evidence that funding for the project has been cut so severely that its original aim to provide incentives for people to get into work could be undermined.

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

http://welfarenewsservice.com/cuts-may-undermine-work-incentives-universal-credit/

‘Benefit sanctions can lead to a spiral of decline and potentially destitution’, says Welfare Reform Committee

Benefit sanctions can lead to a spiral of decline and potentially destitution, often getting in the way of people getting back to work, according to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee.

In its report Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck?, the committee refers to a climate of fear around jobcentres rather than one that encourages people to engage with them and find their way back to work.

Evidence presented showed that the loss of income that sanctions can lead to is now twice the maximum that can be imposed in fines by the courts.

The report identifies a number of weaknesses in the current system –

  • a consistent failure to notify people that they are being sanctioned and why;
  • a lack of flexibility and misapplication of sanctions reducing the likelihood of people finding work;
  • a failure to appreciate that many people on benefits do not have the necessary IT skills at day one to utilise the DWP’s Universal Jobmatch facility or other IT technology;
  • a failure to make those sanctioned aware of the availability of hardship payments;
  • the consistent triggering of a stop in housing benefit as a result of a sanction, which should not happen and can lead to significant debt being incurred even for a minor sanction;
  • the lack of a deadline for decision-making on DWP reconsiderations leading to delays in redressing wrong decisions; and
  • the shunting of the costs of dealing with sanctioned claimants onto other agencies: local authorities, health board, third sector agencies etc.

Noting that four in ten decisions to apply a sanction are overturned, the report calls for a review of the current regime and makes several recommendations for change.

Commenting on the report, Committee Convener Michael McMahon said:

“The system is so broken that many people do not know why they have been sanctioned, which totally undermines the DWP assertion that sanctions ‘teach’ people a lesson.

“How many of us could manage if we did not get paid one week, without any notice or often explanation?

“This demonstrates once again the enormous gulf between reality and DWP thinking.

Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck? is available from scottish.parliament.uk

Source –  Benefits & Work,  12 June 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2800-benefit-sanctions-can-lead-to-a-spiral-of-decline-and-potentially-destitution-says-welfare-reform-committee

More PCS Union And ‘Help To Work changes

> Following from yesterday’s post PCS Union And ‘Help To Work changes  the following extracts come from a post on the PCS website on 25 April 2014  (link to full article at bottom of this post).

More worrying stuff….

 

Staffing and resources

PCS believe that there are not enough staff in jobcentres to deliver the additional work. With more staff leaving in June and beyond, workloads and stress will increase leading to longer waiting for claimants, potential for more incidents, and ill health for members. This understaffing must be addressed through more recruitment.

> None of which you need a crystal ball to work out.

 

Learning and Development

Districts have provided assurance to state that over 80% of staff are sufficiently trained on SR13/HtW. PCS raised specific concerns that some staff had only been sent emails or had not been trained in the English Language assessment process.

The GEC advises members not to complete the full requirements and new tasks where training has not been provided, and to make line managers aware. Seek advice from a local PCS representative if you want to raise your concerns in writing.

> So you – and the chance of you getting sanctioned – may be in the hands of a ‘Work Coach’ (snigger…) who may not actually know what they’re doing – although from personal experience that’s often the case with existing Advisers anyway. But this point may have some use in the future if you need to appeal a sanction – was the job coach qualified to make the decision to start with ? You might also point out in interviews that the PCS suggest they  “not  complete the full requirements and new tasks where training has not been provided”.

Extension to interview times

The project managers responsible for the SR13/HtW have stated that additional funding of 12 minutes for new claims interviews has been agreed by Treasury to deliver the additional tasks associated with Day One Conditionality and the English Language assessment. The 12 minutes was identified by a work study report of the pilot sites which is yet to be shared with PCS.

The GEC has received feedback that sites are not extending diary times by 12 minutes. The project management have stated that this would be a business decision, and although the additional funding will be allocated, Work Services management do not have to extend interview times. We have asked management to reconsider their position on this matter as it is unacceptable to expect members to complete more work in the same amount of time.

The GEC advises members to state that they cannot complete the new tasks in the same interview time, to make their line manager aware and seek PCS help if required.

Work Search Review interventions should be timed at 6 minutes. The GEC has raised similar concerns that this timing may not be adequate, nor is it currently being allocated at each jobcentre.

Delivery of interventions

PCS has received feedback that some jobcentres are proposing to conduct daily work search review whilst the claimant uses a Web Access Device (WAD). The GEC has requested that DWP make clear that this is not appropriate.

The work search review should entail challenging conditionality, and therefore has the potential to create a flashpoint. The Jobcentre Plus Environmental Guide (JPEG) sets out clear and specific standards for these interventions taking place at a desk. Not only does this give the member of staff appropriate distance and an escape route, there is also the use of a panic button as a control measure.

> Good grief ! Siege mentality or what ?  If only we on the other side of the desk had an escape route.

the use of a panic button as a control measure” has a nasty ring about it too. Maybe they should be issued with tasers or electric cattle prods too ?

Even as part of freedoms and flexibilities, minimal space and exit routes should be adhered to. Management produced guidance in November 2012 states “there are no purely design-based constraints within JPEG.

Any changes to front of house business delivery should be supported a local risk assessment. The GEC cannot conceive it possible for a risk assessment to not identify serious risks in challenging conditionality and possibly identifying a doubt whilst stood or sat directly next to a claimant.

> So perhaps the best “escape route” would be to refuse to implement the measures that might put you in danger ? Must be something in the Health & Safety sphere covering that ?

Group Signing

Current SR13/HtW guidance states that weekly and daily interventions cannot be delivered by group session, as the treasury funding was based on individual face to face interventions.

This has now been changed within the last week to allow for group daily or weekly jobsearch reviews. The intention is still to allow for individual signing interactions following the group session.

> Now I hadn’t heard of this before… is this how they intend to deal with increased numbers of signing – stuff 50 people in a room and do it en masse ?

The GEC have asked that clear guidance is produced centrally on how these sessions will take place, including a risk assessment on the process.

Management have stated that group sessions should not be used in this way until the guidance has been produced and shared. Branches should challenge locally and escalate to national level if group signing is being conducted without the proper guidance and risk assessment.

Changing of attendance times

At the meeting on 24th April, DWP were not able to provide a clear reason for the instruction to change attendance times/days for weekly signing every four weeks.

They have denied that there is policy intent to ‘frustrate claimants off benefit’; they will provide PCS with clarification on why the guidance exists. Branches are asked to send in examples of local instructions which direct advisers to change times more frequently without reasonable logic.

> I would love to see the official interpretation of  “reasonable logic” – more scary perhaps is the implication that the PCS might actually accept an explanation as reasonable logic, and thus tell members to enforce it.

Pilots

As reported in DWP/BB/069/14, the GEC were not consulted at all on the pilots in Bradford, Cardiff and Poole. DWP have apologised for this lack of consultation, and will be providing the evaluations for our analysis.

Management have stated that increases in footfall were managed through changing office layout, and there was no increase in incidents on the pilot sites. PCS has expressed concerns that the pilot sites may not have implemented the full measures, and therefore the findings may invalid.

> Just wait till everywhere is doing it ! I suspect it may take more than just moving the furniture around

There is more – i think these bits are the ones that affect those of us facing daily signing directly, but you might want to check the full article at the link below, and comment if you read anything differently.

http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/department_for_work_and_pensions_group/dwp-news.cfm/help-to-work-and-sr13-conditionality-latest-news

 

 

Chaos At The DWP As Bungled Help To Work Scheme Attempts To Launch

the void

Unlike Help To Work, the new Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign has already been a huge success. Unlike Help To Work, the new Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign has already been a huge success.

Despite wildly optimistic claims from the DWP, today’s launch of mass workfare seems to be in chaos behind the scenes.  With barely any information yet available on the scheme it appears that the flagship Help To Work programme has no-one actually running it, no guidance for companies involved and no real plan to deal with the huge influx of claimants to Jobcentres from daily signing.

According to the BBC a mere 70 so-called charities have signed up to provide placements on the scheme which will involve forcing unemployed people to carry out 780 hours of unpaid work.  For ‘Help To Work to be successful, these charities will need to accept hundreds, or possibly thousands of placements each.  Predictably the DWP are not saying who the charities are.  So far the only voluntary sector organisation…

View original post 551 more words

Workfare Starts Today – Slave Labour Britain Is Here

The coalition government’s ‘Help To Work’ scheme comes into effect from today, Monday 28 April 2014.

Under the new scheme unemployed people who have been out of work for longer than two years, and who have completed the Work Programme, will be expected to undertake tough new requirements in order to continue receiving benefit.

 Claimants may be required to take part in unpaid community work placements, such as clearing up litter and graffiti in their local neighbourhood, enrol in local gardening projects or restoring war memorials.

Community work experience placements will be for 30 hours per week and could last up to six months. If participants have failed to find a job by the time the six months are up they could find themselves being recycled back onto the programme, in what could become a never-ending cycle of work for your benefits.

> How are you expected to find a job while serving a 30 hour sentence each week, when you couldn’t when you had more time to look for work ?

The long-term unemployed will also be expected to visit their local JobCentre every day to ‘sign on’ and will receive up to fours hours intensive job search coaching for each week they are on the ‘Help To Work’ Scheme.

> I don’t think Jobcentres would be able to cope with the numbers just signing on each day – forget 4 hours ‘intensive job search coaching’ ! Which in any case would actually amount to 4 hours trying to sanction you.

Failure to comply with the strict new regime could result in jobseeker’s losing their benefit for four weeks at a time or longer for repeat offenders.

According to the government, jobseeker’s with learning difficulties will also receive educational support to improve their literacy and numeracy skills.

Sick and disabled benefit claimants in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will not be required to take part in the scheme.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“A key part of our long-term economic plan is to move to full employment, making sure that everyone who can work is in work.

“We are seeing record levels of employment in Britain, as more and more people find a job, but we need to look at those who are persistently stuck on benefits.

“This scheme will provide more help than ever before, getting people into work and on the road to a more secure future.”

Secretary of State of Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith said:

“Everyone with the ability to work should be given the support and opportunity to do so.

“The previous system wrote too many people off, which was a huge waste of potential for those individuals as well as for their families and the country as a whole. We are now seeing record numbers of people in jobs and the largest fall in long-term unemployment since 1998.

“But there’s always more to do, which is why we are introducing this new scheme to provide additional support to the very small minority of claimants who have been unemployed for a number of years.

“In this way we will ensure that they too can benefit from the improving jobs market and the growing economy.”

The move has come under heavy criticism from both Labour and the unions. Unite’s assistant general secretary Steve Turner describing the new scheme as a form of “forced unpaid labour”.  He  told the Independent newspaper:

“This scheme is nothing more than forced unpaid labour and there is no evidence that these workfare programmes get people into paid work in the long-term.

“We are against this scheme wherever ministers want to implement it – in the private sector, local government and in the voluntary sector.

“The Government sees cash-starved charities as ‘a soft target’ for such an obscene scheme, so we are asking charity bosses to say ‘no’ to taking part in this programme. This is a warping of the true spirit of volunteering and will force the public to look differently at charities with which they were once proud to be associated.

“It is outrageous that the Government is trying to stigmatise job seekers by making them work for nothing, otherwise they will have their benefits docked.”

Labour’s Stephen Timms added:

“Under David Cameron’s government nearly one in ten people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance lack basic literacy skills and many more are unable to do simple maths or send an email. Yet this Government allows jobseekers to spend up to three years claiming benefits before they get literacy and numeracy training.

> Yes, we’re a pretty ignorant lot, us unemployed – obviously we wouldn’t be on the dole if we weren’t thick.

What proof is there actually for these kind of claims ? 

“A Labour government will introduce a Basic Skills Test to assess all new claimants for Jobseeker’s Allowance within six weeks of claiming benefits.

“Those who don’t have the skills they need for a job will have to take up training alongside their job search or lose their benefits.

> Here we go – Labour so eager to prove that their stick is as least as big as the ConDems.

Labour’s Basic Skills Test and our Compulsory Jobs Guarantee will give the unemployed a better chance of finding a job and will help us to earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis.”

> Yes, but unless there are actually more proper jobs to apply for, you can have all the mickey mouse qualifications in the world – you’re still limited by the number of vacancies.

Whilst the number of available job vacancies have increased significantly in recent months many area’s of the country are still witnessing a severe shortage of jobs, with the North-East of England and parts of Scotland fairing the worst.

> See, the problem is that it’s all very well saying the number of available job vacancies have increased significantly in recent months , but no-one breaks down the numbers.

How many of these jobs are actually full-time ? how many part-time ? How many are zero hour jobs ? How many are dodgy ‘self-employed’ leaflet distribution jobs ?

As someone who needs a full time wage, I know all too well that the number of these is all too small a percentage locally.

This is in stark contrast to area’s in the South-East of England where the number of available jobs are greater than the numbers of people looking for work.

However, figures due to be released on Tuesday are expected to show that competition for jobs has fallen to a new low of 1.42 jobseeker’s for every advertised job vacancy. This will no doubt come as good news for the coaliton government.

> If anyone actually believed it…

However, those figures are also expected to show that the average advertised salary has dropped by £1,800 over the last twelve months, providing more fuel to Labour’s  ‘cost of living crisis’ argument.

Sourc e – Welfare News Service  28 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/long-term-unemployed-expected-to-work-for-their-benefits-in-launch-of-new-government-scheme/

Councils Sit On £67m In Emergency Help For Poor

This article was written by Patrick Butler, George Arnett, Sarah Marsh and Samir Jeraj, for The Guardian on Sunday 20th April 2014

A fledgling scheme to provide emergency help to the poorest in the country is in chaos, with £67m left unspent and record numbers of families being turned away.

Figures released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests indicate that by the end of January councils in England were sitting on £67m of the £136m that had been allocated to local welfare schemes. Half of local authorities had spent less than 40% of their funds.

An analysis by the Guardian shows that under the new local welfare assistance schemes, four in 10 applications for emergency funds are turned down, despite evidence that many applicants have been made penniless by benefits sanctions and delays in processing benefit claims. Under the previous system – the social fund – just two in 10 were. In some parts of the country, as few as one in 10 applicants obtain crisis help.

The schemes were designed to help low-income families in crisis, such as those in danger of becoming homeless or subjected to domestic violence. Charities and MPs have warned that those denied help are turning to food banks and loan sharks.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, which offers debt and legal advice, said the emergency financial support system was in chaos. “When the safety net fails, people are left with no way of putting food on the table, paying the rent or keeping the lights on. Confusion over what help is available and who to approach means that people who need support are left high and dry.

“People are in danger of being pushed into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks by the chaotic emergency support system. Citizens Advice bureaux see people in desperate need of support who have nowhere else to turn when jobcentres and the local council don’t give out support.”

Under the new system, emergency funds are no longer ringfenced, meaning that councils can divert unspent cash to other budgets. Local welfare assistance schemes were created a year ago in 150 English authorities, alongside national schemes in Wales and Scotland, following the abolition of the social fund.

Most schemes do not offer cash or loans, but support in kind, such as food parcels and supermarket vouchers. The social fund provided loans repayable against future benefit payments – typically about £50 – and larger capital grants to destitute families who needed help to furnish flats or replace broken domestic appliances.

Despite charities reporting that demand for help has rocketed as a result of economic hardship and welfare cuts, some councils spent more money setting up and administering their welfare schemes than they gave to needy applicants.

Councils told the Guardian they had provided less in emergency funding than in the past because there was a lack of public awareness of the new system. Some had failed to advertise their schemes, while others set such tight eligibility criteria that many applicants – typically including low-paid working families, benefit claimants and those deemed to have not lived in their local area for long enough – were turned away.

Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, who has repeatedly raised the issue of local welfare in parliament, said his constituents frequently reported struggles to get crisis help. Constituents he has helped include:

• A low-wage family with three children, including an 11-month-old baby, who applied for £35 to pay for gas, electricity and baby food to help them until payday. The council scheme initially referred the family to a food bank. After lobbying by Danczuk, they were given £20 for energy costs, but were refused money for baby food.

• A pregnant mother and her partner, who after benefit changes were left with £7 a week for food after rent and council tax. They were told that they could not apply as the scheme was for “genuine emergencies” such as fires and flood.

In each case Danczuk believes the families would have qualified for emergency support under the social fund. “Central and local government are pushing people into the hands of payday loan companies and food banks. They have in effect privatised the lender of last resort,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions, which funds local welfare schemes run by 150 local authorities across England, said: “In contrast to a centralised grant system that was poorly targeted, councils can now choose how best to support those most in need. It is for local councils to decide how they spend their budgets.”

But a Conservative council leader has called on the government to reinstate local welfare assistance funding, calling it a “cut too far”. Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex county council, said the proposed cut would leave many low income families without vital support when they were going through a “tough patch in their lives”.

A briefing note prepared by the council found that 43% of 5,582 individuals and families helped by the local welfare fund to the end of February had applied because they had been left penniless by benefit sanctions and delays.

The Local Government Association has called upon the ministers to reverse the cut, and it is understood a number of councils and welfare charities are preparing to seek a judicial review of the government’s decision to cut local welfare assistance funding in April 2015.

Many councils are using part of their welfare assistance allocation to provide financial support for local food banks, which provide penniless applicants with charity food parcels.

Lady Stowell, a local government minister, told the House of Lords in January that local authorities were “doing a good job of supporting people in times of crisis and are doing it without using all the funding that has been provided so far from DWP”.

But Centrepoint, the homelessness charity said that local welfare assistance underspending meant many homeless youngsters could not get vital support when they moved from hostels into independent living. “Councils need to start using these funds to address urgent need now and ensure that young people have access to it,” said Seyi Obakin, Centrepoint’s chief executive.

Two local authorities – Labour-run Nottinghamshire county council and Tory-run Oxfordshire – have scrapped local welfare assistance altogether and plan to divert the money into social care services..

Conservative-run Herefordshire  county council had spent less than £5,000 of its annual £377,000 allocation by the end of December last year, equivalent to 1% of its local welfare budget.It said its spending reflected low demand for crisis help, a claim disputed by Hereford Citizens Advice and Hereford food bank, which said they had been inundated with requests.

Labour-run Islington council had spent 80% of its emergency funds budget by the end of December last year and had spent all its emergency funds by April. It said it had encouraged its frontline staff to refer individuals to its local welfare scheme to ensure they got crisis help and assistance with any underlying problems, such as debt.

Local authorities are anticipating further problems over local welfare in 2015 when the DWP scraps funding for the schemes. Councils, charities and MPs have called on the government to restore and ringfence the crisis support allocation.

Councils say that in some cases they have refused emergency help because benefit claimants have been wrongly referred to local authority welfare schemes by jobcentres. Some councils have refused to accept applications from those who ought to have been offered a short-term benefit advance from their local jobcentre.

Scotland and Wales have their own welfare assistance schemes and these have higher applicant success rates than in England. In Northern Ireland, which still has the social fund, 70% of applicants received help.

Source – Welfare News Service  20 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/councils-sit-on-67m-in-emergency-help-for-poor/