Tagged: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Pushing Sick People Into Work ‘Likely To Be Ineffective’

Government policy of pushing people of poor health from unemployment and into work is “likely to be ineffective”, according to a damning new report.

New research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), found that unemployed people of poor health are more likely to move from permanent to temporary or low-paid work than healthier workers. They are also more likely to slip back into unemployment.

Full story : http://northstar.boards.net/thread/74/pushing-sick-people-work-ineffective

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New report reveals human cost of Government cuts in North East

A report published today reveals the “human cost” of Government cuts in the North East.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that the most deprived areas of England have seen the largest cuts in funding since 2010.

‘The Cost Of The Cuts’ report finds that local authorities have been able to protect front line services by finding new, innovative ways of working, but that capacity for further efficiency savings is fast running out.

Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, who last week oversaw £40million budget cutbacks and a council tax increase which will see the city’s Band B residents paying £20 more a year, said:

“This research highlights the human cost of the cuts to service users and staff and reinforces the case Newcastle has made for a fairer and more equitable settlement.

“We have long argued that disproportionate Government cuts have had a bigger impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people in our community. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have now added their independent voice to the many who now confirm that, sadly this has indeed been the case.

“Whilst we recognise the need for reductions in public spending, the cuts have been implemented far too quickly and at a pace and scale which has led to service reductions which could otherwise have been avoided. This approach is causing real harm to our communities.

“In Newcastle we have responded by doing all we can to safeguard services to the most vulnerable, and to continue to invest in our city to create the jobs and economic growth which are fundamentally important to tackling the inequalities in health, wealth and quality of life which blight our communities.

“More innovative approaches are possible based on greater devolution of public service budgets to places, and multi-year financial settlements which give local councils and their partners greater certainty about their finances. This would allow us to plan ahead together for a more transformative approach to sustaining public services in the face of continuing austerity.”

Analysis of local government expenditure data reveals that the poorest English authorities have seen reductions of £182 more per head than the most affluent, breaking the historic link between the amount a local authority spends per head and local deprivation levels.

In 2010/11, the most deprived councils had an extra 45% of expenditure per head to cope with additional needs. By 2014/15, this had been reduced to 17%.

Services such as housing and planning have been worst affected across the country, seeing cuts of around 40%.

The report highlights an important difference between the situation in England and in Scotland. It claims the slower pace of cuts in Scotland may have given local authorities more room to invest in preventative measures, which could drive down costs in the medium term by reducing the need for services in future years.

Professor Annette Hastings from the University of Glasgow said:

“Local councils find themselves in an incredibly difficult position. At a time when the agenda is about how to make public services work better, particularly for those that need them the most, councils are being subjected to year on year funding cuts.

“Their capacity to deliver positive change is being reduced just when it is needed the most.”

Josh Stott, policy and research manager at the Foundation said:

“The cuts have forced the pace of local service reform and there have been some positives, in terms of service redesign and new ways of working.

“However, we are now beginning to see the impacts of the cuts filter through on to the quality of local services. There is a general consensus that we are only half way through the cuts and, if we continue on this course, it seems inevitable that the poorest people and places will be even harder hit.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 Mar 2015

Welfare Reforms Are Main Cause Of Homelessness In England, Study Finds

Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax, sanctions and housing benefit cuts are fuelling England’s rapidly worsening homelessness crisis, according to an independent study.

The government’s welfare policies have emerged as the biggest single trigger for homelessness now the economy has recovered, the study says, and they look likely to increase pressure on vulnerable households for at least the next two years.

London has become the centre of homelessness, the study says, as high rents, housing shortages and welfare cuts force poorer people out of the inner city to cheaper neighbourhoods. Those who lose their homes are increasingly rehoused outside the capital.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said the report revealed the true scale of homelessness in England. “Rising numbers [are] facing the loss of their home at a time when councils are being forced to cut services. This is a desperate state of affairs.”

Official figures show that homelessness is rising – up by 12,000 in 2013-14 continuing an upward trend since 2009-10 – with rough sleeping also on the increase, and soaring numbers of homeless families in temporary accommodation.

But the study argues that these official figures underplay the scale and complexity of homelessness in England because they do not capture the hundreds of thousands of people in housing crisis who are given informal help by authorities.

Although latest government statistics show 52,000 households were formally recorded as homeless in 2013-14, a total of 280,000 families were given some sort of assistance by authorities because they were at risk of losing their home.

Local authorities are increasingly using informal homelessness relief to keep at-risk families off the streets by providing financial support and debt advice or by mediating with landlords, none of which appears in the headline statistics.

“Taking these actions into account, we see that the number of cases of people facing or at serious risk of homelessness rose sharply last year. Yet this alarming trend has gone largely unnoticed by politicians or the media,” said the study’s lead author, Prof Suzanne Fitzpatrick of Heriot-Watt University.

The Homelessness Monitor 2015, an annual independent audit, is published by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The housing minister, Kris Hopkins, said the study’s claims were misleading. Local authorities had a wide range of government-backed options available to help prevent homelessness and keep people off the streets, he said.

This government has increased spending to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, making over £500m available to local authorities and the voluntary sector,” he said.

Hopkins added that the government had provided Crisis with nearly £14m in funding to help about 10,000 single homeless people find and sustain a home in the private rented sector.

Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:

“Homelessness can be catastrophic for those of us who experience it. If we are to prevent a deepening crisis, we must look to secure alternatives to home ownership for those who cannot afford to buy: longer-term, secure accommodation at prices that those on the lowest incomes can afford.”

The study finds:

  • Housing benefit caps and shortages of social housing has led to homeless families increasingly being placed in accommodation outside their local area, particularly in London. Out-of-area placements rose by 26% in 2013-14, and account for one in five of all placements.
  • Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax contributed to an 18% rise in repossession actions by social landlords in 2013-14, a trend expected to rise as arrears increase and temporary financial support shrinks.
  • Housing benefit cuts played a large part in the third of all cases of homelessness last year caused by landlords ending a private rental tenancy, and made it harder for those who lost their home to be rehoused.

The study says millions of people are “hidden homeless”, including families forced by financial circumstances to live with other families in the same house, and “sofa surfers” who sleep on friends’ floors or sofas because they have nowhere to live.

Official estimates of rough sleeper numbers in England in 2013 were 2,414 – up 37% since 2010. But the study’s estimates based on local data suggest that the true figure could be at least four times that.

Source – The Guardian,  04 Feb 2015

Sharp Rise In Number Of Under 25’s Living In Poverty

Shocking research published today reveals a sharp rise in the number of under 25’s and working people living in poverty in the UK.

The latest poverty and social exclusion report, written by the New Policy Institute (NPI) in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows how under 25’s and people in work are now more likely to be living in poverty than pensioners.

There are now around 13 million people living in poverty in the UK, with half of those coming from a working family and 1 in 5 are working age adults without children.

In stark contrast pensioner poverty has fallen to a record low under the coalition, according to the report. The decline in pensioner poverty is attributed to targeted government support aimed at protecting older people from the worst austerity cuts.

A changing labour market and the prevalence of zero-hours contracts, part-time work and low-paid self-employment means that moving into employment is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty.

According to the report, there are around 1.4 million zero-hours jobs that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours. Over half of these are in retail, admin, accommodation or the food and restaurant sector.

Around two-thirds of unemployed people who moved into work over the last year are paid below the living wage. And only a fifth of people in low-paid jobs have escaped poverty wages completely within 10 years, according to the report.

Incomes are lower on average than they were a decade ago with the very poorest taking the biggest hit. For the lowest paid men, their hourly pay has fallen by a shocking 70p per hour, while women have seen their hourly rate fall by 40p per hour.

The prospects for self-employed people isn’t any better either, because analysis shows they earn 13% less than they did just 5 years ago.

jrf-poverty-report-figures

Failure of the welfare system means Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants on the government’s controversial Work Programme are more likely to be sanctioned, or have their benefits docked/cut, as they are to find a job through the back-to-work scheme. And 60,000 disabled people are having to wait 6 months or more for their sickness benefit claim to be fully processed.

The report also highlights a ‘welcome’ drop in the number of people classed as unemployed. However, Welfare Weekly recently reported that as many as 500,000 job seekers could be ‘disappearing’ from official unemployment figures, due to cruel and unjust benefit sanctions.

Children in receipt of free school meals fail to attain five ‘good’ GCSE’s, highlighting a lack of social mobility among children from poorer families.

The report also reveals more people living in poverty in private rented housing. There are now as many people living in poverty in the private sector as in social housing, according to the report. Private landlord repossessions are now more common than mortgage repossessions – 17,000 compared to 15,000 in 2013/14. Private landlord repossessions are the most common cause of homelessness in the UK, say JRF.

Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of JRF, said:

“This year’s report shows a real change in UK society over a relatively short period of time. We are concerned that the economic recovery we face will still have  so many people living in poverty. It is a risk, waste and cost we cannot afford: we will never reach our full economic potential with so many people struggling to make ends meet.

“A comprehensive strategy is needed to tackle poverty in the UK. It must tackle the root causes of poverty, such as low pay and the high cost of essentials. This research in particular demonstrates that affordable housing has to be part of the answer to tackling poverty: all main political parties need to focus now on providing more decent, affordable homes for people on low incomes.”

Tom MacInnes, Research Director at the NPI, said:

This report highlights some good news on employment – but earnings and incomes are still lower than five years ago, and most people who moved from unemployment into work can only find a low paid job. Government has focussed its efforts on welfare reform, but tackling poverty needs a wider scope, covering the job market, the costs and security of housing and the quality of services provided to people on low incomes.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“This report highlights once again how ordinary working people are being excluded from the recovery and are becoming poorer in real terms.

“Our economy has become very good at creating low-paid, insecure jobs which are trapping more and more families in working poverty.

“The situation looks particularly bleak for young people – many of whom face decades of private renting and diminished career prospects.

“Without more affordable housing and quality employment opportunities, living standards for the many will continue their steep decline.”

A Government spokesman said:

“The truth is, the percentage of people in the UK in relative poverty is at its lowest level since the mid-1980s and the number of households where no-one works is the lowest since records began.

“The Government’s long-term economic plan is working to deliver the fastest growing economy in the G7, putting more people into work than ever before, and reducing the deficit by more than a third.

“The only sustainable way to raise living standards is to keep working through the plan that is building a resilient economy and has enabled us to announce the first real terms increase in the minimum wage since the great recession.”

> By the end of the statement, Government Spokesman’s nose had grown several inches longer…

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  24 Nov 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/sharp-rise-number-25s-living-poverty/

North East is suffering a pay fall as wage gap emerges

A widening pay gap between the region and the rest of the country has emerged, alongside a pay fall for the nation as a whole this year.

According to the Northern think tank, IPPR North, real wages have fallen in the past few years in the North-East and North Yorkshire, where workers are generally earning less than the national average.

Between 2009 and 2013 real annual wages have fallen three per cent in the North-East (£740) and five per cent in Yorkshire and the Humber (£1,249.)

Over the same period, the cost of living has risen sharply across the nation.

Social research charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) say the cost of goods and services has gone up 28 per cent since 2008.

Luke Raikes, a researcher with IPPR North said:

“Low pay is a severe and growing problem for both the North East and for Yorkshire and the Humber, as it is for the country as a whole.”

“Workers in the area earn less per hour: nationally the average wage is £13.13, but in North East it’s £12.14, and in Yorkshire and the Humber it’s £12.”

The news has come during Living Wage week, where it was revealed one in every four workers is earning less than the living wage in the region, which now stands at £7.85 an hour.

Most of the districts with the lowest average hourly gross pay were in rural North Yorkshire, which included the districts of Ryedale (£10.43) followed by Scarborough (£10.82) and Hambleton (£11.17).

In the North-East, the average hourly pay in Middlesbrough was the lowest, at £11.05 per hour and the highest was in Stockton-on-Tees, where it worked out at £13.29 per hour.

It comes as a report show a national pay fall. Wages have been “dragged down” this year because of changing trends in the workforce, including younger and less experienced employees, according to a new study.

> But surely changing trends in the workforce are caused by decisions made by  employers ?  If anyone is guilty of dragging down wages, its surely not the employees !

The Resolution Foundation think tank said a downward shift in the mix of occupations towards lower-paying jobs has prevented 2014 from being the year of the pay rise.

But some of this was due to increase employment; changes which led to reduced earnings growth include fewer managerial jobs, rising youth employment and increasing numbers of people starting a job.

> Or, as a comment to the original article pointed out :

It also appears to be due to a cultural change in companies pushing their luck with employees. They know there are less skilled jobs available allowing them to cut wages, implement pay freezes and cut benefits such as pensions. This is definitely the case with my employer. I cant see this changing in a hurry. My employers regularly state if you don’t like it, you know where the door is! Inflation continues, my wage increase doesn’t.

Source –  Northern Echo,  08 Nov 2014

Council tax could be set to rise in Newcastle after a four year freeze to help pay for £90m worth of cuts

Council tax could rise after a four year freeze for ratepayers as Newcastle City Council announces a further £90m cut to its budget over the next three years.

Leader of the council Nick Forbes said he couldn’t ‘rule out’ an increase as he looks to save £40m from the next financial year alone as less money comes to Newcastle from Central Government.

Councillor Forbes said the financial year 2015 to 2016 would see the authority facing a series of ‘fiscal cliffs’ as the council struggles to maintain anything but basic services.

The end of certain Sure Start child care services will be announced on Thursday, while the public have been told to expect a dirtier city as the council cuts back on street cleaning.

The Labour leader said: “The Government hasn’t as yet made it clear whether there will be an offer about a council tax freeze but given the dire cuts that we are facing and the need to maintain a decent environment means we can’t rule it out.

“We have frozen the tax for the last four years because we wanted to help people with the cost of living crisis.

The council’s latest budget cut announcement will go before Cabinet to be discussed by councillors on October 22. Specific services under threat from being axed will be finalised for formal consultation with the public in December, however £5m is already known to be going from the budget for Sure Start centres.

The £90m cut by 2018 is on top of the £151m that has been cut since 2010 which led to some libraries being transferred into community ownership and the City Pool shut down.

Coun. Forbes, said:

I have warned in the past that government cuts mean that public services in our city are facing a fiscal cliff. Today we are at the very edge of the precipice.

“We have begun a debate with our partners about how we can start to make this happen in many areas – but particularly in health and social care where we need to move resources away from crisis response to those services which help prevent people from coming to harm in the first place.”

He said greater devolution to the North East of England would help combat some of the ‘unpalatable options’ the council is facing, however until that happens there will be cuts to services he knows people cherish.

Further conversations with Sir Len Fenwick, the Chief Executive of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and other key health agencies will now need to be had as the council aims to devise stronger partnerships on delivering adult social care than ever before.

The Labour representative said: “There’s a willingness from health partners to do things differently.”

The £40m cut in the first year is to cope with the expected expenditure required of the council and a £25m decrease in Central Government’s revenue support grant.

However he said not all councils across the UK have been hit with the same funding reduction and the cut to Newcastle’s budget had been ten times greater than other councils. He said the city being given an ‘unfair’ financial deal is backed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Audit Commission.

Liberal Democrat councillor Anita Lower, leader of the opposition, said:

You can blame Central Government but no one is saying ‘you must not fund Sure Start’. Central Government is saying here is the money, now you decide what to do with it.

“It’s about being creative and being aware of what’s out there and what needs do the public have and doing your best to provide that. We are at the point now where we know what’s coming from Central Government. Yes it’s tough but that’s what being in charge is about but these are Nick Forbes’ decisions.

“In the last two years we should have been talking more with parents, community groups and the private sector. There’s scope to get money from health, and schools could be doing more. Schools could use the Government’s pupil premium money to work with families or put it into Sure Start type services.”

> “It’s about being creative and being aware of what’s out there and what needs do the public have and doing your best to provide that”  = workfare, no doubt.  Why pay when you can conscript someone to do it for nothing.

Residents from across the city are invited to have their say on the council’s preparatory budget planning at www.letstalknewcastle.co.uk

Detailed proposals will be published for formal consultation in December 2014. The council will make final decisions on its budget in March 2015.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 15 Oct 2014

Sunderland faces new £36m ‘attack on the poor’

Sunderland faces another three years of misery after it was revealed another £108million of savings will have to be made in an ‘unremitting assault and ‘attack on the poor.’

The Labour cabinet at Sunderland City Council agreed a report which will guide the budget setting process for the next financial year.

By adopting the budget planning framework 2015/16, which shows the reduction in national funding remaining at 13.16 per cent for the next financial year, cabinet members have agreed that cuts of £36.3million will have to be made.

Presenting the report, cabinet secretary Mel Speding said the cuts would mean frontline services would be cut – but pledged the council will still push forward with regeneration projects.

The sustained level of cuts means frontline services will unavoidably be affected,” Coun Speding said, adding that: “This council continues to lobby against government proposals.”

Coun Graeme Miller added:

“This is an unremitting assault on the public sector and local authorities in general. Quite how they expect us to deliver the services the residents of the city are expecting from us I have absolutely no idea. To have lost £100million already, then to have to find another £108million, beggars belief.”

Coun John Kelly said:

Other authorities and areas have not taken the significant cuts we have taken. Whether this is because we are a Labour-controlled authority or because we are in the North East, the Conservatives have done nothing but attack this area. If they are voted back in, they will continue to attack the poor. They will continue to dismantle, bit by bit, the way we look after the most vulnerable people.”

Commenting after the meeting, Tory group leader Lee Martin said the Labour councillors failed to see the bigger picture.

“It doesn’t gel with what’s happening in people’s lives,” Coun Martin said. “We’ve had the fastest fall in poverty rates, along with Scotland, at five per cent. This comes from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which is hardly a Conservative organisation. We have the fastest growing economy in Europe.

> So… the more resources are cut, the more poverty rates fall ?  How does that work ? Well of course it doesn’t…

“There has been no commitment from Ed Miliband or the Labour Party to spend more on local government if they get in. Labour like to talk about it as a great big crusade against the North East, but they did nothing to address regeneration, employment and welfare.

“We have money going into business parks, roads, regeneration, but the difference now is that everything comes with strings attached.

“Nobody believes that we have no money. If that was the case, why would we spend £12million on a public square. Yes, the council is smaller than it used to be, but there is no commitment from them to go back to how it used to be. It’s all about where their priorities are.”

Sunderland Unison organiser Helen Metcalf said:

“From our point of view we want to protect public services as far as possible. Where there is outsourcing of services, we need to protect contracts and working conditions, and ensure we get a fair deal for our members. We have offered to work with the council. We can’t stop services being outsourced, but we want to ensure we don’t move towards zero-hour contracts and a two-tier workforce.”

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  10 Oct 2014

Benefits Street-style ‘welfare ghettos’ are a myth, according to Teesside research

The idea of ‘welfare ghettos’ full of streets where nobody works is a myth, according to research carried out in Middlesbrough by a Teesside University academic.

Professor Rob MacDonald says the concept of ‘benefits streets‘ – brought to the public’s attention by the television programme currently filming its second series in Stockton – don’t exist.

Residents of Kingston Road on Stockton’s Tilery Estate will feature in the next run of the Channel 4 show, due to be broadcast early next year.

A popular misconception of such areas, Mr MacDonald says, is that they are dominated by families who haven’t worked over generations and that unemployment is the preferred way of life.

Instead, his research found, even in deprived areas most households contain people who work and younger people want to find jobs.

The first series of Benefits Street, filmed on James Turner Street in Birmingham, was met with tabloid headlines about “90% of residents on hands-out” and “the street where 9 out of 10 households are on welfare“.

But Mr MacDonald says those figures are misleading.

His research, conducted along with Professor Tracy Shildrick from Leeds University and Professor Andy Furlong from Glasgow University, was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Their studies in Middlesbrough and Glasgow focused on 20 families and aimed to find out whether some popular ideas about the unemployed were actually myths.

Mr MacDonald said:

In seeking neighbourhoods to test out the ideas, we selected areas with very high levels of worklessness – perhaps like the makers of Benefits Street.

“Even with these extreme cases, the majority of local people of working age were not on unemployment benefits. This is a far cry from the situation where an entire community sits on benefits for life.”

In James Turner Street recent statistics have shown that between 62% and 65% of households have somebody in employment – meaning that 35% to 38% of households could be described as workless.

Mr MacDonald said:

“In this sense, James Turner Street is very similar to the neighbourhoods we researched in Glasgow and Middlesbrough.”

Confirmation that Benefits Street was being filmed on Teesside caused widespread anger.

The Gazette’s photographer was egged while taking pictures of film crews on Kingston Road, Boro fans have displayed banners protesting against the series and families have started petitions against the programme.

Love Productions, the company behind the series, insists its intention is to give the communities taking part “a voice“.

In the university research, of the younger people interviewed who did not have jobs, most had brothers and sisters who were working.

Mr MacDonald added:

“This throws into doubt theories that rely on the idea that individuals are so swamped by negative role models and so bereft of positive examples of people in jobs that they learn that worklessness is the norm and to be preferred.

“The idea of ‘benefit ghettos’ where unemployment is a ‘lifestyle choice’ is a powerful one that helps justify the government’s cuts to welfare budgets. Yet our research has demonstrated that this is a myth, in the sense that it does not reflect the facts of the matter.

“If a culture of worklessness cannot be found in the extremely deprived neighbourhoods we studied, then they are unlikely to explain more general patterns of worklessness in the UK.”

In response to the research, the government insisted that “sadly, joblessness isn’t a myth”.

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said:

“In 2010, the number of families with no one working peaked at over 3.9 million.

“Latest figures show that this has fallen by 450,000 suggesting we were right to implement a radical overhaul of the welfare system.

“We are very careful about the language we use – making it clear that it is very often the system itself that has trapped people on benefits.”

The study that Mr MacDonald contributed to, ‘Benefits Street and the Myth of Workless Communities’, was published in the Sociological Research journal.

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 12 Sept 2014

 

Sunderland among worst cities for insecure jobs and poor pay

Sunderland is one of the worst cities in the country for the proportion of people in insecure, low-paid jobs, according to a new report.

The Centre for Cities study, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, maps changes in the UK’s labour market between 2001 and 2011, and charts pay rates across the country.

It shows more than a third of Wearside workers are in a low-paid job – classed as earning less than two-thirds of the national average.

The city did see a shift towards more high-paying posts in the decade to 2011 and retains a substantial share of intermediate jobs compared to other cities, thanks to the presence of Nissan and its supply chain.

There’s no doubt low-paying jobs have always existed, and some UK cities continue to see significant growth in high-paid jobs,” said Centre for Cities chief executive Alexandra Jones.

But what has changed over the past few decades is that, in many cities, the pathways to upward mobility have been severely eroded, as their jobs markets polarise and the stable jobs of the ‘middle’ begin to slip away.”

Politicians had put too much emphasis on the number of people in work without paying sufficient attention to the quality of the jobs that were being created.

For far too long, successive governments have focused on the number, not the quality of jobs being created – but the trend towards low-paying, insecure employment is bad for workers, bad for cities, and bad for the national economy,” she said.

Lack of opportunities for worker progression threatens to trap workers in poverty cycles from which they, and their cities, cannot escape.”

The report recommends giving cities more flexibility over funding to help them support new and existing businesses, and letting the Low Pay Commission work with cities that have a strong case for introducing a local minimum wage.

Also, giving cities greater regulatory and borrowing powers to help them to reduce housing, transport and childcare costs, raising living standards for workers in low-pay occupations.

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  05 Sept 2014

Iain Duncan Smith’s delusional world of welfare reform

This article was written by Polly Toynbee, for The Guardian on Tuesday 12th August 2014 05.00 UTC

Politicians may deal in terminological inexactitudes, but I can’t think of many black-is-white, war-is-peace practitioners as downright deceptive as Iain Duncan Smith.

Originally, the question was whether to put it down to simple stupidity, as he didn’t understand that the numbers he promised were impossible. Yesterday, poring over his big speech on welfare reform, a few of the more polite experts spoke of his “magical thinking”. But his motives and state of mind hardly matter to the millions affected by his evidence-free, faith-based policy-making.

 His speech was a paean of self-praise. To read it, no minister has done such good for so many. This was a sublime response to a battery of critics who include Treasury briefers, the National Audit Office on the failure of his work programme, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority for his abuse of figures, and the Major Projects Authority awarding his universal credit an amber/red warning.

The man does have indefatigable self-confidence: “We are fixing society,” he says. The Times, Sun, Mail and Telegraph happily swallowed it whole, rather than explore the thickets of his benefit system. His great claim is that his reforms have been the key driver in getting people back to work.

Let’s start with where he’s right: this recession has been unlike any other, as employment fell by far less and now grows by far more than economists can explain. Fraser Nelson, the Spectator editor, eagerly backed the view that IDS’s big stick has been the “game-changer”.

But Jonathan Portes, head of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, formerly Treasury and a Department for Work and Pensions economist, makes mincemeat of the claim. Comparing numbers with charts over time, he concludes: “The idea that those on JSA are getting a job more quickly than before the recession, let alone that welfare reform has anything to do with it, has no support in the data.”

When it comes to the sick on employment and support allowance, numbers fell steadily from 2004, rose a bit in the recession and were starting to fall on trend. But now they’re rising again. Why? Portes says it’s “the result of the administrative chaos surrounding the Atos contract for the work capability assessment”.

Duncan Smith takes credit for one of Labour’s successes: Labour raised the number of single mothers into work from 46% to 58%. He says it’s higher than ever now, which is true – but only up by 2 percentage points in his time. He hurls accusations at Labour’s welfare bill: welfare expert Declan Gaffney says Labour cut the bill and kept it stable as a proportion of GDP – until the crash. It peaked in 2012 on IDS’s watch.

His universal credit was due this April to cover a million people: so far it covers just 16,000 easy households with no children, writing off £130m in failed IT. But you would never guess when IDS says it “completes the cultural shift”. Rolling many benefits into one doesn’t magically simplify them: the online form, 50 pages long, still needs to record every changing detail of every member of the household in real time.

Better incentives? Donald Hirsch, economist for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, finds that on universal credit, families who work full-time can easily end up with less than if they worked part-time. Worse, it traps mothers at home: if one partner works, the second gains virtually nothing by taking a job. Nor does Duncan Smith say that 65p is cut from every extra pound earned. Raising income tax thresholds for the low-paid hardly applies to those on universal credit: most of the gain is lost as their benefit is cut back.

There are traps, hazards both moral and practical, in any benefit system. These deserve debate – but IDS prefers falsifications of reality. The bedroom tax, he says, is imperative. He doesn’t say that only 4% or 5% of people have moved as a result, the rest taking a huge hit, sending them to loan sharks and food banks. Nor does he tell of the doubling, by next year, of the number of working people drawing housing benefit, due to soaring rents and falling pay.

Take the disaster of his 20% cut and transfer of disability living allowance into personal independence payments (PIPs). Forced to delay existing cases to after the election, that’s a nasty gift of 3.6 million assessments for his successor. But worse, people applying now are held in a long backlog, often very sick.

Macmillan Cancer Support, campaigning hard about waits of over six months for benefits rulings, mentions one typical case: a 25-year-old father with advanced cancer waiting for PIP has almost no money. His wife has had to work while he cares for their baby. Without his PIP, he waits for carer’s allowance, severe disability premium, escape from the bedroom tax, bus pass, taxi cards to get to hospital and heating grant. Latest figures show only 24% of claims have been processed; the rest wait, and some claimants die waiting.

There is a lot of misleading talk about sanctions,” Duncan Smith says. Indeed there is, by him. Any benefit system has to prevent fraud or idleness, but he must know how his Jobcentre Plus offices have become sanction factories, his staff under unbearable pressure to cut people off. Research by Inclusion finds an unprecedented gap between the number of unemployed and those drawing JSA – invisible people living on thin air.

Last week the Guardian reported the tragic death of a diabetic former soldier, sanctioned into starvation. Go to any food bank and you’ll find heartbreaking cases. Every week, my inbox tells of people struck off unjustly – the latest, Jim, was sent on a course by the jobcentre then struck off for not signing on, as if he could be in two places at once.

Tricks abound as staff are forced to hit targets called “spinning plates”. With George Osborne taking another £12bn cuts after 2015, it’s possible Duncan Smith doesn’t know the abominations he oversees.

> Oh, I’m sure he does know, and probably revels in it. After all, he kept his job in the recent reshuffle despite everybody knowing he is incompetent – he probably now believes he can do anything, without personal consequences.

Source – Welfare News Service,  12 Aug 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/iain-duncan-smiths-delusional-world-welfare-reform/