Ministers are considering making drastic cuts to the sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), internal documents reveal.
Internal documents seen by the BBC reveal how ministers have ‘considered’ making draconian cuts to ESA payments for those claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).
It is believed that the move would reflect how sick and disabled people in the WRAG are required to take steps toward future employment, even though they are currently thought of as ‘unfit for work’.
Sick and disabled people in the WRAG of ESA currently receive £28,75 a week more than JSA claimants, but papers seen by the BBC suggest that ministers have at least considered cutting this to just 50p more. The higher amount recognises additional costs incurred by sick and disabled people on a daily basis.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the proposals were not government policy. However, this doesn’t mean that such a policy would not be implemented in the future, or find its way into the Tories general election manifesto.
The documents also reveal how the the government has been forced to bring in an extra 100 fitness-for-work assessors to clear a backlog of more than 60,000 ESA claims. The extra assessors will be hired through the employment support and training agency Pertemps.
DWP is expected to announce the successor to Atos in the next few months, who pulled out of a contract to assess unemployed people for ESA in the wake of criticism about the accuracy of its assessments.
Speculation is mounting that the U.S firm Maximus will be picked as the preferred bidder for a contract worth £500 million over three and a half years.
ESA is claimed by around two million people and provides crucial financial support for those who, through no fault of their own, are too sick or disabled to be able to work.
Dame Anne Begg, chair of the commons work and pensions committee, said she would support reforms to ESA but not any reduction in the value of the benefit. She added:
“That’s not reform, that is just saving money. I hope that is not something the government is going to come forward with.”
> Why not ? It’s never stopped them in the past.
Click here to find out more (BBC News)
Source – Welfare Weekly, 30 Oct 2014
> Something to bear in mind in the light of today’s claims that unemployment is falling. The number of people claiming JSA might be falling… but not necesserily because they’ve found work.
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 14th May 2014
In total, 870,793 claimants were subject to an adverse decision to lose their benefit in 2013 due to a failure to meet Jobcentre Plus requirements to make themselves available for work.
In October alone a total of 88,489 were subject to adverse decisions, a record number of sanctions for a single month since the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) started compiling the figures.
The figures released on Wednesday alongside the labour market statistics also show an additional 530,957 JSA claimants were referred for a sanction throughout 2013, but the adjudicator rejected the proposed sanction. A further 95,400 decisions were reserved and nearly 500,000 referrals were cancelled.
Across Britain between October 2012 and December 2013 just over 1 million people have been subject to an adverse sanction, 633,000 were allowed to keep their benefit after a referral and 580,273 has a referral cancelled. The DWP introduced a more demanding claimant commitment regime in October 2012.
The government made no comment on the figures and produced no accompanying analysis of the figures, although the new sanctions regime represent some of the most important welfare reforms the government has introduced.
> Well, there’s a suprise…
Ministers argue it is vital they do not repeat the mistakes of the 1980s recession when hundreds of thousands were allowed to stay on incapacity benefit without any serious effort keep them close to the labour market.
> Mistakes ? Wasn’t putting people on incapacity benefit just another Thatcherite fiddle to reduce the unemployment figures ?
Critics claim the regime is punitive and some jobcentres effectively are given targets to sanction a proportion of claimants. Jobcentre managers acknowledge they have management information on the proportion of claimants who are being sanctioned, and questions can be raised if a jobcentre is out of line with other jobcentres. They insist they are no targets.
Between October 2012 and December 2013 the number of lower-level adverse decisions for JSA claimants were 550,033, a further 388,324 were intermediate and just under 90,000 were the most serious sanctions. A first offence for a lower-level sanction can lead to loss of benefit for a month. A second failure at this level of offence leads to loss of benefit for 13 weeks.
The bulk of those subject to intermediate sanctions were found not to be actively seeking work, and those subject to a low-level sanction were found to be failing to participate in the government work programme.
Since the new regime was introduced more than 120,000 of those JSA claimants subject to an adverse decision were classified as disabled.
The number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants subject to adverse decisions is also steadily rising albeit at much lower levels. The number of ESA claimants subject to a sanction in December 2013 was 4,879, mainly due to a failure to attend an interview.
The DWP work services director, Neil Couling, told the Scottish parliament welfare select committee in April that: “My experience is that many benefit recipients welcome the jolt that a sanction can give them. Indeed, I have evidence – which I can share with the committee if members want it – of some very positive outcomes from just those kinds of tough conversations. They are tough conversations to have on the jobcentre side, as well as for the claimants.
“Some people no doubt react very badly to being sanctioned – we see some very strong reactions – but others recognise that it is the wake-up call that they needed, and it helps them get back into work.”
> Or into a life of crime, a life on the streets or out of life altogether…
He said the essence of the DWP approach is managing to encourage, support and move people through the different attitudinal groups into the determined seekers’ group.
> And that means what exactly ?
He conceded the numbers being sanctioned had risen but said it was too early to say if this was a trend. He argued that any rise in sanctions may be due to a rise in the numbers of times the unemployed can be called to a jobcentre. He said: “The chances of having a sanction in the course of interaction with the state organisation are going up, so there might well be an increase in the numbers. However, that is not an outcome that we are driving towards.”
Couling also said the rise in use of food banks was due to an increase in supply rather than an increase in demand due to the rise in sanctions. He said: “If somebody is sanctioned, they will have no benefit income for the period of the sanction unless they claim for hardship, so those individuals will present to food banks. In fact, there have been sanctions in the benefits system since it started.”
> The man’s a moron – unfortunately he’s a moron in a position of power.
Source – Welfare News Service – 14 May 2014
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
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 14th April 2014
There has been a 60% spike in the number of people seeking advice about paying bills as a result of increases in the length of benefit sanctions, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).
A year after the limits were introduced, Ipsos Mori research found a third of people affected have been forced to cut back on essential items. Around 25% have looked for a job after being hit by the cap, while 45% plan to do so in future. The survey looked at 1,000 people out of more than 38,600 households that have been caught by the new rules.
The government extended the period Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is withheld from one week to four weeks last October. There have been repeated reports that JSA claimants feel they have suddenly lost benefit on the basis of arbitrary decisions for which they have been given no warning or little explanation.
An independent review of the sanctions regime commissioned by DWP is yet to be published, but the latest CAB figures suggest there is an urgency to the issue that ministers have yet to grasp. Polls suggest the DWP would feel under little pressure to soften any aspect of the welfare regime.
The CAB – which is a free advice service – said that since the sanctions regime was toughened, it has helped clients with over 15,000 JSA sanction problems. The increase in the numbers seeking help is disproportionate to the increase in the number of sanctions being applied by the DWP.
Under the previous one-week sanction claimants could cope, the CAB said, but a four-week withdrawal of access to benefit led people into desperate measures including approaching loan sharks.
Publishing its research, the CAB said: “People are struggling to pay their bills, rent and put food on the table. Many clients are forced to turn to food banks and even payday loan companies. With all this on their plate people are distracted from looking for a job, so they’re less likely to get into work.”
The CAB said: “From October to December last year one in four Citizens Advice clients with a JSA sanction problem had dependent children, one in four identified as being disabled or suffering from a long-term health condition, one in six also had a debt problem, and one in 10 had issues with rent arrears or threat or reality of homelessness.”
The chief executive of CAB, Gillian Guy, said: “The minimum four-week sanction is setting people up to fail and creating a barrier which can stop them from looking for work. Four weeks is a long time to go without money to get by and people are struggling to make ends meet.
“The success rate of sanction appeals reveals a culture of ‘sanction first and ask questions later’. This is not only ineffective and a huge waste of money but also has a devastating effect on thousands of people’s lives.
“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.
“To date, work programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have successfully helped people find work. Combined with CAB’s latest figures this paints the strongest picture yet that the system is not working as it should.”
CAB pointed out that under universal credit – the new benefit integrating many existing benefits including JSA – Jobcentre staff are to be given greater flexibility in deciding the length of benefits. The CAB asked how it was possible to give staff flexibility for the incoming benefit system, but not for the current one.
Ian is a 43-year-old single father of two (aged nine and 12) living in Hastings. He has been on long-term sick leave for depression but, following a work capability assessment by Atos, was told he did not have enough points and was moved onto JSA.
Ian was put on to the work programme, though due to a staff mix-up by Pertemps he has not been receiving support to find work. He has been filling in his work-search forms and giving them to the Jobcentre. Then last Thursday Ian was told he had been given a four-week sanction for not giving enough work-search detail. He was told there were six cleaning jobs for which he could have applied, but he said that they were early morning jobs that did not fit with his responsibilities to his children.
He was given no notice or warning that he was doing anything inadequate about his work search. The money – £72 a week – just didn’t appear.
“I’ve been left high and dry. I filled in the work-search form as usual, but this time they’ve said it’s not enough. Thursday/Friday I was at rock bottom, I was in a total state. I was just thinking, where am I going to get money from?
“I had a water bill due on Friday, but the direct debit bounced as no money had gone in. I’m worried about my rent, as I don’t know if my housing benefit will come in now I’ve been sanctioned. Then at 5pm on Friday I got a hardship payment through so I can look after my kids. The crux of the issue is that they should give you some warning or notice that they are going to deduct some money. Otherwise the only two options at the end of the day are to borrow money or commit a crime.”
He adds that he took out a £100 emergency loan that will require repayment of £160. Ian is appealing his sanction, as he has a letter from Pertemps stating he has not been getting the support he should have due to an administrative mix-up.
Source – Welfare News Service 14 April 2014