Tagged: National Audit Office

Government Must Learn From Welfare Reform Mistakes, Say Auditors

The Government must use the “hard lessons” it learnt from welfare reforms which caused “significant financial and human costs”, says the National Audit Office (NAO).

In a new report published today, the NAO criticised the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “important and high profile failings” in implementing an unprecedented number of welfare reforms and employment programmes.

The report says the Government “relied too heavily on uncertain and insufficiently challenged operating assumptions, and did not have a sufficient understanding of its portfolio of programmes or overall capacity.”

It adds that the DWP has a “high-level vision but needs to think more strategically when considering how reforms will work in practice.”

“The Department has thought too late about the management information and the leading indicators it needs to understand progress and performance”, says the NAO. “This meant the Department took several weeks to identify backlogs in Personal Independence Payment claims.”

Auditors credited the Government for responding well “to uncertainty”, but added that it “should be able to set out plans with specific timetables, costs and impacts and reflect where flexibility is needed.”

“They should also have clear processes for revising plans against changing circumstances or expectations”, says the NAO.

The NAO criticised the DWP’s initial handling of the Universal Credit. The NAO says the department “held too rigidly to fixed deadlines and now has adopted a more flexible approach. It will need to reconcile this approach with the requirement to monitor progress against milestones.”

In implementing a significant welfare reform programme, the DWP “relied too heavily on reacting to problems and has not been able to anticipate possible failings or establish the principal ways in which performance and progress can be measured”.

The NAO called on the Government to “plan more openly for the possibility of failure, and build an integrated view of portfolio risks and capacity”.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said:

 “Any large portfolio of reforms will run into problems. The Department has shown a resolute approach to dealing with them. However, we think it has relied too much on dealing with difficulties as they emerge rather than anticipating what might go wrong.

“As a result it has had to learn some hard lessons with significant financial and human costs. It is important that the Department use these hard lessons to improve how it manages change and anticipates risk.”

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said the Government must learn from the mistakes of previous changes to welfare.

Citizens Advice has found that delays and problems with the delivery of reforms such as Employment and Support Allowance increased hardship and anxiety for many people.  Last year we helped people with almost two million benefit issues, more than any other type of problem.

“As Ministers look to make further savings from the welfare budget it is important they fully understand the impact proposed reforms have on people’s lives.

The Government must be certain that further cuts won’t just shift costs away from the welfare budget and into other areas such as health and social care.

Changes to benefits can have a far-ranging impact on people’s lives, so any reforms need to delivered at a safe and steady pace.”

Source – Welfare Weekly, 29 May 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/government-must-learn-from-welfare-reform-mistakes-say-auditors/

Confusion over universal credit

Job Centres in the region are among the first in the country to take part in the national roll out of the Government’s new Universal Credit, which began today (Monday, February 16).

Universal Credit, designed to get people into work more quickly and making it easier for them to earn more, has started in 15 areas, including Hambleton, Ryedale, Hartlepool and York.

Initially the credit, which merges six working-age benefits into one, is being rolled out only for new claims from single people who would otherwise have been eligible for jobseekers allowance, including those with existing housing benefit and working tax credit claims.

At Northallerton Job Centre today there was confusion over how it will work. One single parent, who gave her name as Julie, said she had been told nothing about it.

It could possibly be a good idea, rather than having separate benefits and dealing with different departments,” she said.

“But I have been told nothing about this, and how it will work. I want to get back to work and I am studying at the moment so if it helps me to get back to work that’s good. But information would be a big help too.”

Another 19-year-old man who is currently claiming jobseekers allowance said he was also in the dark.

 “If it is only for new claims that’s probably why,” he said. “But if it’s supposed to be coming in for everyone, no one has mentioned it to me and I haven’t heard anyone talking about it in the Job Centre.”

A pilot scheme has been tried out in the North-West, which the Government said had been a success

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said:

“The evidence shows that under Universal Credit, people move into work more quickly and earn more money, giving them increased financial security.

“It is very impressive that we have seen these results so soon and that this is having a real impact on people’s lives. This is a cultural change which will alter the landscape of work for a generation.”

But Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said no one believed the promises that the new system would work.

 “It will also take over 1,571 years to roll out universal credit to everyone at the current rate,” she said.

“Labour wants universal credit to work and we’ll call in the National Audit Office to do an immediate review of this failing programme to get a grip of the spiralling waste and delays.”

Source – Northern Echo, 16 Feb 2015

Universal credit ‘a nightmare’, says claimant who advertised welfare reform

A Universal Credit claimant who featured in a government film to promote the reform now says the system is riddled with computer problems and could make people destitute.

In the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advert, Daniel Pacey explains how the reform helped him to find work.

But he now says a six-week delay before the first payment and subsequent monthly payments are “a nightmare“.

The DWP said monthly sums replicate the world of work and tackle dependency.

A spokesman said:

“Universal credit is simplifying the benefit system and [makes] the transition into employment smoother.

“Our work coaches discuss budgeting support with all claimants and nearly 80% say they are confident in their ability to manage a monthly budget.”

> Is that 80% of work coaches or claimants ?

Mr Pacey, 24, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, said:

”It might be easy for a government minister to make their wages last a month. But I’d like to see them make £250 last four weeks while looking for work.”

The government has announced that a national roll-out of universal credit is starting in earnest across the country. The aim is for it to be offered in all job centres in England, Scotland and Wales by 2016.

> Whether it works or not, presumably.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith told BBC News the new benefit was £600m under budget and had been implemented gradually on advice.

But Mr Pacey, who lives with his father, said his job centre struggled with failing computer systems, adding:

“I hate to think about how I would have coped had I lived on my own. I know I couldn’t have.”

The DWP spokesman added:

“People can apply for advanced benefit payments if they need extra support and we are working with local authorities to make sure people get budgeting and debt advice.

“The IT system adapts smoothly to claims as they become more complex, which we have already seen across the North West.

“Computer problems in offices are separate issues and are resolved quickly but these do not impact the operating system, or have an impact on claims.”

The scheme was initially piloted in Ashton-Under-Lyne nearly two years ago.

Under the old system, payments were bi-weekly, with housing benefit paid directly to landlords.

Under universal credit, claimants are instead paid monthly and are expected to pay their rent themselves.

Housing Associations in Ashton-Under-Lyne say rent arrears and debt are on the rise amongst universal-credit claimants.

The chief executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr said:

“This scheme isn’t even ready to fully roll out in Ashton-Under-Lyne, where it’s been piloted for two years, let alone the rest of the country.”

The DWP spokesman said:

“In some cases, we can arrange for alternative payment arrangements, including rent being paid direct to landlords.”

The government says it is important for people to learn how to handle their own monthly budgets, as this replicates the world of work.

> Oh for fucks sake – how stupid do they think we are ?  Do they think every unemployed person has never worked ?  Do they think anyone having to survive on benefits doesn’t already know all about handling budgets ?

But Mr Pacey’s new job in a call centre pays bi-weekly.

He said: “In my experience, most low-paid jobs pay weekly or every other week, not monthly. You can’t make small sums of money last a month.

“It’s not about dependency, it’s about living, being able to get a bus to go to the job centre. The government needs to rethink this.”

 

The scheme has also been criticised by the National Audit Office as badly managed and failing to deliver on its targets.

It is concerned that a roll-out from pilot areas in north-west England is taking place with fewer resources to spend on staff training and less time for staff to get accustomed to the changes.

About 50,000 people in selected areas have claimed the benefit since it was introduced in April 2013 – far fewer than the government originally said would be getting it by now.

Computer problems have also caused delays and seen ministers write off tens of millions of pounds.

Source –  BBC News,  16 Feb 2015

Government blames North East councils for cuts of £240 million

Ministers have accused North East councils of sitting on unused land and property which they could sell to protect services.

But local authorities facing massive spending cuts of more than £240 million ridiculed the claims – and pointed out that there are strict rules preventing them from selling the land to fund services.

And the comments provoked an angry reaction from Labour, who accused the Government of imposing higher cuts on urban councils in the North East than wealthy parts of the country.

Ministers launched the attack on councils which are reducing services and raising council tax, claiming that they had nobody to blame but themselves.

The Association of North East Councils has warned that crucial services such as care for vulnerable children are in danger of collapse as massive cuts in council funding wipe almost quarter of a billion pounds off budgets across the North East this year.

It says the true impact of Government spending cuts has been hidden because authorities have succeeded in “raiding” other services and diverting funds where they are needed most – but they have reached a point where this just won’t be possible any more.

But Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles issued a statement claiming councils have large sources of untapped revenue including money held in reserve, assets such as property or land, and council tax arrears which have gone uncollected.

And his department published a league table highlighting the worst offenders, with County Durham named as one of the authorities with high levels of surplus assets. The authority is sitting on assets worth £62 million, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

The department also named Gateshead as an authority with high levels of surplus assets, worth £49 million.

Government figures also showed that Northumberland council had reserves of £96.4 million while Newcastle-upon-Tyne had reserves of £78.9 million.

Mr Pickles said:

“Reserves have rocketed up in the past few years and councils could be making better use of assets to keep taxes down and protect frontline services, while at the same time doing more to stop the billions they are losing to fraud and collecting more Council Tax arrears.”

But the claims were dismissed by Councillor Alan Napier, Deputy Leader of Durham County Council, who said:

“We do have surplus assets of £62 million which includes both land and buildings, including former school sites.

“Most of these sites are either being sold, up for sale or in the process of being put up for sale. When sold, our hands are tied as to what we can spend the money on as the receipts are ring-fenced and can only be spent on new capital items such as buildings, vehicles or infrastructure.

“I would have expected Mr Pickles to know that receipts from surplus assets cannot be used to reduce council tax or protect front line services ”

Gateshead Council’s strategic director of corporate services and governance, Mike Barker, said

“£41m illion of assets which have been classed as ‘surplus to requirements’ actually relate to land which has already been contractually committed towards building much needed, good quality, affordable housing across the borough.

“The development of this land is already underway on sites at Deckham, Bensham and Saltwell, and Birtley. Over the next 15 years, the joint venture partnership between ourselves, Galliford Try and Home Group will build thousands of new homes on 19 different sites across Gateshead; bringing jobs, investment, and regeneration to many areas.”

The devastating impact of Government cuts on council services was confirmed in a report by the National Audit Office late last year, which warned that authorities were reaching a point where they couldn’t cope.

It said:

“While local authorities have maintained financial resilience overall, some – particularly among metropolitan districts – are now showing persistent signs of financial stress, such as unplanned in-year reductions in service spend.

“Looking to the future, there is increased uncertainty about how local authorities can manage further possible falls in income.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  11 Feb 2015

Austerity Cuts Will Bite Even Harder In 2015 – Another £12bn Will Go

This article  was written by Amelia Gentleman, for The Guardian on Thursday 1st January 2015

George Osborne says the coverage of looming new spending cuts has been “hyperbolic”, but away from Downing Street there is a strong consensus that the cumulative effect of five years of austerity will make the next wave of cuts, in 2015, very painful.

Four more years of austerity is “a price that works for our country”, Osborne said as he outlined his strategy. The Institute for Fiscal Studies responded by warning that “colossal” cuts to the state would take total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the second world war. By the end of the process, “the role and shape of the state will have changed beyond recognition”, the think tank said. So far, £35bn has been cut; the plan is to cut a further £55bn by 2019.

 > But that’s the plan, isn’t it ? To change the role and shape of the state beyond recognition ? A state where old Etonians rule by right and the poor get trampled into the ground ?

If the chancellor remains in post after the general election, Britain will find itself halfway through a nine-year stretch of spending cuts, with the Conservatives determined to shrink and redefine the role of the state. The Liberal Democrats say the Conservative policy is aimed at creating “a smaller state, with many more cuts to come”, giving Britain “austerity for ever”; 2015 will be a pivotal year in the race to reshape the nature of the state.

> Would that be the same Liberal Democrats who are part of the  coalition that is making these changes to society ? Sorry, Lib Dems, don’t start wringing your hands now – you won’t get rid of the blood on them that way.

Even if they lose, difficult spending cuts look inevitable. Labour is also committed to ending the deficit, in 2017-18, provided the state of the economy allows it.

Protesters demonstrate against the bedroom tax.
Protesters demonstrate against the bedroom tax. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

For many publicly funded services and organisations, 2015 will be the year when their chances of survival become clear. There is an enormous range in the size and the function of services under threat, which makes tracking the scale of the cuts challenging.

Here are just four examples – from the large scale to the tiny, of services that are set to go this year.

In June, the Independent Living Fund, which provides funding for around 18,000 disabled people to work and live in the community, will be wound down. In Liverpool, there will be a decision in early 2015 over whether the council will close a possible 23 out of the city’s 26 Sure Start centres. On a smaller scale, organisations including the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, in north London, which supports around 150 refugees and asylum seekers, providing English classes, faces closure because of cuts to education budgets.

These are people who come to us on a daily basis who desperately need some kind of support,” project manager Andy Ruiz Palma says. “I would lose my job, but I am more worried about the clients. There is nowhere else for them to go.”

In Ealing, west London, parents are campaigning to save the lollipop crossing role, done for the past 20 years by Eileen Rowles, and now at risk of being discontinued because of council spending cuts.

The Office for Budget Responsibility said in December that the chancellor’s plans would mean one million further government job losses by 2020 (a total fall from early 2011 of 1.3 million), representing a 20% fall in headcount.

Over the past five years, there has been surprise and relief from politicians that public anger about spending cuts has been relatively muted. Aside from a few annual anti-cuts marches in big cities, Britain has not experienced the waves of protest seen in countries such as Spain. Given that those most affected by the cuts are the most vulnerable and disempowered people in society, it’s perhaps not surprising that the response has been muted.

But that could change in 2015. The next stage of cutbacks is likely to be harder to ignore. The easy decisions have already been made; once the low-hanging fruit has been removed, finding new things to cut gets harder, which means the second half of the austerity era is likely to be much tougher than the first.

By next May, government funding for councils will be 40% lower than it was in 2010; and a further 13% will need to be cut in 2015.

It is individuals who have paid the price of funding reductions, whether it is through seeing their local library close, roads deteriorate or support for young people or families scaled back. Further reductions without radical reform will have a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life,” the Local Government Association chair, Tony Sparks, says.

The 2011 campaign to save Kensal Rise library from closure.
The 2011 campaign to save a London library from closure. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

The National Audit Office has warned that more than half of councils currently risk falling into serious financial crisis before the end of the decade. Some may struggle to provide services that they are legally obliged to offer, and this may become apparent in 2015 with more legal action by service users.

Nicola Smith, head of economic affairs at the TUC, says:

“The scale of the spending cuts that the chancellor set out in his autumn statement briefing is truly severe. The public sector has already experienced five years of austerity. The consequences for key services that people rely on are severe.”

Osborne has said that if the Conservatives win the election he will want to cut a further £12bn a year from the welfare bill – on top of the £20m-£25m that has already been cut. He proposes freezing working-age benefits for two years, reducing the overall benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000, and limiting access to housing benefit for people under 21.

Professor John Hills, director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, says that the impact of further cuts in this area would be very painful.

“Both the political and public belief is that spending on out-of-work benefits is a large share of overall public spending; it is not. Trying to make large savings from what is really a small share of public spending will require increasingly harsh cuts. We have seen this already through things like the bedroom tax, the imposition of council tax on people with very low incomes, and the greatly increased use of sanctioning. To continue to get more savings from that group will require harsher measures.”

Source – Welfare Weekly, 01 Jan 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/austerity-cuts-will-bite-even-harder-2015-another-12bn-will-go/

Universal Credit May Not Deliver ‘Value For Money’, Says NAO

Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit programme may not deliver ‘value for money’, the Government spending watchdog has warned today (26 November).

The net value of Universal Credit is now estimated to be £14.5 billion – £1.7 billion lower than three years ago. The figure supposedly accounts for reduced welfare spending and other ‘societal benefits’.

However, the National Audit Office (NAO) said it’s too early to determine whether Universal Credit will deliver ‘value for money’ for taxpayers, “regardless of how it is implemented and the cost of doing so”.

Delays in the implementation of Universal Credit, changes to its delivery service and problems with IT mean additional costs for taxpayers, including £2.8 billion more in staffing costs (NAO estimate) and £130 million wasted on failed IT software.

The DWP is planning to start rolling out new IT software for Universal Credit in just 18 months. However, the NAO said the DWP “does not yet have a contingency plan” if the IT software (delivery service) experiences “delays or fails”. This in turn could result in yet more losses.

According to the NAO, if the new delivery service is delayed by just 6 months the value of Universal Credit “reduces by £2.3 billion due to lost societal benefits”.

Their report also criticised the government for failing to “stabilize senior leadership roles and responsibilities”. Universal Credit has seen seven chiefs in only two years, with the former DWP Work Service Director Neil Couling replacing Howard Shiplee less than two months ago.

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge MP (Labour) accused the DWP of “throwing good money after bad”, in botched attempts to fix Universal Credit.

Margaret Hodge said:

“The Department is throwing good money after bad by introducing a short-term fix with no adequate plan for delivery, insufficient skills and unclear milestones to measure progress against.”

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves added:

“The National Audit Office has cast grave doubts over the future of Universal Credit. This shocking report says the benefits of Universal Credit have fallen by £1.7 billion and that value for money, ‘can’t be determined’. It also confirms the roll-out of the new benefit won’t be complete even by 2019 as Iain Duncan Smith has repeatedly promised.

“The National Audit Office report is further evidence that the government’s handling of Universal Credit has been disastrous. It’s neither on time or on budget as the government promised. It’s yet another example of Tory Welfare Waste. Ministers must urgently get a grip of the huge waste and delays to this failing programme.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said:

The Department for Work & Pensions has reset Universal Credit on a sounder basis but at significant cost, by extending the time for implementation and choosing a more expensive approach.

“It is now vital that the Department quickly establish clear goals for delivering the programme, in terms of cost, time and functionality, against which it can be held to account.”

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith defended the botched roll-out, arguing it was “best” to properly test Universal Credit before expanding the programme to more jobcentres.

He added that poor families on Universal Credit would “get more money”. They “go into work quicker, they stay in work long and families will benefit enormously”.

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  26 Nov 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/universal-credit-may-not-deliver-value-money-says-nao/

North East councils picked to pilot expansions of ‘troubled families’ scheme

North East councils have been picked to pilot an expansion of the Government’s scheme to help “troubled families”.

They were chosen for the because they are among authorities which have been successful with the existing troubled families scheme, according to the Government.

The programme is designed to help families which have problems with truancy, crime, anti-social behaviour or unemployment.

But it is to be expanded to include families which have suffered from domestic violence or poor mental and physical and health or debt. It will also be expanded to include children under five, whereas previously only school-age youngsters were included.

Gateshead, Newcastle, Durham and Middlesbrough are all to pilot the expanded scheme.

So far, Newcastle has “turned around” 652 families out of 1080 “troubled families” identified, according to official figures. This means it has helped the families deal with at least one of the problems facing them.

Durham has helped 676 out of 1,320 families, Gateshead has helped 301 out of 595 and Middlesbrough has helped 303 families out of 570.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “The Troubled Families Programme is an excellent example of how re-thinking public services can have a huge positive impact on the lives of families across the UK.”

The Department for Work and Pensions will provide 300 specialist troubled families employment advisers.

The troubled families programme was launched in 2011, following riots in the summer, when David Cameron vowed to turn around the lives of 120,000 problem families by 2015.

But a report last year by the National Audit Office raised concerns including the fact that only 62,000 families were currently in the programme nationwide, 13 per cent below the number that “might reasonably” have been found, and a family can be counted as being “turned around” if it shows improvement in just one area.

> Perhaps there just aren’t so many “problem families” as politicians would have us believe ?

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  19 Aug 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/

Adult Care Services At Breaking Point As Squeeze On Funding Takes Its Toll

Oxfordshire county council has for the past four years pulled out all the stops to avoid passing on a 38% cut in its grant for services for homeless people. But now the authority says it has nowhere left to turn and is reluctantly planning to phase in the reduction, including stopping all funding for dedicated support for those with substance misuse problems.

It’s not something I like to do, but we’re not unusual in doing it,” says John Jackson, the council’s director for social and community services. “The reality is that I have to protect services for people I have a statutory responsibility for.”

According to new research published today, Oxfordshire’s decision is emblematic of the state of adult social care services across England. Findings from a survey of adult social care directors reveal that half say that fewer people are getting services; barely one in three says they are protecting the size of the personal budgets older people and disabled adults receive to pay for their care and support, and six in 10 directors are braced for more legal challenges.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), which conducted the survey, has hitherto been notably measured – critics might say overly so – in its response to cuts ordered by the coalition government since 2010. But now it warns that the social care system is on the brink of becoming unsustainable. Its president, David Pearson, calls on wider society to say how far it is prepared to protect “countless vulnerable people who will fail to receive, or not be able to afford, the social care services they need and deserve”.

Recalling that earlier this year the National Audit Office (NAO) questioned whether councils were approaching the limits of their capacity to absorb pressures on social care budgets, Pearson says: “Our survey shows beyond doubt that we have reached the point where we are unable to absorb the pressures they, and our survey, have identified.”

The survey adds to the sense of financial crisis. Demands for extra cash for the NHS are mounting and this week the Local Government Association (LGA) warns that councils in England face a £5.8bn funding gap by March 2016 due to further cuts in grant – forcing 12.5% savings in 2014-15 alone – and escalating demand for services, particularly for older people.

The funding gap for adult social care on its own will be £1.9bn by March 2016, the LGA estimated. Next year, 2015, is “make or break” for social care with the introduction of the government’s Better Care Fund, expected to pool more than £5bn of existing funds from councils and the NHS to spend on integrated services that are designed to keep people out of hospital. Current government funding for social care is £14bn.

Pearson, however, says the scale of the challenge far outstrips any benefit that may come from integration. “It is not the directors’ job, but that of the country as a whole and its politicians, to debate how much, in times of the most severe adversity, vulnerable people should be protected from the consequences of that adversity by the introduction of new money into social care.”

Norfolk gives a flavour of the challenge. The county’s population is projected to rise 25% by 2033, but numbers of those aged 65-74 will increase 54% and numbers aged 75 or over will soar by 97%. Much of this growth will be in isolated rural communities in the north of the county.

Norfolk’s adult social services department already reports growth of 53% in referrals over the past five years, together with a near-tripling of demand for intensive homecare support of 10 hours a week or more, at the same time as it has been making £72m savings, which includes cutting the numbers of social work posts and paring back preventive services. Nevertheless, it says spending on frontline care has been protected.

With further cuts of £59m in Norfolk social services planned over the next three years, however, continuing to protect care is no longer realistic. Some £14m is coming out of people’s personal budgets, £6m from support for people with learning or physical disabilities and £4.5m from the contract with the council’s own residential care company.

Asked what the future holds, Sue Whitaker, Labour chair of Norfolk’s adult social services committee, says: “I have a feeling that trying to provide anything on top of what is required statutorily is going to be exceptionally difficult, if not impossible.”

This reflects the national picture painted by the Adass survey. Based on returns from directors in 144 councils with adult social care responsibilities, 95% of the total, Adass calculates that another £266m (1.9%) is being taken out of services in 2014-15, making a total 12% real-terms cut in spending since 2010 while demand for services has risen 14%. The net effect, therefore, is said to represent total savings since 2010 of 26% or £3.5bn.

Questioned about the likely impact over the next two years, 47% of directors say people who used services would get smaller personal budgets for their care and support; 48% say fewer people would be able to get services; 50% forecast greater pressure on the NHS; 55% expect care providers to face financial difficulty; and 59% anticipate receiving more legal challenges to cuts.

With most provision of care these days outsourced, 19% of directors admit not knowing if all their contractors paid the national minimum wage and only 3% are confident that all paid the higher, unofficial living wage. As many as 75% say they commission some homecare visits of just 15 minutes, although 90% of them say such visits were simply to check on an individual’s wellbeing or medication.

Richard Humphries, assistant director of policy at the King’s Fund thinktank, says the survey rings painfully true. “This is the consequence of the 2010 spending settlement that supposedly protected the NHS but left the social care system totally exposed,” he says. “It was all entirely predictable.

“What we are seeing now is a double whammy with both the NHS and social care simultaneously facing a crunch year next year. Most people cannot see how to get beyond this without extra money – not just money for more of the same, but for transformation of services. The Better Care Fund is OK, but it’s a very small step towards much bigger measures that are needed.”

Back in Oxfordshire, Jackson thinks the county council has a sustainable – if unpalatable – four-year plan for social care. His political boss, Conservative cabinet member Judith Heathcoat, has told the Oxford Mail she is “as comfortable as I can be” with the planned 38% cuts in housing-related support, which are part of a £64m savings package across the authority over four years.

Other savings will come through cheaper support for people with learning disabilities, moving them either out of residential care or perhaps from two-person flats to shared accommodation for five. Older people will also be hit: those attending health and wellbeing centres may next year be charged £20 a day.

Jackson’s fear is that growing numbers of legal challenges will be incurred over people’s statutory rights to care. “In the end we cannot not meet people’s care needs” he says. “We would want to do that morally anyway, but the law is very clear about it. We don’t need the courts to tell us that.”

This article  was written by David Brindle, for The Guardian on Wednesday 2nd July 2014

Source – Welfare News Service, 02 July 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/adult-care-services-breaking-point-squeeze-funding-takes-toll/

Work Programme: Bonuses Paid Even To Worst Performing Providers

Welfare-to-work providers will receive undeserved bonuses of up to £25m even though they have failed to hit government targets for placing people in to long term jobs, official auditors have found.

The National Audit Office has discovered that flaws in work programme contracts meant that the Department for Work and Pensions is obliged to make incentive payments to even the worst performing providers.

In a report released today, auditors also say the success rates of contractors has fallen. Around nine in every 10 claimants of employment and support allowance, who include many people with illnesses and disabilities, are failing to maintain a job.

The report is the latest damning assessment of Iain Duncan Smith’s £2.8 billion programme which has been beset with problems since its inception in 2011.

The amount paid out in bonuses from the public purse is likely to be around £31 million in 2014-15, whereas a measure of performance more dependent on results would have triggered payments of just £6 million, according to the report.

Flawed contractual performance measures mean the department will have to make incentive payments to even the worst performing contractors,” the report said.

Auditors said that the way the contracts were drawn up also made it more expensive to sack under-performing providers. When the Department for Work and Pensions decided it wanted to drop the Newcastle College Group, it was unable to argue it had breached its contract by failing to meet minimum performance levels and instead had to use a voluntary break clause to negotiate the termination costs.

Despite claims by ministers that the work programme would be an improvement on previous schemes, auditors found that the actual performance levels were very similar.

Performance for the harder-to-help groups was also below expectations with only 11% of claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) – paid to those with disability or long-term illness – finding work compared to a forecast of 22%, according to the report. The contractors’ own estimates showed they were now planning to spend 54% less on the harder-to-help groups than they were when they originally submitted their bids, auditors said.

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the public accounts committee which oversees the work of the NAO, expressed anger at the failure of the DWP to help those who needed it the most.

The work programme is absolutely critical to getting people, especially some of the most vulnerable in society, into work and helping to keep them there in the longer term,” she said.

Unusually, the report was not signed off by the DWP prior to publication on the grounds that it did not reflect its view of “the relevant facts”.

The department said that no incentive payments had been made so far, and that any future payments would be included in ongoing contract negotiations.

The work programme is helping more people than any previous employment programme and has already helped half a million people start a job and 300,000 into lasting work,” a DWP spokesman said.

The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), representing work programme providers, insisted the scheme was working well.

It’s quite an achievement that performance is the same level as predecessor programmes despite there being less cash in the scheme,” said ERSA chief executive Kirsty McHugh.

This article  was written by Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 2nd July 2014

Source – Welfare News Service,  02 July 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/work-programme-bonuses-paid-even-worst-performing-providers/