Tagged: Neil Couling

Need cheering up? This latest update on Universal Credit should do it!

The lovely wibbly wobbly old lady

Reposted from ComputerWorldUK

Universal Credit digital staff up from just three to 160 during 2014

There are now 160 people working on the Universal Credit digital service, according to minister for disabled people Mark Harper.

It is a dramatic increase in manpower compared with last January, when just three members of DWP IT staff were working on the digital system, which will be the eventual platform for all benefit claimants.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) plans to recruit a further 50 staff members between now and April to work on the beleaguered benefit reform project, Harper said in a written answer to shadow work and pensions minister Stephen Timms.

Harper said: “The number of people working on the Universal Credit digital service is tracking very close to recruitment plans.”

The DWP has adopted a ‘twin track’ development model for the new benefit, with existing systems for national implementation developed alongside the new digital solution. The government eventually plans…

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Esther McVey Refuses To Explain Punitive Benefits Changes

Esther McVey has once again refused to visit Holyrood to give evidence in support of cruel and callous benefit changes, it has been reported today.

It’s the third time the Tory Employment Minister has snubbed requests from the Scottish welfare reform committee to explain why the UK Government is “failing to support vulnerable people”, reports the Daily Record.

McVey’s excuse for failing to attend was that she was busy preparing evidence for a Westminster committee.

When she was last invited to give evidence to Scottish MSPs, cowardly McVey instead chose to send Neil Couling; who is now responsible for overseeing Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit project.

The Daily Record says Iain Duncan Smith has also refused invitations from the committee on FOUR occasions, while welfare reform minister Lord Freud has rejected one request.

MSPs have accused Esther McVey of “running scared” of the committee, and not caring about people affected by welfare reforms and punitive benefit sanctions.

SNP MSP Christine McKelvie said it was “totally unacceptable” for McVey to refuse to give evidence before the committee, on how Westminster cuts “imposed on Scotland” are affecting Scottish families.

She added: “A Tory minister has been repeatedly invited to come to Scotland and appear before the welfare reform committee to provide answers on their track record of failing to support vulnerable people, but this invite, and seven previous invitations, have all been snubbed.

“This refusal sends a clear message that McVey and her Government don’t care about Scotland.”

McVey defended punitive benefit sanctions in a letter to the committee, in which she wrote: “It is widely accepted that they play an important role in the benefit system.

“They are effective in encouraging compliance and we continue to manage the process so they are only imposed as a last resort.”

> effective in encouraging compliance – is that a chilling statement or what ?  Do what we say or we will make you destitute.

Figures show the number of people affected by benefit sanctions in Scotland has rocketed since 2009, with the biggest increases occurring under the new sanctions regime introduced by the UK Government in October 2012.

The same figures also show a 65% rise in the number of sick and disabled Scots having their benefits slashed by sanctions.

Opponents of the new sanctions regime claim too many unemployed and vulnerable people are being sanctioned for punitive and unfair reasons. Such as turning up five minutes late for a work focused interview, even though they had informed the Jobcentre that they had a hospital appointment.

Source – Welfare Weekly,  07 Jan 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/esther-mcvey-refuses-explain-punitive-benefits-changes/

Treasury has still not signed off universal credit

Universal credit is still on the amber-red warning list of the Major Projects Authority and the business case for the new benefit has still not been signed off by the Treasury, it was revealed at a public accounts committee meeting yesterday.

According to evidence given by civil servants, a ‘twin track’ approach to delivering the benefit could lead to all but £34m of a £697m IT programme being written off, if the new digital system now being trialled is a success. However, so far only 17 claimants have used the new digital system.

The Treasury says that it may be next summer before it can decide whether to sign off the business case for universal credit.

Meanwhile, Neil Couling, one of the DWP staff now in charge of universal credit told the committee he had been ‘blown away’ by how positively claimants had responded to the new benefit.

Couling previously gave evidence to the Scottish parliament that claimants welcome the ‘jolt’ of being sanctioned so much that “jobcentres across the country have been inundated with thank you cards from people who have received sanctions.”

> Mr Couling’s nose is several feet long and growing…

Source –  Benefits & Work,  11 Dec 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2964-treasury-has-still-not-signed-off-universal-credit

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/

Tory Minister Admits Link Between Welfare Cuts And Food Banks

Scottish National Party (SNP) Press Release:

After months of denial, a UK [Conservative Party] Minister has finally admitted there is a link between Westminster welfare cuts and the increase in food bank use across Scotland.

 Giving evidence to the Welfare Reform Committee in the Scottish Parliament, Under Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell* said there “isn’t any doubt” that some people have been forced to go to food banks “because they have been subject, for example, to sanctions or delays in receiving benefits.

The evidence the committee heard today is in stark contrast to evidence given to the committee by DWP director Neil Couling, who said that growing reliance on food banks was a result of the poorest people in society having to “maximise their economic choices”. This was later backed up by Employment Minister Esther McVey in a letter to Housing Minister Margaret Burgess.

Work and Pensions Minister Lord Freud has also previously claimed there was no link between Tory welfare cuts and soaring food bank use.

During the committee meeting, David Mundell also said he wanted the UK Government to produce an analysis of the use of food banks – something that has not yet been carried out, despite evidence from the Trussell Trust that reliance on food banks has grown 400 per cent in the past year.

The Trust’s figures also show that 22,387 children in Scotland used food banks in 2013/14 alone – an increase of over 1000 per cent since 2011/12.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael – who previously described the UK welfare system as “fantastic” – was scheduled to appear at the committee, but cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice.

SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing, who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee, said:

While it is welcome that a UK Government Minister has finally faced up to the fact that Westminster’s attack on welfare is responsible for the growing number of people forced to rely on food banks, this admission is long overdue. For months, Westminster has ducked responsibility and tried to blame the poor for the devastating impact cuts to benefits are having.

“David Mundell has said he would like to see a UK Government analysis on food banks – something that has not yet been produced, despite the fact reliance on food banks has grown 400 per cent. Given we now have 22,387 children in Scotland relying on food banks for a square meal, we desperately need a change of direction.

“Scotland is brimming with resources and talent – and is richer per head than the UK, France and Japan – but while it is tied the Westminster system the most vulnerable people in society are forced to use food banks. Only a Yes vote in September can give Scotland the opportunity to build the fairer country we know we can be.”

Commenting on Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael’s cancellation of his appearance before the committee with less than 24 hours’ notice, Annabelle Ewing said:

It was very disappointing that Alistair Carmichael did not attend the Welfare Reform Committee today. While everyone understands the importance of the commemoration on World War 1, Alistair Carmichael has a duty to appear before the Scottish Parliament and explain why the UK welfare system is ‘fantastic’ as he has previously claimed, and it would be good if it could be rescheduled.”

 

*David Mundell is the Conservative Party member of parliament  for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (2014).

 

Source: Minister admits welfare cuts link to food bank use

Source – Welfare News Service, 26 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/tory-minister-admits-link-welfare-cuts-food-banks/

More Jobseeker’s Allowance Claimants Subject To Benefit Sanctions

> 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

 The number of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants who were subject to a benefit sanction rose to 227,629 in the last three months of 2013, an increase of 69,600 on the equivalent quarter in 2012.

 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

http://welfarenewsservice.com/jobseekers-allowance-claimants-subject-benefit-sanctions/

Sanctions ineffective, jobcentre staff say

Jobcentre staff do not believe stopping people’s benefits encourages them to look for work, according to a PCS union  survey.

Echoing the government’s own research, in a survey of their members who work as jobcentre advisors, 70% of respondents said sanctions had no positive impact.

> But were they meant to have a “positive” impact ? I dont think that was every the case, they have always been a form of punishment.

More than three quarters of those who took part said they had seen an increase in referrals to foodbanks.

The findings contrast sharply with outrageous comments made yesterday by one of the Department for Work and Pensions‘ most senior civil servants.

Questioned by Members of the Scottish Parliament, Neil Couling said many people who face benefit sanctions “welcome the jolt” it can give them.

He also claimed poor people were “maximising their economic choices” by turning to foodbanks.

When PCS exposed the prevalence of advisers being given targets for referring claimants for sanctions last year, it was Couling who tried to rubbish it, despite the overwhelming evidence.

Targets for sanctions

In the survey, 23% said they had been given an explicit target for making sanction referrals and 81% said there was an ‘expectation‘ level.

Almost two thirds said they had experienced pressure to refer claimants for a sanction inappropriately.

More than one third stated they had been placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP) for not making “enough” referrals and 10% had gone as far as formal performance procedures.

The performance system can lead to dismissal so this kind of pressure is a thinly veiled threat to people’s jobs.

> As opposed to the explicit threat of sanctioning those who have no job at all…

The DWP is yet to provide any evidence that advisers who make an excessive number of referrals are challenged in the same way.

Damaging effects

The stricter regime has led to an increase in violence and threats, with 72% of respondents reporting an increase in verbal abuse and 37% seeing an increase in physical abuse.

While we do not believe it is acceptable, we understand the anger directed towards jobcentre staff and we have a shared interest with claimants in bringing this counterproductive system to an end.

> Well, let us know when you start… my personal experience is that there are far too many Jobcentre workers who seem quite enthusiastic about sanctioning people. Perhaps they’re not PCS members ?

We continue to work with Unite Community branches, Unemployed Workers Centres and others and are raising our concerns with senior officials.

We believe the government must fully analyse and take responsibility for the damaging effects sanctions are having on claimants and their families.

> In the meantime ?  PCS are in the position of really damaging this increasingly insane strategy by instructing members not to sanction anyone. They cant sack everyone.

But I fear the PCS has no teeth and no spine.

Source – PCS website  30 April 2014

http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/sanctions-ineffective-jobcentre-staff-say

No Relationship Between Benefit Sanctions And Food Banks, Say DWP

 Department For Work And Pensions Director, Neil Couling, has claimed that there is no relationship between the increased used of benefit sanctions against unemployed jobseeker’s and the rising number of people turning to food banks.

According to the Scottish National Party (SNP), the claim was made during a Scottish Welfare Reform Committee session, where Mr Couling was standing in for the conservative Employment Minister, Esther McVey MP.

The SNP also claim that Mr Couling ‘took issue’ with existing evidence showing there has been a 209 per cent increase in the number of sanctions handed out against benefit claimants in Scotland since 2006, and Mr Couling joked that sanctioned benefit claimants were bringing ‘Thank You’ cards to his office.

Figures suggest that the number of instances where a benefit claimants has had their benefits cut or stopped completely, as a result of having their benefits sanctioned, more than tripled between 2006 – 2013, from 25,953 to 80,305.

 The coalition government toughened the existing benefit sanction regime in 2012 and has recently introduced the ‘Claimant Commitment‘. Charities fear this could increase the number of sanctions being dished out against unemployed jobseeker’s even further.

Under the new system benefit claimants who fail to adhere to tough new requirements could find their payments being docked for four weeks, increasing to up to three years for repeat offenders.

A growing number of politicians, charities and benefit claimants themselves are drawing attention to instances where unemployed people have had their benefits slashed for long periods inappropriately.

These include not applying for enough jobs in a single week, even though the unemployed person has evidence that they had applied for dozens of job vacancies, as well as instances where jobseeker’s have had their benefits sanctioned for failing to turn up to a jobcentre appointment, despite having informed their adviser that they were attending a hospital appointment or the funeral of a family member.

Speaking after the committee session at the Scottish Parliament, Kevin Stewart MSP said:

“Mr Couling should visit the food banks in Scotland to speak to the people who have had their welfare benefits sanctioned and now face huge difficulties feeding themselves and their families.

“Perhaps if Mr Couling listened to the expert evidence the committee heard today from the Head of Policy at Barnardo’s Scotland; Citizens Advice Scotland; the Head of Oxfam Scotland and others including Dr John Ip, GP of the British Medical Association, then he might have had a better understanding of the reality of the situation.

“Mr Couling may have been joking when he claimed that Welfare sanctions were bringing  ‘Thank-you’ cards from benefits claimants to his office but there is nothing funny about people who have to line up in order to receive vital food parcels for their hungry children.

“Amidst Mr Couling’s contradictory claims he did concede that ‘the chances of having a sanction is going up’ and that is the grim reality of people unable to find work – which means they have no income and are forced to use food banks.

“As Labour MSP Ken Macintosh pointed out, the Scottish Government has indeed given a further £1million towards food banks – but as Mark Ballard from Barnardo’s highlighted, the Scottish Government hasn’t the powers to totally mitigate the harmful Westminster benefit cuts.

“Instead of people in Scotland being forced to rely upon a Westminster welfare system that is being aggressively cut and sanctioning thousands people who need support, we need a system that truly reflects Scotland’s values.

“With the powers of an independent Scotland we can build that kind of system and ensure that the priorities of people in Scotland are truly reflected in our welfare system.

“It is only a Yes vote in next year’s referendum that will secure that opportunity for Scotland and restore people’s faith that they will receive the support they need from the rest of society when they are facing difficult times.”

Source – Welfare News Service    30 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/relationship-benefit-sanctions-food-banks-say-dwp/

Scam-Ridden Universal Jobmatch Just Fine Says Monster Boss As He Laughs All The Way To The Bank

the void

jobmatch-profile-tickbox The breath-taking arrogance of private sector contractors has been laid bare today with the publication of a letter from the CEO of Monster Jobs defending the shambolic Universal Jobmatch website.

Universal Jobmatch is the scandal-hit website which unemployed people are forced to use to look for work.  Monster Jobs were paid almost £20 million to create the site which recently won a ‘worst website’ award at an industry event.  According to The Guardian, Universal Jobmatch is set to be scrapped when Monster’s contract expires in 2016.

This is not the case pleads Monster boss Sal Iannuzzi, in the joint statement co-written with Head of Jobcentre Plus Neil Couling.  The website is ‘here to stay’ he claims.  What’s more it is a ‘powerful tool’  and a ‘secure, and effective recruitment site’, whilst criticisms are based on ‘misrepresentation’.

The letter highlights two main areas of concern, the huge number of bogus jobs…

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