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
The prime minister has announced that the new minister for disabled people is Justin Tomlinson, Conservative MP for North Swindon. Tomlinson has a strong anti-benefits and anti-human rights background.
Tomlinson has replaced Mark Harper, who is now the Conservative chief whip.
Tomlinson is a former national chairman of Conservative Future, the youth wing of the Conservative party and has been an MP since 2010.
He is a party loyalist, with a strong record of voting against the interests of sick and disabled claimants.
According to They work For You, Tomlinson:
- Voted strongly for of the bedroom tax
- Voted very strongly against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices
- Voted very strongly against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability
- Voted very strongly for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial need afford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such support
- Voted very strongly for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits
- Voted very strongly against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed.
Tomlinson also voted in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act.
His responsibilities a minister for disabled people include:
- cross-government disability issues and strategy
- Employment and Support Allowance, Work Capability Assessment and Incapacity Benefit Reassessment Programme
- disability benefits (Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment and Attendance Allowance)
- appeals reform
- fraud and error (including debt management)
Tomlinson has some interest in health issues, but does not seem to have shown any great interest in disability issues during his time as an MP.
Source – Benefits & Work, 12 May 2015
As expected, the Labour party manifesto holds little comfort for sick and disabled claimants. There are commitments to abolish the bedroom tax, ‘reform’ the work capability assessment and pause and review universal credit. However, the household benefit cap will stay and there was no mention of ending the current sanctions regime, pausing the roll out of personal independence payment or saving the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
Labour say they will:
- Reform the WCA, focusing it on the support disabled people need to get into work
- Abolish the bedroom tax
- Set up an independent scrutiny group of disabled people to monitor the WCA
- Set up a specialist support programme to provide tailored help to disabled people who can work.
- Pause and review the universal credit programme
- Keep the household benefit cap and investigate whether it should actually be lower in some regions
- Not cut tax credits
- Introduce Maths, English and IT skills tests within six weeks of claiming JSA and make training compulsory where it would improve employability
- Introduce a guaranteed paid job for young people out of work for a year and over 25s out of work for two years
- Introduce a higher rate of JSA for those who have paid NI contributions for longer, paid for by extending the period you need to have paid contributions before you qualify
Whilst abolishing the bedroom tax remains very welcome, ‘reform’ of the WCA is a virtually meaningless commitment as is the setting up of a ‘scrutiny group’. The lack of any mention of the sanctions regime or the ILF will also disappoint many disabled activists.
A Labour led government still appears to be a considerably better bet for claimants than a Conservative one. But it’s clear that Labour remain only a less awful option, rather than a positively good one.
Source – Benefits & Work, 13 Apr 2015
Plans leaked to the BBC reveal that the Conservatives are considering cuts of up to £80 a week for sick and disabled claimants if they win the election.
The leaked documents show that the Conservative party commissioned research into how much could be saved by measures including:
Taxing disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP) and attendance allowance (AA), saving a predicted £1.5 billion a year.
Abolishing contribution based ESA and JSA entirely, so that only claimants who pass a means test can claim these benefits. According to the BBC, DWP analysis suggests 30% of claimants, over 300,000 families, would lose about £80 per week, saving a predicted £1.3 billion a year. In fact, some families would lose more than £80 per week if these benefits were abolished.
Cutting the number of people getting carer’s allowance by 40% by only awarding it to those eligible for universal credit (UC), saving a predicted £1 billion.
Limiting child benefit to the first two children, eventually saving £1 billion but very little in the short-term.
Other plans include replacing industrial injuries benefits with an insurance policy for employers, regional benefit caps and changes to council tax.
The Conservatives deny that these proposals are party policy.
A spokesperson for Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC that:
“This is ill informed and inaccurate speculation.
“Officials spend a lot of time generating proposals – many not commissioned by politicians.
“It’s wrong and misleading to suggest that any of this is part of our plan.”
However, the Conservatives still refuse to say what benefits they will cut.
Earlier this week Benefits and Work suggested that working age claimants would lose an average of £19 a week under Conservative plans. We pointed out that some would lose less and some might lose much more – but we hadn’t realised quite how much more.
Would you be affected by these cuts and could you cope financially if they were imposed?
Source – Benefits & Work, 27 Mar 2015
Working age claimants are likely to face an average cut in income of over £19 a week if the Conservatives form the next government .
The drastic drop, likely to be taken from housing benefit (HB), employment and support allowance (ESA), disability living allowance (DLA) and personal independence payment (PIP), will be needed to allow the Tories to cut £12 billion from benefits spending.
The cuts will come in the years 2016-17 and 2017-18, after the current agreed spending round ends.
The chancellor’s plan is to have huge cuts in these two years, followed by much more modest cuts in 2018-19 and then a big surplus to pay for giveaways in the year leading up to the 2020 election.
The Tories are still refusing to say which benefits will be cut until after the election.
But the reality is that pensioner benefits, which make up well over half the benefits bill, are entirely protected.
And the proposed limiting of child benefit to the first three children would save just £300 million.
While cuts to housing benefit for some under 25s could save as little as £50 million.
So, the only place cuts can realistically come from is working age benefits. And Jobseeker’s allowance makes up only a tiny proportion of these, so rising employment will make little difference.
Jobseeker’s allowance is expected to cost just £2.39 billion in 2016-17, compared to:
- Employment and support allowance: £14.47 billion
- Disability living allowance: £10.11 billion
- Housing benefit: £24.8 billion
- Personal independence payment: 4.78 billion
The benefit that was supposed to transform the system and save billions, universal credit, doesn’t even make up one hundredth of a percent of the benefits bill and the DWP refuse to make predictions about future totals.
£2,000 per claimant
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the cuts the chancellor has outlined so far, primarily a freeze on the uprating of most working age benefits, including the ESA personal allowance but not the two additional components, would save just £2 billion.
So that still leaves around £10 billion in cuts to be absorbed by the 5 million working age claimants in the UK. That’s a terrifying £2,000 per claimant over two years, averaging out at over £19 a week.
We have no way of knowing how the chancellor plans to make these cuts.
But it could be a combination of measures such as abolishing the work-related activity component of ESA; removing the lower rate of DLA care and/or mobility for working age claimants; making the points system for PIP much harsher; reducing the percentage of rent that housing benefit covers . . . and much more.
One possible way out of devastating cuts for sick and disabled claimants would be for the chancellor to pile a large part of the cuts on to tax credits. But there are major problems with this.
Firstly, ‘welfare’ has a precise meaning for a chancellor – particularly one delivering a budget – and tax credits are not part of the welfare budget at all, so Osborne would have clearly been misleading voters and the commons.
More importantly, the Tories have resolutely divided people into ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’ over the past five years. ‘Skivers’ get ‘welfare’, ‘strivers’ go out to work and get tax credits if they are on a low income. The reality, of course, is very different, but this is the tale politicians and the press tell.
If it turns out that Osborne was pretending he was going to hit the ‘skivers’ with another round of cuts , but in reality planned to slash the incomes of millions of ‘strivers’ instead, his reputation will suffer enormous harm. So too will the idea that work always pays more than benefits.
The Tory party will quite possibly recover from the damage by the time of the next election, but George’s chances of becoming the next leader of the Conservatives in 2018 or 2019 will probably have been irreparably damaged.
It’s very unlikely to be a risk he wants to take.
“Radical changes” will be needed, says IFS
It’s not just Benefits and Work that is arguing that the chancellor will have to make radical cuts to disability benefits and housing benefit.
Paul Johnston of the IFS told the BBC, following the budget:
“He has told us he wants to freeze working age benefits. That will save up to about £2 billion. That’s something he has told us. It’s the other £10 billion we know nothing about.
“It’s of course possible to cut benefits by £10 billion or £12 billion, if that’s what you really want to do.
“But you need to recognise especially if you’re protecting pensioners which the conservatives have said they want to do, this will involve radical changes to, for example, the housing benefit system, big cuts to child benefit, big cuts to disability benefits.
“These are the big benefits. If you want to save £10 billion you have to find radical things to do to those big parts of the benefits system.”
Labour and Tories no different?
Our ‘Benefits sanctions and deaths survey’ found that 59.5% of respondents thought that the Conservatives would be harshest with claimants, but 40% believed Labour and the Conservatives are as bad as each other.
In truth, all the indications so far are that the Conservatives will be vastly worse for claimants.
Labour are only aiming to make a total of £7 billion in cuts over the course of the next parliament, compared with the Conservatives £30billion.
We are no fans of Labour here at Benefits and Work. We despise the way they have privatised chunks of the benefits system and helped to demonise claimants.
But, for the coming five years, we have absolutely no doubt which party will plunge millions of claimants into unbearable poverty and, like Tory minister Hugo Swire, find it all mildly amusing.
Source – Benefits & Work, 25 Mar 2015
An NHS whistleblower has claimed that the A&E crisis is being made worse because highly trained NHS paramedics across the country are being poached by Atos and Capita to do assessments for personal independence payment (PIP), instead of saving lives.
There is a severe shortage of paramedics throughout the UK, but Hampshire – where our whistleblower works – has a particularly acute problem. South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) had over 250 vacancies for paramedics in November of this year.
Our whistleblower claimed that the situation was being made even worse because experienced paramedics are leaving to take up full time posts with Atos, who carry out PIP assessments in the region.
Paramedics in the NHS usually have to train to degree level, yet salaries range from just £21,478 to £27,901 for the most experienced paramedics. In addition, the job involves a good deal of shift work and unsocial hours.
Atos, on the other hand, offer paramedics who join them as full-time PIP assessors a salary of £32,000 plus private medical insurance, life assurance, income protection insurance and no unsocial hours.
It is hardly surprising if paramedics choose to make the move to Atos, or to Capita who offer a very similar package.
The effects of the paramedic shortage can be seen on a daily basis. Just this week an injured cyclist was left lying on the pavement for more than two hours in central London whilst waiting for paramedics to arrive.
The paramedic shortage is also taking desperately needed cash from the NHS. In Hampshire 16% of paramedic cover is currently provided by much more expensive private companies while health trusts around the UK are having to advertise abroad to try to attract paramedics to the UK.
Paramedics are also vital for reducing pressure on A&E departments by providing effective treatment on the spot. In many cases this reduces the amount of time spent on patients when they arrive at A&E or removes the need for a visit altogether.
Dismissal for speaking out
The SCAS employee who contacted us about the crisis was afraid to speak out publically because staff have received an email this week warning them that telling outsiders about problems in SCAS, especially online, could lead to dismissal. The email threatened:
“Everything you say online is subject to the same disciplinary procedure that covers your conduct in the real world. There have been disciplinary hearings that have resulted in staff being dismissed for breaches to the SCAS Code of Conduct.
“Don’t let this happen to you!
“We value our staff and it is important that when staff and the organisation are feeling the pressure, that we try and provide the appropriate support through internal and external means rather than airing frustrations that may damage public confidence.
“If you have any concerns, queries or want to ask us about this please do contact us. In the meantime for more information go to:
“The SCAS Discipline & Conduct Policy & Procedure”
We contacted SCAS and asked them how many staff have left to work for Atos or Capita in the last six months. A spokesperson told us:
“South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust are unable to advise on the numbers of staff who have left the organisation to join the organisations you have named. Unless staff are leaving to join another NHS Trust, they are not obliged to inform us of the name of their new employer.”
SCAS also denied that the recent email to staff was related to concerns about paramedics leaving to join the private sector.
Cash before lives
Atos and Capita have not even begun the massive task of assessing millions of existing disability living allowance claimants for PIP as part of the Coalition’s effort to reduce benefits spending. When they do, they will need to take on hundreds more assessors. How many of these will be poached from the NHS?
The crisis in paramedic numbers is not new, it has been growing since 2010. There would have been nothing to prevent the DWP stipulating in the PIP contracts for Atos and Capita that they did not recruit paramedics. There would be nothing to stop them doing so now.
The fact that they don’t reinforces the impression that, for the DWP, saving cash is always more important than saving lives.
Source – Benefits & Work, 20 Dec 2014
The quality of decision making for personal independence payment (PIP), is being called into question following the revelation that hundreds of staff without the proper experience and training are being temporarily promoted to the rank of PIP decision maker.
The promotions are being made because Atos and Capita have taken on many more health professionals to clear the backlog of PIP applications. Without hundreds more decision makers the bottleneck would simply move from the assessors to the decision makers.
According to the Public and Commercial Services union:
“Pressure of work continues to affect PIP members in other ways. There are high numbers of staff on temporary promotion: at one site 50 staff are on TDA [Temporary Duties Addition for staff acting up to a higher grade]. There is an expectation that even more Decision Makers will be needed as reassessment ramps up. Despite this, there are no permanent promotion opportunities. Transfers out of PIP are being blocked. There are reports of a harsh Managing Attendance regime at some sites.”
The mass promotions appear to be having an effect throughout the DWP:
“PCS were recently informed that the training for new apprentices has been very poor: they have been given just two weeks’ classroom training. When the apprentices start their consolidation there are very few Band B staff available to help them because so many staff are on TDA as Decision Makers.
“Training for all grades was reported as poor.”
With poorly trained and under qualified staff being drafted in as temporary decision makers, it is even more vital that the difficulties you face are spelt out as plainly and in as much detail as possible in your PIP application and backed up with supporting evidence where this is available.
Source – Benefits & Work, 02 Dec 2014
HMRC are to stop paying Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to people claiming to the new Universal Credit, it has been revealed.
Previously, when people were moved to Universal Credit their tax credits accounts with the HMRC would remain open until the end of the tax year.
Tax credit payments will now form part of a households total Universal Credit award. Those who have not yet been moved (claiming) Universal Credit will continue to have their tax credits paid by the HMRC.
The changes, revealed in October’s issue of the DWP’s Touchbase magazine, come into force from this month (October) and will affect all existing and new Universal Credit claimants.
From this month, the HMRC will begin contacting affected claimants to inform them that their tax credit payments will stop, and give details on what they need to do.
The DWP say that claimants who are already getting tax credits do not need to contact the HMRC, while they wait for the changes to affect them. But they must report any changes in their circumstances as soon as possible, to ensure they receive the correct amount within the Universal Credit system.
People will be moved to Universal Credit ‘at different times’ depending on where they live, their circumstances and what benefits they are currently claiming. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith recently announced plans to accelerate the roll-out of Universal Credit across the UK.
Tax credits will eventually be scrapped to form part of Universal Credit, as will a number of existing benefits including Housing Benefit and Income Support.
The HMRC is also changing the way it recovers overpaid tax credits. People who have been overpaid tax credit, largely due to HMRC blunders or accidental claimant error, may have their tax credit award reduced to repay outstanding debts. Depending upon a person’s circumstances this may include one or more previous claims.
Those affected will receive letters from the HMRC informing them of the overpayments. The amount deducted from their tax credit award could be as much as 25%. Those who have already made an arrangement to repay with the HMRC will not be affected.
Touchbase also reveals that Atos and Capita have employed more staff to increase the number of assessments they do for the new disability benefit, Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The reports used by assessors have also been improved, claim the DWP, and changes have been made to the PIP IT system. DWP say that PIP decision-makers have doubled their output since April 2014.
They also claim that disabled people will not have to wait more than 16 weeks for a PIP assessment by the end of 2014.
The news comes after charities and politicians raised concerns over a growing PIP assessment backlog.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 13 Oct 2014
The future of universal credit was already seriously in doubt. But its survival now looks even more improbable following Westminster’s promises to the Scottish people in the run up to yesterday’s independence vote.
In their white paper on independence, published last November, Holyrood promised the abolition of the bedroom tax and a halt to the rollout of universal credit and personal independence payment.
Clearly independence is no longer going to happen in the near future, but Westminster has promised Holyrood much greater independence in relation to welfare benefits. So, there remains a very strong possibility that universal credit will soon be brought to a halt in Scotland.
Even if that doesn’t happen, the fact that the tax and benefits systems in Scotland will soon begin to differ from those in the rest of the UK means that the currently non-existent IT for universal credit would soon have to become even more impossibly complex to cope with separate calculations for Scotland.
In addition, more devolution for Wales and Northern Ireland now seems to be on the agenda. If tax and benefits systems begin to evolve differently in all four countries in the UK then the possibility of the IT systems keeping pace with so many changes becomes ever less likely.
With so much uncertainty about the future, and with a paltry 11,000 people so far signed up to universal credit, yesterday’s vote may be the perfect excuse for the coalition to abandon this disastrous project.
Source – Benefits & Work, 19 Sept 2014
Even though Scotland didn’t vote in favour of independence yesterday, promises made by leaders at Westminster may spell disaster for claimants in the rest of the UK. In particular, it may mean IDS remaining free to persecute sick and disabled claimants, even if the Tories lose the next election.
Westminster politicians have guaranteed Holyrood much greater control over issues including welfare benefits and tax. But, in return, the Conservatives are now pushing to prevent Scottish MPs voting on benefits and tax measures in Westminster.
For Scottish claimants the changes are almost certainly good news. In their white paper on independence, published last November, Holyrood promised the abolition of the bedroom tax and a halt to the rollout of universal credit and personal independence payment. Holyrood has not gained independence overall, but in relation to benefits it looks like they may soon have a free hand.
So, for Scottish claimants, PIP, the bedroom tax and UC may all soon be distant memories.
But for the rest of the UK there is now the spectre that IDS and his persecution of the sick and disabled may not be halted even if the Tories lose the next election.
We could very easily find ourselves in a position where a Labour majority, or a Labour coalition, becomes a Conservative majority every time Westminster votes on tax or benefits issues if Scottish MPs are excluded. Whilst it might be difficult for the Conservatives to introduce radical new changes to the benefits system under these circumstances, they could certainly fight very effectively to keep things as they are.
Many claimants may argue that the difference between Labour and the Conservatives has become so slim that it will make little difference who is in charge. But others may consider that, no matter how awful Labour were when in power, they have suffered vastly more under the Conservatives.
So, for claimants at least, the prospect of life improving after the next general election may now be even more distant.
Source – Benefits & Work, 19 Sept 2014