The SNP manifesto, published yesterday, proposes a number of pro-claimant policies that set it apart from any of the main parties at Westminster.
The SNP’s benefits pledges include:
- increases of at least the cost of living in welfare benefits
- halting the roll out of both Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Universal Credit
- reversing the replacement of Disability Living Allowance with PIP
- people already supported by the Independent Living Fund will continue to be supported.
- an urgent review of the system of assessments for disability benefits.
- increasing the universal credit work allowance, to boost to the incomes of people moving into work
- overhauling the Work Capability Assessment.
- urgently reviewing the conditionality and sanctions regime, taking particular account of the needs of people with mental health issues. and recognising that the removal of cash benefits should be a last, rather than a first, resort.
- Increasing Carers’ Allowance so that it matches Jobseekers’ Allowance.
- not supporting attempts to restrict housing benefit for 18 to 21 year olds
- stop war disablement pension being treated as income in the assessment of entitlement to other benefits.
It seems likely that there will be many sick and disabled claimants south of the border who will read these policies and regret that they don’t have the opportunity to vote SNP.
Source – Benefits & Work, 21 Apr 2015
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has condemned the Government’s decision to privatise part of the administration of Universal Credit.
Private firm Capita will be gifted with the responsibility for booking initial work search interviews for new Universal Credit claimants.
Capita is currently facing a second inquiry into a £1.5bn Whitehall jobs contract, which small companies claim could leave them facing financial ruin.
A press release on the union’s website reads:
“Their intention is that the process for booking the appointment for a claimant’s initial work search interview will be handed to the private company Capita. No DWP staff will be transferred to Capita under this proposal.
“There is no justifiable business reason for doing this. DWP claim that Capita will be able to make these appointments at weekends for claimants who make a claim online at a weekend, but in practice the appointments could just as well be done by DWP staff the following Monday, as has happened up to now.
“Capita already have been handed the same task for claims to Jobseekers Allowance and this announcement extends that arrangement to Universal Credit claims.
“PCS has protested strongly to DWP about this decision. Seeing their work privatised is a kick in the teeth for our hard working members.
“Members will also be understandably concerned that this privatisation is a foretaste of further private sector involvement in the delivery of Universal Credit.
“PCS has also made the point to the department that Capita is consistently failing to meet its key targets in relation to JSA First Contact calls that are currently out sourced to them. This failure contrasts with the DWP staff in CCS who are consistently meeting the very same targets.
“Again the failure of the private sector to out-perform the public sector has been ignored as the tired, false dogma of ‘private sector good, public sector bad’ is wheeled out once again.
“PCS will continue to argue against all privatisation of DWP work and will continue to campaign for all privatised work to be brought back in-house where it belongs.”
> Hear, hear – claimants should be harrassed by public sector, not private company , workers.
Jobcentres are, I would guess, high on the list for selling off to private companies if the Tories win the next election. Possibly if Labour win too.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 22 Feb 2015
A future Conservative government would reduce the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 and force young unemployed people to work for their benefits, chancellor George Osborne has revealed.
He told the Mail on Sunday that lowering the controversial benefit cap would help fund three million new apprenticeships. Previous Tory attempts to lower the cap have been blocked by the Liberal Democrats.
The Tories believe such a move would be popular among voters calling for yet more cuts to welfare spending. But it will alarm charities and poverty campaigners, who argue that benefit claimants are being unfairly targeted for cuts and marginalised in British society.
“Our mission is not just to save the pounds here and there, we’re trying to change the welfare system so it doesn’t trap people in poverty and a culture of dependency. It is a tragedy for them and a waste for the country.
“We are saying you will receive an allowance but if you can’t find work after six months, you will have to work for the dole. They are difficult decisions but the right ones.”
Osborne also said that 18-21 year-olds would be prevented from claiming housing benefit.
“It is not acceptable for young people under the age of 21 to go straight from school and into a home paid for through housing benefit – benefit funded by other people who are working”, he said.
Mr Osborne claimed that before the introduction of the benefit cap “some families were receiving £100,000 a year in housing benefit”. An analysis by the respected fact-checking website FullFact in November 2012 found that only 70 households, out of a total of 4.5 million, were receiving over £1,000 per week in housing benefit a week in September 2010.
“Even this is likely to overstate the number claiming £100,000 per year however”, said FullFact, “as a family would need to claim over £1,900 per week to hit this total. Previous FoI responses from the Department have suggested around five families benefited by this amount.”
They added: “While the evidence suggests that there are a small number of Housing Benefit claims of more than £100,000 per year – perhaps around five – these cases are very much the exception rather than the rule.
“Focusing exclusively on these outliers without first putting them into context, where over 80% of claims are below £100 per week, could distort the debate around this important topic.”
Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary said:
“David Cameron’s Government is set to overspend by a staggering £13 billion on social security. And the number of working people claiming Housing Benefit is set to double by 2018/19 costing every UK household £488.
“Spending has risen because the Government has failed to tackle the increasing number of low wage jobs and their welfare policies, from Universal Credit to Personal Independence Payments, are in chaos.
“We must bring down social security spending and doing that requires a new approach to tackle the root causes of these costs directly. That’s why a Labour Government would make work pay by increasing the minimum wage, stop young people cycling in and out of welfare before they’re established in jobs and build more homes to tackle rising housing benefit spending.
“Alongside our plans to introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee to get the long term unemployed off benefits and into work, these measures will help control social security spending for the long term. All the Tories offer is announcements to hide the truth of rising welfare spending.”
> compulsory jobs guarantee = workfare. Different arseholes, but the same old shit.
Update: Since publishing this article it has been brought to our attention that a future Tory government would also scrap Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for 18-21 year-olds. It would be replaced with a “youth allowance”, paid at the same level as JSA. In order to continue receiving payments after six months of being unemployed young people would be required to “work for their dole” on “community projects”. The idea of a youth allowance has already been proposed by the Labour Party.
Source – Welfare News Service, 28 Sept 2014
Fewer than half of claims for payment under a controversial government benefit for disabled and sick people are being approved in parts of Teesside.
Figures released today show that, nationally, 51% of Britons applying for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) ended up receiving the money.
But the proportion is as low as 26% – or just over one in four claims – in some parts of the country.
On Teesside, Redcar parliamentary constituency had the lowest approval rate at 47%.
In the two Middlesbrough constituencies, 1,090 claims have now been determined.
The approval rate was 49% in Middlesbrough and 48% in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.
In Stockton North the figure was 55% while Stockton South’s was 51%.
PIPs were introduced in April 2013 to replace Disability Living Allowance for 16-64 years olds.
Payments are worth between £21 and £134 a week and go to sick and disabled people with a long-term health condition.
Eligibility is determined by medics employed by private companies, usually at a face-to-face assessment lasting up to two hours.
Department for Work and Pension figures showed the approval rate for new claims was 26% in the parliamentary constituency – the lowest in the country.
That compares with an approval rate of 68% in Scotland’s Western Isles and Stoke-on-Trent South.
Nationally, around 100,000 people have either withdrawn their claim or had it refused.
Reassessments of the existing 1.7m claimants of DLA began in October but was effectively paused after a backlog of 780,000 cases built up.
In June this year the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee said the new system had been ‘rushed’ through, creating a ‘fiasco’ in which ‘many’ people faced six-month delays, and terminally ill people were waiting one month on average for their payment.
Payments had been due to begin in the north of England from April 2013 but only 360 assessments had been done by the time the programme was launched nationally two months later.
The Department for Work and Pensions expects 600,000 fewer people will receive PIP by May 2018, compared with its projections for DLA. It expects this will lead to annual savings to benefit spending of £3bn from 2018/19.
The latest figures, up to the end of July 2014, show 80,100 PIPs were awarded nationally under ‘normal’ rules, out of 177,000 new claims considered closed by the department. Some 22,100 PIPs have been awarded under special fast-track rules for people with a terminal illness, out of 23,100 closed claims.
In all, 490,400 new claims have been lodged under the new system.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 17 Sept 2014
Sick and disabled claimants are experiencing severe distress and some are even close to suicide due to botched disability benefit reform, an insider has revealed.
Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for Britain’s sick and disabled, but the assessment process which should take no longer than 26 weeks is sometimes taking twice as long.
The two companies are set to make £540 million from the new benefit in the next five years. Atos will receive the larger share of around £400 million, despite heavy criticism and a poor record in delivering ‘fit for work’ tests for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), while Capita will make roughly £140 million.
PIP can be claimed by sick and disabled people regardless of their employment status.
Under the new disability benefit PIP, claimants are required to attend face-to-face assessments to determine their eligibility and the level of benefit they will receive. The whistleblower claims that mismanagement, IT problems and staff shortages are to blame for a backlog of 145,000 cases.
While waiting to be assessed for PIP, many sick and disabled people are often left penniless and unable to pay their rent, because their DLA has been stopped, the whistleblower said.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, the whistleblower said:
“I’ve had people on the phone crying their eyes out and saying they are going to commit suicide.
“On one occasion I had to call an ambulance because they said they had stopped taking their medication. Some people have been going for months and months without money.”
“We’ve started getting calls from people saying their DLA will run out in a month’s time and they’ve not even got an appointment for an assessment.
“Others have been left with nothing because their DLA has been stopped. People have lost their home because they can’t pay their rent.”
She continued: “It’s a shambles. Day in, day out there are people ringing up to say, ‘Why is my appointment cancelled?’ I’ve seen appointments cancelled time and time again.”
According to the whistleblower, Capita call centre staff have been given instructions on what excuses to use when claimants ask why their PIP assessment has been delayed or cancelled. “I am having to lie on a daily basis about why things are taking so long”, she said.
Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper told the Daily Mirror: “By the autumn, we anticipate that no one will be waiting for an assessment for longer than 26 weeks.”
Capita said they would be hiring more staff to help reduce the backlog.
Source – Welfare News Service, 03 Aug 2014
Hello, I thought I would let you know about various issues we have been having with the benefit system.
I am a 48-year-old who is very unwell. I suffer from Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy. It’s a cross between M.E and M.S and causes terrible pain all over my body. My mobility is very poor and I have had several operations on [my] stomach due to severe problems. I also suffer from I.B.S and have seizures.
Things have become so bad that my husband has had to give up work to care for me, because I cannot be left on my own for any length of time. I need help in doing most things.
I was called in for a medical [assessment] three years ago, which was cancelled twice as they did not have the staff. Once we were not told it was cancelled until we had got there. I got my Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), but then about eighteen months ago I was called in for yet another assessment.
I went to the Luton office as instructed to do so. On arrival, I was then told I would have to go as I was in my wheelchair and that if there was a fire I would not be able to get out of the building. The medical [assessment] office was on the top floor. When I was asked what I should do, and could they put something in writing to say I had attended, I was ‘tutted’ at and told to wait.
In all I was kept waiting for twenty minutes, to which I pointed out [that] they could have done some of my assessment in that time. I was advised to go home [and that] it had been noted I had attended, even though they would not give me anything there and then in writing. I would be sent another appointment and advice on what to do next.
Three days later a letter arrived giving me another appointment, but again is was for the same place. I called and explained [what had happened previously] and was told this was an error and not to go – another appointment would be sent.
Another letter arrived, but again stating to go back to the Luton office. It was a nightmare and caused a lot of upset and stress. In the end, a month later, I was sent an appointment to go to another office twenty miles away. I am pleased to say my claim was upheld.
But, I am sorry to say, that was not the last issue we have had. Last year I got another form to fill in for my ESA. My husband and I eventually [completed] the form and sent it off by recorded post (I have learnt not to send anything that cannot be traced). After two months I had [still] not heard anything, so I called them to find out what was going on. I was told they had received all my paperwork on July 18th 2013 and [that] I would hear back within the next two months. Again I waited [but] by end of October [I had still not] heard anything, so I called [them] again to be told they could not find anything. I was very upset, and yes angry, about this and pointed out that I had already been told it had been received on July 18th, All of a sudden it was found. I was told should hear [something] by the new year. [To date] I have had nothing back from them and as I am still getting my ESA I have [decided] not to rock the boat. I just hope no news is good news and [that] I carry on getting my benefits.
I was advised whilst all this was ongoing, that my husband was entitled to a little bit of Income Support. We applied, received a letter saying he would get about £8 a week paid monthly and advised to check to see if he was entitled to any back-pay. We did this and wish we had not. It led to a number of phone calls from the manager of Luton Jobcentre asking why we had passed things on to my MP. I told her I had done this as I was not getting anywhere in getting the money paid to my husband, which we had been told he was entitled too.
After a couple of days Alan [received] a payment but was told that there was no back pay. Again, I questioned this. Another very nasty call from Luton Job Centre, the manager again told us that we had caused a problem, to which I asked why, and got no proper answer.
She then said she was going to stop the income support that was going to Alan. I asked why and could she do that? To which she said she could, and would do it, and if we wanted to do anything about it we would have to stop our ESA claim and put in a joint claim for Income support, but it could take up to sixteen weeks and whilst it was being looked in to we would get no money. Well,.. of course we cannot do that, so we are losing out on the small amount of income support we should and did get for a short time. This seems very unfair. If we are entitled then we should get it, surely?
I dread a brown envelope coming through the door and am desperate and very worried about the changeover from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments (PIP). It’s already causing worry, stress and sleepless nights.
I do not know what we will do if it is stopped for any reason as I cannot go to work. I did not choose this, the [medical[ conditions chose me. I had a good job in a company I loved working for and I did not want to go on benefits.
Like many people, I am made to feel unworthy and nothing but a scrounger.
Sorry this is all a bit long-winded, but I feel [like] I wanted to get as much information down as possible. I know there are plenty [of] others that are in a worse situation because of benefits being withdrawn. My heart really goes out to them.
If, like us, you are deemed to have a spare room, that is another worry, upset and obstacle to cope with.
This government will not be happy until we have all starved, frozen to death or back in the workhouses of the Victorian era.
We have also had to go cap in hand twice to a food bank, and I often just have soup and 2 slices of toast in a day. I try to do my best, but things are so expensive and it is very hard. I feel terrible that my illness has such a negative knock-on effect on my husband and son, as many others do. I wonder if my family would be better off with out me?
Thank you very much for taking the time to read all of this.
Source – Welfare News Service, 17 May 2014
This article was written by Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Tuesday 18th March 2014
MPs have criticised the Department for Work and Pensions for a series of rule breaches in which official statistics were used inaccurately, inappropriately, or to “spin” stories about benefit claimants.
The Commons work and pensions committee also criticised the DWP for shortcomings in the management of claims for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), a disability benefit that replaces the Disability Living Allowance, saying it was unacceptable claimants were having to wait six months or more to find out if they were eligible.
A report by the MPs warned the DWP to exercise care in the language used in its press releases and ministerial comments to ensure they do not feed into “negative preconceptions and prejudices about people on benefits”.
> exercise care in the language used in its press releases and ministerial comments to ensure they do not feed into “negative preconceptions and prejudices about people on benefits – as if they strayed into negative preconceptions by accident ! Its what they were designed to do. Where have these MPs been for the past few years ?
It cites examples in the past few months where the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) criticised the use of DWP statistics, including by the secretary of state, Iain Duncan Smith, and Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps.
Dame Anne Begg MP, the committee chair, said: “Statistics should be used to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views or feed preconceptions.
“Government efforts to promote a positive image of disabled people will be undermined if the language used by DWP when communicating benefit statistics to the media feeds into negative perceptions and prejudices about benefit recipients, including disabled people.”
The committee said it had warned the government as early as 2011 to take more care over the way it presented information on benefits statistics to the media. Ministers had replied then by saying they had a “robust” system in place to ensure no abuses took place.
However, the committee notes in a report into DWP performance, published on Tuesday , that problems still remained and that the UKSA had reprimanded the department a number of times in 2013 for the way it handled welfare statistics.
In one case, the Conservative party had put out a press release which quoted party chair Grant Shapps citing DWP figures that purported to show nearly a million people had dropped their incapacity benefit claim rather than face a work capability test. The UKSA found that two sets of figures had been erroneously and misleadingly conflated.
Duncan Smith said he and his officials had not prepared one criticised Conservative party release, and he had had “conversations” with Shapps to ensure in future he checked with the department if he was going to say something about DWP statistics.
In a separate case, Duncan Smith was officially reprimanded for claiming that the threat of the benefit cap had directly persuaded 8,000 of claimants to get a job. This clearly demonstrated that the cap was working, he said. But the UKSA ruled that there was no statistical evidence to support this.
The DWP director of communications John Shield told MPs that Duncan Smith had the right to make clear his “opinion” on “what he thinks the data are saying”. But he admitted that on this occasion the DWP press office had been involved in the preparation of the secretary of state’s claims.
The committee report says government statistics should be presented fairly, accurately and unspun, “and this is especially the case when they are being used to justify a particular policy or a particular allocation of resources.”
Regarding delays in PIP, the report urges ministers to involve financial penalty clauses to force private contractors Atos and Capita to speed up the claims process.
Begg said: “Many disabled or sick people face waits of six months or more for a decision on their PIP eligibility. Even those with terminal illnesses are having to wait far longer than was anticipated. This not only leaves people facing financial difficulties whilst they await a decision, but causes severe stress and uncertainty. It is completely unacceptable.”
The committee’s findings echo a recent National Audit Office report, which concluded that the PIP programme suffered from “poor early operational performance” leading to long and uncertain delays for claimants.
A DWP spokesman said: “PIP is a completely new benefit with a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews. In some cases this end-to-end claims process is taking longer than the old system of Disability Living Allowance, which relied on a self-assessment form.
“We are working with providers to ensure that all the steps in the process are as smooth as they can be and the benefit is backdated so no-one is left out of pocket.
“Claims for terminally ill people are fast-tracked and Macmillan has acknowledged that improvements in the system have already been made. Latest statistics show over 99% of people with terminal illnesses who have applied have been awarded the benefit, which means over 9,500 terminally ill claimants are now receiving PIP.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 18 March 2014