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
Are you in the process of claiming PIP or asking for a mandatory reconsideration? I had an email just before Christmas from Tired Git who has experienced precisely this, he offers the following advice:
“I wondered if you were aware of the discrepancy I have found in how the DWP interpret distances when they determine how far we are capable of walking to set the level of PIP awarded. In the application form for PIP the tick-box options for distances applicable to deciding the awarding of high or standard mobility are:
- Less than 20 metres
- 20 metres to 50 metres
However, Schedule 1 part 3 (2) of the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013 (as it appeared 16/12/2014 on the legislation.gov.uk website) contains the following definitions:
- d. Can stand and then move using an aid or appliance more than 20 metres but no more than 50 metres. 10 points
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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
Iain Duncan Smith announced yet another slowdown of the rollout of universal credit to the Conservative conference yesterday, but managed to make it sound like a success by omitting just two vital words from his speech. Whether he actually lied or was just deeply misleading is for the reader to decide.
In a speech that verged at times on the messianic, but failed to refer at any point to massive waiting times for PIP and ESA medicals, Iain Duncan Smith announced that the roll out of universal credit was to be accelerated.
He told conference that:
“Universal Credit has now rolled out in the North West of England – to couples, shortly to families, to more than 1 in 8 jobcentres by Christmas – safely and securely as we always said.
“But, Conference, today I can announce more.
“I can announce that we are going to accelerate the delivery of Universal Credit…
“… from the New Year, bringing forward the national roll-out through 2015/16 to every community across Great Britain.”
The only problem with this was the two vital words missing from IDS’ speech, but present in the DWP press release – the roll out will only be for ‘single jobseekers’.
In other words:
- not for couples;
- not for families;
- not for people in work;
- not for people too sick and disabled to work.
In fact, only for the smallest and simplest group of universal credit claimants for whom no complex software is required at all. This is not a rollout or universal credit at all, it is the rollout of ‘universal credit lite’ to a fraction of the 8 million people who are supposed to be going to be moved onto it.
IDS went on to say:
“Secure national delivery… yet at the same time, delivering life change at a local level:
“strengthening community partnerships, helping vulnerable households…
“… getting people into a job quicker and staying in work longer…
“… not just helping the economy but reducing child poverty as well.
“Bringing up to £35 billion in economic benefits to Britain over the next decade…
“… making a lasting difference to people’s lives…
“… now and for generations to come.
“Friends – Universal Credit is going nationwide – we are going to finish what we started.”
In truth, the national rollout will not affect ‘vulnerable households’ because it’s only for single claimants.
It also won’t reduce ‘child poverty’ because it’s only for single claimants.
And ‘universal credit’ isn’t going nationwide, only a small fraction of it is.
So, was this a straightforward lie or just weasel words? We leave you, the reader, to make up your own mind.
But here’s one final piece of evidence.
In his ministerial statement on 5 December 2013 – which has mysteriously disappeared from the parliament website – IDS announced the revised timetable for the rollout of universal credit, which was itself a massive slowdown from the original plan. The document is deliberately vague about the timetable, but it does state:
“Meanwhile, we will expand our current pathfinder service and develop functionality so that from next summer we progressively start to take claims for universal credit from couples and, in the autumn, from families. Once safely tested in the 10 live universal credit areas, we will also expand the roll-out to cover more of the north-west of England. This will enable us to learn from the live running of universal credit at scale and for more claimant types, including the more vulnerable and complex.
“These steps continue our progressive approach—test, learn, implement—as we deliver this flagship programme.
“Our current planning assumption is that the universal credit service will be fully available in each part of Great Britain during 2016, having closed down new claims to the legacy benefits it replaced; with the majority of the remaining legacy case load moving to universal credit during 2016 and 2017.”
So, the most recent plan was to run full versions of universal credit – including for ‘the more vulnerable and more complex’ claimants – in the north west of England and then expand out across the country.
Now, it seems, only the simplest of claims will have been rolled out across the country by April 2016. There is then absolutely no possibility whatsoever of a ‘test, learn, implement’ rollout of the massively more complex full universal credit across the whole country by the end of 2016.
So what IDS was announcing sounds very much to us like another setback for the rollout of universal credit. The reality is that there is absolutely no evidence that IDS, Freud and their wealthy friends are ‘going to finish what we started’ in 2017, or indeed at any time in the next decade.
Source – Benefits & Work, 30 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
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
A UK artist has created an art installation as a memorial to the suicide victims of welfare reform.
Melanie Cutler contacted Vox Political regarding her piece – ‘Stewardship’ – a few weeks ago, asking, “Do you think I’ll be arrested?”
The response was that it should be unlikely if she informed the media. The artworks have been displayed at the Northampton Degree Show and are currently at the Free Range Exhibition at the Old Truman Brewery building in Brick Lane, London, which ends tomorrow (June 30).
Entry is free and the installation will be located in F Block, B5.
“I have become an artist later on in life,” Melanie told Vox Political. “I was a carer for my son and, a few decades later, my father. I have worked most of my life too, raising three children.
“Only recently, while studying fine art at University I found my health…
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The DWP is overturning more than half of its own decisions in relation to some benefits. This has been revealed by Judge Robert Martin, the outgoing president of the social entitlement chamber which deals with benefits tribunals. The DWP itself has yet to publish any statistics about the ‘mandatory reconsideration before appeal‘ system introduced last year.
‘Mandatory reconsideration before appeal‘ was introduced for personal independence payment (PIP) and universal credit (UC) from April 2013 and, for other benefits, for decisions made on or after 28 October 2013.
It means that before a claimant can appeal a decision they have to ask for it to be looked at again by the DWP. Only once they receive written notification of the result of the reconsideration can they lodge an appeal, if they are unhappy with the revised decision.
The figures for reconsideration success were given by Judge Martin in the April edition of the Judicial Information Bulletin, which goes out to all tribunal members.
According to the judge, by 21st February 2014 the DWP had received 82,798 mandatory reconsideration requests and made a decision in 70% of cases, with decisions taking on average 13 days from the date they were received.
DLA decisions overturned 55.9%
ESA decisions overturned 23.0%
JSA decisions overturned 30.1
PIP decisions overturned 13.9%
UC decisions overturned 71.1%
It is extraordinary that the DWP is overturning a massive 71% of its own decisions in relation to UC, but at least they have the excuse that it’s a new benefit. But to be getting it wrong in more than half of all DLA decisions is even more astonishing.
Atos pulled out of the contract for carrying out DLA medicals, other than terminal illness cases, last year. Since then decision makers have been left to look up the effects of conditions in guidance issued by the DWP – and available in the members’ area of Benefits and Work site – or on the internet.
This may go some way to explaining what is such a shameful level of error in DLA decision making. But it does not in any way excuse it.
For the moment then, it seems that even for ESA challenges – with a success rate of 23% – there is a reasonable chance of getting the decision overturned prior to a tribunal hearing.
Judge Martin’s article, ‘Dark matter’ can be downloaded from the Rightsnet discussion forum.
Source – Benefits & Work, 09 June 2014