Tagged: punitive

Government Urged To Suspend Benefit Sanctions Regime

This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 8th January 2015

Pleas to the government to suspend its benefit sanctions regime pending a fundamental review of its impact – especially on the mentally ill and disabled – were made at the first session of a broad inquiry by the Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee.

In a two-and-half hour session involving academics, food banks administrators, disabled groups and employment service professionals, the select committee repeatedly heard the sanctions regime had changed over the last two years, creating a punitive culture of fear – especially amongst the disabled.

Mathew Oakley, the independent reviewer for sanctions appointed by the DWP did not join in their fiercest criticism of the system but said it would be wise for the government to undertake a general stock-take of the system in view of the extent to which it has changed over the past two parliaments.

> Matthew Oakley is the guy who in 2011 was behind a Policy Exchange thinktank report titled: Something For Nothing : Reinstating Conditionality For Jobseekers, which called for a new points based system for Jobseekers Allowance that recognises different ‘job-search’ activities that claimants are required to carry out each week.

Attending a job interview’, which is currently not a recognised job seeking activity, would earn a greater number of points than ‘putting together a CV’ or ‘seeking information about a job’. 

Claimants would have to reach a specific number of points each week to receive their benefits.  If they failed to reach the minimum target benefits would be withheld.

Or sanctioned in other words. So no prizes for guessing which side of the fence he’s on…

He was one of many witnesses that said the government lacked systematic information on what happened to jobseeker’s allowance claimants if they are sanctioned including whether they went into work, the black economy or instead disengaged, leading to the growing gap between the number unemployed and the numbers claiming JSA.

Dr David Webster, visiting professor of Glasgow University, claimed the system had a gradually parallel secret penal system – a view dismissed by one Tory committee member as ‘completely absurd and bizarre’. Webster said the DWP may now be saving as much as £275m a year due to claimants being stopped.

Tony Wilson, the Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion, said sanctions “are running so far ahead of what works we should suspend the applications of sanctions unless we have a much clearer idea of what works and the impact of sanctions”.

Paul Farmer, the chief executive officer of mental health charity Mind said sanctions amongst those on employment support allowance has risen from 1,700 a month to 4,800 a month, adding there had been a disproportionate impact on people on mental health.

He claimed 60% of those on ESA have a mental health problem, yet in only 8% of cases were GPs being contacted as required in guidance to seek their views on the pressing ahead with sanctions.

Chris Mould, the chairman of the Trussell Trust, one of the chief organisers of food banks in the UK, said there had been a radical change in the way very disproportionate decisions were being taken since the latter part of 2012 , adding it was clear some job centres were being more punitive than others. He said in too many cases it takes too long for a claimant to secure redress if they have had their benefit withdrawn.

Kirsty McHugh, the chief executive of Employment Related Services Association, the representative body for the employment support sector, also called for an overhaul including the introduction of an “early warning” system which could be used at first offence rather than imposing a sanction. She added frontline employment providers of the work programme should be given more discretion about when they should report jobseekers to Jobcentre Plus for potential sanctioning.

She also called for greater clarity across the system about which jobseekers are classed as “vulnerable” and should be exempt from sanctions.

McHugh said “For a minority of people, receiving a sanction can be the wake up call they need to help them move into work. However, for the vast majority of jobseekers, sanctions are more likely to hinder their journey into employment.”

> Yeah… that’s what we’ve been telling you for the past few years. So nice you’re catching up, but for some people its all too late.

Source –  Welfare Weekly, 08 Jan 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/government-urged-suspend-benefit-sanctions-regime/

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/

Cameron’s ‘mission’ is morally bankrupt

Vox Political

140117democracy

When David Cameron stands up in all his hypocrisy and tells you that tearing apart the basic safety net that guaranteed people would not be left in hunger or destitution is part of his “moral mission”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the country has taken a turn for the worse.

When he defends an administration that has become so punitive that applicants who don’t get it right have to wait without food for months at a time, by claiming he is doing “what is right”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the man who claims he is Prime Minister has diverged from reality.

That is precisely what he has done, and you can bet that the Tory diehards will quietly go along with it because they think it is far better for other people to lose their lives than it is for their government to lose face.

Cameron has…

View original post 929 more words

Church Leaders Slam “Punitive” Welfare Cuts As Half A Million Left To Go Hungry

27 church leaders, including a number of Anglican bishops, have slammed coalition benefit cuts and “punitive” sanctions in an unprecedented attack on the government’s welfare policies.

In a letter to the Daily Mirror, the church leaders warn that “one in five mothers report regularly skipping meals to better feed their children” and others are having to face the unenviable decision between eating and heating as “food prices have gone up 30% in just five years”.

The church leaders argue that half a million people are having to turn to food banks to feed themselves as their families, and that it was time for society to “face up to the fact that over half of people using food banks have been put in that situation by cut backs and failures in the benefit system”.

According to the signatories of the letter “5,500 people were admitted to hospital in the UK for malnutrition last year”.

They say that there is a “moral imperative” for society and the coalition government to act on food poverty and take immediate action to “make sure that work pays, and to ensure that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger”.

The letter sent to the Daily Mirror reads as follows:

“Britain is the world’s seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry.

“Half a million people have visited food banks in the UK since last Easter and 5,500 people were admitted to hospital in the UK for malnutrition last year.

“One in five mothers report regularly skipping meals to better feed their children, and even more families are just one unexpected bill away from waking up with empty cupboards.

“We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must “heat or eat” each winter, harder than those faced by families whose wages have stayed flat while food prices have gone up 30% in just five years.

“Yet beyond even this we must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using food banks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions.

“On March 5th Lent will begin. The Christian tradition has long been at this time to fast, and by doing so draw closer to our neighbour and closer to God.

“On March 5th we will begin a time of fasting while half a million regularly go hungry in Britain. We urge those of all faith and none, people of good conscience, to join with us.

“There is an acute moral imperative to act. Hundreds of thousands of people are doing so already, as they set up and support food banks across the UK. But this is a national crisis, and one we must rise to.

“We call on government to do its part: acting to investigate food markets that are failing, to make sure that work pays, and to ensure that the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger.”

Source – Welfare News Service, 19 Feb 2014

Record Number Of Sanctions Made Against Benefits Claimants In 2013

This article  was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 19th February 2014

The total number of sanctions against benefit claimants in the year to September 2013 was 897,690, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker’s allowance was introduced in 1996.

The figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions cover employment support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance.

The number of JSA sanctions in the year to 30 September 2013 was 874,850, the highest since JSA was introduced in 1996. It compares with 500,000 in the year to 30 April 2010, the last month of the previous Labour government.

In the year to 30 September 2013 there were also 22,840 sanctions imposed on claimants of ESA – the chief benefit for the sick and disabled – in the work-related activity group. This is the highest for any 12-month period since sanctions were introduced for such claimants in October 2008.

The figures are derived from the latest quarterly set of sanctions totals published by the DWP.

The large numbers come before the government introduces its tougher claimant commitment that will require claimants to do more to prove they are actively seeking work.

Asked if an excessively punitive approach to sanctions claimants had contributed to the latest fall in unemployment, Esther McVey, the employment minister, said the DWP had brought the same clarity of requirements to those out of work that applies to those in work.

Critics, including members of the work and pensions select committee, will claim those on ESA and JSA are likely to be more vulnerable and chaotic than those in work. There is also criticism from charities about the way in which sanctions are administered and communicated.

The archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, has also suggested something has gone wrong with the welfare state, prompting David Cameron to restate the moral case for his reforms.

Ministers have set up an external inquiry into how sanctions decisions are communicated to claimants, which is due to be published next month.

Analysis produced by Professor David Webster at Glasgow University of the latest set of statistics shows in the year to 30 September 2013, JSA claims were being sanctioned at the rate of 5.11% a month, and in the three months to 30 September 2013 at a rate of 6.00% a month. These are the highest rates recorded since the start of JSA in 1996.

Over the whole period of the coalition government, JSA sanctions have run at 4.42% of JSA claimants a month. This compares with approximately 2.46% during the Labour government from May 1997 to April 2010.

In the period 22 October 2012 to 30 September 2013 (a period of 49 weeks), 527,574 individuals received a sanction. The highest published number for any 52-week period was 528,700 in the financial year 2010/11.

The figures also show a large increase in sanction activity. A total of 560,371 decisions were taken in three months to September, of which 236,786 were adverse and led to some kind of benefit withdrawal, a further 157, 633 were non-adverse and 138,554 were cancelled.

The number of decisions is up from 513,327 in the same three months of 2012 when 217,871 were adverse and 137,713 were non-adverse.

This represents a doubling of sanctioning activity since the last full year of the Labour government. In the same three months of 2009 121,584 adverse decisions were taken and the total number of decisions was 237,622, less than half the activity of the same period in 2013.

Source – Welfare News Service   19 Feb 2014

New Cardinal Vincent Nichols: welfare cuts ‘frankly a disgrace’

Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric has accused the Coalition of leaving increasing numbers of people facing “hunger and destitution”.

Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said that while the need to reduce spending on benefits is widely accepted, the Government’s reforms have now destroyed even the “basic safety net”.

Archbishop Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the welfare system had also become increasingly “punitive”, often leaving people with nothing for days on end if they fail even to fill a form in correctly.

He said it was “a disgrace” that this was possible in a country as rich as Britain.

His intervention  comes as he prepares for a Consistory in Rome where he will receive a red Cardinal’s hat from Pope Francis.

The Archbishop’s criticism will be felt acutely by the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who is a practising Roman Catholic.

Last year Mr Duncan Smith accused Church of England bishops who criticised aspects of the reforms of ignoring the concerns of ordinary people.

“People do understand that we do need to tighten our belts and be much more responsible and careful in public expenditure,” said the Archbishop.

“But I think what is happening is two things: one is that the basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart.

“It no longer exists and that is a real, real dramatic crisis.

“And the second is that, in this context, the administration of social assistance, I am told, has become more and more punitive.

“So if applicants don’t get it right then they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks with nothing – with nothing.

“For a country of our affluence, that quite frankly is a disgrace.”

The Archbishop is one of 19 senior clerics from around the world chosen by Pope Francis to be elevated to the highest rank of Roman Catholic clergy. It grants him a place in the secret Conclave which will elect the next Pope.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The benefits system this Government inherited was broken, trapping the very people it was designed to help, with around five million on out of work benefits and millions of children growing up in workless households.

“Our welfare reforms will transform the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities with Universal Credit making three million households better off and lifting hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.

“It’s wrong to talk of removing a safety net when we’re spending 94bn a year on working age benefits and the welfare system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.”

> The Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson’s nose  suddenly grew to an unfeasible length – an occupational hazard for those tasked with defending the DWP.

Source – Telegraph  14 Feb 2014

Local government UK councils benefit from half a million hours of unpaid labour

Scores of UK councils have benefited from more than half a million hours of unpaid labour through government back-to-work schemes, a series of freedom of information requests has found.

The FOI requests filed by the group Boycott Workfare, which campaigns against workfare schemes, found 62% of the 271 councils that responded had used unpaid workers on government schemes during the past two years.

Boycott Workfare, which says unpaid schemes such as work experience and mandatory work activity (MWA) exploit tens of thousands of unemployed people, found Newport council had used 112 people, mainly in its street cleaning and rubbish collection department for about four weeks at a time.

Scarborough council has used 120 people through the MWA scheme since 2011. Seventy one people completed the placements, all in the parks department.

Bexley borough council in London has taken more than 100 unpaid placements, including 71 through the mayor of London’s unpaid work scheme, which is funded by the European social fund. One person was offered full-time employment (!)  and 15 an apprenticeship.

The council said most of these placements were in library services, where 35 paid jobs were lost after services were merged with neighbouring Bromley in 2012.

Of the reported 1,929 placements, only one in 14 led to jobs according to Boycott Workfare, though this figure did not include apprenticeship placements.

Northumberland county council said it had put 44 people into unpaid work in its council services during the past two years.

“These work placements are intended to be positive experiences, not punitive and must be of community value and not replace anyone’s job,” the council said.

Boycott Workfare said half of council placements were part of the voluntary work experience scheme. But nearly 300 placements were on MWA, where the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can compel people to work without pay for a month or have their benefit cut for up to three years.

A further 300 people were sent to work for councils through the Work Programme, with placements lasting up to 26 weeks.

Since February 2012 the DWP has resisted a series of rulings from the information commissioner that it should make public the locations of people sent on government employment schemes, saying the data was commercially sensitive and a public outcry could damage the schemes’ operation. A high court hearing on the matter is expected to take place in the spring.

“data was commercially sensitive and a public outcry could damage the schemes’ operation.” But aren’t we always being told that if we’ve done nothing wrong we have nothing to fear ?  What are they scared of ?

Boycott Workfare said it was “disturbing to find so many councils putting local people at risk of destitution by using schemes that threaten people with up to three years’ benefit stoppages.

“Workfare doesn’t help people find work and councils aren’t offering people jobs at the end of their placement. Instead local authorities are clearly using workfare in an attempt to plug the gaps left by government cuts to public services.”

The group said a six-month employment scheme due to start this year would extend this trend of unpaid work in councils and charities.

“Unless it is stopped, it will mean both more devastating welfare sanctions and fewer paid jobs for everyone,” it said.

The DWP said: “Most of these placements are undertaken voluntarily and work experience is successful in helping people off benefits and into work.

“Mandatory placements give jobseekers in need of more help the vital workplace skills and experience – especially if they’ve never worked before – to find work.”

“Claimants are expected to complete placements which are of benefit to the community, including helping charities. It is only right that people claiming jobseeker’s allowance take part in programmes to improve their skills.”

> Fine – then if it’s work at least pay them the minimum wage. Even New Labour’s New Deal fiasco used to pay you 15 quid a week extra.

Forcing people to work for nothing under threat of sanctions for not complying = slavery.

And talking of Labour, New or present, I dont hear any protests coming from that direction. Of course, it seems most likely that they, should they win the next election, will just continue along the same course as the present government – in the same way that the Tories are using measures brought in by New Labour, like sanctions, to such devastating effect.

Different arseholes, same old shit.

Source – Guardian, 03 Jan 2014