Tagged: sanctioning

MPs Call For Independent Review Into ‘Punitive’ Benefit Sanctions

A full independent review should be established to investigate whether benefit sanctions are being applied ‘appropriately, fairly and proportionately’, says the Work and Pensions Committee.

The Committee reiterates this recommendation, originally made in January 2014 but rejected by the Government, in the light of new evidence which raises concerns about the approach being adopted in a number of individual Jobcentres, and more broadly, including concerns about whether targets for sanctions exist.

The report calls for the independent review also to examine the legislative framework for benefit sanctions policy, to ensure that the basis for sanctioning is well-defined, and that safeguards to protect the vulnerable are clearly set out.

Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said:

“Benefit sanctions are controversial because they withhold subsistence-level benefits from people who may have little or no other income.

“We agree that benefit conditionality is necessary but it is essential that policy is based on clear evidence of what works in terms of encouraging people to take up the support which is available to help them get back into work. The policy must then be applied fairly and proportionately.

“The system must also be capable of identifying and protecting vulnerable people, including those with mental health problems and learning disabilities. And it should avoid causing severe financial hardship. The system as currently applied does not always achieve this.”

She added:

“Recent research suggests that benefit sanctions are contributing to food poverty.

“No claimant should have their benefit payment reduced to zero where they are at risk of severe financial hardship, to the extent of not being able to feed themselves or their families, or pay their rent.

“DWP’s (Department for Work and Pensions) discretionary hardship payment system is intended to prevent this happening, but it does not always do so.

“This is often because JSA hardship payments are not available until the 15th day of a sanction period. It is not reasonable to expect people to live without any source of income for 2 weeks. DWP should make all hardship payments available from day one of a sanction period.

“Problems also arise because the claimant is not aware of the application process for a hardship payment or because they are put off applying because of the difficulty in understanding and navigating the system.

“This needs to change. DWP should not wait for the claimant to apply for a hardship payment. It should initiate the process itself, and then coordinate the decision on hardship payments with decision-making on the sanction itself, particularly where the claimant has dependent children or is vulnerable.”

Investigating the deaths of vulnerable benefit claimants

The report notes that DWP currently investigates all deaths of benefit claimants “where suicide is associated with DWP activity”, and in other cases where the death of a vulnerable benefit claimant is brought to its attention, through a system of internal “peer reviews”. Since February 2012, DWP has carried out 49 peer reviews following the death of a benefit claimant.

DWP has stated that 33 of the 49 cases have resulted in recommendations for change at either local or national level.

However, it was unable to confirm in how many cases the claimant was subject to a benefit sanction, or provide any details about how its policies or procedures had been altered in response to the death of a claimant.

Dame Anne Begg said:

“We have asked DWP to confirm the number of internal peer reviews in which the claimant was subject to a benefit sanction at the time of death, and the result of these reviews in terms of changes to DWP policy.

“It is important that all agencies involved in the provision of public services are scrutinised, to ensure that lessons are learned after members of the public are let down by the system, particularly where the failures of a public body may have contributed to a death.

“We believe that a new independent body should be established to fulfil this role.”

Increasing the evidence base on financial sanctions

The Committee finds that more “active” regimes, in which unemployed claimants are required to do more to find work, have been shown to be relatively effective; however, evidence on the specific part by played by financial sanctions within successful active regimes is limited and far from clear-cut.

The report calls for a series of evaluations to increase the evidence base, particularly around the efficacy and impacts of the new sanctions regime introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012.

Dame Anne Begg said:

“The Government introduced longer minimum sanction periods without first testing their likely impacts on claimants.

“The minimum sanction period is now four weeks, rather than one week. It is important that the impacts of the new sanctions regime are properly evaluated.

“There is currently no evidence on whether the application, or deterrent threat, of a four-week sanction makes it more, or less, likely that a claimant will engage with employment support or gain work.

“This is an area of policy which must be based on robust evidence. The Department needs to demonstrate that the application of the new sanctions regime is not intended to be purely punitive.”

Full implementation of the Oakley review

The Oakley Review of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) sanctions in relation to Back to Work Schemes, published in July 2014, made a number of recommendations aimed at improving some aspects of the sanctions system. This has already led to welcome changes, including improvements to DWP’s information to claimants about the sanctioning process, and the clarity of its claimant letters.

However, a number of the Oakley recommendations are yet to be fully implemented, in part due to the requirement for legislative change and/or contractual negotiations with Work Programme providers.

The Committee believes that DWP should take more urgent steps to fully implement the outstanding recommendations.

Dame Anne Begg commented:

“DWP must take a more common-sense approach to mandatory Work Programme activity and sanction referrals.

“For example, it makes no sense, and is a considerable waste of administrative resources, for Work Programme providers to have to refer a claimant back to DWP for a sanction decision, even where they know that the claimant had a perfectly good reason for not meeting a particular requirement.

“In the negotiations to re-let the Work Programme contracts in 2017, DWP should prioritise the development of a more flexible approach to the setting of mandatory conditions.

“There is also widespread support for pre-sanction written warnings and non-financial sanctions. The Department should get on with piloting this approach.

“If it requires legislation, the Department should bring it forward as soon as possible in the new Parliament.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  24 Mar 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/mps-call-for-independent-review-into-punitive-benefit-sanctions/

Suicides at 10 year high and linked to benefits

Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show that suicide rates, which had fallen consistently since 1981, have been climbing since 2007 and are now at their highest in over a decade. It is primarily male suicides which have increased.

The figures for 2013 give a total of 6,233 deaths by suicide, 252 more than in 2012.

Suicide rates appear to be highest in areas of high unemployment, with the North-East  having the highest rate and London the lowest.

Older males are now the most at risk, with 45-59 year olds having the highest rate.

The link between benefits issues and increased suicide risk is being highlighted by charities such as Mind.

Speaking to the Guardian, Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said:

“Pressurising people by threatening to stop their benefits causes a great deal of financial problems and emotional distress, with some people attempting to take their own lives as a result.”

“While the right type of employment can be beneficial to wellbeing, the support offered to those on mandatory back-to-work schemes such as the Work Programme is far too generic to effectively help people with mental health problems move towards employment. We need to see an overhaul of the system with more tailored specialised support and less focus on sanctioning.”

Read more in the Guardian

Source –  Benefits & Work,  19 Feb 2015

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/3024-suicides-at-10-year-high-and-linked-to-benefits

 

Tories Trying To Prevent The Poor From ‘Breeding’, Says Labour MP

Veteran Labour MP Michael Meacher has accused the Conservatives of introducing welfare reforms designed to prevent the poor from ‘breeding’.

Writing on his blog, Mr Meacher says:

“Occasionally the mask slips and the truth becomes clear. We had already been told that the Tories planned to limit child benefit to the first two children because it would save money. Then IDS (Iain Duncan Smith) let the cat out of the bag: he said it would promote “behavioural change”. This element in the Tory DNA – that the poor are over-dependent on benefits and should have their breeding excesses curtailed – has quite a history.

“Keith Joseph made a pitch for the Tory leadership in 1974 with this appeal: “A high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world…Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment….The balance of our human stock is threatened”. The message hasn’t changed in the last 40 years – control the lower orders, suppress their breeding, check their spending, moralise against their life-styles.

“The same message was driven home by Baroness Jenkin, wife of Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, who opined last month: “poor people don’t know how to cook”, and regaled us with the story that she had a large bowl of porridge which cost 4p. Astonishingly she was presenting the Church of England report on foodbanks which found that 4 million people in the UK are currently going hungry. Back to the stereotype that poverty is caused by fecklessness, not by rates of pay so low that families cannot survive on them. It may come as a shock to Lady Jenkin to discover that there are now more persons in poverty in working families than in workless families.

“This Tory prejudice again has a long history. It underpinned the Poor Law for three centuries till it was challenged by Beatrice Webb and others in 1908, and was only finally overthrown by the national insurance and income support laws of the Attlee government in the 1940s.

“Now in the Cameron government this deeply embedded Tory instinct to vilify the poor as a degenerate class which needs to be punished to kick it out of its fecklessness has come to the fore again with a vengeance.

“Unprecedented cuts in public sector pay and in benefits, combined with ‘sanctioning’ (i.e. depriving claimants of their income for weeks on end and sometimes months even for the most trivial infringements), have been constantly spun on the canard of ‘shirkers/scroungers versus strivers/hard-working families’.

“But this time Osborne may have overplayed his hand. A sceptical public, already anxious about the claim that further deep cuts will still be necessary, are gradually learning the truth about the bedroom tax (some 500,000 families liable to eviction, a third of them disabled) and the huge DWP bureaucratic delays before benefits due are paid out (over 300,000 currently being forced to wait 9 weeks before IDS’ personal independence payments are actually paid).

“This is not just about money or reducing the deficit; it’s the class prejudice oozing out of the Tory psyche as their last throw before the election.”

Source: http://www.michaelmeacher.info/

Iain Duncan Smith Starving The Poor Into Committing Crime, Says Labour MP

Veteran Labour MP Michael Meacher has launched a stinging attack against Iain Duncan Smith (IDS), accusing the Work and Pensions Secretary of denying poor people food and shelter and pushing them into stealing to survive.

Writing on his blog Mr Meacher said:

“The papers are full-on when members or ex-members of the government make a fool of themselves behaving badly when they can’t get their way – Andrew Mitchell foul-mouthing a policeman with the toxic ‘plebs’ allegedly added in because he couldn’t ride his bike through the No.10 gates, and David Mellor ranting at a black cab driver over the best route home to his £8m pad near Tower Bridge.

“But what really matters about members of the government is not their silly misbehaviour, it’s they [sic] way they’re crucifying millions of people even to the point where they’re denying them food and shelter.

“On this, with a few honourable exceptions, the media are largely silent on the grounds presumably that they don’t matter because they’re not famous.

“A million people have been sanctioned by government ministers over this last year, which means that they are deprived of all their benefit for often petty infringements (e.g. being 5 minutes late for a job interview) and hence have no money for at least 4 weeks and sometimes 3 months, forcing them to steal to survive.

If they’re caught, the penalty for stealing some meat from a supermarket might be a fine of some £200 which of course they cannot conceivably pay, or it might be 6 weeks in prison.

“IDS supervises the sanctioning (though it’s outsourced to a privatised firm doing his dirty work for him), while Grayling takes care of the imprisonment.

“This is the treadmill of impoverishment to which this government is now sentencing hundreds of thousands of people every year, a crescendo of wanton harshness out of all proportion to the treatment meted out to other miscreants.

“During and after the Napoleonic wars there were up to 200 offences for which a person could be hanged, usually for stealing to keep their family alive.

“The people of this country sitting on the juries finally got round this draconian repression imposed by the ruling class by refusing to convict. That is what juries and magistrates should do now when faced by the stark injustice of the criminal justice system.

“MPs who 5 years ago stole big ticket expenses to which they were not entitled, including many on both front benches, suffered no penalty worse than being named and shamed in the newspapers, with no more than half a dozen fall-guys, not the main offenders, sent to prison for a few weeks.

“Not a single banker has been prosecuted for presiding over the wrecking of the financial and economic system by the most brazen arrogance, recklessness and incompetence, even though it has ravaged the lives of millions of innocent people.

“None of the super-rich who have been avoiding due payment of taxes by the most artificial forms of contrivance have ever been personally brought to book and sent down.

“We are now seeing one law for the rich and another for the poor in its most vicious and nasty form.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  01 Dec 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/iain-duncan-smith-starving-poor-committing-crime-says-labour-mp/

Latest foodbank figures top 900,000: life has got worse not better for poorest

  • 913,138 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks in 2013-14 compared to 346,992 in 2012-13
  • Figures are ‘tip of the iceberg’ of UK food poverty says Trussell Trust Chairman
  • 83% of foodbanks report ‘sanctioning’ is causing rising numbers to turn to them
  • Foodbank figures trigger biggest ever faith leader intervention on UK food poverty in modern times.

Over 900,000 adults and children have received three days’ emergency food and support from Trussell Trust foodbanks in the last 12 months, a shocking 163 percent rise on numbers helped in the previous financial year. Despite signs of economic recovery, the poorest have seen incomes squeezed even more than last year reports The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest foodbank network. More people are being referred to Trussell Trust foodbanks than ever before.

That 900,000 people have received three days’ food from a foodbank, close to triple the numbers helped last year, is shocking in 21st century Britain. But perhaps most worrying of all this figure is just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty, it doesn’t include those helped by other emergency food providers, those living in towns where there is no foodbank, people who are too ashamed to seek help or the large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.

“In the last year we’ve seen things get worse, rather than better, for many people on low-incomes. It’s been extremely tough for a lot of people, with parents not eating properly in order to feed their children and more people than ever experiencing seemingly unfair and harsh benefits sanctions.

“Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low-incomes we won’t see life get better for the poorest anytime soon.”

Read the full story on the Trussell trust website

Source –  Benefits & Work,  03 Nov 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2926-latest-foodbank-figures-top-900-000-life-has-got-worse-not-better-for-poorest

423,000 Single Parents Face New Benefit Sanctions Threat

Single parents with children under the age of five face the threat of ‘punitive’ benefit sanctions, due to the introduction of tough new rules and over-stretched jobcentre’s, the charity Gingerbread has warned.

Jobcentre staff have been given new powers to remove benefits from single parents with young children in receipt of Income Support, otherwise known as sanctioning, should they fail to adhere to strict new requirements which may include attending more jobcentre appointments, participation in training programmes or work experience placements, depending on the age of their child(ren).

Gingerbread say the new rules ‘focus too heavily on sanctions’ in what the charity has described as a ‘tick box exercise’, rather than providing single parents with tailored support which would enable them ‘to get work ready’.

 Single parents with a child aged one or over will be expected to attend a higher number of work-focused interviews at their local jobcentre office, while those with a child between the ages of three and four will be required to attend courses or undertake work-related activity, such as volunteering or government backed work experience programmes.

Failure to comply could result in single-parents having their Income Support payments cut by 20 per cent a week for an ‘indefinite period’. Sanctions will be lifted if and when those parents comply to the requirements imposed upon them or are able to prove their benefits should not have been cut in the first place.

Gingerbread claim that they are already hearing from single parents with children as young as six months who have wrongfully had their benefits sanctioned after being told they must begin looking for work.

The charity has drawn attention to the number of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants who have wrongfully been hit with benefit sanctions and are having those decisions overturned following appeal (nearly four in 10 or 38%). Gingerbread has expressed concerns that 423,000 single-parents in receipt of Income Support could be subjected to the same fate.

Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said:

“Many single parents do want to work before their child reaches school age, some decide that’s not right for their family, and others have little choice financially. Whenever parents decide they’re ready to go to work, they should get support that helps them do just that; but we’re concerned that the new rules will become little more than a tick box exercise with punitive sanctions attached.

“We know that single parents are already often wrongly sanctioned and, based on the calls our helpline is already getting, we fear that this situation will only get worse as these new rules are introduced.”

Gingerbread have called on the coalition government to ensure that jobcentre staff fully understand the new rules to reduce the probability of single-parents wrongfully having their benefits slashed. They are also urging the government to consider investing in ‘voluntary tailored support and training for single parents’.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has recently recommended that an independent review be carried out in order to determine whether some benefit claimants are having their payments docked inappropriately.

Referring to the use of benefit sanctions against JSA claimants, chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee Dame Anne Begg said:

“The number of JSA Sanctions are at a 12 month high, and probably the highest ever on record. Yet, we don’t even know if these Sanctions are working. There have been many examples of people being sanctioned and not knowing why. If the aim of a sanction is to change peoples’ behaviour then people need to know why their benefits have been stopped otherwise it is just a punitive punishment which is trying and save money.”

Source – Welfare News Service   29 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/423000-single-parents-face-new-benefit-sanctions-threat/

Need for food banks is caused by welfare cuts, research shows

> Research – perhaps by the same people who, after several years “research“, decided that on  the balance of probability the Pope was almost certainly a catholic – tells us what most people had already worked out for themselves : the rise in foodbanks and the welfare cuts are not unconnected.

The government’s welfare reforms, including benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax, are a central factor in the explosion in the numbers of impoverished people turning to charity food banks, an academic study has said.

The study, part of a three-year investigation into emergency food provision, was carried out by Hannah Lambie-Mumford, a Sheffield University researcher who co-authored a recently published government report into the extent of food aid in the UK.

That report concluded there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear causal link between welfare reform and food bank demand in the UK. But Lambie-Mumford’s new study, to be published on Wednesday, says the rise in demand for charity food is a clear signal “of the inadequacy of both social security provision and the processes by which it is delivered“.

The report warns that as social security safety nets become weaker, there is a danger that charity food could become an integral part of the state welfare provision, or even an replacement for formerly state-funded emergency welfare schemes.

> And that is a really scary prospect – having to go cap-in-hand to charities in order to survive. How very Victorian.

Lambie-Mumford’s study was based on 25 in-depth interviews with a range of food bank staff and volunteers in 2012 and 2013 and found many food banks were adapting to demand by scaling up food collection and storage provision “to accommodate the future trajectory of need“.

Her paper will be presented to an all-party committee of MPs which meets on Wednesday to finalise the terms of an inquiry into hunger and food poverty. The inquiry will examine the rise of food banks, an issue that has become politically highly charged as ministers attempt to deflect criticism that austerity policies, including welfare cuts, have had the effect of compelling more people on low incomes to rely on food aid.

> Well, what kind of result  did they expect austerity policies to have ? The clue is in the name…

Lambie-Mumford said her research showed that food banks were expanding to meet rising demand caused in part by a squeeze on welfare entitlements which made already poor people even worse off. This was compounded by inadequate processing of social security claims, including payment delays and “arbitrary and unfair” sanctioning decisions that left claimants without any income at all.

There were other factors which had contributed to the rise of food banks, such as low wages and the rise in the cost of food. But it was important that MPs did not duck or underplay the importance of welfare reform. “The tricky thing is that welfare reform is the most political aspect of a political issue. But we should not shy away from it for this reason,” she said.

The welfare minister Lord Freud notoriously claimed last year that more people were going to food banks because the food was free, thereby triggering “almost infinite demand”. Last month Freud admitted people did not turn up “willingly” at food banks but said it was “very hard to know why” they did go.

> And its people of this calibre making welfare decisions ?

The Trussell trust, which oversees a network of more than 400 food banks in the UK, has insisted repeatedly that welfare reform is the biggest driver of demand for food parcels. Its third-quarter data, published in March, showed that it helped 614,000 people in the first nine months of this year. Its final-year figures, expected next week, are likely to show that demand has more than doubled in the past 12 months.

More than eight out of 10 food bank managers interviewed for the study acknowledged the impact of welfare changes and welfare processes as a factor in driving demand.

A DWP spokesperson said: “This report, which is based on just 25 interviews, fails to consider how welfare reforms are helping people off benefits and into jobs. The truth is that we now have record numbers of people in work, the highest employment rate for five years, and falling unemployment.”

> I should imagine its easy to spot a DWP spokesperson – they must have very long noses by now.

Source – Welfare News Service  08 April 2014

http://www.scoop.it/t/welfare-news-service/p/4019225517/2014/04/08/need-for-food-banks-is-caused-by-welfare-cuts-research-shows

More #JSA stories from jobcentres: “It’s impossible. You’re trapped.”

Originally posted on Kate Belgrave

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been attending leafleting sessions outside jobcentres with the Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group and talking to people on JSA about their experiences as they sign on. We’ve been talking to people about sanctions, about being spoken down to by staff and having to walk on eggshells or risk being sanctioned, about relying on the jobcentre for JSA payments between short-term, low-paid jobs and about pointless work programme courses. I’ve posted some transcripts from today’s discussions below.

This morning, we were outside the Neasden jobcentre. It was freezing cold and there was a nasty, biting wind and a number of people we spoke to looked cold and shaky because they were not dressed warmly enough for the weather. I know we hear a great deal about life on JSA being a rort and people on benefits enjoying TV and cigarettes and long days lying around in the sun and all the rest of it, but it never looks that great when I see it.

People talk about having to go weeks without money and being forced to grovel and fawn to staff to avoid being sanctioned, and about the terror of putting the card into the cash machine and finding that no money comes out because you’ve been sanctioned after all. And in this rubbish weather, they look cold.

This is the punishment you get these days for the crime of being unemployed and not rich. You are utterly powerless. You’re on the receiving end of everything. You have to put up with everyone’s crap. Of course – things are very different if you’re rich and connected. Life generally is very different if you’re rich and connected. Very different. If you’re Chris Huhne, for example, you get your media-class buddies to give you a column at the Guardian when you leave prison. If you’re Maria Miller, you help yourself to £90k from the taxpayer and claim that little earner was totally above board. If you’re Nadhim Zahawi, you charge the taxpayer to heat your horses’ stables. These people genuinely believe that it’s the rest of us who are out of line. That’s the part that really gets me.

Most of the people we spoke to this morning were forced to collect JSA between low-paid and insecure jobs, or to subsidise low-paid and insecure jobs – something that ought to concern everyone who relies on a wage to pay the bills. One of the women, Noreen, talked about finding work on “lucky days.” She meant that she found work by herself on days when her luck was in and she managed to talk to the right people, not because there was any system in place to help her. Pity she doesn’t have as many lucky days as Chris Huhne.

I’ve been speaking to people for a couple of weeks now and have yet to find anyone who has found work through their jobcentre. Everyone talks about finding work themselves. These jobcentres are an exercise in degradation and futility. People don’t go to their jobcentre because they believe that someone will help them find a job. They go there to present meaningless “evidence” of a fortnight’s jobsearch activity and to sit very still and silently during interviews with jobcentre staff in the hope that they’ll avoid a sanction. “They’re about stressing people out and raising your blood pressure and they are there to give you a heart attack,” Noreen told us this morning. Can’t help thinking that is the point of the exercise as far as Iain Duncan Smith is concerned.

Anyway – here are a couple of people who sign on at Neasden jobcentre. I’m changing the names for these, because I don’t want jobcentres getting fancy ideas about sanctioning people who dare to share their views in public. I won’t respond well if I hear that is happening. People who are on JSA have every right to share their views and I’ll keep posting their views because of that.

Noreen, in her late 40s. Has been out of work for about 18 months, with a spell of short-term work over Christmas.

“I’ve been on the work programme for two weeks – it was writing your CV, learning how to attach your CV to an email. But I can do that. It was to build your confidence. But what I need to do is find a job. I want just a job, any job. Any job that means I don’t have to come here [to the jobcentre].

“I have to come every two weeks to sign on. They are a bit stroppy. You can’t say nothing to them, because if you argue back to them, the security is there and they will sanction you. I’ve seen people there arguing… you have to keep quiet, sometimes you don’t want to keep quiet. The best [thing you can do] is to get a job and then you don’t have to come here, innit. You can get your own money and then you can pay your own bills and you don’t have to come here. You come here like you’re some bloody scrounger. I have been looking for work for 18 months. I used to work at McVitie’s for 22 years – you know, the factory. They gave us redundancy. Since then, I have done carework and I’ve worked in supermarkets. I think I’ll have to go back into carework, but it’s not well paid and you have to walk up and down [all over Neasden] to people’s houses [from one care job to another].

“You don’t get paid for travel [travelling between care work jobs at different houses during the day]. If you drive, you don’t get paid for petrol, so it’s best if you can find something where you can walk it. It’s about £6.20 an hour that you get paid. You can’t pay your bills on that.

“Sometimes,with care work, the hours are zero hours, so you don’t know this week if you would get 16 hours [the number of hours you must work under to claim JSA]. You may get ten or 11 hours and then you have to come here and sign on to make it up to the 16 hours. It’s impossible. You’re trapped and there’s no way out.

“This place [Neasden jobcentre] is harsh. I wish they could close it down. They don’t find you a job in there. There’s the computer in there – you punch something into it and you read it and it says “Here’s this job.” You bring the job information up and you ring the number – but the job is gone. You send your CV, but you never get a reply. You will never find any jobs in there. No.

“It’s just a waste of time. Most of the jobs in there – they don’t bother to check the computer to see if the jobs in there are already filled. Every two weeks I go there, the same old jobs are in there. It’s just rubbish.

“I will find myself a job. Sometimes, [when you take your CV to a major retailer] they say “go online” [to apply] but it can be worth going in, to see if it is your lucky day. You can go into Ikea and they might say “go online” but they might say – “here’s an application form”. If it is your lucky day. That’s how you get a job if it is temporary. That happened to me [with a major retailer] over the Christmas period. [The woman I met at the store], she said “go online” but then she said “since you have come in, you can fill in an application form “and that’s how I got two months’ work over Christmas.”

—–

So. That was Noreen. Like I say – Noreen’s lucky days are a bit different from Chris Huhne’s. Or even Nadhim Zahawi’s horses’.

Next, we spoke to Amy, who is 19 and had just been signed off JSA. She lives in supported accommodation where she shares facilities. She is pregnant. She works part time in a large retail chain. Her wages come in at about £150-£200 a month. Sometimes, she works eight hours a week and sometimes she works overtime. She worked overtime during the Christmas rush. She said she had been claiming about £10 a fortnight in JSA which she spent on food.

She was very confused about the information that she’d been given by the jobcentre and the reasons for her own signing off from JSA, as you’ll see below. People raise this issue a lot when we speak. They sometimes find their entitlements and JSA search requirements difficult to understand when they work and when they work different hours each week. That is often because they’re told very confusing things. I’m posting this discussion as an example. When confronted with this sort of confusing information, people sometimes just find it easier to sign off – and that isn’t fair. Amy left us her contact details, so if anyone can shed any light on the situation outlined below and Amy’s entitlements, please get in contact or leave a comment. We will get back to her.

Amy: They said [at the jobcentre] to do more hours, but my hours vary, because sometimes I do overtime. She [the women at the jobcentre] said to me that I have to do more hours. Then she said to apply for ESA. I’m going to have to call them later on.

“They tell me they are going to pay me £10 a fortnight [in JSA], but I can’t live on £10. I’m working, but all that money goes on my bills. They’re cutting off the tenner now. And now I can’t get that. I’ve signed off. I need that money because it pays for my food.

“I have to give them proof of looking for another job… I didn’t think they were going to hound me [for that ten pounds]. If you’re on JSA, you have to look for work, but I’ve already got work. But it’s not enough hours for tax credits. Then I have to go off on maternity in two months. I get £7.50 an hour [at my job], which is not bad.

“I asked for the hardship fund, but they said I can’t get it… But I have nothing to live off, now so I’m living off him (she points to her friend) until I get paid. They said go off JSA and go onto ESA. I have a GP letter which says I can’t work more hours.

“I’m working eight hours a week and they want me to go up to 16, or to get another job as well. They signed me off, because I couldn’t look for more hours. I was getting £20 a month from them. I’m living in supported accommodation. I pay rent for the house, bills, TV licence. My pay from work goes all to my bills. I get about £150-200 a month. Roughly. They made us work extra hours over Christmas, so I had more then.”

——

So. That was Amy. Wonder if Maria Miller found it that difficult to claim £90k in expenses.

Source – Kate Belgrave,  17 Feb 2014

http://www.katebelgrave.com/

Welfare State Presides Over ‘Culture Of Fear’, Charities Say

This article  was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Tuesday 18th February 2014

Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions is presiding over “a culture of fear” in which jobseekers are set unrealistic targets to find work – or risk their benefits being taken away, leading charities have told an official inquiry.

Hostel residents with limited IT facilities are being directed to apply for 50 jobs per week, while single parents are being told they must apply for full-time jobs to continue receiving jobseeker’s allowance, the charities say in evidence to an official inquiry. On Wednesday, new figures are expected to show a record number of claimants have had cash withheld.

The weight of evidence also supports controversial claims by Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, in the week he is due to be made a cardinal by the pope. “Something is going seriously wrong when, in a country as affluent as ours, people are left in that destitute situation and depend solely on the handouts of the charity of food banks,” Nichols said on Tuesday.

The Department for Work and Pensions acknowledged mounting concerns about the increasing use of benefits removal – a process known as sanctioning – by appointing a former Treasury official, Matthew Oakley, to look at how the DWP is operating its tougher regime. His review, due to be published next month, has been criticised for its limited terms of reference, but nevertheless it has been swamped by criticism of how the unemployed and the disabled are being driven off benefits, often due to poor communication, bad administration or unexpected expectations being placed on the vulnerable.

In evidence to the Oakley inquiry, the charities Drugscope and Homeless Link warn that “the current sanctions regime creates a culture of fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. That may in fact lead to further benefit dependency and harming engagement with employment services, as vulnerable clients fear having benefits removed and never being reinstated.

Crisis, the homeless charity asserts: “People who have been sanctioned are already on very limited incomes and face a significant further reduction, meaning they are left facing decisions between buying food, paying for heating and electricity and paying their rent. Debt is common and many face arrears, eviction and in the worst instances homelessness”.

In its evidence, Gingerbread, which lobbies for the rights of single parents, also warns: “While sanctions may be necessary for a small minority of claimants who deliberately evade their jobseeking responsibilities, the current high levels of sanctions across all [jobseeker’s allowance] claimants reveal a system in crisis and one that is systematically failing single parent jobseekers.” It says single parents are being told they must work full-time.

The National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers says “claimants are being sent on schemes with no discussion about whether they are appropriate to their needs and no opportunity for them to make representations about it . Adequate notification is also not routinely being given”.

It says some claimants have been told: “You need to spend 35 hours per week doing job searches and show evidence of 50 to 100 job searches or job applications per week.”

The evidence acts as a counterpoint to those who suggest welfare claimants are seeking a life on benefits. The government has been sufficiently embarrassed by the allegations that it has conceded it will look at a further inquiry into sanctions once the Oakley review has completed.

The number of sanctions in the year to 30 June 2013 was 860,000, the highest for any 12-month period since statistics began to be published in their present form. The figures due to be published on Wednesday cover the year to September 2013, and are likely to show a further increase in the number of claimants debarred from receiving benefits for as long as three years.

Disabled people are losing access to jobseeker’s allowance at the rate of 14,000 a month, the charities say. In total, the number of them having their benefits sanctioned each month has doubled since the regime was toughened in October 2012.

A spokesman for the DWP said: “The point of the review is to ensure the way we communicate with claimants is as clear and straightforward as possible. It is looking at where a sanction has been issued, the clarity of the information provided to the claimant about their sanction, and the options they then have including applying for hardship payments, and an explanation of the review and appeals process.”

Since 2012, benefit payments can be suspended for a minimum of four weeks and for up to three years where a claimant fails to take sufficient steps to search for work, to prepare themselves for the labour market or where they turn down an offer of employment or leave a job voluntarily.

A survey by Manchester CAB found 40% said had not received a letter from the jobcentre informing them of the benefit sanction, and almost a quarter did not know why they had been sanctioned.

Source – Welfare News Service   18 Feb 2014

Shocking Extent Of Sick And Disabled Benefit Sanctions Revealed

The shocking extent of the number of sick and disabled benefit claimants having their benefits cut, through the use of sanctioning, has been revealed in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

According to the response from the DWP, 172,750 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants were referred for potential sanctioning between October 2008 and June 2013. Of those referrals, 76,300 received an adverse decision, meaning their sickness benefits were cut or stopped completely. 11,600 of those benefit sanctions were in Greater London alone.

On 3 December 2012 the DWP introduced a new system for sanctioning claimants which is described by the DWP in the FOI as a ‘sanctions regime’. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith  has repeatedly denied accusations that Jobcentre staff are being pressurised to sanction benefit claimants through the use of ‘targets’, and yet the FOI shows that the changes to the ‘sanctions regime’ has led to a startling 45,480 ESA claimants being threatened with the removal of their sickness benefit between December 2012 and June 2013. 11,400 of those people received an ‘adverse decision’, the DWP admitted.

Perhaps the most startling statistic revealed in the FOI is the revelation that 85% of ESA claimants who had their benefits axed or slashed under the new ‘sanctions regime’ have NEVER been sanctioned before. The figure rises to 89% for Greater London. This calls into question the DWP claim that sanctions are only ever used as a ‘last resort’ and only when benefit claimants repeatedly fail to ‘participate in work related activity’, which includes ‘failure to participate in the Work Programme’.

The coalition government’s Work Programme has been accused of failing sick and disabled people with only 6.8% of ESA claimants referred to the programme finding long-term employment, according to a report by the Guardian. The Work Programme has been estimated to cost the public between 3-5bn over five years.

Figures show that the use of benefit sanctions has soared under the coalition government, with the Guardian newspaper reporting last year that the new ‘sanctions regime’ had led to 600,000 jobseeker’s having their benefits slashed in just five months.

The news that sick and disabled people are also now being targeted for draconian benefit sanctions will be seen by some as not only cruel and callous but also totally unjustified. Particularly when we take into account the undeniable truth that ESA claimants have some of the biggest barriers to employment – including but not limited to mental health issues, disabilities, poor physical health and other issues – drastically reducing their employability and work capability at a time when there are still an average of five unemployed people chasing every single job vacancy in the UK. The majority of which may be fit and healthy and arguably more ‘appealing’ to employers.

Gail Ward from the Facebook campaign group Grassroots Welfare responded angrily to the revelation by saying:

“The brutality of the sanctions affecting those claimants on ESA are at unacceptable high . We have been informed by JCP staff that they are subject to targets by their managers. What is not clear is who is setting the targets, the DWP state there are no targets, the JCP say they are set targets or face disciplinary action for failing to achieve them, both sides blame the other.

“Daily in our work we are being told by claimants they were sanctioned because they did not attend an interview when the claimants claim they never received any letters advising them to attend JCP. Some are sanctioned because they arrived late due to travel problems, regardless of mode of transport used.

“These people live in the most fragile circumstances, leaving them with arrears on rent and bills and relying on Doorstep Loans/Credit Cards to survive until the decision to reinstate benefit is resolved. Where benefit is denied they are thrown into [the] abyss of debt for a number of years resulting in some losing their homes. Some are left unable to pay for care packages they need to function on a daily basis.

“The workfare programme is a cruel regime for those who are already at a disadvantage in seeking employment and the barriers that they face from employers, even in cases where it is clear that they have ‘fit/sick notes’ to state they are unable to participate reliably in the workplace due to sickness and disability, they are forced onto the programme because decision makers have decided otherwise. This clearly cannot continue.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of the grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), added:

“DPAC are getting more and more emails from disabled people who have been sanctioned for ridiculous offences, such as being 5 minutes late for an appointment when travelling by public transport or for going to a job interview even though they had informed DWP beforehand.”

Source –  Welfare News Service  10 Feb 2014