Rachel Reeves ,the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Stephen Timms, shadow Employment Minister have said that if labour is elected next year they will end targets for sanctions. But how much difference would this actually make?
According to Reeves and Timms:
“. . . we urgently need to get a grip on the delays and administrative errors that can mean the difference between eating and not eating for people trying to make a few pounds last for days.
As MPs we have had to refer people to food banks because of problems like this. In one case a mother who worked three jobs as a cleaner but ended up living on payday loans because she had been forced to wait months on end to get the tax credits. We should take this kind of system failure as seriously as we do a delay to an important medical appointment or a failure to respond adequately to a crime report.
“We also need to ensure that sanctions are fair and proportionate, and based on transparent procedures and appropriate safeguards. Sanctions have been part of our social security system since its foundation, and the principle of mutual obligation and putting conditions on benefit claims were integral to the progressive labour market policies of the last Labour government, from the first New Deals to the Future Jobs Fund.
“We in the Labour movement have always believed that the right to work goes hand in hand with the responsibility to prepare for, look for, and accept reasonable offers of suitable work.
“That’s why we have pledged that there will be no targets for sanctions under a Labour government so that jobcentre staff are focused on helping people into work, not simply finding reasons to kick them off benefits. We will also ensure that rules and decisions around sanctions are fair and properly communicated, and that the system of hardship payments is working properly.”
But, without a change in the criteria for sanctions and a change in the attitude towards claimants of both politicians and the civil servants at the top of the DWP, how much difference would ending targets that are never explicitly stated in the first place actually make?
Let us know what you think.
You can read the full statement on the Labour List website.
Source – Benefits & Work, 24 Nov 2014
This article was written by Daniel Boffey, for The Observer on Saturday 22nd November 2014 20.28 UTC
The coalition’s record on low pay has come under attack as new figures revealed that not a single company has been prosecuted in the past year for paying less than the national minimum wage. Despite ministers’ claims that the government is getting tough on under-payers, the last successful criminal prosecution was in February 2013.
That was one of only two prosecutions during the government’s entire term of office to date, according to figures given to parliament. The cases involved the imposition of fines to the value of £3,696 on an opticians in Manchester and £1,000 on a security company in London.
The Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings for the Office for National Statistics recently found that about 287,000 workers were paid at less than the minimum wage in 2012, although the TUC puts the figure closer to 350,000.
Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, the charity that runs 400 emergency food banks, said that the increasing numbers of people attending its facilities was clear evidence that ministers needed to do more to protect people who were living “on the edge”.
The number of people helped by Trussell Trust food banks in the first half of the 2014-15 financial year is 38% higher than in the same period last year. The trust reported this weekend that 492,641 people were given three days’ food and support, including 176,565 children, between April and September. That compared with 355,982 during the same period in the previous year.
Problems with the social security system continued to be the biggest overall trigger for food bank use (45%), of which “benefit delays” accounted for 30% of referrals, and “benefit changes” 15%, according to the charity.
However, an emerging trend, according to the charity, is that 22% of those helped were referred because of “low income” compared with 16% of referrals in the same period last year – meaning 51,000 more people were referred to a food bank due to low income.
“It is up to the democratically elected parliament to make some decisions and one route is to make it less easy for people to be exploited at the bottom of the labour market. We see people forced to cycle in and out of poverty and they are so close to the edge that it is easy for them to slip under.”
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said that it prosecutes the most serious breaches of the national minimum wage “and where there is clear evidence to do so”. A spokesman said the average cost of a successful prosecution was around £50,000 and that HMRC believed it was preferable to recoup wages for workers through civil penalty powers. In 2013-14, HMRC conducted 1,455 investigations and issued 652 financial penalties.
But the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna MP, said that the coalition was not taking the action needed to enforce the minimum wage. Failing to pay the minimum wage was made a criminal offence in 2007. Under Labour, seven organisations were prosecuted, including Torbay council.
“The national minimum wage is one of Labour’s proudest achievements in government and it has made a huge contribution to making work pay, boosting living standards and tackling in-work poverty.
“It is clear that the Tory-led government is not going to take the action needed to properly enforce the minimum wage – so that is why Labour is clear that we need to see higher penalties for rogue companies who don’t pay employees the minimum wage and far more effective enforcement, including by giving local authorities new powers.“
An HMRC spokesman said that the number of staff enforcing the minimum wage now stood at 194 – 40 more than in 2009-10. He said:
“Paying less than the minimum wage is illegal and, as HMRC’s record shows, if employers break the law they will face tough consequences. We conducted 1,455 investigations in 2013-14, securing over £4.6m in wage arrears for over 22,000 workers.
“The vast majority of national minimum wage cases are dealt with using civil penalty powers, as this route is usually the most appropriate, ensures workers receive the wages they’re due, and provides the most cost-effective resolution for taxpayers. However, in more severe cases, HMRC will take criminal action and seek a prosecution.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 22 Nov 2014
Oxfam Press Release: Big rise in UK food poverty sees 20m meals given out in last year
Food banks and food aid charities gave more than 20 million meals last year to people in the UK who could not afford to feed themselves – a 54 per cent increase on the previous 12 months, according to a report published today by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust.
Below the Breadline warns that there has been a rise in people turning to food banks in affluent areas. Cheltenham, Welwyn Garden City and North Lakes have seen numbers of users double and in some cases treble. The massive rise in meals handed out by food banks and food aid charities is a damning indictment of an increasingly unequal Britain where five families have the same wealth as the poorest 20 per cent of the population.
The report details how a perfect storm of changes to the social security system, benefit sanctions, low and stagnant wages, insecure and zero-hours contracts and rising food and energy prices are all contributing to the increasing numbers of meals handed out by food banks and other charities. Food prices have increased by 43.5 per cent in the past 8 years. During the same time the poorest 20 per cent have seen their disposable income fall by £936 a year.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam Chief Executive, said: “Food banks provide invaluable support for families on the breadline but the fact they are needed in 21st Century Britain is a stain on our national conscience. Why is the Government not looking into this?
“We truly are living through a tale of two Britains; while those at the top of the tree may be benefiting from the green shoots of economic recovery, life on the ground for the poorest is getting tougher.
“At a time when politicians tell us that the economy is recovering, poor people are struggling to cope with a perfect storm of stagnating wages, insecure work and rising food and fuel prices. The Government needs to do more to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable aren’t left behind by the economic recovery.”
Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty said: “Protecting its people from going hungry is one of the most fundamental duties of Government. Most of us assume that when we fall on hard times, the social security safety net will kick in, and prevent us falling into destitution and hunger. We want all political parties to commit to re-instating the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system, and draw up proposals to ensure that no one in the UK should go hungry.”
Chris Mould, Chairman of The Trussell Trust said: “Trussell Trust food banks alone gave three days’ food to over 300,000 children last year. Below the Breadline reminds us that Trussell Trust figures are just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty, which is a national disgrace.
“The troubling reality is that there are also thousands more people struggling with food poverty who have no access to food aid, or are too ashamed to seek help, as well as a large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.
“Trussell Trust food banks are seeing parents skipping meals to feed their children and significant repercussions of food poverty on physical and mental health. 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.”
The report will feature on tonight’s Dispatches, to be broadcast at 7.30pm on Channel 4. The documentary, Breadline Kids, will follow three families in their daily lives as they struggle to feed themselves.
In total, Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty estimate that the three main food aid providers – Trussell Trust, Fareshare and Food Cycle – gave out over 20m meals in 2013-4, up from around 13m, a year earlier. The Trussell Trust, the only robust source of statistics showing how many people actually visit food banks, reported in April that 913,138 people were given three days’ emergency food between April 2013 and March 2014 – the equivalent of over 8 million meals.
Benefit sanctions is one of the major factors contributing to the increase in food bank usage. Since the new sanctions policy was implemented in October 2012, over 1 million sanctions have been applied.
A recent report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that “DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by benefit sanctions (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmworpen/479/479.pdf; p.29)
Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust are calling on the Government to urgently draw up an action plan to reverse the rising tide of food poverty and to collect evidence to understand the scale and cause of the increases in food bank usage. The organisations are also calling on all political parties to re-instate the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system.
Source – Welfare News Service, 09 June 2014
Latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claim that nearly a million people who applied for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have been found fit for work.
The figures released this week by the DWP claim that a third (32%) of new claimants for ESA were assessed as being fit to work and capable of employment between October 2008 and March 2013 – totaling 980,400 people. In addition, the figures also show that more than a million others withdrew their claims for ESA before being assessed for eligibility through a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). This can be because of individuals recovering and either returning to work, or claiming a benefit more appropriate to their situation.
The claim has come under criticism from Disability Campaigners. A Disability Rights UK (DRUK) spokesman, speaking to BBC News, said “They are finding people fit for work when they aren’t and they are not even giving them the support they need to get a job. It is a disgrace”.
Indeed many of those passed as ‘fit for work’ will not, in fact, be capable of entering the workplace in any meaningful sense due to physical or mental health problems.
However, Mike Penning, Minister of State for Disabled People disagrees, saying “As part of the Government’s long-term economic plan, it is only fair that we look at whether people can do some kind of work with the right support – rather than just writing them off on long-term sickness benefits, as has happened in the past. With the right support, many people with an illness, health condition or disability can still fulfil their aspiration to get or stay in work, allowing them to provide for themselves and their family.”
A second report from the DWP, also released this week, appears to support what Mike Penning says, as it shows that the number of successful appeals against being found “fit for work” has also fallen sharply. This would suggest that the WCA and the way it is conducted by ATOS Healthcare – both of which have come under heavy criticism – are gradually becoming fairer to disabled people. A DWP spokesman said there has been “significant improvements” to the WCA, which has become “fairer and more accurate”, supports this. Adding, “If it is more fair and accurate and people are moving onto the right groups then of course we would welcome that.”
His comments, will not ‘sit well’ with the many families who have lost loved ones following being found ‘fit to work’. Earlier this week, Welfare News Service, reported on how DWP statistics published 9th July 2012 show that in total, between January 2011 and November 2011 10,600 claimants died within 6 weeks of being declared fit for work by Atos.
Indeed, it would appear that this is something they wish to hide as they have refused Freedom of Information Requests for subsequent years – 2012 and 2013 – claiming it would be “vexatious”. Furthermore, his comments will bring little comfort to the Holt family. This week, The Mirror reported on how bipolar patient Sheila Holt, 47, was sectioned in December after being taken off Income Support.
Days later she had a heart attack and fell into a coma. Despite this, benefit assessors are still sending letters, with ATOS asking why she is not working.
Her dad Kenneth said: “It’s just not right what they have done. It sent my daughter hypermanic” adding “She hadn’t had a job for 26 years. Anyone who knew her would tell you she couldn’t do a job.”
Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, Littleborough and Milnrow said:
“I am in favour of welfare reform but trying to bulldoze through changes in a reckless and insensitive way is not the right way to go about it. This Government is causing a huge amount of damage and I have no doubt that Sheila’s story is being repeated in towns and cities up and down the country. She has a complex disability caused by severe trauma in her childhood and you cannot aggressively push vulnerable people, like Sheila, back into work because it can have, as we’ve seen, very serious health consequences.”
Consequences, which Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, appears to ignore. In a speech, described by DRUK as “more of the same old, same old”, he speaks of “a twilight world where life is dependent on what is given to you, rather than what you are able to create”, and pointed to the “falling numbers claiming the main out-of-work benefits”.
However, in the figures released by DWP, the opposite is true – at least for disabled people. In the first DWP report “early estimates” suggest that upto August 2013 there were 2,430,000 people claiming ESA and old-style incapacity benefit. Moreover, in November 2013 the figure had increased by 35000 to 2,465,000. However it is unclear if this trend will continue.
The second DWP report shows a continuing fall in numbers of claimants found ‘fit to work’ following a WCA. The figures range from a high of 65 per cent for those whose claims began in 2009 to 39 per cent for those whose claims started in the first quarter of 2013. In addition to this 39 per cent were placed in the support group and 23 per cent in the work-related activity group. The figures also show that there has been a significant drop in successful appeals against being found fit for work. Dropping from 41 per cent, for claims starting in early 2009, to 23 per cent for claims begun in the third quarter of 2012. The changes are suggested in the report, as being possibly caused by improvements made to the WCA by the coalition government in the wake of the independent reviews carried out by Professor Malcolm Harrington.
It would appear that the figures released by the DWP do not show people “languishing on welfare” as claimed by Iain Duncan Smith, nor do they appear to paint a picture of a social security system that he claims has become “distorted” under the previous Labour government and was too often an “entrapment – as it has been for a million people left on incapacity benefits for a decade or more”.
However, whilst the DWP still refuses to release figures showing how many have died within 6 weeks of being found ‘fit to work’ and stories, such as Shiela Holt, now in a coma after being found ‘fit to work’ are still being reported, maybe it is not “unnecessary fear” Labour is creating as Iain Duncan Smith says, as he mounts a renewed attack on Labour adding that the Conservatives will put further welfare changes at the heart of their 2015 election manifesto.
Source – Welfare News Service, 25 Jan 2014