Tagged: welfare system

As a jobcentre adviser, I got ‘brownie points’ for cruelty

Former jobcentre adviser Angela Neville has written a play to expose the harsh reality of the benefits sanctions regime.

Angela Neville, 48, is describing events she witnessed as a special adviser in a jobcentre that prompted her to write a play about her experiences.

“We were given lists of customers to call immediately and get them on to the Work Programme,” she recalls.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry this can’t happen, this man is in hospital.’ I was told [by my boss]: ‘No, you’ve got to phone him and you’ve got to put this to him and he may be sanctioned.’ I said I’m not doing it.”

Neville worked as an adviser in Braintree jobcentre, Essex, for four years and has written a play with two collaborators, her friends Angela Howard and Jackie Howard, both of whom have helped advocate for unemployed people who were threatened with benefit sanctions by jobcentre staff.

The title of the play, Can This be England? is an allusion to the disbelief that she and the others feel at how people on benefits are being treated, she says. And she unashamedly describes the play, in which she also acts, as a “dramatic consciousness-raising exercise”.

Can This be England? deals with the quagmire that awaits people caught in the welfare system. Scenes are set in jobcentres and in characters’ homes addressing some of what Neville calls the “everyday absurdity” of what occurs, such as when people with disabilities and fluctuating health conditions are wrongly declared “fit for work” inflicting additional suffering in the process. It also examines the dilemmas faced by staff in jobcentres, many of whom Neville believes feel stripped of any power to do good and are crumbling under the strain as managers enforce new rules.

Full story in the Guardian

Source –  Benefits & Work,  03 Feb 2015

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/3006-as-a-jobcentre-adviser-i-got-brownie-points-for-cruelty

Hidden impact of welfare reform concerns Northumberland council

> Another example of local politicians finally catching up with what’s going on. It’s good they’re finally getting the picture, but would have been much better had they noticed over the last 5 years how things were going. Still, I suppose there wasn’t a general election coming up before now…

Councillors have expressed concern over the hidden impacts of welfare reform in Northumberland.

They have pledged to do whatever they can, within their powers, to help and support residents who are affected.

The Government’s ongoing reforms to the welfare system are the most fundamental change to the benefit system since World War Two and are intended to deliver multi-billion pound savings.

However evidence shows that in Northumberland, workers on low incomes and people with a disability are likely to be most affected.

While much of the national focus has been on high profile changes such as the introduction of bedroom tax, two of the most significant issues for Northumberland are the introduction of a 1% cap on working age benefit and changes to the Disability Living Allowance.

Recent research from the Local Government Association (LGA) reveals that the introduction of a 1% cap on tax credits will mean a drop in income for anyone claiming benefits with over half of those affected being in low paid employment.

In Northumberland 32,500 residents will lose on average £823 per household, per year, equating to a total of £26.7million in cuts to the county.

Reflecting the county’s ageing population and industrial past Northumberland also has a higher than average number of households that are likely to be affected by the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance.

The prediction from the LGA study is that 10,000 people in the county will be affected, with an estimated average loss of £724 per year. This will put the county into the top 20% of local authorities to be hit hardest by this particular reform.

Council leader Grant Davey said:

“One of central government’s aims in introducing these reforms was to incentivise work, yet 60% of the losses fall on working households, in particular those on low wages.

“In Northumberland we have a high number of people working in low paid, seasonal jobs who are trying to make an honest living, yet it is these people who are going to feel the brunt of the changes.

“While we cannot change these reforms, we have been working hard behind the scenes to put measures in place to support residents who are affected by them.”

The county council is working to ensure everyone has the entitlements they are eligible for and that monetary advice is available through the support it gives to Citizen’s Advice Bureaux.

The council has also set itself a long-term target to help generate 10,000 new jobs in the county by 2031 by working with local employers, improving education standards, skills training, and job market links. The council’s employability and skills service also delivers a range of support to help get people back into work.

Councillor Scott Dickinson, chair of the county’s Health & Wellbeing board said:

“There is growing evidence locally and nationally that increased financial hardship can lead to ill health, family break-down and social problems which can in turn place greater demands on families, communities and a whole range of public services.

> There is growing evidence ? ! You mean it wasn’t fairly obvious that those were the likely result right from the start ? Something top-level Tories, I’m beginning to believe, well understood and that’s why they’ve pushed them. Social engineering through poverty.

“Given that the reforms are being introduced incrementally means their full impact will not be felt for some time. There is however real concern about the effects these changes will have on residents and the additional pressures placed on local services. It is a situation we are very aware of and one we are working closely with other councils in the region to monitor.”

Source – Berwick Advertiser,  28 Jan 2015

Ed Miliband To Set Out Plans To Cut Benefits For Young Jobless

This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 18th June 2014 21.00 UTC

Ed Miliband will set out Labour’s first plans for cuts to the welfare system, ending out-of-work benefits for roughly 100,000 18-to-21-year-olds and replacing them with a less costly means-tested payment dependent on training.

The move is designed to symbolise Labour’s determination to reform welfare, making it more closely linked to what people pay in, as well as cutting the benefits bill.

> More closely linked to Tory policy more like. What odds on a Con-Lab coalition after the next election ? They might as well – the differences between the parties seem to have now completely vanished.

Britain’s young people who do not have the skills they need for work should be in training, not on benefits,” the Labour leader will say. It is essential to reform welfare to bring down a “wall of scepticism” among voters who don’t believe that politicians will make the system fairer, he will argue.

> So does “reform” always have to mean “make life more difficult for those worst off” ?

Miliband’s move reflects a recognition of anger among some voters that some people are getting “something for nothing” out of the welfare system. A YouGov poll for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), the leading centre-left thinktank, published on Thursday, finds that 78% believe that the welfare system is failing to reward people who have worked and contributed to it.

> Really ?  Is it supposed to be a reward ? Are these people confusing benefits with investing money in stocks and shares or something ?

The removal of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) for those with skills below level 3 would affect seven out of 10 of the 18-to-21-year-olds currently claiming JSA, and initially save £65m.

Miliband will reveal further plans to make welfare more conditional by linking benefit payments to national insurance contributions.

Under his plans, people would only be able to claim the higher rate JSA of £71 a week after they have paid National Insurance for five years, instead of the current two. The contributory element of the welfare system has been eroded in Britain and is much smaller than in most European economies.

Labour officials said the switch in spending by abolishing JSA for young people was not designed to be punitive, but to incentivise them to train. The longer qualifying period for higher-rate JSA will mean those who qualify will be able to receive additional help worth as much as £20 to £30 a week, they added.

The Labour leader, struggling with poor personal poll ratings, will be responding to a major report by the IPPR setting out as many as 30 radical measures to rebuild public faith in politics and public institutions in an era of austerity.

Two separate polls sent further dire messages about Miliband’s personal standing, with one poll by Ipsos MORI showing a small majority of voters wanting him replaced as party leader, and another by YouGov claiming voters would be more likely to back Labour if it was led by his brother, the former foreign secretary David Miliband.

Miliband will argue that any reforming politician must deal with doubts about the ability of politics “to address the long-standing pressures on work, family and people’s sense of fair play that has been piling up for decades”.

He will admit one reason for such scepticism is that “people think the problems are huge, but they don’t believe they can be solved because of the financial problems the country faces. Many people think that in hard times, politicians’ promises are all hot air.”

But big reforms need not require big spending, he will argue. “Our country continues to confront a fiscal situation the like of which we have not seen for generations, the result of a financial crash the like of which none of us has ever seen,” he will say.

We cannot just hope to make do and mend, and we cannot borrow and spend money to paper over the cracks.”

Writing in today’s Guardian, the IPPR’s director, Nick Pearce, goes further, saying: “Gone are the days when economic growth could generate enough resources to redistribute income without making painful choices. Even with a different economic agenda, there is little prospect of any government elected in 2015 spending its way to greater equality.”

Pearce urges Labour to reject a business as usual path in which the government “would tax a little more and cut a little less, leaving the architecture of the state untouched and the current framework of services and social security in place”.

Miliband will also back proposals for local councils to be given more control of the ballooning housing benefit budget. The report suggests the housing benefit bill will reach £25.4bn, with real terms rises expected for the next five years.

Miliband argues the IPPR report shows that even when there is no money to spend radical reform can be started in the fields of health, child care, welfare, social care and housing. But he is going to be cautious about embracing some of its specific plans drawn up over the past 18 months, including a £2bn child care package, funded through scrapping plans for a marriage tax allowance, freezing child benefit and reducing pension tax reliefs.

The report also argues that there needs to be a switch of government resources from tax transfers and credits to delivering services, something that might require abandoning the expensive target to eliminate child poverty.

It will also propose a radical devolution of power to local councils, including over housing benefit and welfare to work for the disabled. In probably the biggest proposal, the IPPR will argue that the left has to restore the contributory principle in the welfare system. Pearce argues social security for the unemployed has become a liability for social democrats. Turning the issue into a source of strategic strength will require rebuilding the reciprocity that underpins it, restoring the contributory principle and giving new life to the idea of national insurance. “Fiscal constraints should lead us away from means-tested residualisation of welfare, not further towards it”.

There is frustration among some Labour policy leaders at Miliband’s reluctance to embrace more of the report, designed to show how the left set out a redistributionist agenda in the post-crash world. It has had the support of Jon Cruddas, head of the Labour policy review.

> Well, that’s it then. Labour continue to piss all over the very people who were originally their electorate. If anyone still had any belief that they were the People’s Friend, this should finally disabuse them.

Source –  Welfare News Service,  18 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/ed-miliband-set-plans-cut-benefits-young-jobless/

Food bank referrals in the North East rise 463% in one year

Nearly 60,000 people sought emergency food from the Trussell Trust in 2013-14 compared with just 10,510 in the previous financial year.

Across the country 45% said problems with benefits had driven them to claim, while 20% cited low income. And since April 2010 the total number of referrals in Britain has risen from 61,000 to over 900,000 – up by a factor of fifteen.

Trust chairman Chris Mould called the figures “shocking” and warned things were getting “worse rather than better” for the Northern poor.

He said: “This figure is just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty. It doesn’t include those helped by other providers, people who are too ashamed to seek help, or the large number who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.

“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 any time soon.”

The figures do not exclude repeat visitors but simply record the number of people cited on vouchers given by jobcentres, doctors and social services to claim food.

They are likely to inflame controversy over the link between food banks and the government’s welfare reforms. Critics claim organisations like the Trussell Trust are becoming an unacknowledged and unpaid part of the welfare system.

Changes since 2012 include raising the minimum jobseekers’ sanction from one to four weeks and the start of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’.

Margaret Nelson, the Trust’s North East spokeswoman, said benefit sanctions were behind much of the rise and that many food bank users were “suicidal” when they came in.

She claimed some had benefits stopped for missing appointments even when they had phoned and been given permission.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We’re spending £94bn a year on working age benefits so that the welfare system provides a safety net to millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.

“The OECD say there are fewer people struggling with their food bills compared with a few years ago, benefit processing times are improving and even the Trussell Trust’s own research recognises the effect their marketing activity has on the growth of their business.

“The truth is that the employment rate is the highest it’s been for five years and our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”

He cited an ONS survey which found fewer people saying it was “difficult to get by” in 2012 than 2010 and claimed benefit clearance times are “improving year on year.”

And he said: “There is no robust evidence that welfare reforms or benefit administration are linked to increased use of food banks.”

> ?????  How can they not be ?

Tory peer David Freud told the Lords last year that food bank use was driven by “supply”, saying more people were going because the food was free and available.

But a three-year study by Sheffield University this month argued rising demand was to blame, with benefit cuts and sanctions seen as a major cause.

The DWP insists it does not “refer” people to food banks but merely “signposts” them – a distinction not made by the banks themselves.

Meanwhile over 35 Anglican bishops and 600 church leaders will call for “urgent action” from the three main party leaders.

Reverend Mark Bryant, the Anglican bishop of Jarrow, praised food banks’ efficiency and kindness but said society had “seriously got something wrong” to need them at all.

He said: “Something in a region of a third of the people they are helping are simply people whose benefits have been delayed.

“These are not people who are trying to work the system or anything like this. These are people who are entitled to benefits and the benefits system hasn’t delivered on time.

“You go to places like this, and you hear the stories, and you simply come away thinking ‘something isn’t right’. We have seriously got something wrong when people who for a whole variety of reasons are very vulnerable cannot afford either to feed themselves or to feed their families.”

Mr Bryant spoke at Gateshead Food Bank while on a joint visit with the Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, Seamus Cunningham.

Source – Newcastle Journal   16 April 2014

George Osbourne – “The Plan Is Working, Scum”

> As noted elsewhere, ConDem posh boy George Osbourne gave a speech today, at Tilbury. It might have been nice if a few dockers had decided to heckle him, but as that doesn’t seem to have happened (perhaps no nasty rough types were allowed in), here’s a section of his speech, wherein he refers to his plans for those of us on benefits, with a few heckles added…

 

The culmination of this week that sees the biggest reduction of business and personal tax in two decades.

It’s only possible because your hard work is helping us fix the economy – and it is only part of our plan to create jobs.

> Oi, posh boy ! Was cutting all those public sector jobs in the North East also part of your plan to create jobs ? How did that work, then ?

For it’s no good creating jobs – if we’re also paying people to stay on welfare.

We inherited a welfare system that didn’t work

There was not enough help for those looking for a job – people were just parked on benefits.

> There was not enough jobs for those looking for a job. That was, and is, the real problem.

Frankly, there was not enough pressure to get a job – some people could just sign on and get almost as much money staying at home as going out to wo

That’s not fair to them – because they get trapped in poverty and their aspirations are squashed.

> Hang on, George… if people could get almost as much on benefits as they would working, how do they get trapped in poverty ? Is this a tacit admission that some jobs pay as little as benefits ?

It’s certainly not fair to taxpayers like you, who get up, go out to work, pay your taxes and pay for those benefits.

> How about tax payers like me (we’re all taxpayers – VAT, council tax, bedroom tax) who left school in 1977 and over the years has paid a lot of tax and national insurance on the understanding that, should I fall on hard times, I could claim benefits or, should I be lucky enough not to need to, my national insurance payments would go to help those who did need help ?

National Insurance is payed for a reason. Stop perverting that reason.

So if Tuesday is when we help businesses creating jobs; and Sunday is when we help hardworking people with jobs; next Monday is when we do more to encourage people without jobs to find them.

Benefits will only go up by 1% – so they don’t go up faster than most people’s pay rises, as used to be the case.

> Missue of figures alert ! Its not the percentage of the rise that matters, but the benefit or wage it’s an increase of.

A 10% rise for someone on basic Jobseeker’s Agreement would only amount to little over £7 a week – or £1 per day.

Meanwhile, our MPs are happily accepting an 11% rise – that’s 11% of some very good existing rates of pay. Got anything to say about that George ? No ? Thought not.

When I took this job, some people were getting huge payouts – receiving £50,000, £60,000 even up to £100,000 in benefits. More than most people could get by working. That was outrageous.

> £50,000, £60,000 even up to £100,000 in benefits – what ? Yearly, monthly, weekly ? How were these benefits made up ? How many cases were there ? Were there any or did you just make it up ?

If  ‘some people’ ever really did get that much, then it must have been a very minute percentage of the total. So why are your policies designed to hit those much further down the chain, those on basic benefits ? Hardly fair, is it ?

So we’ve capped benefits, so that a family out of work can’t get more in benefits than the average working family.

> Define the “average working family”.

We’re now capping the overall welfare bill, so we control that. That came into force last week.

And we are bringing in a new Universal Credit to make sure work always pays.

From this month we’re also making big changes to how people go about claiming benefits.

We all understand that some people need more help than others to find work.

So starting this month we’ll make half of all people on unemployment benefits sign on every week – and people who stay on benefits for a long time will have to go to the job centre every day so they can get constant help and encouragement.

> so they can get constant help and encouragement – there speaks a man who’s never had to claim even the most basic benefits. Constant harrassment and discouragement would be nearer the mark.

To claim benefits people will also have to show they can speak English, or go on a course to learn how. It is ridiculous that people who didn’t speak English, and weren’t trying to learn it, could sit on out of work benefits in this country.

If people can’t speak English it is hard to get a job. Starting this week it will be even harder to get benefits if they’re not even attempting to learn it.

> How about posh boys who can speak English but talk bollocks, George ? How about people with regional accents ? Cut their benefits until they learn to talk proper ?

 We’re going to require people to look for work for a week first before they get their unemployment benefit.

When people turn up at the job centre they’ll be expected to have a CV ready and to have started looking on our new jobs website.

> By which I suppose he means their old, discredited, scam-riddled and generally ridiculed Universal Jobmatch.

From now on the deal is this: look for work first; then claim the dole. Not the other way around.

> Then slowly starve as your claim for basic benefit help takes weeks to be processed…or get evicted for not being able to pay your rent, bills, council tax, bedroom tax, etc.

We will ask many of the long term unemployed to do community work in return for their benefits -whether it is making meals for the elderly, clearing up litter, or working for a local charity.

> I do  like the use of ther word “ask” – as if you’d have a choice. But George, if there is all this work, why not pay people a proper wage – you know, the National Minimum Wage – to do it ? Working for benefits means they are no longer benefits – they are an illeagal, sub-NMW, slave labour rate job.

They will be gaining useful work experience and there’s an important principle here: if you want something out, you’ve got to put something in.

All of this is bringing back the principles that our welfare state was originally based on – something for something, not something for nothing.

That’s fair to the people claiming benefits – and fair to taxpayers who are paying for them.

> As pointed out, I am a taxpayer, we all are, and I have paid in plenty over the years towards the same benefits I now have to jump through hoops for.

And if some of the taxes I’ve paid also go to help others who need it, good – that’s the whole idea of society, at least as I understand it.

The old way has failed. More public spending leading to more welfare bills and more government jobs the country couldn’t afford.

Instead, this week, we follow the new way, our way: backing businesses by cutting their taxes so they can create jobs; cutting the tax on hard working people so their job pays; and holding back welfare rises and imposing more conditions on those claiming the dole, so that getting a job pays more.

> so that getting a job pays more – pays more what ? More costs in poverty, disease, stress, mental illness ? Bigger prison bills, when people are forced into desperate measures ? More homelessness ? Who exactly does this pay more to ?

The biggest business and personal tax cuts for a generation.

Welfare changes that get people back to work.

That’s our jobs plan and it’s the only plan in town.

And it’s working.

> Look, if you really just want to save money – stop subsidising the royal family (the true benefit scroungers), scrap Trident, stop getting embroilled in foreign wars that are nothing to do with us, 1% pay rises for MPs (and cut down on the expenses as well), stop pouring money into abortions like Universal Jobmatch… and so much more.

Of course, if your plan is actually a gradual reintroduction of the feudal system, then yes, it obviously is working.

DWP Advising Jobcentres On Sending Claimants To Food Banks – Documents

This article  was written by Rowena Mason and Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Tuesday 11th March 2014

The Department for Work and Pensions is advising jobcentres on how to send people to food banks, official documents show – despite ministers’ claiming the charitable support forms no part of the welfare system.

Ministers insist jobcentres “do not refer people to food banks or issue vouchers” and that food banks are “absolutely not a part of the welfare system because we have other means of supporting people”. They say jobcentres only “signpost” the existence of food banks and dispute the link between welfare changes and a surge in their use.

However, documents obtained under freedom of information laws show there is a “high level process” written by the DWP to be followed when benefit claimants say they are in hardship because of government policy and need food.

A six-step flowchart for jobcentre staff shows that the four reasons to recommend a food bank when claimants ask for help are hardship caused by benefit changes, benefit payment delays, a benefit advance has been refused, or the advance is not enough to meet their needs.

Jobcentres that choose to offer a food bank referral “service” are told to do a health and safety assessment before sending people to a particular charity.

As part of the process, Jobcentre Plus staff fill in a slip with the claimant’s details but another document orders them, in bold letters, not to describe this as a “food voucher” – apparently so as not to erode the argument that they are not part of the welfare system.

The documents show each jobcentre is told to write down how many people have been sent to food banks on a “slip record sheet”, even though the DWP has said: “Food banks are not part of government policy and, as such, the Department for Work and Pensions does not hold or collect information on their usage.”

The latest statistics from the Trussell Trust, which oversees a network of more than 400 food banks in the UK, show 614,000 adults and children received food parcels from its food banks in the first nine months of 2013-14, compared with 350,000 for the whole of 2012-13.

Benefit changes and delays – including instances where claimants had their benefits sanctioned, or stopped for breaches of conditionality – accounted for 49% of referrals to trust food banks to the end of December. In 2012-13 these categories accounted for 43% of referrals.

Although the DWP says it does not refer people to food banks, one of the documents obtained by the Guardian is entitled Foodbank Referral Service – High Level Process. The DWP said the guidance had mistakenly been issued by staff dealing with the freedom of information request. It said all guidance to Jobcentre Plus had now been modified to change the word “referral” to “signposting” – even though the process for directing those in need of aid to food banks appears to be exactly the same.

DWP officials say people are “signposted” to food banks only if other options are exhausted, as local authorities now have responsibility for emergency food aid. However, the official DWP food bank guidance for jobcentres makes no reference to alternative help from local authorities.

The DWP added: “The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks. Our reforms are fair and mean the welfare system will remain what it was always intended to be – a safety net for people at times of need.”

Labour said the DWP’s arguments that the government is not relying on food banks to fill a gap in the welfare system were unravelling. “Last year ministers said, ‘food banks are absolutely not part of our welfare system’, yet these official DWP documents show a system for referrals has been established,” said Luciana Berger, shadow public health minister. “If ministers cannot answer the simplest of questions about their department, how can we have any confidence they will tackle the rising number of people who are having to access emergency food aid?

“As the queues at food banks grow with hundreds of thousands of people forced to use food banks to survive so too do the costs to our public health and wellbeing. Food banks have become a truly shameful symbol of Britain under this Tory-led government.”

Esther McVey, the employment minister, had refused to release the guidance to Berger, saying: “It is not common practice in DWP to publish internal guidance.”

Chris Mould, the executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, said despite the guidance, jobcentre practice on charity food support varied across the country.

A small number of jobcentres had good relationships with local food banks, some ignored food banks altogether and others referred claimants to food banks “indiscriminately and without thinking”.

The Trussell Trust and the DWP agreed in 2011 after months of discussions that jobcentre staff should be able to send claimants to food banks. However, ministers continued to insist this only amounted to “signposting” in the right direction.

Last year, officials unilaterally changed the referral forms to remove the reasons why someone may have been sent to a food bank. Critics said this move made it harder for food bank staff to identify whether clients had been referred as a consequence of welfare reform.

Mould said: “The debate about whether food banks are part of the welfare state is a bit of a red herring. The real issue is about why people go hungry”.

Source – Welfare News Service,  12 March 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/dwp-advising-jobcentres-sending-claimants-food-banks-documents/

70,000 Job Seekers’ Benefits Withdrawn Unfairly, Says Thinktank

This article  was written by Patrick Wintour and Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Monday 3rd March 2014

Nearly 70,000 job seekers have had their benefits withdrawn unfairly, making them reliant on food banks, the right-of-centre thinktank Policy Exchange has said .

The intervention is the first by a respected rightwing voice claiming that something has gone wrong with the administration of benefits.

A chorus of churches, charities and Labour has been warning the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, for months that the administration of benefit sanctions has become too punitive.

Duncan Smith has commissioned a limited independent review into the administration of sanctions, and this is likely to confirm problems in the way they are imposed, but not challenge their level.

Policy Exchange says almost a third of all people who break their job search conditions for the first time have their benefits taken away by mistake and face unnecessary hardship as a result.

Guy Miscampbell, the author of the Policy Exchange report, said: “It is clear that there are a significant number of people who have their benefit taken away from them unfairly. Four weeks without any money is driving people to desperate measures including a reliance on food banks”.

The report suggests: “With some 874,000 adverse decisions being made between October 2012 and September 2013, and over 146,000 of them being successfully appealed or reconsidered it is clear that the possibility of wrongly applied sanctions, and what their effects might be, is an important one. With some estimates suggesting that 43% of those referred to food banks are there due to benefit stoppage or being refused a crisis loan, it is clear that there is not currently an adequate safety net for those who are wrongly sanctioned”.

The report comes as a public health specialist, Professor Elizabeth Dowler of Warwick University, said that poverty–stricken families who cannot afford to buy sufficient food are overtaking unhealthy eating as the most pressing public health concern.

The claim is made in a BBC Panorama documentary broadcast on Monday evening, which found that over a third of local authorities in England and Wales were providing funding for food banks, despite government claims that charity food is not a part of the social security system. “Food banks are an inadequate plaster over a gaping wound,” Dowler said.

On Sunday, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, repeated his criticisms of the welfare system, saying that “some of the priests who are right there on the ground say it comes across as punitive”. He revealed that he was bringing a group of priests together to discuss the evidence, and welcomed the inquiry into food banks being chaired by the archbishop of Truro and Frank Field.

Policy Exchange suggests issuing first-time offenders, who may or may not have been fairly sanctioned, with a ‘yellow card’ in the form of a benefits card. It says this would be a more compassionate way of trying to help people back into work.

Benefits would be accessed via this card for a maximum of eight weeks. If the claimant continues to breach job search conditions, the card and benefits would be taken away. This system would provide a safety net, mitigating hardship while a sanction is appealed, forcing claimants to re-engage with Jobcentre staff and deterring non-compliance through the added inconvenience of daily sign on.

They would also be asked to sign on daily as part of a proposal to create a more compassionate but stricter sanctions regime.

It suggests that repeat offenders should be punished more seriously.

> So its still all sticks and no carrots…

The report also recommends more stringent penalties for people who consistently break the terms of their job search requirements. According to the research, between October 2012 and September 2013 there were 30,000 claimants on their third sanction or more for lower tier offences such as missing an interview with a Jobcentre adviser. Repeat offenders should have their benefits taken away for a longer period of time from 13 to 26 weeks for a third breach. For each offence, a further 13 weeks should be added.

Monday’s Panorama also uncovers evidence that a jobcentre appears to be explicitly alerting its staff to the financial savings to be made through “sanctioning” job seekers when they are judged to have broken benefit conditions.

A wall chart in a Grantham jobcentre explicitly sets out the cash savings available to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) through stopping the benefits of claimants, ranging from £227.20 a week for a four-week sanction to £3,728 for a sanction lasting one year.The DWP told Panorama: “This was an isolated incident and does not reflect our policy on sanctions.”

> And we don’t believe you. 

In a way, its more comforting to believe that they do have targets…otherwise you’d be left with the impression that a large proportion of Jobcentre staff are vicious, sadistic bastards willing to wreck people’s lives on a whim.

Source – Welfare News Service,  03 Mar 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/70000-job-seekers-benefits-withdrawn-unfairly-says-thinktank/

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

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

Benefits claimants are shortchanged by £5bn a year, says thinktank

It’s part of their culture…back in the 1980s I knew someone who worked for the DHSS (as it then was) but left precisely because she was always being told NOT to help people claim their full entitlements, only the barest minimum she could get away with. Things haven’t changed at all, except to get nastier.

The lovely wibbly wobbly old lady

Reposted from the Guardian Society

Job centres
Benefits claimants are being shortchanged, says the Demos thinktank. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Millions of benefit claimants – who as a group fail to receive £5bn a year that they are due from the state – are being shortchanged by the welfare system rather than overindulged, a thinktank says on Sunday.

Rather than cutting benefits, ministers should seek to ensure that those on welfare receive their full entitlement, Demos says. Official figures show that one million people a year do not receive their full entitlement of housing benefit, equating to a failure by the state to pay out up to £3.1bn.

More than two million people a year do not apply for relief from paying their council tax bill, equivalent to more than £1.7bn in savings to the state. Meanwhile, the number of pensioners that were estimated to be entitled but not claiming…

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