An undercover Universal Credit adviser was ordered not to inform claimants about vital hardship payments, the Daily Mirror has reported.
The undercover adviser, working for Channel 4 Dispatches, was told not to advise claimants about the existence of emergency cash funds available to jobseekers struggling to make ends-meet.
He was also instructed not to inform claimants about the availability of advance payments, which can be paid while their Universal Credit claim is being processed by decision makers.
Claimants can apply for a one-off grant from the ‘Flexible Support Fund’, which can be used to help them move into employment.
However, a trainer told the undercover report not to inform claimants about the fund unless they specifically asked about it.
When he questioned the motives behind this stance, he was told:
“If we did, everybody would want one, yeah, and it’s a very small budget, so we don’t talk about it.
“It’s a bit like Fight Club – we don’t discuss what happens in Fight Club. So you don’t talk about flexible support fund either… so the work coaches usually bring this up…”
New Universal Credit claimants often have to wait several weeks for a decision to be made on their claim. During this time they are typically expected to support themselves.
However, advance payments and other hardship funds are available to people who may experience financial difficulties during this time.
Universal Credit merges a number of existing benefit into one single monthly payment. The flagship scheme has been dogged by delays and software problems since its conception.
The reporter, who was working in a DWP service centre, was also told not to tell claimants about hardship funds in the event of their benefit payments being ‘sanctioned’.
“You don’t offer it unless you think they’re in dire straits”, the trainer said
“The whole idea is the punishment, that’s what you’ve got to suffer but if you can’t manage, we’ll consider doing something for you.
“So they’ve got to say, ‘well I can’t manage without my standard allowance, so I need some help’ and you go ‘right, there is a hardship possibility’.
“You don’t advertise it but if they say, ‘I can’t manage’, they don’t have to say, ‘I need a hardship payment’, they say ‘I can’t manage’ and you say, ‘well I can’.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said:
“Service centre workers are there to provide administrative support over the phone, not to build the close relationship with the claimant that our work coaches in Jobcentres do.
“At a new claim interview our work coaches inform claimants that budgeting advances are available ”
“Work coaches can identify if the locally-administered flexible support fund can help someone overcome barriers to work – not service centre workers.”
Defending Universal Credit, the spokesperson said:
“Universal Credit replaces the complex myriad of means-tested benefits to simplify the system and make work pay.
“It is already transforming lives with claimants on Universal Credit moving into work faster and earning more.
“When fully rolled out it will make three million people better off with a £7 billion boost to the economy every year.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 12 Mar 2015
David Cameron’s plan to make 18- to 21-year-olds work for their benefits is “cynical electioneering” as it would hit people hardest in the north and Midlands, where the Conservatives traditionally have little support, the Liberal Democrats have claimed.
The party laid into its coalition partners over the proposals to make school leavers do community work or face losing state support, saying it showed the Conservatives were “choosing to be tough on the vulnerable and young, whilst being weak on the rich and powerful”.
> Well ? It’s not as if they’ve suddenly betrayed long-held values – they’ve always acted like this. A fact which the Lib Dems must have been aware of before they got into bed with them.
Obviously they were quite willing to overlook this in return for a little bit of power. Oh, to sell your soul for such a low price…
None of the top 25 areas where there are the most “Neets” are run by Conservative councils, the research found.
John Leech, the Lib Dem MP for Manchester Withington, said it was nothing more than an attack on the north.
“These placements are not designed to help someone into work, more to punish. Just like the Tory plans to axe housing benefit for young people,” he said.
The Tory plans to make £12bn of welfare cuts for the working-age poor means 8 million low-income families will be £1,500 worse off a year.
Under the plans, those aged between 18 and 21 will be barred from claiming benefit unless they agree to start an apprenticeship or complete community work.
It is designed to ensure that the 50,000 young people “most at risk of starting a life on benefits” find that their first contact with the benefits system is a requirement to undertake community work and search for jobs. The claimant will be expected typically to undertake at least 30 hours community work a week and 10 hours looking for jobs.
Anyone required to undertake community work would be paid a youth allowance equivalent to the jobseeker’s allowance rate for young people.
In a speech in Hove, East Sussex, Cameron made an attempt to answer some of his critics who say the planned cuts are too harsh.
“I would ask them: is it compassionate to leave people on the dole for years with no incentive to get into work?” he said.
“Is it big-hearted to leave people on sickness benefit without checking if they can work, if given the right help? Is it kind to sentence people to never going anywhere, of letting people in their teens and 20s sit at home all day slipping into depression and despair?”
> Is it compassionate or big-hearted to subject people to a sanctions culture at the whim of DWP so-called work coaches ?
Following the announcement, Jonathan Portes, from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, pointed out that pilots conducted by the Department for Work and Pensions suggested “compulsory community work for unemployed had little or no positive impact”.
The Conservatives want to make £12bn of welfare cuts in the next parliament, while the Liberal Democrats are budgeting for £4bn. Labour has not made clear what it would do to the benefits bill in order to balance the books.
Source – The Guardian, 18 Feb 2015
A Universal Credit claimant who featured in a government film to promote the reform now says the system is riddled with computer problems and could make people destitute.
In the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advert, Daniel Pacey explains how the reform helped him to find work.
But he now says a six-week delay before the first payment and subsequent monthly payments are “a nightmare“.
The DWP said monthly sums replicate the world of work and tackle dependency.
A spokesman said:
“Universal credit is simplifying the benefit system and [makes] the transition into employment smoother.
“Our work coaches discuss budgeting support with all claimants and nearly 80% say they are confident in their ability to manage a monthly budget.”
> Is that 80% of work coaches or claimants ?
Mr Pacey, 24, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, said:
”It might be easy for a government minister to make their wages last a month. But I’d like to see them make £250 last four weeks while looking for work.”
The government has announced that a national roll-out of universal credit is starting in earnest across the country. The aim is for it to be offered in all job centres in England, Scotland and Wales by 2016.
> Whether it works or not, presumably.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith told BBC News the new benefit was £600m under budget and had been implemented gradually on advice.
But Mr Pacey, who lives with his father, said his job centre struggled with failing computer systems, adding:
“I hate to think about how I would have coped had I lived on my own. I know I couldn’t have.”
The DWP spokesman added:
“People can apply for advanced benefit payments if they need extra support and we are working with local authorities to make sure people get budgeting and debt advice.
“The IT system adapts smoothly to claims as they become more complex, which we have already seen across the North West.
“Computer problems in offices are separate issues and are resolved quickly but these do not impact the operating system, or have an impact on claims.”
The scheme was initially piloted in Ashton-Under-Lyne nearly two years ago.
Under the old system, payments were bi-weekly, with housing benefit paid directly to landlords.
Under universal credit, claimants are instead paid monthly and are expected to pay their rent themselves.
Housing Associations in Ashton-Under-Lyne say rent arrears and debt are on the rise amongst universal-credit claimants.
The chief executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr said:
“This scheme isn’t even ready to fully roll out in Ashton-Under-Lyne, where it’s been piloted for two years, let alone the rest of the country.”
The DWP spokesman said:
“In some cases, we can arrange for alternative payment arrangements, including rent being paid direct to landlords.”
The government says it is important for people to learn how to handle their own monthly budgets, as this replicates the world of work.
> Oh for fucks sake – how stupid do they think we are ? Do they think every unemployed person has never worked ? Do they think anyone having to survive on benefits doesn’t already know all about handling budgets ?
But Mr Pacey’s new job in a call centre pays bi-weekly.
He said: “In my experience, most low-paid jobs pay weekly or every other week, not monthly. You can’t make small sums of money last a month.
“It’s not about dependency, it’s about living, being able to get a bus to go to the job centre. The government needs to rethink this.”
The scheme has also been criticised by the National Audit Office as badly managed and failing to deliver on its targets.
It is concerned that a roll-out from pilot areas in north-west England is taking place with fewer resources to spend on staff training and less time for staff to get accustomed to the changes.
About 50,000 people in selected areas have claimed the benefit since it was introduced in April 2013 – far fewer than the government originally said would be getting it by now.
Computer problems have also caused delays and seen ministers write off tens of millions of pounds.
Source – BBC News, 16 Feb 2015
Jobcentre staff are to target job seekers in ‘unusual locations’, as part of a new ‘blitz’ against Britain’s unemployed people.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) say an ‘army’ of government ‘jobs experts’ will target unemployed people at a number of locations, in a new bid to ‘support’ them back into work.
Specialist jobcentre staff, known as work coaches, will target unemployed people in places such as children’s centres, youth hubs, homeless shelters, and rural work clubs, ‘to offer targeted support to people who need it most’.
> There’s nothing specialist about Work Coaches – they’re just what used to be called Advisers. And they are, of course, working towards targets for sanctioning people.
DWP say work coaches have already partnered up with a number of professional football clubs including Arsenal, Everton, and Tottenham Hotspur, with schemes designed to build confidence and new skills to prepare unemployed people for work.
It’s unclear as to whether the DWP plan to adopt a similar approach in other locations. However, it’s highly likely people will at least be offered the option of signing up to the Work Programme as part of this new ‘blitz’ on Britain’s unemployed.
Employment Minister Esther McVey said:
“Our hardworking Jobcentre Plus staff have made a huge contribution to Britain’s jobs success this year. By doing things differently, and getting out to where job seekers are, they’re helping thousands into work every day.
“We have broken record after record in 2014 – with huge falls in youth and long-term unemployment and the highest number of women in work on record.
“This new approach is working. What we can see at the end of the year is that our welfare reforms are ensuring that people have the skills and opportunities to move into work.
“But behind these record figures there are countless stories of individual hard work and determination – stories of people turning their lives around, of families who are now feeling more secure over the Christmas period with a regular wage, and of young people escaping unemployment and building a career.”
The Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, has come under heavy criticism for helping only a relatively small number of people into work.
Official figures show less than 22% of 18-24 year-olds claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) find work lasting at least six months after 12 months on the scheme, falling to 17.6% for over 25’s.
This falls to 10.3% for sick and disabled people newly claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who find work lasting at least three months, with some commentators claiming the combined figure for both new and older claims is just 8%.
A recent survey from the charity Mind revealed how the vast majority of people with mental health problems saw their health worsen while on Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Work Programme.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 26 Dec 2014
> You might find these extracts from the PCS union website of interest regarding the latest ‘Help To Work‘ nonsense….
This circular provides an update on the new increased conditionality regime from the end of April, and advice for PCS branches.
The Government is introducing increased conditionality measures from 28 April 2014 for JSA and lone parent claimants, and for or UC claimants from summer 2014. Although some measures will be phased in up to December 2014.
> “some measures will be phased in up to December 2014” – at the very least, I should think. I suppose this refers to the fact that the scheme is launched before they’ve actually got anyone on board to run it.
Advisers have now been re-branded as “Work Coaches” and Job search review/Assistant Advisers are now to be called “Assistant Work Coaches”.
> If in doubt, give everyone pointless new titles – it may give the impression that you are doing something. Work coaches – I ask you ! I really hope the ex-advisers are cringing at the prospect.
PCS has concerns that the department does not have adequate resources in place to cope with the new levels of work. The new measures appear to be aimed at ‘frustrating’ claimants off benefit, something the DWP was recently criticised for in the recent select committee report into the role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare state.
> ‘frustrating’ claimants off benefit’ – well yes, we’ve already figured that out. The trouble is, there’s no use PCS moaning when so many of their members seem quite happy – even enthusiastic – about enforcing these tactics. Now they’re really going to find out what ‘work‘ is all about.
This covers five elements of Day One Conditionality, Weekly Work Search Reviews, Quarterly Work Search Interviews, English Language Requirements and Increasing Lone Parent Conditionality.
An additional 12 minutes has been assigned to the initial new claims interview to complete the day one conditionality and English language requirements.
Day One Conditionality
Claimants using JSA Online will receive a message outlining Day One Conditionality Claimants will be required to demonstrate “positive job-seeking behaviours” from day one of their claim to benefit.
Day One Conditionality introduces an expectation for the claimant to create a Profile and Public CV in Universal Jobmatch; or create a CV and email account that can be used for employment purposes, if the claimant is not yet able to create a profile and Public CV within Universal Jobmatch.
These requirements and can be mandated by issuing a Jobseeker’s Direction, Conditionality is subject to a phased introduction between 28 April 2014 and 31 October 2014.
Increasing Lone Parent Conditionality (ILPC)
From April 2014 changes will apply to lone parents who are entitled to Income Support (IS); or claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and are in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG)
Currently lone parents who are entitled to IS must attend regular Work-focused Interviews (WFIs) once their youngest child reaches the age of one. From April 2014 the frequency and duration of WFIs for this group of claimants will be determined by Advisers.
Work Related Activity (WRA) is also being introduced for ESA (WRAG) and IS lone parents with a youngest child aged 3 and over. From 28 April 2014 an easement in regulations has been introduced to prevent more than one sanction being applied in any two week period
Weekly Work Search Reviews
Weekly Work Search Reviews are subject to a phased introduction between 28 April 2014 and 31 October 2014. This applies to 50% of the live load, excluding Work Programme participants and claimants receiving support from the Help to Work Package. Claimants should be selected at Work Coach discretion. Claimants may be moved on and off Weekly Work Search Review. The 50% ratio is reviewed and monitored across each District.
English Language Requirements
A screening aide will be available to assist Work Coaches in identifying claimants whose English language speaking and listening skills are below E2. Once identified, the Work Coach will mandate the claimant to a provider assessment, using the Skills Conditionality referral process.
If any Day One Conditionality activity is appropriate to the claimant but their English Language is a barrier to them completing it, the English Language barrier would need to be addressed first. The DWP recognise that individual claimants will learn at different speeds, often with varying starting levels of spoken English. The average length of time they take to complete English Language Training is expected to vary between 7 and 20 weeks.
Quarterly Work Search Interviews
Twenty minute Quarterly Work Search Interview are being introduced to review the claimant’s jobsearch activities in the previous quarter, including updating the Claimant Commitment and widening jobsearch activities.
> Widening jobsearch activities ? Dont like the sound of that much…probably means having to apply for even more jobs you know you wont get in order to hit increased targets.
Help to Work (HtW)
Equal numbers of claimants are expected to be assigned to each of the three Help to Work Package measures:
> The word ‘assigned’ appears to suggest that we wont have any say in what we get stuck with. No doubt our Work Coach will have targets for each option and you’ll just get stuck with whatever they’re not meeting their targets on.
Mandatory Intervention Regime
This is the current support for claimants who have completed the Work Programme. The first 8 weeks of the Mandatory Intervention Regime (MIR) is known as the Assessment Phase. During this 8 week phase Work Coaches can decide to place the claimants in Daily Work Search Reviews or Community Work Placements. Claimants can only be allocated to Community Work Placements or Daily Work Search Reviews during the Assessment Phase
> Work Coaches can decide to place the claimants – yep, you dont get a choice.
Daily Work Search Review
The claimant will be required to attend the Jobcentre daily for up to 13 weeks to review jobseeking activities of the previous day and provide a labour market declaration signature.
Every 4 weeks the claimant’s attendance schedule must be changed.
Claimants are entitled to reimbursement of travel costs incurred to attend additional WSR. To enable claimants to attend Daily WSR, it is accepted that payment in advance, particularly in the form of weekly bus / rail travel tickets and passes may be appropriate.
> Every 4 weeks the claimant’s attendance schedule must be changed – ???
Community Work Placements
External provision will consist of a work placement that is of benefit to the community for up to 30 hours a week and supplemented by up to 10 hours jobsearch. If the claimant is still in receipt of JSA/UC after six months they will be transferred to MIR.
> If the claimant is still in receipt of JSA/UC after six months they will be transferred to MIR. – where your Work Coach can decide to place the claimants in Daily Work Search Reviews or Community Work Placements. Back to square one, in other words.
Although a meeting is planned for 24th April, PCS has not yet been consulted over key issues such as appropriate resourcing and the health and safety risk assessment.
There should also be consultation with trade union sides at district and local level, as well as consultation as part of the risk assessment process. PCS has pressed that this is made explicitly mandatory; given reports received that district management are going ahead with changes without engaging with the unions.
The Group Executive Committee (GEC) has raised concerns over the department’s capacity to deliver the additional work and cope with the increased footfall of up to 60%. 620 WSD staff will be leaving Job centres in June through the VES scheme with no one to replace them.
> Oh dear, oh dear… more claimants, fewer staff. Can anyone see the flaw in this plan ?
However DWP believe that current staffing levels are appropriate, as jobcentre staffing was due to be reduced by 10% which matches the numbers needed to deliver SR13 and HtW. The re-grading of the CSM post also delivers a significant cost saving. The GEC have pressed DWP for more staff, and believe jobcentres are at a crisis point in terms of staffing, workloads, safety and space.
The introduction of further attendance brings in an even stricter conditionality regime. The GEC is deeply concerned for the safety of PCS members facing the brunt of the public’s anger at this policy.
> Damn right !
Reports have been received that attendance times should be changed on every occasion, in order to ‘frustrate claimants off benefit’ which bears a resemblance to the hotly denied and lambasted ‘Botherability’. Group Officers need to be informed if this message is being relayed in offices, reps should challenge management locally and escalate.
> A different time every day ? you can just imagine the planning meeting – “hey guys, how could we make this situation even more chaotic ?‘
PCS opposes further attacks on benefit claimants
PCS believes that SR13 and HtW are not intended to offer further help to claimants, as the introduction of further mandation and attendance is clearly aimed at trying to set claimants up to fail. It is part of the politically motivated agenda the Government has of vilifying benefit claimants, rather than offering genuinely tailored support.
The DWP received criticism from the Select Committee in January over their off-flow target based approach, however, these new measures are politically driven policy which civil servants have been instructed to implement.
> But they don’t have to implement them. The old ‘Nuremberg Defence’ (I was only obeying orders) was never a valid one. But for fuck’s sake – PCS, YOU ARE A UNION. YOU CAN TAKE ACTION. Stop your members taking it out on the ‘customers‘ and take on the government instead. You may need to grow a spine first, though.
PCS campaigns against the stricter benefit and conditionality regime, we believe our members are best placed to help benefit claimants when they are given adequate time and discretion to truly identify the support needed, not by fostering hostility through draconian and punitive practices.
> So do something about it !
Branches are asked to ensure they are fully involved in consultation and the risk assessment processes, and issues are appropriately escalated. The introduction of the new measures should be phased until October and December 2014 to ensure there are appropriate resources and systems in place. There should be no ‘big bang’ approach. Risk assessments should be used to identify for a potential increase in CSMs and G4S security guards.
> a potential increase in CSMs and G4S security guards – hey, more government cash for G4S… now who would have expected that ?
Source: PCS website 24 April 2014