Monthly Archives: August 2013

‘Claimant Commitment’ sanction threat falls on jobseekers; blundering DWP staff get away with murder

DWP - Deliberate and Wanton Persecution. (This image borrowed from the Skwawkbox blog as the article is very strongly linked to the 'Claimant Commitment' piece there.

DWP – Deliberate and Wanton Persecution. (This image borrowed from the Skwawkbox blog as the article is very strongly linked to the ‘Claimant Commitment’ piece there).

Following on from Skwawkbox’s recent Claimant Commitment article, here’s a press release from the DWP, setting out how it proposes to persecute jobseekers, in particular. Let’s go through it together.

“Jobseekers will have to account more clearly for their efforts to find work and will be given a weekly timetable of tasks to complete, as part of the Claimant Commitment which rolls out nationwide from this autumn.”

If this is a more stringent obligation on jobseekers, where is the commitment for DWP officers and employees? What are their responsibilities? What sanctions do they face when they fail to meet those responsibilities? And what recompense will be offered to jobseekers when these failures happen (as they do on a daily basis at the moment)?

“From October, around 100 jobcentres a month will begin using the Claimant Commitment with new jobseekers, until it is in place across the country.

“This new form of Jobseeker’s Agreement will set out more fully a benefit recipient’s responsibilities in order to receive state support. Those who fail to comply with their responsibilities risk losing their benefits.”

Will DWP employees who fail to deal with claims in a proper, consistent and timely manner risk losing their jobs? I thought not.

A personal statement setting out what they will do to prepare for and find work will be based on the discussion between the jobseeker and their adviser. They will renew the commitment on a regular basis.”

What will advisers say when jobseekers demand a legally-binding commitment from them? Will they get it? I thought not.

“The new commitment is an important part of the cultural transformation that Universal Credit will bring and will place a strong focus on the responsibilities that claimants must fulfil.”

… While providing no security at all to the jobseeker that their claim will be treated in a responsible manner in return. This “cultural transformation” is from oppression to dictatorship, nothing less.

“Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith said: “‘This is about redefining the relationship between benefit claimants and the state. The welfare state will support people when they fall on hard times, but in return they need to meet some contracted responsibilities agreed with a Jobcentre Plus adviser.'”

Ah, but will the state support people? Or will it delay, obstruct, and make unreasonable demands on jobseekers, in order to make a quick and dirty ‘Positive Benefit Outcome’ wherever possible?

“’For those people on Jobseeker’s Allowance, looking for work should be a full time job. It is fair and reasonable for the taxpayer to expect that claimants should do everything within their power to get into work.'”

It is also fair and reasonable to expect the DWP to do everything within its power to facilitate this. I heard the story yesterday of a young woman who was ordered to attend a Job Centre, in a different town from her home, two days after a surgical operation on her leg. She could not walk at the time, so she was expected to drag herself to the bus stop, endure a long journey on public transport – which is hardly conducive to post-operative comfort and might actually put back her recovery, and then drag herself – uphill – to the Job Centre itself. When she asked for the meeting to be rescheduled, her adviser refused. That’s how helpful the DWP can be!

“’It’s a fair deal people will have to sign up to in return for receiving support from the state.'” No it isn’t. “‘Our reforms are ushering in a new culture of conditionality and the Claimant Commitment lies at the heart of this.’” A new culture of dictatorship with no responsibility on the side of the oppressors.

“The Claimant Commitment is backed by a strict compliance regime to ensure jobseekers do all they can to have the best chance of finding paid work quickly. Those who fail to comply with their responsibilities risk losing benefit.”

Again: What responsibilities do the DWP have to honour, and what is the penalty for failure?

“Building on the current form of the Jobseeker’s Agreement, the Claimant Commitment sets out more details of the requirements of claimants and information about the consequences of failing to meet these.”

Yet again: What responsibilities do the DWP have to honour, and what is the penalty for failure?

There’s no mention of anything.

But let’s be fair. We’ll do a Freedom of Information request. How about:

“With regard to claims for all benefits available from the Department for Work and Pensions, what are the responsibilities of the DWP, its ministers, officers and employees, to the claimants?

“What sanctions to DWP ministers, officers and employees face if the organisation fails to fulfil those responsibilities?

“And what recompense is available to claimants who suffer loss of income as a result of such failure by the Department, its ministers, officers and employees?”

The claimant commitment, jobseekers agreement – or whatever they want to call it – is a contract. Any contract requires action by both parties and both parties should face penalties if they break their side of the bargain. But the DWP is unfairly using its position of power over claimants to inflict unwarranted cruelties upon them.

Let’s see what it takes to put a stop to it.

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Universal Credit ‘claimant commitment’: no choice, no law, no money – no appeal

I meant to share this before writing ‘These disability deniers have no incentive to do the right thing’ – but forgot. The theme is very much the same – that claimants of Universal Credit have no recourse when the DWP messes up their claim.

These disability deniers have no incentive to do the right thing

Despair: How can you get the government to do the right thing when the rules mean it doesn't have to?

Despair: How can you get the government to do the right thing when the rules mean it doesn’t have to?

Those of you who read the comments on this blog will be familiar with Nick. He’s a gentleman who has been ill for a very long time. The effects of his illness are readily apparent just by looking at him – he describes himself as having the appearance of an inmate in a Japanese POW camp during World War Two.

The Department of Work and Pensions still wanted to tell him he was able to seek work; they only stopped trying to cut his benefits because his MP intervened.

This is how he describes the attitude of the Coalition government: “David Cameron … is not to be trusted as he has a way of killing people in a very barbaric way, the way of silence, in the privacy of one’s home, to have a letter dropped on them to place that person in a deliberate panic, knowing and hoping it kills them.”

Elsewhere, he states: “I myself have lost all my many online friends bar one… over the past three years – all dead at the hands of the DWP.”

Now this government department is doing its best to starve the life out of Mrs Mike, it seems.

She received a letter yesterday that makes absolutely no sense at all, to anyone with sense. Attend:

“Please allow us to apologise for the lack of communication you have received regarding the changes in your benefit. As per normal procedure, you should have received a letter and phone call some weeks ago to prepare you for the end of your contribution based ESA claim. An invitation to claim income related ESA should then have been sent out. A fault on your claim meant that our processing section did not receive a prompt to contact you to explain the changes to contribution based ESA eligibility.”

Our first reaction to that was: Not our problem. The “fault” on our claim would be one that was created at the DWP, by DWP employees, and is entirely the responsibility of the DWP. But who suffers for it? We do.

“I can see that you have an ongoing appeal against being placed in the Work Related Activities Group of ESA. I cannot see an outcome to the appeal as of yet. Once an outcome has been reached, we will contact you. If successful, you will be placed in the Support Group of ESA.”

The letter goes on to contradict itself, revealing that a decision-maker examined the appeal – in April – and determined that another work capability assessment would be necessary to find out whether Mrs Mike is less able to work now than she was in July last year.

We were not told about this decision. We have not been notified about any new WCA. And now we are confused – are we supposed to be claiming income-related ESA, or waiting for the results of the appeal – an appeal which has been ongoing for nearly half a year now – in case Mrs Mike gets put into the support group. And how is she supposed to live until then – on roots and berries?

“Please be aware that we receive a very high volume of appeals; due to the volume, it is not possible to resolve each appeal as quickly as we or our ESA claimants would like. However, please be assured that your appeal is ongoing and you will be contacted when we have an outcome. In your case, our Decision Maker has stated that we will need to know the outcome of your next medical assessment before we can progress your appeal.”

Yes, we are indeed aware that the DWP receives a very high volume of appeals – 255,084 between January and March. The cost of these appeals to the taxpayer totalled £66 million between 2012-13 – and that it is losing them in increasing numbers. This is because Atos assessors and DWP decision-makers have been making decisions that are not only wrong according to the law but harmful to the lives of those affected. Do I really need to quote the 73-deaths-per-week figure that we all know and loathe – and that we all believe has inflated to even more horrific levels since it was first released? We don’t know because the DWP – again – is refusing to release the figures it holds.

“When you were migrated across to ESA from Incapacity Benefit, you attended a medical for ESA reassessment. The outcome of this was that you were to be placed in the Work Related Activities Group for a period of 12 months, effective from 21.06.12. It is for this reason that you were sent an ESA50 form in May this year; you were due for your 12month review, as stated when your claim was migrated from IB to ESA.”

This is what we deduced when we received the form – which arrived with no explanatory letter. We completed it and sent it back very quickly and had heard nothing about it since. It would be logical to expect a response, or indeed a decision, before a benefit claim expired, but we’re dealing with the DWP here, whose agents seem to think they are a law unto themselves.

Note the two inaccuracies: Mrs Mike’s ESA started on August 14 last year, and the Work Capability Assessment is not a medical check and should not, in any circumstances, be described as one. It is a tick-box assessment to determine whether a claimant is capable of performing any work that may be used by the DWP as an excuse to close their claim. Nothing more.

“Your completed ESA50 has been received by ATOS; we are currently waiting for them to set a date for your new medical assessment. You will be contacted when this date has been set.”

Oh, so the fault lies with Atos, does it? That’s nice to know. In the meantime, what are we supposed to be using to pay the bills?

And has anyone noticed that we now have a choice between combinations of three ongoing matters: We can make a new claim for income-related ESA; we can wait for a decision on our appeal, which requires another work capability assessment; and/or we can wait for Atos to pull its finger out of whichever bodily orifice is appropriate and arrange a WCA in relation to the 12-month review, which is also awaiting a decision – all after the claim period has ended!

Will we have to attend two work capability assessments? That seems to be what’s implied, although nothing in the letter clarifies this.

“I have referred your letter of complaint to our Complaints Resolution Manager, for their response. I do appreciate that you have not experienced the level of communication or customer care that we seek to provide.

“Hopefully this answers your queries.”

How has this answered any queries? All it has done is create more questions!

“Once you have completed and returned the enclosed ESA3 form, we will be able to reassess your claim and consider income related ESA.

“Once you have been seen for your next medical, we will be able to progress your Support Group appeal. If placed in Support Group, it is possible that we will be able to recommence payment of contribution based ESA.”

Aren’t these mutually exclusive? Which do they expect us to do? And – again – how do they expect us to live while we’re doing this and waiting for them to get on with it?

Note that there is no mention that we can apply for a Short Term Benefit Advance while waiting for the DWP to fulfil its responsibilities. Few people know about this and the Department aims to keep it that way. Why’s that, do you think?

It is well-known to the DWP that, along with her physical problems, Mrs Mike suffers from mental health problems and depression. As I write these words, she’s asleep on the sofa where she has been bawling her eyes out for much of the morning, in utter despair at the situation. That’s the same sofa where she spends many days at a time in such agony that she cannot move.

She won’t be another casualty of this institutionalised cruelty, but now I have to be extra vigilant to make sure she doesn’t get low enough to do herself a mischief. That’s an extra burden on me, when I already have my hands full, running the household and trying to find ways to make ends meet (like the Vox Political book, Strong Words and Hard Times*).

Meanwhile, what sanctions have been placed upon the DWP officers who have been working on this case?

None at all.

Everyone knows unemployed people claiming Jobseekers Allowance have to sign a ‘Jobseekers Agreement’ in which they agree to meet stringent conditions in order to receive their benefit. In the same way, people on ESA must report changes in their own circumstances and medical health, in order to allow their benefit to be updated correctly. Both arrangements rely on correct and timely administration by the DWP.

But this is not happening – nor is it likely to happen in the future – because, when you check to find what sanctions may be placed on the DWP for failing to uphold its side of the agreement, what do you find?

None at all.

Of course, responsibility for the policy lies not with those who carry it out but with the policy-maker, in this case the Secretary of State, Iain Something Smith. How much will he pay as a penalty for masterminding this failure of a system that has caused so much agony to so many people – and that is costing the taxpayer so much extra money in legal challenges?

I’ll tell you. It’s exactly the same as the amount of remorse the failed, Returned-To-Unit Army bag-carrier showed when he was challenged about the people his policies have killed:

None at all.

There will be no hope for the sick and disabled of this country until those responsible for their persecution are made to pay the price for it.

*Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times may be bought here, here, here, here and here – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.

Benefit Cap Based On Bare-Faced Lie

Vox Political in fact published this information (with only slightly varied figures – £605 pw instead of £670/£612 – in May: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2013/05/25/dwp-denial-with-prejudice/
However, it is information that bears repeated exposure to the public because – as Johnny Void points out here, and I pointed out before – the benefit cap is indeed based on nothing more than a bare-faced lie.

Syria: The right decision for the wrong reason?

A statesman emerges: Ed Miliband's decisions on Syria have revealed courage and determination to do what is right. They show he has the potential to be a great British statesman.

A statesman emerges: Ed Miliband’s decisions on Syria have revealed courage and determination to do what is right. They show he has the potential to be a great British statesman.

It looked as though we were all heading for another pointless adventure in the Middle East, but a day in politics really is a long time, isn’t it?

On Tuesday evening, there seemed to be consensus. The leaders of the main UK political parties had met to discuss the situation in Syria – in particular the evidence that an attack involving chemical weapons had taken place – and had parted in broad agreement that military action was warranted in order to discourage the use of such devices.

But then Labour’s Ed Miliband changed his mind. It seems likely he held a meeting with members of his own party who helped him devise an alternative plan.

In his blog on Tuesday, Michael Meacher laid down several reasons for delaying any new military adventure:

  • The UN weapons inspectors currently working in Syria have not had enough time to find conclusive proof of chemical weapon use. Attacking on the basis of the evidence we currently hold would be reminiscent of the attack on Iraq, where we were assured Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction. We later discovered – to our shame – that he did not;
  • Where 100,000 citizens have already been killed by conventional means, it seems extremely odd to use the deaths of 1,000 by other means as an excuse to wade into the fray; and
  • What about international law? How would Russia and China react if the UN Security Council, on which they both sit, rejected military action but the UK – along with the USA and others – went ahead with it anyway? And wouldn’t this light a powder keg in the Middle East, kicking off a larger, regional conflict – the outcome of which cannot be predicted?

Mr Miliband concluded that it would be far better to wait for stronger evidence and he notified David Cameron that he would be tabling an amendment on Syria when Parliament is recalled today (Thursday). This would insist that a vote should be taken only after the weapons inspectors have delivered their report. He said Parliament should only agree criteria for action – not write a blank cheque (for those who want war).

This writer was delighted – the decision was almost exactly what I had suggested when I responded to a poll on the LabourList blog site, although I had added in my comment that the only decision open to Parliament was to offer humanitarian aid to non-combatants affected by the fighting between the different Syrian factions.

The decision indicated not only that Labour had learned its lesson from the Blair-era decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, but that Mr Miliband had also paid attention to the will of the British people; those opposing another war outnumber those supporting it by around two to one.

Mr Cameron was now in a very difficult position as, without Labour’s support and with only limited backing from his own party, it was entirely possible that he would be defeated if he suggested military action in the Commons today.

Defeat in a major vote is, of course, something that no government voluntarily provokes. He had no choice but to change his mind, and now Parliament is being recalled to approve humanitarian aid and agree to the course of action put forward by Mr Miliband.

So now all my wishes appear likely to be granted.

It is the correct decision. But it was not the decision Cameron wanted. He wanted war.

It is also a decision that has been clearly dictated by the actions of the Opposition leader. Let’s make no bones about it, Ed Miliband called this tune and David Cameron danced to it.

Let’s look at what Michael Meacher had to say about this. It is illuminating because it comes from a backbencher who has been outspoken in criticism of Mr Miliband in the past. He wrote in his blog: “It singles out Ed Miliband as a man of inner strength and integrity who can take the gritty decisions when they are most needed, and this is undoubtedly one of those times… The hardest thing for a Leader of the Opposition to do, bereft of any executive authority, is to challenge the prevailing structure of power and change it or even overturn it. No other Opposition Leader has succeeded in this as well as Ed Miliband.

“We have already seen him take on Murdoch over BSkyB and stop the biggest concentration of media power in UK history in its tracks, and then almost single-handedly block the press counter-attack against Leveson which would have left newspapers as unaccountable as ever.”

So it seems we will see the right decision taken, albeit for the wrong reasons – thanks to the courage, leadership and statesmanship of Mr Miliband.

There’s just one further question: If the big decision is being taken after the weapons inspectors report back, and they are unlikely to do so until Monday (we’re told)… That’s after MPs were scheduled to return to Parliament. The emergency recall is therefore an unnecessary extravagance.

I wonder how much MPs will be allowed to claim for it on expenses?

(Note: This has been written while events continue to develop. All information was accurate at the time of writing.)

An inspector calls: Can YOU help her assess the damage caused by the bedroom tax?

Hugely unpopular: Thousands of people have demonstrated against the bedroom tax on the poor since it was first announced by our government of millionaires - this one was in Glasgow.

Hugely unpopular: Thousands of people have demonstrated against the bedroom tax on the poor since it was first announced by our government of millionaires – this one was in Glasgow.

A United Nations inspector has arrived in the UK to investigate whether David Cameron’s Coalition government has reneged on international agreements giving everybody the right to adequate housing and shelter.

Special rapporteur Raquel Rolnik has been asked to assess whether bedroom tax-related eviction threats that are driving tenants to suicide mean the UK is refusing that right to its citizens – and you can help her with this by emailing your story to her on [email protected]

Come to that, there’s no reason for victims of the ESA assessment regime, for whom loss of the benefit involves a threat of eviction, not to provide their story as well. Is that you? [email protected]

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

An article announcing the visit in the Morning Star (it doesn’t seem to have been picked up by the pro-Coalition newspapers) said the visit was likely to infuriate our comedy Prime Minister, David Cameron.

The article states that he described this country, in a speech to the UN last year, as “a country that keeps its promises to the poorest”.

It seems possible he will argue that under-occupation of social housing – having a ‘spare room’ as defined by his law – means people are getting more than they deserve.

But the government’s clear failure to provide enough social housing of a size and standard appropriate for the 660,000 affected households in the UK – some of the poorest in the country – is likely to weigh against him.

And then there is the fact that the policy has driven people to death.

For example: John Walker, of Marsh Green, Bolton, was found hanged at his home by former partner Susan Martin in May. He had been worried about mounting financial problems, worsened by being forced to pay extra rent on his home under the bedroom tax. A suicide note was found in the property.

And Greater Manchester Against the Bedroom Tax’s Mark Krantz told the Morning Star of an eviction in Oldham where bailiffs discovered the tenant had also hanged himself, and was dead.

These two deaths pale into insignificance, of course, when compared with the monumental death toll caused by the Department for Work and Pensions and its assessment regime for Employment and Support Allowance. The plan, which aims to knock as many sick and disabled people off-benefit as possible – for any reason at all – has led to thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of deaths as claimants’ health conditions have overtaken their bodies’ ability to cope, or the prospect of destitution or being a financial burden on friends and family has forced them into suicide. The DWP is currently refusing to issue figures on the number of deaths that have taken place, among those either claiming or appealing, since the start of 2012 – and it is believed that this can only be because the numbers are far greater than the already-appalling 73-a-week average that was revealed for 2011. No figures are known for the 70 per cent of claimants who have been marked “fit for work” and thrown off the benefit altogether, who have not appealed against the decision. The DWP does not monitor their well-being at all.

Ms Rolnik is expected to meet with government officials, non-government organisations, housing associations and individuals in a tour of England and Scotland.

But to get a full picture of the situation here, she needs to hear from real people who have become victims of the robber-government’s punitive policies. She needs to hear from you: [email protected]

Disabled? There’s only one way to make Atos ESA assessors understand your condition

Insanity: Apologies for using this image yet again but it perfectly encapsulates the lunacy that is rampant in the Department for Work and Pensions, headed up by Iain 'I believe' Smith.

Insanity: Apologies for using this image yet again but it perfectly encapsulates the lunacy that is rampant in the Department for Work and Pensions, headed up by Iain ‘I believe’ Smith.

We’re all getting to the point now, aren’t we?

You know what point I mean; the point where we realise that we can no longer afford to believe our dealings with the Department for Work and Pensions – including any of its representatives – involve contact with rational human beings.

There is nothing rational about DWP decisions. We’ve known that all along, but now we have enough evidence to prove it.

Look at the Daily Mirror‘s story today: Almost half of the ESA claimants who are known to have progressive conditions like Parkinson’s, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis are being refused admission to the support group.

Instead, they’ve been put into the work-related activity group, which means they are expected to recover from these permanently-disabling ailments to a point at which they could look for work.

This is, of course, impossible.

All doctors know it is impossible.

Atos assessors are said to be doctors. Therefore they should know it is impossible.

An Atos spokesperson, quoted in the article, tried to cover the company’s arse by saying decisions are made by the DWP.

The DWP spokesperson said, “There is strong evidence working can be beneficial for many people who have a health condition.”

Like Parkinson’s?

A condition like that of the gentleman quoted in the report, who gave up working six years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and who can no longer do even basic things?

Nobody can say he didn’t try to keep going for as long as he possibly could. But he was repeatedly told he would be able to recover from his progressively worsening condition and work again, and now the DWP is refusing to carry out any more assessments on him.

Closer to home, Mrs Mike – my own long-suffering significant other – first began experiencing the chronic pain that eventually stopped her from working in 2001. She soldiered on for a further two years before being signed off work by her doctor after spending a lengthening series of time on sick leave.

Her condition has worsened progressively since then, resisting all attempts at treatment. She was granted Incapacity Benefit but this was changed to ESA last year. She was put in the work-related activity group but appealed against this after being told by a work programme provider that she would not be healthy enough to work by the time her benefit ended, and that she should seek reconsideration (or appeal) with a view to being put in the support group.

She did this, but the DWP has sat on the request for almost six months without doing anything, waiting for her benefit period to end so she could be signed off and claimed as a “positive benefit outcome”. This finally happened, two weeks ago.

They say she must be fit for work now. In fact, her health is worse than ever.

Irrational.

And – as this is the prevailing attitude at the DWP – we can say that the DWP attitude as a whole is irrational.

(We know the DWP monitors this site, so: Hello, DWP snooper! Are you aware you’re quite mad?)

It’s reminiscent of the stories about amputees being asked when their limbs were likely to grow back. That, too, was irrational.

It does offer a way out, for those people under threat from these idiots and the Atos employees working for them. Not a particularly nice way, as you’ll see – but probably the only way that will work:

Anyone going to a work capability assessment takes an able-bodied friend with them. As soon as they are alone with the assessor, the able-bodied friend rips the Atos employee’s lower jaw off and destroys it. It doesn’t matter how.

(I told you it wasn’t a particularly nice way!)

For the claimant, and their friend, this course of action leads to a secure future in prison, where their bed and board will be supported by the taxpayer (albeit at considerably greater expense than if the DWP had just put them in the support group).

For the assessor, it provides insight into the plight of those he or she has been working with; sometime in their own future, they will know exactly how it feels to have one of their own colleagues asking, “How long before it grows back and you can get back to work?”

Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that anyone should actually go out and perform such a heinous act on a (so-called) medical professional.

But I maintain that they will never accept the seriousness of your condition unless they are made to suffer it – or something similar – themselves.

The death of satire – an important appeal

Vox Political published an article on this subject a week ago – http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2013/08/19/who-will-unofficially-sponsor-david-camerons-next-prime-ministerial-statements/ – and it is good to see that others are finding inventive ways to publicise what could be an enormous Act of repression. Please support this.