In the words of (among other Tories) George Osborne, let us be clear: Universal Credit is an Unmitigated Catastrophe.
It appears to be designed, not to help people into worthwhile, high-paying work but to lock them into poverty by ensuring they never earn enough not to be penalised by the system – for failing to earn enough.
Iain Duncan Smith has claimed he may resign over George Osborne’s plan to grab cash from UC. This should be no surprise because the two have been enemies for years.
His departure would be welcome but would do nothing to end the suffering of the millions he has parked in benefit dependency – or the millions more to which Osborne intends to do the same.
It is unfortunate that Labour has not taken the opportunity to attack the very existence of Universal Credit, which has cost something like half a billion pounds, according to some commentators.
Meanwhile, Tories like Owen Paterson – of all people – have attacked Osborne’s plan, saying it “kills stone dead the narrative that we are on the side of people who work”.
Nice of him to admit that it was just a story. It also shows that the Tories have painted themselves into a corner:
If they cut tax credits, they attack people who work; if they change Universal Credit, they attack people who work. So ends the “narrative” of the Conservatives as the “party of the workers”.
A plan being considered by George Osborne to reduce the generosity of universal credit could cost some families more than £700 a year, Labour have said.
Owen Smith, the shadow work and pensions secretary, produced the figures in response to reports that Osborne is considering changing the taper rate that applies under universal credit in the hope of saving around £1.5bn a year.
Currently it is set at 65% – meaning that for every extra £1 claimants earn above a threshold, they lose 65p – but Osborne is looking at a proposal to increase this to 75%. He needs the money to help fund measures to reduce the impact of the tax credit cuts that were rejected by the House of Lords.
But raiding the universal credit budget is currently the subject of a fierce Whitehall battle because Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, wants to keep taper rates as they are.
Whilst considering their mental health, the claimant was asked by the panel whether they ever used Facebook. The claimant replied that they did so ‘now and again’.
After all the evidence had been taken, the claimant and their representative returned to the waiting room while the tribunal made their facebook logodeliberations.
However, when they were called back before the panel to hear the decision, the claimant was accused of lying to the tribunal. The medical panel member had the claimant’s Facebook page open on their smartphone and was reading from it, clearly taking the view that the number of posts was too frequent to be regarded as ‘now and again’.
Because the evidence gathering phase of the appeal had ended, the claimant was not allowed to respond, they could only listen to the decision of the tribunal in shocked silence.
Thus they were given no opportunity to challenge the accusation that they were lying or to explain that their partner also used their Facebook page.
The BPS have cited a growing body of evidence that seriously ill people are being inappropriately subjected to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Psychologists also argue that the WCA does not effectively measure fitness for work and that its application is producing inappropriate outcomes for claimants.
The Society’s call for reform has gained momentum, with more than 20,000 people signing a petition to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and representatives of the charities Mind, the National Autistic Society and Rethink Mental Illness delivered the petition on Thursday, 5 November.
The highly problematic WCA is used to determine whether someone applying for employment and support allowance is “fit for work.” The charities say flaws in the test are causing a great deal of stress and anxiety. In some cases people are being wrongly assessed as fit for work, which can have devastating financial and personal consequences.
Placards at a protest by junior doctors in London in October. Photograph: Jane Stockdale/Rex Shutterstock
An open letter to members of the British public from Dr Rob Galloway.
I am writing for your help in trying to stop the unprecedented damage happening to the NHS. Please read, share, like, tweet and tell your friends.
As someone who has the privilege of working for the NHS as an A&E doctor, I see first hand what is happening. Please trust the real doctors and not the spin-doctors.
The NHS is on its knees and unless things change, it may not survive. It has been attacked, part privatised, demoralised and starved of funds.
We have tried to highlight what is going on; through the media, marches, speeches and endless tweets and face-book posts. But it is not working. Things are getting worse and the NHS, which we all care so much about may soon no longer, be able to care for us.
The David Cameron caganer. Isn’t it just like the real thing?
Here’s a perfect Christmas decoration to light up your home!
British Prime Minister David Cameron has been unveiled as one of 2015’s new Christmas ‘caganers’. He joins … other politicians, celebrities and famous characters who have been immortalised by the Spanish tradition.
‘El Caganer’ – literally ‘the crapper’ or ‘the s***ter’ – is a figurine which traditionally depicts a young peasant from Catalonia, sporting a red cap and smoking a pipe, defecating behind Mary and Joseph. The website, Caganer.com, produces modern versions representing celebrities and authority figures.
According to Caganer.com: “The Caganer is a likeable, well loved and respected figure in the typical Catalan Nativity crib. He is not meant as a jest, rather just the opposite, it is a type of homage to his/her personality, and the office and activity he/she represents.”
The somewhat scatalogical addition is a popular addition to nativity scenes in Catalonia, and neighbouring areas influenced by Catalan culture such as Andorra, Valencia and Northern Catalonia. Spreading as far as Portugal and southern Italy, El Caganer is said to symbolise fertilisation, as well as bringing luck and prosperity for the year ahead.
You can buy your very own David Cameron caganer from Caganer.com here.
And remember – the Cameron caganer doesn’t have to be exclusively for Christmas!
Why not put him on your mantelpiece afterwards, as a reminder of what Cameron and his Conservatives do to the UK, all year round?
It’s true – the DWP suspended repeat work capability assessments of Employment and Support Allowance claimants on January 20, 2014 and – thanks to figures This Writer received from the Department last week, Vox Political can reveal that the number of people who died while claiming incapacity benefit started to drop shortly afterwards.
Unfortunately, the numbers revealed are low – meaning that This Writer cannot claim they are statistically significant – that the results we have are not from random chance. There could be several reasons for that, though.
I won’t tell this story from the beginning because, by now, many of you will know it by heart. My freedom of information request on the number of incapacity benefit claimants who died after November 2011 was answered in part on August 27, when the DWP released figures up to the end of February 2014. As my request was for figures to May 28 that year, I demanded the rest. The DWP countered with a claim that I should send in another FoI request for those figures, but I disagreed strongly and the Information Commissioner’s Office sided with me. I had those figures last Friday.
The headline figure was that, between March 1 and May 28, 2014, a total of 8,640 incapacity benefits (ESA, IB and SDA) claimants died. That’s 97.08 per day, compared with 98.83 per day for the period December 1, 2011-February 28, 2014.
This means 156 fewer people died between March 1 and May 28, 2014 than between any equivalent period from December 2011 – February 2014.
In percentage terms, it’s a drop from 0.36 per cent of the incapacity benefits population to 0.35 per cent – as I mentioned, statistically insignificant.
It does seem reasonable, though, to take this as an indication that the work capability assessment has contributed to the deaths of claimants.
And there are mitigating factors. The average number of deaths and percentage from the 2011-14 cohort refers to a much longer period of time, during which the incapacity benefits population fell by more than 100,000 before starting to rise again – significantly, in figures relating to February 2014, after the moratorium on repeat assessments began.
The DWP stopped referring repeat assessments to Atos (for it was that company) on January 20, 2014, meaning that some of the drop in the number of deaths is likely to have occurred between then and the end of February, lowering the average number of deaths in that period.
But the result of some repeat assessments may not have been known until the March-May period, raising the average number of deaths that happened then.
And the DWP would have us believe that it has altered the work capability assessment in response to criticism. Its own figures show that, between December 2013 and December 2014, the percentage of claimants qualifying for ESA rose from 73 to 75, during a time when the number of claims has been increasing.
Undoubtedly there may be other influences which This Writer has not identified.
It seems unlikely that the DWP will volunteer any more accurate information – especially if the figures support critics of the Department. And, with the current plan to charge an exorbitant amount for ‘Freedom’ of Information requests – a contradiction in terms that the Conservative Party seems only too willing to overlook – it seems unlikely we will see any numbers for the rest of 2014 (after the number of repeat assessments flatlined completely).
Knowing what we do about the performance of the Department for Work and Pensions – and in anticipation of some further information soon to be released by This Blog – the following announcement by the DWP is in phenomenally bad taste:
Over the last three years, the Department for Work and Pensions has handed out £139.9 million in bonuses to its staff – £124.37 million of which has gone to Senior Civil servants.
In the year ending April 2015, the DWP paid out £42.1 million, slightly less than the year before when bonuses totalled £46.5 million.
The DWP has insisted that bonuses are only paid to employees whose work is consistently good or outstanding.
In response to that, the obvious question is: By whose standards?
This is the government organisation that has hounded thousands – perhaps millions – of people off of state benefits which they deserved to have, leaving more than half of the people found ‘fit for work’ by late 2012 with no income at all.
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