Whistleblower: Enrico La Rocca deserved protection as a whistleblower but the DWP ignored that in order to sack him.
The PCS union has asked for members to send messages of support to a whistleblower after the Department for Work and Pensions broke rules by dismissing him.
Perhaps we should all do the same?
Would that send an appropriate message?
Here’s the story:
The DWP dismissed Enrico La Rocca, an employee for more than 27 years, then working in Preston Carers’ Allowance unit, in May.
Mr La Rocca had highlighted serious concerns about the department’s handling of CA overpayments over a number of years.
His concerns were taken up by the National Audit Office (NAO), whose investigation resulted in a report revealing that the DWP’s own 2019 internal audit had found two-thirds of earnings-related CA overpayments over £2,500 could have been stopped earlier, if DWP officers had looked at all the data-matching alerts produced by its systems.
A subsequent Work and Pensions Select Committee report into these concerns said the DWP was “culpable” for the Carers Allowance overpayments due to “administrative failure”
The committee’s chair referred to “shocking ineptitude” in the handling of the overpayments.
The committee recommended that the department should write off the overpayments, rather than continue to prosecute claimants.
The DWP took little action to address these concerns, so Mr La Rocca sought to have them taken up as a whistleblowing complaint by the Civil Service Commission.
This was refused, due to a lack of a proper internal investigation by the DWP; the commission refused to consider the whistleblowing complaint until the department responded to the concerns internally.
Meanwhile, concerned by media reports of claimants having cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) despite the DWP’s failures to address these serious issues, Mr La Rocca contacted the Crown Prosecution Service to ask for disclosure of the NAO report to the court – in order to ensure a just decision could be made.
It was this – the effort to contact the CPS and request that the NAO report, already in the public domain, was shared with the court – that was used by DWP as justification for his dismissal.
As far as the PCS union is concerned, Mr La Rocca’s decision to contact the CPS was part of ongoing whistleblowing, addressing a clear and legitimate concern.
Therefore he should have been provided with whistleblower protection and not dismissed, according to the union.
PCS is supporting Mr La Rocca in challenging his dismissal, taking legal advice on his behalf to seek his reinstatement via an Employment Tribunal.
In its story, PCS has requested that any branches wishing to pass on messages of support to Mr La Rocca and his branch in opposing what the union’s members believe is an unfair and unwarranted dismissal can email either [email protected] or [email protected]
As a former Carers’ Allowance recipient who has just been contacted – nine months after I closed my claim – by the DWP, seeking details of my earnings during the period of my claim, I’m quite keen to send my own support to this man – who was obviously doing valuable work.
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A man had to be referred to a mental health crisis team after the Department for Work and Pensions stopped his disability benefit.
Aaron Calver, 29, is on the autism spectrum and has Asperger’s syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, anxiety and depression. He struggles to cope with everyday tasks and has received disability benefits since he was 15.
But that did not stop the DWP from calling him to an assessment of his right to receive Personal Independence Payment, and then cancelling it.
It seems he was told he was able to work and should be doing so – but it also seems the assessor did not check his ability to manage this.
His mother Hazel said she tried to explain the realities of Aaron’s life, but the assessor would not listen and put her down.
She said the decision had affected Aaron deeply. He was not sleeping properly, had to be referred to the mental health crisis team and the doctor had increased his medication.
She said she felt he was being punished because of the way he was born.
Including the loss of her Carers’ Allowance, the family is now £700 a month worse off.
The DWP has said they can ask for a review of the ruling, and in the meantime they still have Aaron’s Employment and Support Allowance which, at £500/month, leaves them with less than half what they formerly had to support themselves.
Complaints against assessments have skyrocketed from 142 in 2015-16 to 9,320 in the year to February 2019. Anybody unhappy with a review can then appeal – and nearly three-quarters of these (73 per cent) are successful.
For This Writer, the claim that Mr Calver was being punished because of what he is – the way he was born – has deeply sinister overtones.
I have suggested for many years that the DWP has been implementing a Tory-run programme aiming to eliminate people with serious disabilities from society.
They simply find any excuse to cut these people off from the benefit system, forcing them into poverty and despair.
The end result – as we have seen in many cases over the last few years – is that, if their disabilities or failing health due to the forced imposition of poverty don’t kill them, they may end up taking their own lives due to despair.
The attitude seems to be that people, who are unable to work for the pittance the Conservative Party calls a living wage, are “useless eaters”, as described by the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.
And just as the Nazis believed, it seems the Tories think the UK would be better-off if those people were cut off from society and the support it offers.
The only difference is that the Nazis went to the lengths of killing these people themselves; the Tories do it indirectly by benefit denial.
Now the Tories are seeking re-election for another five-year Parliamentary term, in order to continue causing this suffering and death – and possibly to extend it to other families.
Your family, perhaps.
Are you really willing to risk that? Would you use your vote to support this barbarity?
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Hollie Stonehouse: She looks happy and healthy enough, but in fact she suffers from a highly debilitating condition that your Tory government simply doesn’t understand [Image: The Gazette].
The DWP has provided its standard off-the-shelf comment – that decisions are based on all the information and Hollie’s family can always appeal.
The statement fails to mention the fact that the DWP does not acknowledge variable conditions. A claimant can be unable to move one day, but if it is possible for them to function in any way on another occasion then they are perfectly healthy as far as the minority Tory government is concerned.
It is a nonsense, and it ruins lives for the sake of a few farthings.
Somebody should send every Conservative the following:
Universal Credit is not the only benefit the Tories are misusing to harm the poor.
Seven-year-old Jack Woods has a condition which means only half of his heart is capable of working and he is unable to control his own body temperature.
It means his family have to heat their house all the time – even in the summer – but the Tories have decided he is not worth saving and have cut his disability benefits, child tax credit, and his mother’s carer’s allowance.
The family of a boy whose rare heart condition means he can’t control his own body temperature are struggling to get by – because they can’t afford to heat their home.
Jack Woods, seven, had his first heart operation at just six-days-old and was later diagnosed with the heart condition Tricuspid atresia which meaning only half of his heart is capable of working.
The illness means that he can’t control his own body temperature and is always cold – so mum Ashleigh, 31, has to keep the family’s heating on all year round.
The family have been spending up to £200 a month on heating bills over the summer.
But Jack’s disability benefits and child tax credit has now been cut – as well as his carer’s allowance – thanks to government cutbacks.
After an appeal was made, the claim was denied for the second time and Ashleigh is currently waiting for a tribunal date to be set.
Ashleigh, from Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, said: “They stopped the benefits without any warning or assessment… We have lost around £1,700 a month in benefits and we are struggling to keep the heating on, especially now it’s colder.”
Note: You may be wondering why the image accompanying this article is of a cute cat (that happens to be blue). It refers to a tweet by This Site’s good friend and fellow campaigner Samuel Miller:
I wouldn't have to campaign on Twitter if Britain's benefit claimants were cute and furry cats and dogs—or lions named Cecil.
The headline is no joke. Based on the plans revealed by the BBC, if the Conservative Party is re-elected in May, all but the richest of us can look forward to the death of a loved one – perhaps many loved ones.
They’ll have to hang signs over entry points into the UK: “Conservative Britain, 2015-2020: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”. At least now we know why David Cameron was determined not to reveal any details of the proposals to cut £12 billion from the benefits budget.
Chequebook euthanasia play a prominent role, and it is clear that the plan is to push as many benefit claimants into destitution as possible while encouraging suicidal thoughts. It has already worked with many people on Employment and Support Allowance; they want to spread their version of Aktion T4 more widely.
Top of the proposals is the replacement of the Industrial Injuries Compensation Scheme with an insurance policy provided by companies. Any not doing so would become members of a default national industrial injuries scheme, similar to the programme for asbestos sufferers. This is the long-anticipated arrival of private health insurance in the British benefit system; we have been expected this ever since Peter Lilley invited the criminal American firm Unum into the then-Department of Social Security in the 1990s. Vox Political predicts that nobody taking out such insurance will ever receive a payout on it; it will be run by Unum.
The DWP predicts that £1 billion will be cut from the benefits budget. The human cost might be significantly higher, especially when you consider the following:
Carer’s Allowance may be restricted to those caring for somebody eligible for Universal Credit. We know already that Universal Credit has been designed to prevent genuinely sick and disabled people from receiving their benefit, and that Universal Credit doesn’t work; this attack on their carers will tip both deep into poverty. Leaked documents suggest about 40 per cent of carers would lose their payments, despite the fact that they genuinely need the money.
The DWP hopes to cut another £1 billion from its bills with this. As it ties in with current chequebook euthanasia programmes, expect many thousands of deaths.
Employment and Support Allowance and Job Seekers Allowance claimants may be denied the privileges that should be afforded to them by virtue of having paid enough National Insurance contributions; your record will not count if you claim these benefits. The plan here is to cut benefits for more than 300,000 families – by around £80 per week. Those on ESA may have carers who will also lose their benefit, therefore we can conclude that this is another planned area of chequebook euthanasia.
Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payments and Attendance Allowance (for over 65s who have personal care needs) would be taxed in order to cut payments by around £1.5 billion a year (based on IFS Green Budget calculation ). Many of those claiming these benefits will also be claiming ESA and will have carers as well, so chequebook euthanasia – again – applies. Who knows how many will live to see the 2020 general election if the Tories gain another term in May?
Council Tax Support may be incorporated into Universal Credit. This blog is prepared to be corrected on this, but wouldn’t that mean the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament (and the Northern Irish Assembly if it runs a relief scheme) would be unable to pay the council tax demanded under the Pickles Poll Tax that came in after Council Tax Benefit was scrapped? This would cut funds to claimants of ESA, JSA, DLA, PIP, AA, carers, and those claiming Housing Benefit and therefore – again – the government is opening itself to accusations of chequebook euthanasia.
Child Benefit may be limited to the first two children in any family. How nice that the Tories may be planning to spring this on families without enough prior warning. This writer would suggest that 18 years’ warning is necessary, to clear the books of people who could reasonably have expected child benefit to be paid as it always has. What about those having triplets? Apparently little would be trimmed from the benefit budget at first, but up to £1 billion might be kept, every year, in the long term.
Regional Benefit Caps – instead of £26,000, the Tories are planning to cut its already-too-low Benefit Cap to £23,000 – and then vary it still further in different parts of the UK. Londoners would receive the top amount due to the higher cost of living; people in rural areas could be forced out of their homes by this.
The leaked documents were prepared by civil servants and commissioned by Conservative Party officials.A spokeswoman for Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of previous state-sponsored pogroms against the poor, sick and disabled, told the BBC: “This is ill informed and inaccurate speculation… Officials spend a lot of time generating proposals – many not commissioned by politicians… It’s wrong and misleading to suggest that any of this is part of our plan.”
In other words, this will definitely happen if the Conservatives are elected in May.
This blog has made much of Labour’s own failure to plan the scrapping of the homicidal Work Capability Assessment if that party is elected into office in May (the other parties’ plans aren’t as important; they won’t be running a government for the next five years). Labour is still wrong to inflict it on people who have illnesses and disabilities through no fault of their own.
However, faced with a choice between the Tories’ certain death and Labour’s possible death, the decision should be obvious.
If spared, when I become a pensioner I will vote in every election I can; as a person who no longer makes any direct contribution to the national economy it will be the only way I can exert any influence.
Of course I won’t be voting for anyone whose policies seek to reduce my influence even further – say, by cutting my state-apportioned income, thereby making it harder for me to pay my bills and buy the things I like to buy (which thereby influences the economy. If relatively poor people like me don’t get to show retailers what we like, they’ll simply look to those who do have money – the ever-increasingly rich – and will tailor the market to suit those people and their price points; I will be priced out of the market).
Francis Maude seems to have forgotten this. He has decided that pensioners need to learn how to use government-run Internet sites in order to gain access to crucial services in the future.
Not for them the simple pleasure of spending their dotage playing the latest iteration of Farmville on Facebook, or Angry Birds, or the current ‘Waste-Your-Time-Saga’ – no!
If they want to make sure the right person gets lasting power of attorney over them, if they become mentally or physically incapacitated, or if they want to claim Carer’s Allowance, or for who-knows-what other service, they’ll have to learn how to log in “because we think that is a better thing for people’s lives,” according to Mr Maude.
Note the lack of any evidence base for this claim. And whose lives will be better as a result? The rich taxpayers who won’t be footing the bill for expensive pensioner services because poor granny or granddad can’t figure out how to claim them anymore? (Note: The experience of Universal Jobmatch shows that government websites are notoriously bad at providing helpful information and good at exploiting their users. Indeed, if Jobmatch is any yardstick, we may have an entire generation of geriatric pole-dancers and prostitutes in our collective future.)
But fear not! Help is at hand. According to the Telegraph: “Mr Maude said that online ‘refuseniks’,” – you see, he already has the derogatory nickname ready – “who did not want to use computers would be able to apply for a one-off lesson … to help them get on to the internet.”
“A one-off lesson”? Doesn’t Mr Maude understand that learning becomes much harder as people become older? The article goes on to say that there are an estimated five million people in their 80s and 90s who have never used the Internet. It’s a little late for them to start now!
Come to think of it, Mr Maude’s a bit long-in-the-fang himself – but these creatures never consider how they might cope with what they’re imposing on others. He won’t have to – he’s rich. He’ll have someone else to do it for him.
Poorer pensioners are unlikely even to be able to afford a computer, let alone learn how to use it. Mr Maude is deliberately setting them up to lose their statutory services.
His excuse will be that the services are there but people aren’t bothering to use them.
What a verminous rat.
It seems a strange way to treat the section of the electorate that has been most useful to Conservatives. Pensioners are the most faithful voters, and many of them have been faithful to the Conservative Party more than others, believing the Tories have treated them well.
Mr Maude has no intention of treating pensioners well.
The Conservative Party now wishes to stab the elderly in the back (metaphorically, if not literally, but the effect will be the same: Poorer pensioners will be sent to an early grave. This will further skew the apportionment of the national pension fund, into which we all pay. Even now, affluent pensioners receive more from the fund because their longer lives give them more opportunity to draw money out; under this scheme, there will be even fewer poor pensioners and they will die sooner).
Returning to the point made at the start of this article: When I am a pensioner I will most assuredly vote in every election I can – and I’ll be voting against the Tories.
Can I rely on every current pensioner to do the same?
Who should be more ashamed that Peter Lumb (left) has been summonsed because he is unemployed and does not have the cash to pay his council tax bill? Mr Lumb himself? Or George Osborne (right) for creating a system in which people like Mr Lumb are thrown away by indifferent employers?
“Why are you ashamed of being on benefits?”
One of our commenters asked this of another after they admitted that being on benefits made them feel ashamed. It took me completely by surprise as at first I thought it was aimed at me. Then it occurred that it might have been a general question aimed at anybody on benefits. Only then did I see that it was a response to someone else who had said as much.
In the period between reading the comment and realising what it was about, my mind went through several different thought processes which, in the spirit of Douglas Adams, we may call the Why, How and Who phases. The first could be characterised by the question, ‘Why should I feel ashamed?’; the second by the question, ‘How could shame be an appropriate response?’; and the third by the question, ‘Who should feel ashamed?’
Let’s look at the first. I’m on a benefit; I receive Carers’ Allowance. I feel no shame whatsoever for being in receipt of it. Here’s why:
I quit my last (full-time) news reporting job in mid-2007 to become a full-time carer for Mrs Mike. As everyone reading this probably knows by now, Mrs M has been in a great deal of pain for a great deal of time, and her condition has been worsening. In 2007 the government of the day acknowledged this by putting her on Disability Living Allowance (she was already on Incapacity Benefit), and this meant that I could get the allowance if I was looking after her for more than 35 hours a week. I jumped at the opportunity.
Yes – it was an opportunity. You see, conditions at work had been worsening of late. For the hours I was being asked to work, my pay packet had been decreasing, in real terms, year-on-year. Recently the company had decided to move the office where I worked to the far edge of the patch I covered, forcing me to drive 82 miles there and back, every day. I was tired, I felt misused, and I was starting to go into debt. Swap this for benefits? For me, it wasn’t a decision at all.
Note carefully: My decision to go on benefits made me better-off (I’m not in debt any more) – not because benefits habitually pay more than wages, but because my (former) bosses had been pushing my wages down, in real terms, beyond the point at which I could make ends meet. It was their decision to do so that meant I could not balance my books; it was their decision to move the office that meant I was spending hours every day in transit when I could have been doing something else; it was the same decision that meant I knew I would not be able to cover the patch as well as I wanted to.
I could have made a case for constructive dismissal. This seemed a much more amicable way out.
I don’t think my situation is unusual. Across the UK, millions of employees are probably in the same situation now – or one that is worse. The problem does not lie with them but with their bosses. If any of them had to give up their job for similar reasons, there would be no cause for shame (in my opinion).
The other reason I don’t feel any shame about being on benefits is that I haven’t made that the sum total of my life. I carry out my caring duties diligently – and have gone head-to-head against the Department for Work and Pensions in the course of those duties, as has been reported here many times.
But I am allowed to do other things as well, provided that my earnings do not exceed a certain amount per week. That’s why I was able to work for an internet news service earlier this year (until their funding for me ran out). That’s why I’ve published one Vox Political book already*, with two more on the way.
These are all legitimate – and in fact if the books started bringing in a larger income – enough to support us – I would be overjoyed at the chance to get off-benefit and provide Mrs M with a better quality of life.
What I’m saying is that being on benefits should not put an end to anybody’s ambitions. You might be supported by the state’s (extremely threadbare and fragile, thanks to Lord Fraud’s and Iain Duncan Smith’s interference) safety net, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep working for what you want to do.
This leads me to the answer I found for the second question, ‘How could shame be an appropriate response?’ The only reason a person on benefits should be ashamed of it is if they are not doing everything they can to get back on track – getting into the career they want and earning a living wage from it.
A wiser man once said that the way forward is dedication. If you are able-bodied and you have an ambition to be… I don’t know… a writer, it’s not going to happen straight away – so get a job frying fish down at the local chip shop if that’s what it takes to pay the bills, or go on benefits if there aren’t even menial jobs around, but make sure you spend all your spare time putting in the effort to get that first writing gig, whether it’s journalism, scripting comics, writing gags for radio or TV comedy shows, scripting full-length shows, staging plays on an amateur level with a view to progressing into professional theatre – whatever. The possibilities are endless and anyone who wants to make a living from pounding keyboards will need to try the lot.
And there’s no shame in working for employers who have different beliefs – political, moral, whatever – than yourself. If their dollar is good, then it’s all good experience and (if you are a writer) possible grist for the mill one day. That’s one reason I saw nothing badly wrong with Mehdi Hasan’s application to work for the Daily Mail.
The shame would lie in giving up; turning away from your ambitions and accepting society’s current label for a benefit claimant – being a scrounger. Being a skiver. Being a burden on society. Or never bothering to try in the first place.
So, finally, ‘Who should feel ashamed?’ Not me. Not anybody who has been dropped by their employer because of the downturn, nor anybody who has been trying hard to climb back onto the employment ladder. Especially not those who have been trying so hard, and for so long, that they have suffered mental health problems as a result.
Some people claiming benefits do have a legitimate reason to be ashamed of it. They are the people who are ‘playing’ the system; the benefit fraudsters, the ones who could do better but can’t be bothered, the ones who pretend they are ill when they aren’t.
They total seven people in every thousand benefit claimants. They are a tiny, tiny minority. But they’re not the only ones who should be ashamed.
It seems to me that a far larger portion of shame lies with employers who deliberately push workforce wages downwards, in order to improve their own salaries (and in some cases, shareholder profits – look out, Royal Mail employees). It lies with employers who treat their people as disposable commodities, rather than assets to be nurtured.
And it also lies with governments, past and present, that allowed these practices to go on – and in fact failed to legislate against them; and with politicians who have worked for the advantage of Big Money, rather than that of the Little People who create it.
That’s where the real shame lies.
Not with folk like you and me who’ve got patches on every pair of trousers they own.
But with the people in the expensive suits.
* Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times may be bought here, here, here, here and here, costing £9.99 or £4 – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.
It aims to publicise the results of a survey by Ipsos-MORI, examining public attitudes to the cap. The survey was carried out among more than 2,000 people who were selected to be representative of the UK as a whole.
“The vast majority (70 per cent) of the public think people affected by the benefit cap should be prepared to find jobs or work more hours,” the piece begins. This is accurate, according to the survey being quoted – but it is based on the premise that the benefit cap should be set at £26,000 per year for a workless family, which is significantly lower than what was originally advertised by the DWP – the income of an average working family.
The DWP, imposing the cap, drummed up support by saying it would limit the amount workless families could receive to the same as the average income of a family in work, claiming that this was £26,000. In fact, a working family claiming all the benefits to which it is entitled can get £31,000 – so the cap means workless families are at least £5,000 per year worse-off, a huge gap of 16-17 per cent.
“Two-thirds (65 per cent) say they should be willing to move to a cheaper property,” the release claims – but the Ipsos-MORI report’s summary makes it clear that support for the policy drops to 44 per cent – a minority – and opposition rises to 26 per cent if it means those benefit claimants affected by the cap have to move to other areas to find more affordable accommodation.
The press release, which came out to support the government policy ‘Simplifying the welfare system and making sure work pays’, continues: “Independent research published today (10 October 2013) shows that 60 per cent support the cap even if it means that those affected have to take a job, regardless of the pay.” So now it seems that making work pay is not the objective; cutting wages is the real plan.
“The Ipsos MORI report finds around three-quarters of the public support the benefit cap in principle.” This, at least, is accurate and is no bad thing. Benefits should be lower than wages – they are a safety net that should enable people to carry on living while they find paying work. But in return, employers need to pay a living wage, ensuring that nobody in work has to claim any benefit at all. That, at the moment, is sorely lacking in the UK.
“58 per cent think that politicians needed to do more to reduce the welfare bill.” But they weren’t asked how they thought this should be done, or whether politicians were doing the right things.
“50 per cent think that benefits are too generous.” Among those who’ve received benefits this drops, but surprisingly only to 45 per cent. Among those who haven’t received benefits, 62 per cent thought them too generous.
“11 per cent think the benefits system is working effectively.” But they weren’t asked whether the Conservative-led Coalition was to blame for the poor performance.
At this point, the press release stops quoting statistics – but there is one further piece of evidence that people need to know. It relates to what the people who were surveyed knew about the benefit cap before they answered the questions.
Only 29 per cent knew even a fair amount about the cap before answering the survey’s questions. Of the rest, 42 per cent said they knew “just a little” about it, 18 per cent said they’d heard of it but knew nothing at all about it, and eight per cent had never even heard of it.
So this survey – put out by the DWP as a measure of public support for the Benefit Cap – is in fact a measure of public ignorance.
Why should anybody accept these findings as authoritative? How can we accept the 70 per cent view that people affected by the cap should be prepared to find jobs or work – that’s fewer than those who admitted they don’t know much about it!
In fact, none of these statistics can claim to be authoritative because only a tiny minority of those surveyed knew enough about the subject.
Now look at Iain Duncan Smith’s comment: “Today’s report makes it clear that the public support setting a limit on benefits and the successful delivery of the benefit cap shows we are committed to returning fairness to the welfare state.”
Lie. It shows that most of the public are ignorant about the limit. The successful delivery of a benefit cap set at 17 per cent less than average income shows that he is committed to returning unfairness to the benefit system.
“Claimants affected by the cap need to make decisions about work and housing and what they can afford, just as hardworking families do. We have made sure the support is there to help people back into work and the Benefit Cap and Universal Credit will ensure that work pays.”
Lie. The press release itself states that people are being pressurised into any work they can get – whether it pays or not. Support is not available to get people back into jobs because the jobs aren’t there. And Universal Credit does not work.
The release goes on to state: “Since claimants were first notified of the benefit cap in April 2012, Jobcentre Plus have helped around 16,500 potentially capped claimants into work.” The wording is very careful; notice no mention is made that they moved into work specifically to avoid the cap – Smith and others have been reprimanded over such claims in the past. But the context suggests that the benefit cap is what motivated these people to get jobs, and that is unsupportable as well.
Why is the cumulative effect of the government’s raid on benefits and other public services continuing to be ignored by the public at large?
Are people deliberately sticking their heads in the sand, perhaps in the hope that, if they avoid it long enough, it’ll go away?
That’s not going to happen.
Here’s an analysis of what’s happening, compiled by Vox Political for a local Mid Wales organisation. It makes sobering reading.
THE HEADLINE FIGURES
Working-age benefits including Jobseekers’ Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support
One per cent rise in each of the next three years, from April 2013.
Frozen until April 2014. Will rise by one per cent in each of the following two years.
Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Pay
One per cent rise in each of the next three years.
Carers’ Allowance and Disability Benefits (other than ESA)
Rise in line with inflation (2.2 per cent in April)
Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits
Rise by one per cent for the next three years, from April 2013. Basic and 30-hour elements – uprating will not apply until 2014.
Local Housing Allowance
Capped at a one per cent rise for two years from April 2014
The one per cent cap in those benefits that are affected will take £3.7 million out of the UK economy over the next three years.
THE BENEFIT CAP
A limit will be put on the total amount of benefit that most people aged 16 to 64 can get. This is called a ‘benefit cap’. Local councils will be introducing this between 15 April and 30 September 2013.
This affects: Carer’s Allowance, Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Employment and Support Allowance (barring support group), Housing Benefit, Incapacity Benefit, Income Support, Jobseekers’ Allowance, Maternity Allowance, Severe Disablement Allowance, Widowed Parent’s Allowance (also Widowed Mother’s Allowance or Widows Pension if receipt began before April 9, 2001), Bereavement Allowance, Guardian’s Allowance.
The expected level is £500 per week for couples and lone parents – equivalent to £26,000 per year (net); and £350 per week for single adults.
Across the UK, 56,000 households will be affected by the benefits cap, including 1,680 in Wales. Job Centres have already notified those who will be affected; they do not include “a vast amount” in Powys.
Legal aid in civil cases is cut by £350 million, meaning people who need qualified advice on social welfare debt, benefits, employment, family problems, clinical negligence, divorce and housing problems will not get it. Those people may have to pursue the cases on their own behalf, clogging up the civil justice system, perhaps for years to come.
More than 500,000 people in need of advice will be denied the help and justice they need.
INDEPENDENT LIVING FUND
The Government has closed this to new applications, and plans to permanently close the scheme from 2015. the ILF provides money to help disabled people live an independent life in the community rather than in residential care.
Disabled people could be forced out of independent living arrangements and into residential care, or trapped at home by the fund’s closure.
This will take £320 million out of the national economy.
NEW BENEFIT – THE PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE PAYMENT
On April 8, 2013, the Personal Independence Payment replaces Disability Living Allowance. PIP will maintain links to passported benefits where possible, and there are special rules for claimants who are terminally ill.
The differences are that claimants must have still have their problem nine months after they apply; and there will be planned interventions and an early reconsideration process.
It is being rolled out gradually and will not affect new claimants in Wales until June. From October, claimants on fixed period awards that are coming up for renewal will be reassessed, along with young people coming up to age 16, and indefinite awards with a change of circumstances. Nobody else will be reassessed until October 2015.
There is no PIP claim form available from the usual sources. Claims are to be made by telephone on an 0800 number, when claimants will be asked general questions – including their bank details. Then a form will be posted to the claimant. It will be individually-addressed and bar-coded with the claimant’s details.
This ‘Digital By Default’ idea creates problems, especially in rural areas. Access to broadband internet is still an issue in places, and capability to use the internet is just as much an issue. People who might have access to broadband may still need help going through the claiming process.
For those with fluctuating conditions, the form will provide an opportunity to explain them.
Claimants can have help completing the form, and reports from health professionals such as occupational therapists and doctors may be added to it.
The form will go to a health professional working for the company Capita (in Wales; other parts of the UK have Atos). They may decide a claimant’s entitlement straight away, but most will be asked to attend a face-to-face interview. It is possible that this company may carry out home visits if the need presents itself.
Attendance with a friend, relative, partner, health professional or similar is encouraged.
All evidence will be reviewed and a report will be sent to the Department for Work and Pensions to make a decision.
The health professional will not make any recommendations at all – a DWP case manager will review the evidence and make a decision.
If a claim is disallowed or reduced, they will phone on three separate dates, at three separate times, to explain the decision. There are concerns that claimants with particular issues such as mental health problems might not understand.
Finally, as part of an ongoing process, questions and replies about PIP will be posted on the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page of the DWP’s PIP website, www.dwp.gov.uk/pip
If people are receiving low-rate care component Disability Living Allowance, we believe it is unlikely that they will get Personal Independence Payment.
The www.parliament.uk website itself makes it clear that “A key aim of the new benefit is to deliver savings of over £1 billion a year by 2014-15, rising to £1.5 billion a year by 2016-17.”
HOUSING BENEFIT – THE BEDROOM TAX
People who are working but on low pay, who must therefore claim housing benefit in order to keep a roof over their heads. This means it applies to 93 per cent of people who have claimed housing benefit since the Coalition government came to power.
Separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit). This is likely to cause friction within these former-family groups.
Couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation.
Parents whose children visit but are not part of the household – but households where there is a room kept for a student studying away from home will not be deemed to be under-occupying if the student is away for less than 52 weeks (under housing benefit) or six months (under Universal Credit). Students are exempt from non-dependant deductions, but full-time students will not be exempt from the Housing Cost Contribution (HCC) which replaces non-dependent deductions under Universal Credit. Students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week. Are you confused yet?
Families with disabled children; and
Disabled people, including those living in adapted or specially designed properties (this could mean these people will be required to leave that home for another one, with the added expense of having to re-install all the special adaptations).
The government has withdrawn, under pressure, the application to Foster carers. The original rationale was that foster children were not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes.
It has also withdrawn the application to families of young people serving away from home in the armed forces.
Pensioners will not be affected. The government has clarified that couples in which one member is of pensionable age will both be exempt from the Bedroom Tax. But couples of mixed age claiming for the first time under Universal Credit (after it is introduced – possibly in October this year – will have to wait until both are of pensionable age before being exempted from the charge).
Housing benefit will be restricted to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. However:
Children under 16, who are either both boys or both girls, will be expected to share. This will undoubtedly create many family feuds as puberty is not known for its calming effect on young people.
Children under 10 will be expected to share, regardless of gender. Again, this will create problems for families. It is not a normal situation and it seems bizarre for the government to suggest that it should be.
On the ‘plus’ side, a disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom for that carer. If you have a ‘spare’ bedroom under the new rules, you will lose 14 per cent of your housing benefit; for two or more extra bedrooms, you’ll lose a quarter of your benefit. According to the government’s impact assessment, this means 660,000 people will lose an average of £14 per week (£16 for housing association tenants).
Now for the complications.
After Universal Credit is brought in, if only one member of a couple is over pension age, the bedroom tax will apply to the household. If one is receiving Pension Credit, they will be unaffected.
There are currently six different rates of ‘non-dependent deductions’ – amounts removed from housing benefit according to the earnings of people aged over 18 who live in a household but are not dependent on the tenant for financial support. This will become one flat-rate ‘housing cost contribution’ that will be deducted from housing benefit. It will not apply to anyone aged under 21.
Under UC, each adult non-dependent will get their own room, but each must pay the full, flat-rate housing cost contribution – unless aged under 21 and therefore exempt.
Under UC, lodgers will not get a room allowance but any income is disregarded. They will not count as occupying a room under size criteria rules. Currently any income is taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit, apart from the first £20. As this income is completely disregarded under UC, my best guess is that the government expects this amount to cover any loss in both housing benefit and Universal Credit. I have a doubt about that. Taking in a lodger will also affect home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating them or raising the premiums.
Bedroom tax will not apply in joint tenancy cases.
Until UC comes in, benefits will be protected for up to 52 weeks after death; afterwards the run-on will be three months.
And until UC comes in, tenants will receive 13 weeks’ protection where they could previously afford the rent and housing benefit has not been claimed in the previous year; afterwards, the size criteria will apply immediately. Pre-1989 tenancies are not exempt from the bedroom tax.
Disabled children are not exempt, even though David Cameron wrongly claimed they were.
If you’re on a low income, aged over 40 with children who have left home, or disabled, you could be not only slightly but severely and unfairly affected. It seems likely you will have to choose to either pay the extra amount, or move. Surveys say around a third of tenants will try to move, mainly to one-bedroom properties. This is far more than the government has anticipated in its planning.
There is a national shortage of one bedroom council and housing association homes, meaning many tenants will have no choice but to move into the more expensive private sector or stay put – even though they will not be able to afford the extra costs.
The majority will stay put, but nearly eight-tenths (80 per cent) of those are worried about going into debt, with two-fifths (40 per cent) fearing they will accumulate rent arrears.
The evidence shows that, whether you move or stay put, landlords will lose income which evictions and homelessness will increase. A trial of the benefit changes in Torfaen saw rent arrears rise SEVEN-fold to £140,000 over seven months. This was a trial of Universal Credit, of which Housing Benefit will be a part. From this we can conclude that Universal Credit will create more problems, possibly much worse than what we are facing now.
I am glad to report that the plan to withdraw Housing Benefit from claimants aged under 25 has been withdrawn. But anyone under 35 will be entitled to only the shared accommodation rate of housing benefit.
There will be an impact on family relationships – people will be forced to move into properties together. Young people under 35 who can’t live independently because the shared accommodation route won’t let them do that. People are being forced into ‘pressure-cooker’ situations.
People will have to move their home because of the bedroom tax. That will have an impact – not just on individuals, but on education if a child has to move away from a school where they have friends, to a new area.
The government claims the bedroom tax will save £480 million, affecting £660,000 homes who will have to pay at least £700 per year each. But this is only if families refuse to – or are unable to – move to what the government calls suitable accommodation. There is no chance of this happening because the government has not allowed such accommodation to be built; therefore we may see it as a trap, from which to plunder millions from the poor.
THE WIDER IMPLICATIONS
There will be a rise in rent and mortgage arrears.
There will be generally less income – less money available. That’s also for people owning local businesses as benefit income is spent locally and High Street shops will receive less.
There is a huge risk that more and more people will access ‘lenders without conscience’. Responsible lenders, such as credit unions, are fantastic places to put money, but the services provided are different, depending on the union. They will see more and more people coming to them. That will impact on their business model and the risks will be greater.
An increased demand for advice – for example from the Citizens Advice Bureau – is already happening. The figures will ramp up significantly over the next 12 months and beyond. Funding is decreasing.
There will be a big impact on social landlords and the housing market – the availability of affordable housing and landlords’ ability and willingness to rent to tenants on benefits.
Pressure on the appeal system means people waiting longer for the outcome of appeals.
There will be pressure on public sector resources – local authorities will bear the brunt of this, at a time when they have received difficult financial settlements.
The fund for Discretionary Housing Payments is increasing, though – but not by enough. These payments may help people top-up to pay accommodation costs. Given the effects of the reforms, people will also be looking for these payments and in those circumstances, the budget won’t touch the sides of what’s needed.
And the cumulative impact on child poverty will be huge, with an extra 200,000 children falling below the poverty line.
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