More than half of Universal Credit claimants – and nearly half of those on ‘legacy’ benefits frozen by the Tories – have struggled to pay for essentials like food, or have gone without altogether, new research shows.
Citizens Advice has found that 55 per cent of Universal Credit claimants have gone without essentials such as food, and 51 per cent say they have lost sleep because of their finances.
The charity found 49 per cent of claimants affected by the benefits freeze struggled to meet essential costs such as rent, household bills and food while 40 per cent lost sleep due to money worries in the past 12 months.
Disabled people and people with children were more likely to have gone without essentials such as food and toiletries. Around 44 per cent of disabled people’s households and 45 per cent of households with children went without in the past 12 months.
If you thought This Writer was making up all those stories about sick and disabled people being pushed towards death by benefit deprivation, now you know better!
And just remember: One in every six UK households claims income-related benefits.
The charity is calling on the government to end the freeze on benefit rates that has been ongoing since April 2016, and reduce the five-week wait for Universal Credit claims.
It wants payments uprated by the Consumer Price Index rate of inflation plus two per cent for four years, the Local Housing Allowance recalculated to at least the 30th percentile of local rents and the link with rental prices re-established.
And it wants the first non-repayable payment of Universal Credit brought forward to no later than two weeks into a Universal Credit claim.
Fat chance of that happening under a Boris Johnson government!
And it is important to bear in mind that, while BoJob is botching up Brexit and boring even his own MPs with dull demands for a general election when he can’t get his own way, the Tories are still bringing agony to millions of people with their benefit denial system.
Citizens Advice quoted Danielle, a mother-of-two who said: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through chemotherapy and now I am in remission and health-wise am doing so much better.
“Universal Credit during this time added so much stress that I did not need. My payments were delayed when I went from being self-employed to being off due to needing chemotherapy.
“Thankfully I have family who were able to help me to make sure my rent was paid. And I repaid them when I received my Universal Credit payments. But the stress of thinking I might not be there for my children and how I would pay my bills was at times unbearable.”
The stress was at times unbearable.
The whole point of social security benefits is in the second word of the title: Security.
Only the Conservatives could take something that was intended to make people feel safe while they look for a new source of gainful income, and turn it into a threat against their mental health, and indeed their lives.
But that is what they have done. They’ve been doing it for more than nine years, since they came into office, and they’re doing it as you read this. They will continue doing it until they are stopped.
And the only person who can stop them is you.
Read the full Citizens Advice report, Achieving income security for allhere
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.
How can you trust Citizens Advice help on Universal Credit when you know the organisation has agreed not to say anything about it that harms the Conservative government’s reputation?
The ‘gagging’ contract that Citizens Advice signed in return for £51 million of government funding does stipulate that it is only banned from anything that brings the government “unfairly” into disrepute – but who defines those terms?
It seems clear that this was an attempt to guarantee the silence of the largest organisation dealing with the mountain of problems created by the fundamentally-flawed Universal Credit disaster.
If someone dies as a result of this nightmare of a policy, and Citizens Advice knows about it, may we expect that organisation to do its public duty and blow the whistle?
Or will it cover up the facts, for fear of upsetting the Tories – and perhaps losing some of that fat funding formula?
Never mind the Tory government’s reputation. Before putting pen to paper, the bosses of Citizens Advice should have thought of their own.
Two charities that will receive £51 million in government funding to provide advice and support to claimants of universal credit (UC) signed gagging clauses that prevent them bringing the Department for Work and Pensions “unfairly” into “disrepute”.
Both Citizens Advice (CA) and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) signed grant agreements with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – worth a total of £51 million – that include the same clause.
By signing the documents, it means they cannot take “any actions which unfairly bring or are likely to unfairly bring [DWP’s] name or reputation and/or [DWP] into disrepute”.
He told Disability News Service (DNS) that the grant “does little more than help some people claim universal credit and not address its inherent flaws, it just helps impose UC misery on its service users, through this £51,000,000 bribe.
“Citizens Advice provides help to large numbers of those punished by universal credit, such as disabled people and families who have ended up losing thousands of pounds by claiming UC, vast rises in debt, rent arrears, evictions, survival crime, five week delays in first payments and the horror of its inbuilt benefit sanctions and excessive conditionality.
“Against this background, does Citizens Advice campaign and advocate for universal credit to be stopped and abolished?
“No, it decides to act as a mere duplicitous adjunct of the DWP and even agrees to a grant gagging clause that prevents them from being critical of the DWP.”
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.
Theresa May is coming under pressure over the rollout of Universal Credit [Image: REX].
The problem with Universal Credit won’t be solved by “pausing” its rollout.
The system is inherently flawed, in that it allows Conservatives to harm benefit claimants by – for example – delaying their payments or inflicting unreasonable conditions on them.
It is inherently flawed because in households with more than one earner, the taper rate – the amount of Universal Credit withdrawn as earnings increase – is greater than under the current system of tax credits.
And of course, it is inherently flawed in that it was originally intended to be entirely computerised and in that sense it simply doesn’t work at all.
Put those issues together and the reputational damage to UC – and to the Department for Work and Pensions that spawned it – is too great.
Both should be scrapped.
Britain’s biggest foodbank charity has demanded a temporary halt to a benefits shake-up that’s leaving people stranded without cash for months.
The Trussell Trust said problems with Universal Credit had forced demand on one of its centres up by 67%.
The mammoth all-in-one system is slowly replacing six benefits including jobseekers’ allowance and Tax Credits.
But not only has it been delayed seven times, it’s sparked fury by delaying initial payments [to claimants] who transfer onto the benefit.
MPs have repeatedly heard of people waiting three months for payments to come through.
The Trussell Trust gave out nearly 1.2million emergency food parcels last year, its highest number ever and up from 61,000 in 2010/11.
Chief executive Mark Ward said: “Foodbanks tell us that Universal Credit is inadvertently leaving people without any money for six or more weeks, leading to debt, rental arrears, and poor mental health.
“We are concerned this will only get worse as winter approaches and more pressure will be put on stretched voluntary groups left to step in and help in the absence of other practical support.”
The Trust has joined a call already made by Citizens Advice for the roll-out to be halted “until appropriate emergency financial support is available and accessible to all people left with no income or food in the cupboard.”
Hoax: That’s how the DWP has described many people’s claims for PIP and ESA. In fact, it seems the assessment system itself is the hoax, and the government department the hoaxer. [Image: Getty Images]
If you have a long-term illness or disability but have wondered why you receive low scores on the government’s face-to-face ‘work capability assessment’, here’s why: The software is written to ensure that any information you provide may be ignored.
That’s right – the tick-box test program that the DWP took from criminal American insurance corporation Unum, which had been devised to make people ineligible for insurance payouts, does not take into account any of the claimant’s personal details.
David Daish, a programmer and software tester, went through the PIP assessment process and then provided his professional opinion on the software to Facebook pageAtos Miracles. PIP is the most useful benefit to discuss in this context because the onus is on assessment providers, rather than individual disabled people, to gather evidence from a list of health and social care professionals provided by the claimant.
He wrote: “The software is written so that whatever the assessor writes in the first part of the report, such as history, and anything the claimant tells the assessor, there is nothing whatsoever in the second part, the choosing of descriptors, that is connected to the first part.
“This means nothing is built into the programming to make sure the assessor uses all the evidence that was (hopefully) collected, or was provided elsewhere, and then can subsequently make the right descriptor choice.
“The assessor can basically say anything they like. Nothing in the software forces them carry out the assessment fairly.” [bolding mine]
He went on to describe the software as “little more than a glorified Word document: “A piece of programming that is not integrated in any way, has no checks and balances to make sure the business process it is supposed to support works as it should, that is, the PIP assessment itself, is in my view unforgivable. I’m inclined to think it is deliberate.”
That is a perfectly logical conclusion to draw.
This would suggest that the increased stress, the despair and hopelessness instilled in claimants by the loss of their benefit for no good reason, and the subsequent loss of life through suicide or exacerbation of the health conditions that the assessment system insists do not exist, are also deliberate.
It also makes sense of the apparently-illogical decisions being thrown out by the system all the time. Citizens Advice has stated: “Both Atos and Capita [PIP assessment providers] have made snap decisions about whether PIP claimants must attend a face-to-face assessment. Even when they do request evidence, providers only need to tell claimants who they have asked for it – not whether they actually received any or what it said.”
It seems that any such evidence would be ignored by the assessment software in any case, so it should come as no surprise that Citizens Advice continued: “In the absence of additional evidence, an astonishing 98 per cent of all assessments have been face-to-face… This is adding substantially to the delays and financial hardship experienced by disabled people.
“We now have two different systems for gathering independent evidence in PIP and in ESA, neither of which is working for claimants, assessment providers or the DWP.”
As someone with only limited knowledge of computer programmer, it is probably not for This Writer to comment. But my own knowledge suggests that a teenager from the 1980s could have produced a better program, using BASIC, than Unum and the DWP have managed here. A series of simple ‘IF… THEN’ loops would have ensured that all relevant information was taken into account.
Perhaps this is what we should do.
I don’t mean we should write a BASIC program to show up the inadequacies of PIPAT (the actual assessment system) – rather we should endeavour to produce our own program that performs in the way the public has been led to believe PIPAT does. Then we could run a few assessments through it (the DWP must provide full details of assessments and outcomes if these are requested, so they won’t be hard to acquire) and compare the results.
That’s right – the Citizens Advice Bureau has come under attack from the right-wing Guido Fawkesblog, which is trying to create a story about a haven of “Labour apparatchiks”, operating a politicised agenda behind a mask of neutrality. The email extract above is being presented as justification.
What utter codswallop!
The claim is that the charity, which helps people resolve their legal, money and other problems by providing free, independent and confidential advice, pushes a left-wing or Labour-supporting agenda because it is “stuffed full” of Labour members like “former Miliband aide and Labour candidate Polly Billington”.
In fact, a quick glance through the very email being waved around as evidence is enough to prove the opposite. It leaves no doubt that Ms Billington is leaving her role in Citizens Advice precisely because she knows that taking up her political activities would create a conflict of interest if she were to remain. It’s there in black and white.
The email states: “Polly and I have been thinking carefully about how to make sure this is a smooth transition, so that the campaigns and communications teams are fully supported… and both THE REALITY and perception of our political neutrality are maintained” [boldings and CAPS mine].
That’s right – the intention is to maintain THE REALITY of the charity’s political neutrality.
How did Guido report it? She “has been moved from the front line … so that the ‘perception of our political neutrality’ is ‘maintained’. This is an extremely clumsy misinterpretation because, as noted above, the email refers very clearly to THE REALITY of the charity’s political neutrality.
Indeed, the CAB Code of Conduct prohibits any politicisation of the kind suggested by Guido: “Trustees and committee members must comply with… the avoidance of activities which might compromise Citizens Advice’s political neutrality.”
So where Guido‘s article continues: “Meanwhile, the charity has just hired the Resolution Foundation’s James Plunkett as its new head of campaigns. That would be the same James Plunkett who used to work for Gordon Brown and who has written a string of articles for the Guardian laying into the Tories and “the cuts”. Wonder how they will maintain his ‘perception of political neutrality’,” again it is spouting nonsense. He will be tied into political neutrality by the same code of conduct that ties everybody else in positions of authority, including members of CAB trustee boards across the United Kingdom who may be supporters of the Conservative, Labour, Green or any other party in their personal life, including this writer.
Since the article is clearly trying to suggest the CAB’s political neutrality is only a front, it seems clear that CAB has every right to sue Guido into oblivion – or at least seek compensation for the intended damage to the charity’s reputation.
This seems like another attempt to claim left-wing political bias that isn’t there, in order to install exactly the same kind of sympathy towards the right-wing parties instead – for an example of this strategy, look at the BBC.
Who do you bank with? This piece of public opinion was picked up from Twitter [Author: Unknown].
Isn’t it a shame that on of our national Sunday newspapers has chosen to disrupt everybody’s enjoyment of our Easter eggs with a specious attempt to expose abuses of food banks and make operator the Trussell Trust look hypocritical?
Isn’t it also a shame that the Mail on Sunday didn’t make a few inquiries into the procedure for dealing with people who turn up at food banks without having been referred?
The paper’s reporters and editor could have, at least, opened a dictionary and looked up the meaning of the word “charity”.
Unfortunately for reporters Simon Murphy and Sanchez Manning, both situations are – in fact – allowed, because food banks must be flexible in the way they deal with individual cases. They would have known that if they had done their homework – as yr obdt srvt (who’s writing this) did at several meetings on the organisation of food banks here in Powys.
The paper’s investigation claims that there were “inadequate checks on who claims the vouchers, after a reporter obtained three days’ worth of food simply by telling staff at a Citizens Advice Bureau – without any proof – that he was unemployed”.
It turned out that this person had to fill out a form providing his name, address, date of birth, phone number and the reason for his visit before an assessor asked him why he needed food bank vouchers. In contradiction of the introduction to the story, he explained – not simply that he was unemployed, but that he had been out of work for several months and the harsh winter had left him strapped for cash and food. He said his wife had left her job and was not earning and that they had two children. These lies were sufficient to win food bank vouchers.
What the report didn’t say was how the details given by reporter Ross Slater would have been used afterwards. The CAB would have booked him in for a further interview with a debt advisor, to which he would have had to bring documentary evidence of his situation. When he didn’t turn up, he would have been identified as a fraud. The food bank would also have taken his details, to be fed back into the referral system. Job Centre Plus would have picked up on the fact that he isn’t unemployed. From this point on, he would have been identified as a fraud and refused further service.
You see, it is true that food banks run on a voucher system, but that is only a part of the scheme. The questions asked of people who need vouchers are used to ensure that they get the help they need to avoid having to come back – that’s why they’re asked. They also weed out abusers like Mr Slater.
If the paper’s editor had looked in a dictionary, he might have seen charity defined as “voluntary provision of help to people in need, or the help provided” in the first instance. However, reading further, he would have seen “sympathy or tolerance in judging” listed as well. It seems the Mail on Sunday would have no such sympathy and would have deserving cases turned away to starve.
It is telling, also, that the paper had to go to Citizens Advice to get its evidence. Far more food bank vouchers are handed out in the Job Centre Plus, where all a citizen’s circumstances are available to advisors. But not one word is said about the fact that the vast majority of food bank referrals are for people in real need and not newspaper reporters.
The paper also stated: “Staff at one centre gave food parcels to a woman who had visited nine times in just four months, despite that particular centre’s own rules stipulating that individuals should claim no more than three parcels a year.”
It continued: “Individuals experiencing severe financial hardship are able to claim food vouchers but there are no clear criteria on who should be eligible. Once received, the vouchers can be exchanged for three days’ worth of food at an allotted centre.
“The Trussell Trust has a policy that an individual can claim no more than nine handouts in a year, but undercover reporters found this limit varied in different branches.”
No – it is far more likely that it varied according to the circumstances of the person who needed the help. Rigid rules, such as one that limits people to only three visits, mean those who need the most help would be cut off while they still needed assistance. People working in food banks would be aware of who these were, and would be more likely to be tolerant towards them.
Meanwhile, the other support services – Job Centre Plus, Citizens Advice, Social Services and so on – would be working to help them. With some people, it simply takes longer. It should be easy for anyone to think of reasons why this may be the case.
This may also explain the situation in which a worker at a Trussell Trust food bank said people “bounce around” locations to receive more vouchers. The assessment system is a way of monitoring these people and determining whether they need extra help.
It is not true that the criteria are not clear – the paper is misleading with this claim. Food banks, the charities running them, and referring organisations all have to agree on the circumstances in which they permit people to receive parcels. You really can’t just walk in the door and expect to get a free handout. That’s why the questions are asked and forms filled out – they will check up on everybody.
Another claim – that “volunteers revealed that increased awareness of food banks is driving a rise in their use” is unsubstantiated, and is clearly an attempt to support the government’s claim that this is the case. But it is silly. Of course starving people will go to a food bank after they have been told it exists; that doesn’t mean they aren’t starving.
And the paper wrongly said the Trussell Trust had claimed that more than 913,000 people received three days’ emergency food from its banks in 2013-14, compared with 347,000 in the previous financial year. This is a misreading of the way the charity records its work, as the Trussell Trust records visits, not visitors. It would be hard to work out exactly how many people attended because some will have visited just once, others twice, a few for the full three times, and some would have required extra help.
The claim that many visitors were asylum-seekers is silly because food banks were originally set up for foreign people who were seeking asylum in the UK and had no money or means of support.
Of course it would be wrong to say that nobody is trying to abuse the system. There are good people and bad people all over the country, and bad people will try to cheat. Look at Maria Miller, Iain Duncan Smith (Betsygate), George Osborne (and his former paddock), Andrea Leadsom’s tax avoidance, Philip Hammond’s tax avoidance, Charlotte Leslie who took cash to ask Parliamentary questions – to name but a few.
The Trussell Trust has agreed to investigate the newspaper’s allegations – but it is important to remember that these were just a few instances of abuse, and only claimed – by a newspaper that is infamous for the poor quality of its reporting.
Nothing said in the article should be used to undermine the vital work of food banks in helping people to survive, after the Conservative-led Coalition government stole the safety net of social security away from them.
UPDATE: Already the Mail on Sunday is facing a public backlash against its ill-advised piece. A petition on the Change.org website is calling for the reporter who claimed food bank vouchers under false pretences in order to make a political point to be sacked. Vox Political has mixed feelings about this – it targets a person who was sent out to do a job by others who are more directly to blame for the piece, but then he did it of his own free will and this action brings all newspaper reporters into disrepute. Consider carefully.
Following the bogus Work Capability Assessment (WCA) conducted by Atos Healthcare, as contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the United Kingdom (UK) Government admitted that it was wrong to cut the disability benefits of Mark Wood, the vulnerable disabled man who starved to death following the removal of his benefits, in the 21st century UK, when weighing only 5st 8lbs.
Despite the fact that the WCA was introduced by the Labour Government in 2008, it was originally designed by previous Conservative Governments, in consultation with the notorious American corporate giant now known as Unum Insurance, identified in 2008 by the American Association for Justice as the second most discredited insurance company in America.
Without a welfare state, sick and disabled people in America are required to use private healthcare insurance. The tyranny now imposed on the sick and disabled people in the UK, using the WCA, was designed in consultation with Unum Insurance to oblige the general public to purchase private income protection insurance policies once it was made very clear that chronically sick and disabled people could no longer rely on the British State for adequate financial support.
Americans often suffer when attempting to claim from the income protection insurance policies of Unum Insurance, who use an identical bogus disability ‘assessment’ model as that used by Atos Healthcare.
Due to the similarities of the negative and damaging experiences of claimants, American sick and disabled people are periodically informed about the struggle in the UK by the high calibre and relentless work of Linda Nee, who tries to encourage claimants to publicly protest as witnessed in the UK, which it seems disabled Americans still don’t dare to do – such is the intimidation of Unum Insurance & the American authorities (see here, here and here).
The new report by The Mental Health Welfare Commission for Scotland, regarding a woman’s suicide after being ‘stripped of disability benefits’, was reported by John Pring at the Disability News Service (DNS) and by many others. The Coalition Government knew this carnage would happen.
Three years ago a list of distinguished academics, together with politicians and disability support groups, identified the future in a letter as published in The Guardian newspaper: ‘Welfare reform bill will punish disabled people and the poor.’ Now, three years after this letter was published, questions are being asked as to why the appointed and totally unsuitable Lord Freud, in his capacity as the Minister for Welfare Reform – who was not elected by anyone in the usual democratic way – deemed it necessary for the DWP to stop collating the numbers of deaths recorded after the long-term sickness and disability benefit, Incapacity Benefit, now changed to the Employment Support Allowance (ESA), is removed from claimants. (My emphasis.MS)
Questions are also being asked as to why this unelected former City banker was ever afforded so much authority and power in the UK Government given his reputation, where one commentator described Freud as: ‘…one of the key players in several of the most embarrassing and badly managed deals in investment banking history.’ (See here and here)(My emphasis. MS)
The recent welfare Backbench Business debate in the House of Commons (HOC) was granted due to the 104,000 signatures on the WOW petition, as gathered by disabled people and their carers, who are demanding a cumulative impact assessment of all the welfare reforms. The debate was held on February 27, 2014 where, lamentably, most Coalition Government Members of Parliament (MPs) failed to attend this very important and historic debate. Of course, Coalition MPs still played the ‘blame game’, reminding the opposition that the previous Labour Government had introduced the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
However, the Coalition routinely overlook the fact that they knowingly changed the WCA into the government-funded nightmare that it is today, whilst MPs such as George Hollingbury (Column 430) actually claimed that the Coalition “took it forward”… (Welfare Reform Act 2012) whilst disregarding the fact that a WCA face-to-face assessment with Atos Healthcare is taking over six months to arrange. (Column 433) (My emphasis.MS)
Hollingbury waxes lyrically about all the ‘expert’ opinion (Column 431) that totally failed to expose the dangerous and limited reality of the WCA, not least due to the restricted possible answers in the tick box WCA computer questionnaire, as conducted by Atos Healthcare, that fail to offer the choice of ‘none of the above’ as an additional possible answer when the WCA questions do not refer to a particular claimant’s situation.
Hollingbury quotes Dr Litchfield’s WCA review whilst overlooking the fact that Professor Harrington, who conducted the first three annual reviews into the WCA, when no longer responsible, appeared in a BBC Panorama documentary and confirmed that ‘…people will suffer.’ No government representative can answer the subsequent obvious simple question – why should chronically sick and disabled people ‘suffer’ in the UK, apart from at the whim of a tyrannical government? (My emphasis.MS)
During the historic WOW petition debate, Alan Reid (Column 434 & 435) claims to be proud of his record in government as a Liberal Democrat (Lib Dem), still claiming that Lib Dems in government have been responsible for ‘improving’ the WCA process, whilst totally disregarding the fact that it is irrelevant how much more ‘flexibility’ is given to the DWP ‘Decision Makers’ and overlooking the fact that the ‘Decision Makers’, by their own admission, are totally unqualified for the vast responsibility they have. (My emphasis.MS)
They are basic grade administrators, not medical administrators, and they are incapable of comprehending diagnosis, prognosis or the implications of long term drug use when using a combination of prescribed drugs. (See here and here) More and more DWP bureaucracy with more and more administration means more and more delays, increasing DWP errors and utter chaos with a system clearly in meltdown as more and more victims of this UK government suffer and die. (See here and here) (My emphasis.MS)
Guto Bebb (Column 442) demonstrated that he is very poorly briefed, and doesn’t appear to want to be better informed, claiming that the damning report by the National Audit Office was ‘disappointing’ but insisted that the policy aims were OK. Bebb still seems to think that any sick or disabled person not in paid employment is ‘unproductive’. This disabled researcher begs to differ and, if the MP reads the very detailed published reports (here and here) as accessed by academics at universities throughout the UK, he’d know how incorrect he is.
Dame Angela Watkinson (Column 445) also appears to be remarkably poorly informed, as were various other speakers in this poorly attended yet important debate, who continued to repeat government rhetoric whilst disregarding the detailed evidence that has exposed the realities behind the ‘reforms’ as paving the way for private insurance to replace the once-hallowed UK Welfare State.
Since being introduced by the Conservative Government in 1992, all UK Governments have used the second worst insurance company in America as “government advisers” on welfare reforms, and the dangerous and totally discredited WCA is the result. (See here and here)
Jim Sheridan’s comments (Columns 448,449) were especially welcome during the debate when making reference to the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) that has replaced DLA: “Reference has already been made to the obsession with people receiving welfare benefits, but for those with money – the tax avoiders and evaders – life goes on as normal. If only a fraction of the resources used and the time spent on chasing down those on welfare benefits was diverted to tackle tax avoidance and evasion, some people might understand the rationale behind it.”… “When people finally hear about their assessments, there is not much hope. Only 15.4 per cent of new claims have received a decision, and only 12,654 of the 220,300 people who have made a new claim since April 2013 have been awarded some rate of PIP. A constituent of mine got in touch because her father had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Because there is a possibility that his treatment will work, giving him a life expectancy of up to five years, he has not been classed as terminally ill. He is not well enough to attend a medical assessment and so will have to wait longer for a home visit. It appears that letters from his GP, cancer doctor and cancer hospital are not enough to prove the seriousness of his illness.”… “Inclusion Scotland has highlighted the case of the father of an applicant who was told that they would have to wait at least 10 months for any kind of decision, and perhaps even for a first assessment. A constituent of mine who is undergoing cancer treatment has been told that the eight-week time frame given by DWP is an unrealistic amount of time in which to process an application and offer an assessment slot. When my staff called the MP’s hotline, they were told that they simply cannot process the number of applicants as there is not enough staff. They also say that most people who have applied for PIP will not be entitled to it, even before individual cases have been looked at. If that is the mindset of the staff processing the applications, it is hard to see how balanced decisions will be made.” (My emphasis. MS)
Dr Eilidh Whiteford’s comments during the debate were also very welcome (Columns 450 & 451) and highlighted the vital work of the disability support groups such as the Black Triangle Campaign: “The Government are looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. Raising the bar on eligibility will not make anyone any less sick or any less disabled; it will just make it more difficult for them to function in society and place more pressure on those on whom they rely for their care and support”…. “One of the most profoundly disheartening experiences for me as an MP since being elected in 2010 has been the relentless way in which disabled and sick people have been vilified and stigmatised in the public discourse about welfare reform. Those who had very little responsibility for the financial collapse and subsequent economic problems have nevertheless had to carry the can. The attempt to discredit disabled people in order to justify harsh and punitive cuts in their already fairly paltry incomes is quite shameful. It appals me that the most disadvantaged have been asked to pick up the tab disproportionately for the profligacy of others. As we look to the future, we see further cuts of £12 billion, at least, promised in the years ahead. For disabled people in Scotland, the choice between two very different futures is opening up before them: one with decisions on welfare made in Scotland or one where further cuts slash their incomes even more. That choice must seem very stark indeed.” (My emphasis. MS)
The very experienced Labour MP, John McDonnell, who requested this Backbench Business debate, actually confirmed the involvement of Unum Insurance with the entirely bogus WCA (Column 426): “The work capability assessment was flawed from the start. It stemmed from the work of the American insurance company Unum, and the so-called biopsychosocial model of disability assessment. That was exposed as an invention by the insurance companies simply to avoid paying out for claims.” … “The staff employed in order to achieve that often had minimal medical or professional qualifications, and their expertise or experience was often totally unrelated to the condition or disability of the people they assessed.”… “Assessments largely disregarded people’s previous diagnosis, prognosis or even life expectancy. The recent Panorama programme Disabled or Faking It? exposed the scandal of seriously ill patients—people diagnosed with life-threatening conditions such as heart failure or endstage emphysema—being found fit for work. The so-called descriptors, or criteria, on which assessments are based bear no relation to the potential employment available, take little account of fluctuating conditions and are particularly unresponsive to appreciating someone’s mental health issues.” John also identified the utter absurdity of this Government, introducing yet another bogus assessment as the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) that will ‘replace’ DLA although it is likely to remove this additional support from the vast majority of the 3.5 million people in receipt of DLA.
Shockingly, the provision of a Motability long leased vehicle, as funded by the mobility component of the DLA, will now be removed from the majority of chronically disabled people who do work; thus actually preventing them from going to their place of work since they are physically unable to use public transport, which will dramatically and knowingly increase the numbers of disabled people not in paid employment. (Column 428) (My emphasis.MS)
No matter how many unnecessary tragedies are reported, or how many people die in utter despair and destitution, Conservative MPs like George Hollingbury will dismiss them all as ‘questionable’ results….and Alan Reid, for the Lib Dems, still actually claims to have had some positive function in a Government that helped sick and disabled people, whilst disregarding the horrors, the deaths, the suicides and the overwhelming evidence; including distinguished academic papers from UK universities, together with detailed reports by both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nurses. Reid accepts no responsibility for the nightmare he helped to create, blaming anyone except the Government he belongs to. He needs to read the detailed, referenced research to help him learn what the disability movement already know. As he talks nonsense, people die.
Reid complains about Atos whilst ignoring the fact that the DWP is complicit. Totally unqualified DWP ‘Decision Makers’, under any UK Government, are dangerous as they aren’t qualified; they can’t comprehend diagnosis or prognosis and hence they are a liability and constantly make incorrect decisions. Their decisions to remove benefits from genuine claimants are killing the innocent victims of this UK State tyranny. Their countless wrong decisions mean that people die, encouraged by this enthusiastic and very dangerous UK Government, who sit back and watch as the majority of people blame Atos Healthcare who are simply following the DWP contract by using the bogus Lima computer assessment to conduct the WCA, as required by the DWP. (My emphasis.MS)
Atos Healthcare doesn’t remove anyone’s benefits – a constant incorrect claim by many – as they don’t have the authority. All Atos staff can do is to decide if someone is ‘fit for work’ based on the results of a bogus imported computer assessment. Any other company in the same position would result in the same conclusions as that is how the computer software in designed, which is why the Lima software should be banished and this particular WCA cancelled. (My emphasis.MS)
By definition, DWP ‘Decision Makers’ actually make the decisions about welfare benefits. These totally unqualified administrators are required to consider all additional evidence provided by the claimant; including detailed letters from Consultants and GPs who know their patients very well. It is the incompetence of the unqualified DWP Decision Makers, who fail to comprehend the details of medical information and choose to accept any decision following the WCA, as conducted by Atos Healthcare, that makes these DWP staff so very dangerous to the most vulnerable people in the UK. Mandatory reconsiderations won’t help if the Decision Makers remain unqualified for the job. What better way is there to remove as many people as possible from welfare benefits than to employ totally unqualified staff to make these vital decisions? (My emphasis.MS)
Identified claimant suffering includes dramatic increases in the onset of mental health problems. The General Practice (GP) service is close to collapse due to overwhelming numbers of patients needing support with DWP paperwork, that limits GP time spent with other patients who are ill and the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) have both exposed the WCA as causing ‘preventable harm’ (as we have already seen). Yet this dangerous UK Government, with a Cabinet full of millionaires who fail to comprehend need, dismisses all other evidence regardless of source. They disregard the obvious fact that the ‘reforms’ are falling disproportionately onto chronically disabled people, and those who are very ill and in need of guaranteed long-term welfare benefits, as the Government sells the UK and transforms a once-great nation into UK plc. (My emphasis.MS)
In a now-infamous 2008 interview, Lord Freud claimed that he ‘couldn’t believe’ that anyone had been awarded a benefit ‘for life’, demonstrating the immense danger of permitting a former investment banker to have control of welfare spending when he fails to comprehend that many health conditions are permanent and do indeed last a lifetime. Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee’s report of February 2013 regarding the DWP’s contract management of medical services was unlimited in its criticisms of the DWP: ‘Poor decision-making causes claimants considerable distress, and the position appears to be getting worse, with Citizens Advice reporting an 83 per cent increase in the number of people asking for support on appeals in the last year alone. We found the Department to be unduly complacent about the number of decisions upheld by the tribunal and believe that the Department should ensure that its processes are delivering accurate decision-making and minimizing distress to claimants.‘ (My emphasis. MS)
There were many powerful speeches in the historic WOW petition debate and it isn’t possible to highlight them all. However, one name in particular should be highlighted for the courage to expose the fact that, if a link could be proven, “…there would be a case for corporate manslaughter.” (Column 460) (My emphasis.MS)
I salute Caroline Lucas MP of the Green Party for her courage and, in particular, for her condemnation of the official opposition for their total failure to offer detailed, significant support to this nation’s chronically sick and disabled people, with the new Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, Rachel Reeves MP, using her first interview to announce that she ‘…would be tougher on people on benefits’. (My emphasis.MS)
What a catastrophic announcement from the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions that, effectively, offers this nation’s most vulnerable people no hope if the Labour Party were to win the next General Election in 2015.
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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.
Firstly, despite the fact that the Department for Work and Pensions has stated that it has “no intention of giving back money to anyone who has had their benefits removed”, that is not a decision it can make. The court has ruled that the decisions were unlawful, therefore they may be challenged.
And they should be.
Both the DWP, who took benefits from JSA claimants who refused to take part, and participating companies, who profited from work carried out by the claimants but did not pay the minimum wage required for it, are liable for prosecution – probably at the small claims court.
For people who have lost money as a result of this disastrous scheme, the first stage of the process is to work out how much money is owed – the difference between what they would have had if their benefit had not been stopped/if they had been paid the relevant wage, and what they actually received during the period in question.
Then it is necessary to contact the DWP or the company for which the claimant did Workfare, and request the money that is owed, pointing out that the Court of Appeal had ruled that the regulations under which the scheme was run were unlawful and that the full amount is therefore due. This is an important stage as it shows the claimant tried to settle accounts with the organisation owing the debt before taking it to court.
The Citizens Advice website gives a good overview of the process, pointing out: “The court will expect you to make your claim in writing, giving the other person a reasonable time to reply – a month is usual. You should also warn them that you will take court action if they fail to reply within the given time.”
Once they have refused to settle, it’s off to court – and again I would direct claimants to the Citizens Advice website for help with this.
The aim is, of course, primarily to win back the money that has been lost to benefit claimants through no fault of their own.
The process could also achieve two other goals. Firstly, it could discourage companies from taking part in the slave labour scheme – once bitten, twice shy.
Secondly, it could create bitter embarrassment for the government. People like Monster of 2012 Iain Duncan Smith and Mark Hoban have been swanning around declaring that they can do what they like to anybody they like – they deserve to be humiliated for what they are doing. They don’t have a right to walk all over anyone else. Benefit claimants have a right to receive the social security into which they have contributed.
According to The Guardian, nearly half a million disabled people and their families could lose so much money under the new Universal Credit system that they could end up homeless.
The information comes from a report by a commission headed by Paralympian Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson and, yet again, shows that Tory criticism of the current benefits system as being “too complicated” is a sign that they do not understand the complexities of life for those of us who rely on the system to top-up our incomes.
From my reading of the article, the report does not take into account disabled people who are found ‘fit for work’ under the Atos assessment regime, nor does it consider the effects of the Localism Act on their Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.
I wonder if this means the predicted increase in child poverty is now out of date and will have to be revised upwards again.
Citizens Advice, the Children’s Society and Disability Rights UK have already called for more cash to be provided for disadvantaged families. A forlorn hope. The point of this benefit (if we dare dignify it with that name) is that it is supposed to be universal, after all.
The government says the report is “highly selective” and could lead to “irresponsible scaremongering”. Of course, it is easy to say that now. The results of all this tinkering with the benefits system won’t be known for some time to come – and, if this report is to be believed, by then it will be too late to reverse the damage for hundreds of thousands of families.
Will it even do any good? Experience suggests not. All the Coalition’s tinkering has managed to achieve in two years is misery for the poor. National borrowing is on the rise.
And there are still questions to be answered about the way the new system works. What will count as earnings? will there be concessions for mothers on maternity leave? How will childcare costs be incorporated into the Universal Credit? What about extra costs for people with disabilities, and who will receive this support? What support will be available for carers? What about support for pensioners with children? How will housing costs be assessed? Will financial support for council tax be included in or separate from UC?
What about people who are trying to start up their own business – something the government is supposed to be supporting? Depending on how UC is administered, the amount of money they receive could be the difference between being able to set up in business – or not.
And, if too many people find they can’t, that could be the difference between economic revival – and not.
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