Energising: Keith Lindsay-Cameron prepares to take his case to the police.
An activist from Somerset is raising his own ‘Shoestring Army’ to crowdsource funds and mount a legal challenge against the government’s new Claimant Commitment for jobseekers, after police said they were unable to arrest Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud for breaching the Human Rights Act.
Keith Lindsay-Cameron, of Peasedown St John, near Bath, was advised to obtain the services of a solicitor and raise a legal challenge in the courts after he made his complaint at Bath police station on Friday (May 2).
He said the conditionality regime that is part of the new Claimant Commitment will re-cast the relationship between the citizen and the State – from one centred on ‘entitlement’ to one centred on a contractual concept in which the government provides a range of support only if a claimant meets an explicit set of responsibilities, with a sanctions regime to enforce compliance.
According to Mr Lindsay-Cameron, this amounts to the reintroduction of slavery. Forced compliance – through the sanctions regime – means people will be denied the means of survival if they fail to meet the conditions imposed on them. Deprivation of the means of survival, he claims, also breaches the act’s guarantee that everybody has the right to life and should not be deprived of it.
“The civilian desk receptionist asked my business and I gave her a verbal breakdown – that I had come to accuse Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud of crimes under the Human Rights Act 1998,” said Mr Lindsay-Cameron, who is better-known to thousands of readers as the author of the A Letter A Day To Number 10 internet blog.
“The Claimant Commitment contract means the loss of access to any benefits if one refused to sign, and benefit sanctions if one was considered to be in breach of the signed contract. Either way, this amounts to forced labour and therefore slavery.
“I was asked for more details and explained that a sanction – loss of benefits – meant the loss of the means of survival. I said we had not come to ridicule the police or to challenge them, but that they existed as our – ordinary folks’ – doorway to justice and that what I was doing there was asking for their help and that I was personally in the system and that we all needed help.”
But a police inspector told the activist, and the small group who attended to show their support, that officers at his station could not deal with the matter.
“I explained the situation and what the coercion of sanctions meant and that this did not constitute anything normal as a civic obligation under the human rights act – and I pointed out that if he made a mistake, he would not face a loss of a month’s income, nor three months’ for a second error or three years’ loss of income for a third infraction,” said the campaigner.
“He explained to me that, under the law, Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud were upholding the laws that they had made and that – whatever I felt about that – they had no case to answer and that his job as a police officer was to enforce the law.
“He said that I would need to obtain the services of a solicitor and raise a challenge in the courts for a judge to decide whether the actions of Duncan Smith and Freud were a breach of human rights.”
He said this process was already under way. The group has bought the internet domain name theshoestringarmy.com and will now start the process of a challenge.
Mr Lindsay-Cameron added that his visit to Bath Police Station was delayed when he stopped to meet a group of homeless people in the churchyard next door, while police were trying to move them on.
“It gave us a bizarre sense of what we were about to embark on,” he said.
“Where do people go, having nothing and welcome nowhere, in the land of the growing dispossessed?”
The gist is that the new ‘Claimant Commitment’ a contract “demanding more from jobseekers” is now in place across the whole of the UK, with 635,000 JSA claimants having been forced to sign these agreements.
But let’s go through it in detail, with each paragraph clarified by Vox Political‘s special ‘BS’ translation service.
“The Claimant Commitment has now been successfully rolled out across the country, the latest figures show. It means all new jobseekers and those completing the Work Programme must agree and sign the commitment in order to receive benefits.” Translation: It doesn’t matter that you’ve paid taxes all your working life – you do what we say or we bankrupt you.
“The new agreement sees jobseekers agree the steps they will take each week to give them the best chance of getting into work.” Translation: Agreement has nothing to do with it – we’ll make them jump through hoops in a poodle costume if we want but it won’t help them get a job.
“This could include registering and looking for work through Universal Jobmatch or a recruitment agency.” Not only do we do nothing to help them get a job, we also help identity thieves steal their details and put vulnerable youngsters in the clutches of the sex industry.
“It builds on help already in place.” Obviously we’re having a laugh with this line.
“Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said: ‘With Universal Credit we are creating a modern and sustainable welfare system that is fit for the 21st century – one that supports people when they need it and helps them become independent.” This has nothing to do with the Claimant Commitment but I’ve been told to ‘big up’ Universal Calamity whenever I can, to hide the fact that it’s such an albatross.
“‘The Claimant Commitment redefines the relationship between jobseekers and the state.” To one between slave and master.
“‘Claimants receive greater support to get into work from their work coach-‘ All our work coaches have been given extra training in how to use a whip ‘-and we expect them to do all they can to find a job as quickly as possible as part of the deal for receiving their benefit.’ We know there aren’t any jobs but this simply means we can cut off their cash more quickly when they fail.
“‘Staff have told me it has strengthened their ability to support people into work at the earliest opportunity.’ Those who haven’t gone on long-term sick leave with depressive conditions have developed a kind of dead-eyed look and keep repeating, ‘I’m just following orders’.
“Following an in-depth conversation, work coaches and jobseekers agree regular specific tasks, work preparation and training opportunities that will give them the best chance of finding work quickly.” Tasks… preparation… opportunities! Oh, our sides are splitting! “The penalties claimants could face for failing to meet their responsibilities to get into work are clearly spelt out.” And horrifying.
[The following paragraph is edited as it purports to feature an actual jobseeker] “‘Dizzy’ Guise [not his real name], signed a Claimant Commitment after he was made redundant.” We know our official wording has it that their jobs are redundant, not the people, but it gives us a tremendous sense of superiority over these proles to say that they are redundant instead. “He said it helped him focus on his job search and he’s now working as a business apprentice in Barking.” You’d have to be barking to believe that!
“He said: ‘When I first met my adviser I was probably like every person coming to the Jobcentre, a bit unenthusiastic.'” We want people to think that everyone claiming JSA is a sponger and doesn’t want to look for work.
“‘But I don’t think people know how much the Jobcentre advisers do for them.'” To them.
“‘I thought the Claimant Commitment was demanding, but fair. It motivated me.'” We want people to think that everyone claiming JSA is a sponger and doesn’t want to look for work.
“‘Without that commitment you probably don’t do so many job searches.’” We want people to think that everyone claiming JSA is a sponger and doesn’t want to look for work.
“The new commitment is an important part of the cultural transformation that Universal Credit will bring-” from a free society in which every citizen is equal to one where we can treat you like the scum we think you are“-and will place a strong focus on the responsibilities that claimants must fulfil” … while we accept no responsibility at all for whatever happens.
That seems much clearer now.
Would any jobseekers, who have had to sign this Claimant Commitment, care to tell us what it’s really like?
Iain Duncan Smith: He opens his mouth – and the world screams. [Image: Steve Bell]
It seems redundant to start an article by saying Iain Duncan Smith is a filthy liar, because it is a fact that we all know too well already.
The latest offence – and the word is used very deliberately – took place during Work and Pensions Questions in Parliament yesterday (October 14) and means that he has lied to Parliament – not for the first time, either!
It is interesting that he phrased his words in a particular way. Responding to Andy Sawford’s call for clarity on whether, under the new claimant commitment, benefits officers will sanction jobseekers for refusing zero-hours work, he said this referred to “people’s obligations under the existing terms… Once they are offered a job they must take it… Right now, zero-hours contracts are legal.”
You will note, Dear Reader, that he did not simply say, “Under the claimant commitment, they must take zero-hours work or be sanctioned,” even though that is clearly the meaning of his words. It seems likely he was looking for leeway if questioned about it afterwards.
Well, he shouldn’t get any. A reasonable person, looking at the statement, will draw the obvious – intended – conclusion.
It is a conclusion – and a statement – that runs against current DWP policy.
The DWP responded to a Freedom of Information request in July this year, which also called for clarity on zero-hours contracts. The response contains the very clear statement: “Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants are not required to apply for zero hours contract vacancies and they will not face sanctions for turning down the offer of a zero hours contract.”
So Iain Duncan Smith was lying to Parliament yesterday – a very grave offence for a Secretary of State to commit.
Smith said, responding to Mr Sawford: “People will lose benefits for three months for a first offence, six months for a second offence and three years for a third offence.” When it comes to Parliamentary lies, he has committed multiple offences, and yet he gets away with it every time.
Another person who seems to have had trouble saying what they mean is Rachel Reeves. This blog – and many other people – took her to task last weekend, after The Observer published an interview in which she reportedly made many ill-advised comments, giving the impression that Labour policy on social security was lurching to the right yet again.
Yesterday a statement appeared on the Labour Party website in which the new Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary put forward a much more reasonable plan for social security reform under a Labour government. Particularly attractive are the parts where she says Labour will work with the disabled to design services and benefits that will help them play their part, and where she promises to repeal the Bedroom Tax, which has penalised vulnerable people, many of them disabled.
It is a much better statement of intent and indicates that Ms Reeves has been from one end to the other of a very steep learning curve with extreme rapidity.
Does it mean she was misquoted in the Observer article, and should she receive an apology from those of us who leapt down her throat? No.
There has been no suggestion that the article was inaccurate or unfair. The logical conclusion is that she said those words, and it is also logical to deduce that, had we not reacted so strongly, she might not have released the new statement.
It is unfortunate that, for many, the damage has been done. The Observer article was the first chance we had to see what the new Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary was thinking – and first impressions last. Her new statement seems like to go largely unreported. It should be noted that Tristram Hunt also made a fool of himself by supporting Michael Gove’s wasteful and elitist ‘Free Schools’ scheme. Hopefully Ed Miliband has accepted the need to make sure all of his Shadow Cabinet stay on-message from now until the next election. Reeves and Hunt should count themselves lucky to still have their new jobs.
But let’s not dwell on that. The new statement by Rachel Reeves has much to commend it, and is reproduced in full below. Your responses are invited.
Leading the debate on employment, poverty and social security.
Families facing a cost of living crisis want to know we have a social security system that is fair and sustainable, with costs kept under control but there for them when they need it.
The Tories seek to use every opportunity to divide this country and set one group of people against another. But their approach is failing – with the result that people are left out of work for year after year and costs to the country continue to rise. The Work Programme isn’t working, the roll-out of Universal Credit is in disarray, the Youth Contract has been a flop and there is mounting anger at the degrading and disgraceful treatment of disabled people by ATOS.
The complacent Tories are congratulating themselves about a long-delayed recovery. But almost a million young people are out of work. For those in work, increasing numbers of them aren’t being paid a living wage, are stuck on zero hours contracts or working part time when they want to work full time, and are being hit by soaring rents because levels of house building are so low – all of which drive up the benefits bill.
Labour will control the costs of social security by getting more people into work, rewarding work and tackling low pay, investing in the future, and recognising contribution. We’ll strive to make the right to work a reality for people with disabilities, working with them to design services and benefits that enable them to play their part.
A One Nation social security system will be one with responsibility at its heart – people receiving benefits who can work have a responsibility to look for work, prepare for work and take jobs that are available to them, but government has a responsibility to treat benefit recipients fairly and decently, help and support them and work with employers to ensure there are real job opportunities available.
Our compulsory jobs guarantees for young people and the long term unemployed, funded by repeating the tax on bank bonuses and limiting pensions tax relief for those on more than £150,000, would ensure there is work for under 25s out of work for more than a year and adults out of work for more than two years. These would be proper paid jobs – and people would be expected to take them or face losing benefits.
And unlike the Tories, we’ll put an effective cap on structural social security spending by getting tough on the causes of unemployment and rising benefit bills: low pay, lack of economic opportunity, shortage of affordable housing.
We would repeal cruel and counterproductive measures like David Cameron’s Bedroom Tax. I see constituents week in and week out with heart-breaking stories about how this policy is hitting them and their families. Around the country hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, many of them disabled, are being penalised by this perverse policy which could end up costing more than it saves because of the distress and disruption it’s causing.
And we’ll keep up the campaign for the living wage, and for the economic reforms we need to ensure that prosperity is fairly shared and welfare is not a substitute for good employment and decent jobs.
Hour of the Vampire: Iain Batwing Smith is forcing jobseekers into non-jobs for no pay in order to cut off their benefits. He’ll bleed you dry. Image: Christopher Sharrock http://sharrock.wordpress.com/
Even after Rachel Reeves’ recent lurch to the Right, Labour’s behaviour remains beyond saintly in comparison with the gutter-vermin who describes himself as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
I read the following altercation, copied verbatim from today’s Hansard (the record of Parliamentary events) on Facebook and almost despaired. The following took place during Work and Pensions Questions.
Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): “Will the Secretary of State confirm whether benefits officers been have told not to sanction people when the only job offered is on a zero-hours contract? Do Ministers recognise that the new claimant commitments mean that people will not actually be able to sign zero-hours contracts without risking losing their in-work benefits?
Mr Duncan Smith: “The claimant commitment is about people’s obligations under the existing terms. They will have to seek work, attend interviews and try to get a job, and once they are offered a job they must take it. Those are the sanctions coming up under universal credit. People will lose benefits for three months for a first offence, six months for a second offence and three years for a third offence. Right now, zero-hours contracts are legal. If Labour wants to change the law, we want to hear that from the honourable Gentleman.”
In a nutshell, Iain Duncan Smith was saying that anyone offered a zero-hours contract must take it or lose their benefits for a minimum of 13 weeks.
Zero-hours contracts are treacherous – as we all know. Often an employee could be left waiting for days or weeks without receiving a call to come to work, but – as they are, technically, employed – they cannot claim unemployment benefits for the periods of downtime.
So Iain Duncan Smith is saying that many jobseekers will have a Hobson’s Choice between taking a job that guarantees no pay, no benefits and no security of tenure, or the complete loss of benefits for at least three months.
How, exactly, does that tally with his policy objective, which describes as “Making Work Pay”?
This might deserve a complaint under the Trade Descriptions Act.
Honest appraisal: The national opinion of DWP service is reflected in this comment, delivered direct to Iain Duncan Smith by ‘pigeon post’. (Picture: Kevin Marman)
How many times have we all heard of someone being sanctioned by the Job Centre for failing to turn up at an interview, when they were never even notified that it was taking place?
How many stories have we heard of benefit claims being delayed, causing needless hardship to people who had no other means of support by putting them into debt and under threat of eviction?
How many people have died because the pressure they suffered as a result of mistaken decisions to cut off their benefit, made by DWP officials?
I think we all know the answer to that: MANY.
But the overriding feeling seems to be that there’s nothing to be done about it and the Department for Work and Pensions is a law unto itself.
As it happens, this is not true.
The new ‘Claimant Commitment’, announced by the Department recently, places more stringent requirements on jobseekers, that must be met before they can claim their meagre pittance. The announcement made no mention of any reciprocal commitments on the part of the administrators – but they do exist, and they cover every service the DWP is supposed to provide.
Officials offered up the following after Vox Political submitted a Freedom of Information request:
“In general terms, there is one overriding responsibility: to ensure that the claim is received into an environment where a decision can be made which will be correct from the outset… Parliament and Ministers set the policy; the officers and employees create the administrative processes all claims must go through; decision makers bring the process to a close. Ministerial responsibilities are listed on the Department’s page on the gov.uk website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-workpensions.
“At individual level, these responsibilities are translated into objectives and personal performance is measured against their effective delivery. There are a range of consequences for individuals failing to deliver, from informal performance improvement plans to dismissal. You then have reputational damage. Whether it is benefit specific or across-the-board under performance, be it perceived or real, this will be picked up by the press and Parliament, with Ministers and senior officials having to defend and explain themselves.
“Ultimately there will be a cost to all this because of the re-work involved in correcting decisions; in overpaying claimants because of official error; in retraining decision makers; in improving processes. That is not good for the department or the country.”
That last sentence is absolutely true. One has to wonder if the offical writing those words was aware that DWP decisions that, for example, cost the country £66 million in a single year in Employment and Support Allowance appeals, have sullied the Department’s reputation to a point where it may never recover.
This document is 17 pages in length, but you don’t get to the good stuff until page five. This starts by saying: “The Department and its operational businesses aim to provide its customers with a service which is easy to access; treats them well; delivers on time and provides them with the right results.”
Does anybody reading this believe any part of that statement accurately describes the DWP’s service? Is it easy to access, or is the preferred method – telephone – run by a private company that puts claimants on hold for long periods of time unnecessarily, racking up their telephone bill in the knowledge that they have little spare cash to spend on the call, and this will put them out-of-pocket?
Does it treat them well, or do Job Centre staff abuse people terribly – like, for example, the ‘advisor’ who told a woman she had to attend an interview in a town many miles from her home, to take place two days after she had undergone surgery on her leg that meant she could not walk, and refused to reschedule it to accommodate her health?
Or what about the claimant who was told he had failed to attend an appointment and must reclaim his benefit? He had never received notification of any appointment, either by mail or telephone, and therefore had no idea what the ‘advisor’ was banging on about.
Does it deliver on time? I can answer that with Mrs Mike’s experience of her appeal against the Department’s decision to put her in the work-related activity group for ESA. The appeal was submitted in March, after she had received expert advice telling her she had been put in the wrong group. A decision was made, wrongly supposing that she was claiming a deterioration in her condition and that a second work capability assessment was required. She was never notified of the decision and no appointment was ever made for the WCA; in the meantime, the benefit – which only lasts 12 months – expired. She was not contacted to prepare her for this, nor was she told what she could do about it.
This example also answers the final question that arises – does it provide the right results? No, it doesn’t. The decision maker was wrong to say she was claiming deterioration since her original assessment. She was saying the assessment had resulted in the wrong decision at the time it was made. Another assessment can only ascertain her condition on the day it takes place and will be useless in determining her appeal. The correct decision was for the matter to go to a tribunal, and it is likely that, had this happened (and this depends on the DWP telling her when it was happening), the matter might have been resolved, long before the money dried up.
All of these examples serve to support the next part of ‘Financial Redress for Maladministration’: “Unfortunately, we don’t always get things right first time. The term “maladministration” is not defined, but is sometimes used to describe when our actions or inactions result in a customer experiencing a service which does not match our aims or the commitments we have given. It applies to situations in which we have not acted properly or provided a poor service. For example: wrong advice, discourtesy, mistakes and delays.”
Wrong advice, discourtesy, mistakes and delays.
Have you fallen foul of a DWP sanction? Was it due to any of these four reasons? If so, then you could be entitled to compensation. The Department describes this as redress, which usually comes in four forms: a “sincere and meaningful apology”, which is nice but doesn’t pay the rent; an explanation of what happened and/or went wrong – ditto; putting things right, “for example a change of procedure/revising published material”, which will help others in the future but does not solve any financial problems suffered by the claimant; and a special payment, known as financial redress.
You can make them pay.
Here’s where it gets tricky, though – there is no statutory framework for making such payments; they are discretionary, a matter of judgement – and the judgement is made by a DWP decision maker.
The difficulty with this should be clear to everyone – if they can’t make a correct decision on a simple benefit claim, they certainly shouldn’t be trusted to administer compensation payments for their own wrong decisions!
Still, there are guiding principles that can help with a case. The very first of these states that “Individuals should not be disadvantaged as a result of maladministration” – so, if you have lost benefit and this has put you into dire straits financially, you have a strong case.
“The purpose of the Special Payment Scheme is, wherever possible, to return the individual to the position they would have been in but for the maladministration”, the document says. In other words, anyone wrongly sanctioned should be able to get back all the benefits they have not been paid, plus any payment to cover, say, overdraft fees incurred as a result of the wrong decision.
It’s a really interesting document. I strongly advise you to look it up.
And, if you have suffered at the hands of these people, I strongly advise you to make a claim.
That goes for relatives of claimants who have died after adverse benefit decisions by the DWP. In fact – especially for them. If their relatives are unaware of this, tell them about it.
The only measure this government and its ministers understand is money.
Make them pay.
*If you have found this article useful, you may wish to consider picking up the book, Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times. The site is not professional and receipts from the book are its only means of support. Its 350 pages contain a great deal of information that should be just as useful as this article, and it may be bought here, here, here, here and here – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.
“Jobseekers will have to account more clearly for their efforts to find work and will be given a weekly timetable of tasks to complete, as part of the Claimant Commitment which rolls out nationwide from this autumn.”
If this is a more stringent obligation on jobseekers, where is the commitment for DWP officers and employees? What are their responsibilities? What sanctions do they face when they fail to meet those responsibilities? And what recompense will be offered to jobseekers when these failures happen (as they do on a daily basis at the moment)?
“From October, around 100 jobcentres a month will begin using the Claimant Commitment with new jobseekers, until it is in place across the country.
“This new form of Jobseeker’s Agreement will set out more fully a benefit recipient’s responsibilities in order to receive state support. Those who fail to comply with their responsibilities risk losing their benefits.”
Will DWP employees who fail to deal with claims in a proper, consistent and timely manner risk losing their jobs? I thought not.
“A personal statement setting out what they will do to prepare for and find work will be based on the discussion between the jobseeker and their adviser. They will renew the commitment on a regular basis.”
What will advisers say when jobseekers demand a legally-binding commitment from them? Will they get it? I thought not.
“The new commitment is an important part of the cultural transformation that Universal Credit will bring and will place a strong focus on the responsibilities that claimants must fulfil.”
… While providing no security at all to the jobseeker that their claim will be treated in a responsible manner in return. This “cultural transformation” is from oppression to dictatorship, nothing less.
“Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith said: “‘This is about redefining the relationship between benefit claimants and the state. The welfare state will support people when they fall on hard times, but in return they need to meet some contracted responsibilities agreed with a Jobcentre Plus adviser.'”
Ah, but will the state support people? Or will it delay, obstruct, and make unreasonable demands on jobseekers, in order to make a quick and dirty ‘Positive Benefit Outcome’ wherever possible?
“’For those people on Jobseeker’s Allowance, looking for work should be a full time job. It is fair and reasonable for the taxpayer to expect that claimants should do everything within their power to get into work.'”
It is also fair and reasonable to expect the DWP to do everything within its power to facilitate this. I heard the story yesterday of a young woman who was ordered to attend a Job Centre, in a different town from her home, two days after a surgical operation on her leg. She could not walk at the time, so she was expected to drag herself to the bus stop, endure a long journey on public transport – which is hardly conducive to post-operative comfort and might actually put back her recovery, and then drag herself – uphill – to the Job Centre itself. When she asked for the meeting to be rescheduled, her adviser refused. That’s how helpful the DWP can be!
“’It’s a fair deal people will have to sign up to in return for receiving support from the state.'” No it isn’t. “‘Our reforms are ushering in a new culture of conditionality and the Claimant Commitment lies at the heart of this.’” A new culture of dictatorship with no responsibility on the side of the oppressors.
“The Claimant Commitment is backed by a strict compliance regime to ensure jobseekers do all they can to have the best chance of finding paid work quickly. Those who fail to comply with their responsibilities risk losing benefit.”
Again: What responsibilities do the DWP have to honour, and what is the penalty for failure?
“Building on the current form of the Jobseeker’s Agreement, the Claimant Commitment sets out more details of the requirements of claimants and information about the consequences of failing to meet these.”
Yet again: What responsibilities do the DWP have to honour, and what is the penalty for failure?
There’s no mention of anything.
But let’s be fair. We’ll do a Freedom of Information request. How about:
“With regard to claims for all benefits available from the Department for Work and Pensions, what are the responsibilities of the DWP, its ministers, officers and employees, to the claimants?
“What sanctions to DWP ministers, officers and employees face if the organisation fails to fulfil those responsibilities?
“And what recompense is available to claimants who suffer loss of income as a result of such failure by the Department, its ministers, officers and employees?”
The claimant commitment, jobseekers agreement – or whatever they want to call it – is a contract. Any contract requires action by both parties and both parties should face penalties if they break their side of the bargain. But the DWP is unfairly using its position of power over claimants to inflict unwarranted cruelties upon them.
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