Tag Archives: Jobseekers (back to work schemes) Bill

Why did the DWP push ahead with illegal sanctions, knowing they don’t do any good?

Don't shrug your shoulders, Smith! It's time the people of the UK found a way to make him care about the deaths he is causing.

Don’t shrug your shoulders, Smith! It’s time the people of the UK found a way to make him care about the deaths he is causing.

Today’s article on the Skwawkbox blog is extremely interesting, for anyone with an interest in the public services and the welfare state.

It seems the Department for Work and Pensions has pushed ahead with a regime including the Work Programme and the sanctions imposed for those who refuse to take part, and even changed the law to reinforce its position, despite having documentary proof that is two years old, showing that these policies do more harm than good and are not in the national interest.

You can read the article here to get the full picture. The gist is that a DWP report from 2011 advised the secretary of state, Iain Duncan Smith, that these policies were a bad idea – but he went ahead with them anyway.

So the report concludes that the Work Programme, and other training programmes imposed by the DWP, cause harm by preventing people from looking for work and forcing them to attend useless training sessions (as flagged up in this Vox Political article).

It admits the policy harms people who were already involved in training or volunteer work – on their own initiative – because they had to end it to take part in ‘mandated’ training or face sanction if they declined (Cait Reilly, for a much-publicised example).

People who didn’t attend, didn’t complete or rejected a training course because it was unsuitable were still sanctioned (even though the policy states – and the government has adamantly claimed for many months – that this does not happen. Transport difficulties and childcare problems were also flagged up as potentially leading to sanctions, even though they were not the fault of the jobseeker.

The report went on to criticise the sanctions regime – because it is harmful not only to the jobseeker but to members of that person’s family and friends as well. This is because it forces them to rely on family and friends for their survival, if they are lucky enough to have such people around to help; it damages family relationships and harms the well-being of low-income families who have to stretch their resources to help a sanctioned person, including younger brothers or sisters who have to rely on the money earned by their elders for their own sustainance. In other words, not only do sanctions harm individual jobseekers, but they also harm people who have had nothing to do with the benefits being suspended. As Steve Walker writes, that is “about as unjust as you could possibly get”.

There’s more, but you should visit the article because I want to ask a few more, searching, questions.

We’ve seen that the DWP was warned against imposing Workfare onto people who were already involved in training or volunteer work that they had initiated themselves. Isn’t that exactly what happened to Cait Reilly?

Then, rather than admit its mistake, pay her back the money she had lost through sanctions and let her go back to the volunteer work that might actually help her get a long-term career, the government forced her to take the matter to a lengthy (and, one expects, expensive) judicial review to prove her case.

When Ms Reilly won at the Court of Appeal (meaning the costs had to be paid by the DWP), it meant that tens – maybe hundreds of thousands of jobseekers who had been wrongly sanctioned could claim their money back. Mr… Smith immediately told the world that he wasn’t putting up with that and, diverging even further from the path of wisdom, tabled a Parliamentary Bill to change the law, in order to keep the money he and his department had stolen – yes, I think ‘stolen’ is the appropriate word – from the many taxpayers they had wronged.

Faced with this evidence, one finds it necessary to ask: In the name of sanity, why?

Why go ahead with a policy that cannot possibly be in the national interest? It stops people getting jobs; it harms jobseekers, their families and friends; it drives them to despair.

It drives them to despair.

Another recent article came our way via Facebook, and relates to the Suicide Act, 1961. It draws attention to the fact that the DWP and the wider UK government has been told, repeatedly and at length, that its policies are leading to suicides. The article itself refers to the many deaths we know take place every week because of the work capability assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, but it is also known that jobseeker suicides rise by around 10 per cent during times of high unemployment and the figures should be available to support a contention that this is taking place now.

The article goes on to say that continuing to authorise procedures that are known to end in suicide – as Iain Duncan Smith and his various lieutenants, Mark Hoban, Esther McVey, Chris Grayling and Maria Miller, have done – may therefore be viewed as procuring suicide from the disabled and otherwise disadvantaged population of the UK.

This is a criminal offence under the Suicide Act, 1961.

So it seems we have a government that has ignored the advice of its own reports in order to pursue a course of criminality that has led (as we all know) to many thousands of deaths.

Does anybody feel like calling the police?

You will not benefit from Britain leaving Europe

Run, David, run: UK Crime - sorry, Prime - Minister David Cameron has found a reason to be in America while his party tears itself apart over Europe. Nice one, David! We all thought the Tories were turning their Lib Dem Coalition partners blue but in fact, they've turned you yellow!

Run, David, run: UK Crime – sorry, Prime – Minister David Cameron has found a reason to be in America while his party tears itself apart over Europe. Nice one, David! We all thought the Tories were turning their Lib Dem Coalition partners blue but in fact, they’ve turned you yellow!

Look at all this political theatre over Europe. It’s for the entertainment of you, the voter – even though you won’t actually gain a thing from staying in or leaving the Brussels-based bureaucracy.

The Conservative Party is going into meltdown about it, certainly – but that’s because individual Tory MPs fear losing votes to UKIP at the next election, making it possible for their party to lose the only thing that matters to them: Power.

UKIP wants out because it is composed – or was, back when it began – of businesspeople who believe that they are being over-regulated by the European Union. They want the freedom to sell inferior products to you, without being penalised for it.

The Tory amendment to the Queen’s speech is nothing but a performance, put on for the benefit of the plebs. It’s a pantomime, with the British public urged to shout “Look out behind you!” at David Cameron’s Widow Twanky, whenever we see the Eurosceptics creeping up out of the shadows.

Note that, in this scenario, Education dunce Michael Gove and damp squib Defence sec Philip Hammond play the ugly sisters; they say they want out of Europe, but they won’t actually do anything about it. Straw men.

The amendment, which condemns the Queen’s speech for failing to include a bill preparing the way for a referendum on whether we stay in the EU, is not only pointless but dangerous. As mentioned previously on this blog, amendments to the Queen’s speech are traditionally taken as confidence votes. The fact that this is a Conservative Party amendment suggests that the government no longer has confidence in itself. If the amendment succeeds, the Prime Minister should resign and the government should fall.

Perhaps I am mistaken. This is not pantomime – it’s farce.

And the amendment is certain to be defeated, according to the pundits, because all the Liberal Democrats, most of Labour and a significant proportion of the Conservatives will vote against it. This means that even the question of confidence in the government can be avoided because nobody will be able to raise it as an issue.

That’s why I said, elsewhere on the internet, that Labour should abstain.

On the Huffington Post site, I wrote: “Labour’s best move is to abstain, let the Tories defeat their own government with the amendment, and then see if Cameron follows Parliamentary convention and resigns. It’s possible he’ll say that a vote on the Queen’s speech is no longer a confidence issue because of his Fixed-Terms Parliaments Act, which defined a ‘no confidence’ vote for the first time, but this may be countered by saying that, if Parliament does not support the planned legislative programme, then it does not support the government or the Prime Minister who leads it.

“If the PM ignores the resignation issue, then we can all say he is running an outlaw government and nothing he does from now on should be considered legal; if he resigns, then the amendment won’t matter because it won’t go forward.

“And let’s face it, if Labour can abstain on the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill, there’s no reason not to abstain on this!”

If the amendment succeeds, we can have a proper debate on whether this government is fit for purpose – at a time when people are still coming to terms with the first death directly attributed to the imposition of the Conservative Bedroom Tax, which itself follows the deaths of thousands due to the Conservative-employed Atos firm’s mismanagement of Employment and Support Allowance assessments.

It won’t, and we’ll be denied our chance to have that debate.

But just remember – despite all the swagger and show – you’re being denied the chance to have a proper debate on Europe as well.

Local election campaigns begin – but where are the NEW contenders?

Get your votes out: But who will you support, if your local council is holding elections this year? The mid-term vote is always carefully watched, so your vote could sway predictions for the 2015 general election!

Get your votes out: But who will you support, if your local council is holding elections this year? The mid-term poll is always carefully watched, so your vote could sway predictions for the 2015 general election!

Hard though it may be to believe, in the midst of all the ‘Mrs T’ drivel, but life goes on and there are elections on the way.

The Liberal Democrats have launched their bid for seats on 34 councils in England and one in Wales, predictably, with a smear campaign.

Apparently, both their Coalition partners the Conservatives, and Labour, are inefficient and waste money on “vanity projects”.

This will be a hard criticism for the Tories to counter, considering they are about to waste up to £10 million of taxpayers’ – our – money on a ceremonial funeral for Baroness Thatcher that the majority of the people in the UK simply don’t want.

Apparently, MPs can claim £3,750 each, from the taxpayer, because Parliament has been recalled to pay tribute to her. If they all take advantage of it, that alone will cost us £2,437,500!

Praise is due to Labour’s John Mann, who the BBC placed among those calling the debate a waste of money. He said tributes could have been made next week, when Parliament is due to return.

But then, what is the Liberal Democrat plan to increase the Personal Allowance, that we are all allowed to earn before we start paying Income Tax, if it isn’t a vanity project?

Nick Clegg says the Liberal Democrats will spread “the burden of austerity fairly”, but if this policy really has made 24 million families in the UK £600 better-off than they were in 2010, that means the Treasury has received £14,400,000,000 less than it otherwise would have. Nearly 14-and-a-half BILLION pounds!

This is money that could have eased the severity of the benefit cuts on the poorest in society, or the government could have invested it in projects that would have created jobs, increasing the tax take and lessening the burden of debt repayments and benefits for the poor.

Noticeably absent from Mr Clegg’s speech, at the Eden Project in Cornwall, was any mention of what his party would do with any new council seats it picks up. Instead, he went back to the Liberal Democrat ‘message script’ that was thrust upon his party back between Christmas and the New Year. “Only the Liberal Democrats will build a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life” he droned.

Here in Radnorshire, Wales, people hearing that will be thinking those words are familiar, and asking themselves when they were aired before. Oh yes – it was last week, when our MP Roger Williams and AM Kirsty Williams were talking up the increases in the Personal Allowance.

So there’s no offer from the Liberal Democrats.

At least Labour’s Ed Miliband launched his party’s campaign with a solid commitment – he wants councils to be allowed to prevent payday lenders from operating in their areas, and to stop bookmakers from opening as well.

In hard times, it makes sense for gambling to be curbed – although it is a shame that the last Labour government allowed it to become commonplace before the financial crash hit. And payday lenders must be brought to heel – the huge interest rates they charge mean borrowers – who need the money because they receive such a poor pay packet from their fatcat bosses, don’t forget – fall even further into debt.

But Labour’s recent behaviour in Parliament has created deep mistrust of the party among its core voters. Labour betrayed the poorest workers in the UK, and everybody who is looking for a job, by supporting Iain Duncan Smith’s retroactive law to legalise his illegal sanctions against jobseekers who would not take part in his slave-labour ‘mandatory work activity’ schemes to raise cash for ‘work programme provider’ companies and commercial enterprises that took part.

If Labour wants to win that trust back, it needs to field prospective councillors who genuinely want to represent the interests of the people in their wards, with good Labour values – ensuring they get the best value for their council tax money, rather than turning services over to private enterprises who then make councils pay through the nose for inferior work, for example.

And what about all the new contenders that have sprung up since the Coalition came to power and started reversing all the good work the previous Labour government did, justifying it by saying the new austerity made it necessary (it isn’t)?

The National Health Action Party can be ruled out, I think. That organisation is a single-issue party created solely to attack Coalition members of Parliament, and anyone else who voted in support of the Health and Social Care Act, that allows private, for-profit companies to run NHS services.

What about the ‘No’ Party? This group claims the UK needs a fresh start, and wants to contend the next general election “on a massive scale”. In that case, they should start at local level. Political organisations of any kind won’t be trusted with Parliamentary seats until their members have proved themselves in the local arena and the May elections are a perfect opportunity to get started. Where are the ‘No’ candidates?

What about the People of the British Political and Lawful Rebellion Party, which says it aims “to put the People back into politics”.

This organisation’s Facebook page says: “It is time this country came together and started the mass political and legal upheavel required for a legitimate, lawful, peaceful and successful rebellion. As a newly founded political party, we take one-step at at time while learning to utilise our skills as individuals and collectively.”

Okay, then why not start now – in local councils? Then the ordinary people will be able to find out what they’re all about.

It seems too early for any wide-based, mainstream ‘Party of the Left’, of the kind Ken Loach has been pushing, to come together in time for these elections – which is a shame.

In the light of Labour’s actions on the Jobseekers (Back to the Workhouse) Bill, it is possible that there does need to be another mainstream, national left-wing political organisation – if only to remind Labour of what it ought to be.

One of the most telling comments about the late Baroness Thatcher was that she changed not only the Conservatives, but other political parties, meaning that Labour followed a similar course to the Conservatives when it came to office in 1997.

It’s time Labour remembered that there are other, real and workable alternatives – and started working on them.

Ed Miliband on the Workfare Bill – we’ve heard it all before

Miliband and Byrne: They did the wrong thing, but was it for the right reasons?

Miliband and Byrne: They did the wrong thing, but was it for the right reasons?

A whole week after the crucial confidence-breaking vote on the Bill that gives Iain Duncan Smith retroactive powers to steal benefits from jobseekers, an email appears “from the office of Ed Miliband”.

Here’s what it said:

“Thank you for contacting Mr Miliband about the Jobseekers Bill and my apologies for the delay in replying.

“We know how strongly many people feel about this and that you are disappointed that Labour decided to abstain.

“Please be assured that we looked very carefully at all the points raised but in the end the vote came down to the question of whether the DWP should have any legal power whatsoever to stop benefits for people who won’t try to find work at all.

“With record levels of young people out of work, we believe young people must be offered a real choice of a real job with real wages. That’s why Labour is moving amendments to the Bill to demand a tax on bankers’ bonuses to fund over 100,000 jobs for young people with pay at the national minimum wage and training.

“Our approach is completely different to the government.

“We would guarantee everyone unemployed for over two years a properly-paid job, but we want it to apply to young people after a year. In return, we think most people would agree that people would be obliged to take up those jobs or face losing benefits.

“These powers have always existed; for example, in Labour’s Future Jobs Fund, if a young person didn’t take the offer of a job, they would have faced having benefits halted. Labour’s New Deal operated on the same principle.

“We would not support a retrospective bill driven through Parliament at lightning speed – and Labour demanded two crucial concessions, which we forced the government to make.

“First, appeal rights must be guaranteed so that others can appeal against mistakes made by the DWP. We can’t have carte blanche retrospective legalisation of sanctions.

“Second, there must be an independent review of the sanctions regime, with an urgent report and recommendations to Parliament.

“While you may not agree with the decision to abstain, we hope you can recognise that the points you and others have raised were carefully considered and the safeguards Labour have secured.

“Thank you again for taking the time to contact Mr Miliband on this important issue.”

It’s not good enough, is it?

Miliband – and Liam Byrne, Stephen Timms, and all the rest of the current Labour team – need to realise that there is a fundamental difference between what they supported and what they say they want. They should have held out for the latter.

The Coalition government’s scheme puts people to work – for employers who are perfectly capable of paying not only minimum wage but the living wage, for an indefinite period of time, to a person who used to be defined as a paid employee – for, and this is the important part, no remuneration other than their Jobseekers’ Allowance.

Contrast that with what Labour offered in the past – “in Labour’s Future Jobs Fund, if a young person didn’t take the offer of a job, they would have faced having benefits halted. Labour’s New Deal operated on the same principle” – and what Labour says it would offer in the future – “we believe young people must be offered a real choice of a real job with real wages“.

Why put up with anything less?

The concessions are paper tigers – it is understood that appeal rights were enshrined in the original legislation and we have seen no evidence that they were ever going to be dropped, while the timetable of the proposed independent review is such that the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions may never have to act on it.

In other words, Labour let the Coalition run roughshod over the rule of law – for nothing.

Lies, damned lies and… ‘forward-looking’?

Don't drool, David! Mr Cameron takes questions after his speech on immigration, earlier this week. See those white flecks on his chin? He had been spitting down his face throughout the event. Perhaps he should not allow himself to get so excited?

Don’t drool, David! Mr Cameron takes questions after his speech on immigration, earlier this week. See those white flecks on his chin? He had been spitting down his face throughout the event. Perhaps he should not allow himself to get so excited?

This week we all learned a new euphemism. From now on, it seems, the less-offensive synonym for a governmental lie will be: “forward-looking”.

As in, for example: “Part of [David Cameron’s speech on reducing immigration] is on the importance of reducing pull factors from people who may be considering coming… There is a forward-looking angle to the speech.” (A Downing Street spokesdrone)

Okay, so when he said he was giving migrants from the European Economic Area – in other words, people who already live here – a “very clear message” that there will be no absolute right to unemployment benefit, those words were referring to the future?

That’s fine, but only 0.65 per cent of the two million net migrants to the UK from countries who joined the EU in 2004 – 13,000 people in total – have ever claimed Jobseekers’ Allowance, and that figure is unlikely to rise in the future.

So for Cameron to be claiming this is an important step forward would be a li- it would be a l- It’s forward-looking??

Downing Street’s claim that there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of social lettings to migrants between 2007-8 and 2011-12 cannot be taken as forward-looking. It’s a statistic – and a typically-distorted one.

The number has indeed risen by 40 per cent – from 6.5 per cent of the proportion of such lettings to nine per cent. All of those people qualify because they are either working, self-sufficient or have a permanent right of residence in the UK – in other words, they are not a burden on the benefits system.

Eligible foreign nationals have their housing needs considered on the same basis as other, UK-born, applicants in accordance with each local authority’s allocation system – in other words, they get no preferential treatment.

Mr Cameron also said Britain has a “free National Health Service, not a free International Health Service”. It seems likely this claim was based on concerns raised by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who seems to think foreign nationals owe the health service £200 million a year, despite the fact that official Department of Health figures place the total for 2011-12 at £33 million – less than one-sixth of his claim (but still a substantial sum of money)

Mr Hunt has announced plans to limit free NHS care to permanent, not temporary, foreign nationals, on the basis of these fake- sorry, forward-looking, figures.

Mr Cameron has also announced plans regarding foreign migrants – he’ll limit their benefits. While this shows a certain consistency within the Coalition government – it is already limiting benefits for people who were born here – Cameron seems to be making no effort to tackle illegal immigration, or exploitation of foreign migrants.

But let us not criticise this new “forward-thinking” breeze that is blowing through the corridors of power without considering some of its other applications.

For example, employment minister Mark Hoban said last week, during the debate on the Jobseekers (back to the Workhouse) Bill that there were no national targets for applying sanctions against jobseekers, nor were there league tables of Job Centres, ranging from the best to the worst in imposing those sanctions.

How does he reconcile this with the leaked letter from an employee of Walthamstow Job Centre, which is 95th in the allegedly nonexistent league table – out of only 109.

The letter states: “I have until the 15th Feb… to show an improvement. Then it’s a PIP [Performance Improvement Plan – the first stage of disciplinary action for Job Centre Employees] for me… to improve my teams SBR [Stricter Benefit Regime – in other words, sanction] referral rate.” The letter went on to say the Job Centre’s manager was looking for 25 such referrals per week, from each section.

“Guys, we really need to up our game here,” the letter concludes. “The 5% target is one thing, the fact we are seeing over 300 people a week and only submitting 6 of them for possible doubts is simply not quite credible.”

Another thing that is now “not quite credible” is Mr Hoban’s claim that there are no targets and no league tables. Or was this another bit of “forward-looking” – to a time when there won’t be any need for them? Perhaps when everyone has been cleared off benefits altogether?

A leaked newsletter for Malvern Job Centre, quoted in The Guardian, also refers to the five per cent target.

Liam Byrne, the Labour work and pensions spokesman who traded away his Party’s opposition to the Jobseekers (back to the Workhouse) Bill for a nebulous promise of an independent review of back-to-work schemes, lasting 12 months and with no deadline set for the government to respond to its report, demanded that this review should be set up immediately, “so it can begin the job of putting the DWP’s house back in order” – even though it has nothing to do with the sanctions regime.

He clearly doesn’t want to rock the boat.

So we have government ministers – and a Prime Minister – determined to lie- sorry, look forward about as many policies as possible, while Her Majesty’s Opposition is determined to look the other way.

And, out in the real world… How are your finances looking for next month?

Jobseekers (retroactive destruction of rights) Bill update

This is a quick update as I am working on somebody else’s computer.

Vox Political has received the following comment, regarding the Jobseekers (back to work schemes) Bill, due to go before Parliament as I type this, in fact:

“Just had a reply from my MP Sheila Gilmore, Labour.

“’The Guardian article was wrong. The Labour front bench is not voting for the Bill. Currently they are looking to secure some amendments. Lots of discussion in the Parliamentary Labour Party ongoing.’”

This seems extremely good news. If it’s true, of course, we’ll never know whether it was due to the pressure of public feeling or if they were always going to oppose it.

No matter.

This is the right choice, for those affected, for Labour, and for the UK.