This is extreme, even for the Department for Work and Pensions.
It seems there are moves to toughen up the sanction system for people on New Style Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseekers’ Allowance, even though sanctions were only introduced a few days ago.
The DWP has a new watchdog organisation, the Social Security Advisory Committee (what happened to the Bonfire of All The Quangos?) that reckons the system isn’t harsh enough.
Apparently it is possible for people to claim both Universal Credit and JSA or ESA – but if they are sanctioned, it can only be applied to UC.
This means that such claimants would be in a better position financially than people on only one of the benefits; if the sanctioned amount was more than the value of the UC element of benefit payments to a particular claimant (it could be zero), then the total sanction could be as low as zero.
The SSAC wants the penalties to apply to both benefits that are being claimed.
Considering the arbitrary nature of the sanction system, This Writer considers the current situation to be a valuable protection for claimants. We have all heard horror stories about people who were sanctioned and subsequently died because the DWP got its decision wrong.
It seems the problem lies in the fact that sanctions are decided on the advice of a DWP work coach – a single civil servant – whose attitude to the job may vary between very extreme positions, depending on who it is.
Work coaches are supposed to help claimants write a “claimant commitment” that sets out their obligations as claimants of the state payments.
The commitment should be accessible, clear, tailored to the claimant’s needs and the state of the local labour market, and agreed by both the claimant and the DWP, and claimants should be properly informed.
In fact, research has shown that some work coaches aren’t using their discretion fairly or reasonably and opt for generic, rather than tailored, actions. Some work coaches were found to be copying and pasting actions from a shared document which had become standard in their local Job Centre.
There were examples of lone parents not being informed of their right to reduced work searches, and re-assessment interviews lasting just 10 minutes.
If brutal sanctions are applied to people on two benefits, on the say-so of the people responsible for such abuses of the rules, then hideous injustices may result.
Suggested examples include sanctions being applied to elderly disabled claimants now looking for work in their 60s and suffering poor health. How would they survive if their work coach turns out to be a “power maniac who enjoys putting the disadvantaged down”?
Ministers have not (yet) approved any suggested changes but we all know the DWP’s reputation for bloodthirstiness. How long will it be before this new opportunity to cause misery is seized?
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.
Sanction centre: people on New Style ESA and JSA are about to be hit by the most arbitrary and unreasonable process ever foisted on large numbers of the public by a cruel government – the DWP’s sanctions regime.
The Department for Work and Pensions has decided that people on New Style Employment and Support Allowance, and Jobseekers Allowance, have life too easy.
So the DWP has introduced sanctions for those benefits. They came into effect on November 3 – did anybody notice?
The DWP says the rule change means that New Style JSA and ESA claimants who do not meet the responsibilities agreed in their Claimant Commitment, without having a good reason, will lose some or all of their payment.
But those with experience of how sanctions work in other benefits will know that claimants are likely to face unreasonable demands from the DWP that will be followed by a loss of benefits.
Sometimes they may be informed that their benefits are being sanctioned for transgressions that they have not committed or for failing to attend interviews to which they were not invited.
They may also be sanctioned for failing to attend interviews, even if they have provided good reasons. Being admitted to hospital – and therefore unable to communicate with the DWP – is never accepted as a good reason.
Of course, the DWP has not mentioned this. Its statement said: “As is the case for Universal Credit claimants, if someone in receipt of new style JSA and ESA fails to do what they have agreed to in their Claimant Commitment without good reason – such as having or caring for a child, or a change to a health condition – their payments may be reduced for a set period.”
This is particularly amusing – in a bitter way: “Sanctions are only applied as a last resort when a claimant is not engaging with the commitment they have made. If someone disagrees with a decision they can ask for it to be looked at again.”
Experience suggests that sanctions are less likely to be applied as a last resort than as a first response – especially if you are claiming ESA.
Of course it is entirely possible that the DWP will actually police its new system fairly…
But This Writer will believe it when I see it. I may have a long time to wait.
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.
Tories are very good at making broad statements – claims that many people would support – and then using them to justify unreasonable policies.
Iain Duncan Smith gave a fine example of such behaviour in his speech yesterday.
He said disabled people should not be considered “victims to be sustained by government handouts” – and many people might accept this statement. We should not write anybody off automatically; everybody should take the opportunity to earn their own living, if they can.
What the Gentleman Ranker didn’t say was that his Conservative Party has been removing those opportunities, along with state support – so disabled people are being deprived of their benefits while also being denied any chance of getting a job. Does that seem fair to you? Does that seem reasonable behaviour from an organisation that is trying to re-brand itself as the ‘party of working people’?
Duncan Smith’s speech was riddled with falsehoods or false arguments based on selective observation.
“Almost half of people on ESA have been on the benefit for more than two years – this is despite the majority of ESA claimants saying that they would like to work,” he said – implying that people who say they would like to work must be able to do so. This is a false assumption. It assumes that these people have been wrongly classed as too ill to work, simply because they want to. They’ve been classed as too ill because they are too ill; whether they want to work or not is nothing to do with it.
Let’s also bear in mind that the work capability assessment system for ESA is fatally flawed and attempts to ignore medical evidence as much as possible in order to find as many people ‘fit for work’ as possible and clear them off the benefit books. Iain Duncan Smith ordered changes to the appeal procedure because the skyrocketing number of successful cases was an embarrassment to him and his department.
“The ESA has Labour’s essential mistake at its heart – that people are passive victims,” he babbled – but he did not provide any evidence to prove this. It’s just an unsupported claim.
“Of course if you treat people as passive that’s what they’ll become.” Oh really? What about all the people who’ll take offence at the implication and do the exact opposite?
“It’s no wonder, when the system makes doctors ask a simplistic question: are you too sick to work at all?” This is a flat-out lie, of course. While the benefit’s provision is based on whether a person is found to be ill, the finding is based on a large number of questions that are said to be intended to find out whether the claimant really is too ill to work (although, as already mentioned, the assessment system is fatally flawed). Medical evidence is also said to be taken into account, but this claim – by the Conservative Government – has been proved false.
“Conservative philosophy is rooted in human nature – not in Utopianism or in empty pity but in the yearning of people to make a better life for themselves and their children. That’s why we don’t think of people not in work as victims to be sustained on government handouts. No, we want to help them live lives independent of the state.” There is so much to be questioned here that one hardly knows where to start. Perhaps at the end, where he claims he wants people to live “independent of the state”. This is true – but not in the way he expects us to assume. Iain Duncan Smith wants to cut people off of the benefits they deserve, and leave them to manage in whatever way they can – it won’t be any of his concern.
That is why many thousands of people, cut off from incapacity benefits, have been dying of malnutrition, of their illnesses, or of despair – committing suicide because they cannot see a future for themselves under Tory tyranny.
So perhaps it would be more accurate for him to say: “We think of people not in work as victims to be culled by the deprivation of benefits.”
“The evidence of our reforms is that people respond to incentives. They take opportunities. They adapt to a changing environment.” This is argument by selective observation – a false argument that cherry-picks the ‘hits’ and ignores the ‘misses’. Never mind the thousands of deaths – a few people have been able to get themselves into jobs, for the relatively short period the DWP counts as a success. What is it, now? Six months? And what kind of jobs are they? Zero-hours contracts that don’t pay the rent? No comment on that from the Gentleman Ranker!
“Many people who are sick or disabled want to work. We need to help them find the work they can do.” Again he assumes – evidenceless – that they can work, just because they want to work. Not only is it a false assumption – it is homicidal, for the reasons listed above.
The speech went on to attack the relative poverty measure, starting with the lie that it was a Labour device (it’s actually the standard in most countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) – but, again, there are uncomfortable issues to be considered.
The use of tax credits to push working people above an arbitrary poverty line – as practised by the Blair and Brown governments – is questionable. It’s a stop-gap measure that doesn’t solve the main problem, which is that employers have been paying far too little to working people.
Let’s not hear any quibbling that the money isn’t there – we all know of employers paying themselves hundreds of times as much as employees, and the richest employers in the UK are now twice as wealthy as they were in 2009, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. That comes from taking more than their fair share – nothing more or less.
Is the Conservative Government, of which Iain Duncan Smith is a part, doing anything at all to encourage employers to pay a living wage? No. George Osborne’s re-branded minimum wage is a living wage in name only and will not cover workers’ costs, as we have all see in news coverage about the forthcoming tax credits cut.
So Iain Duncan Smith has attacked Labour for a policy that failed to address somebody else’s poverty measure, while failing to acknowledge that he is planning to make matters worse for millions of working people.
The really appalling aspect of this is that this article is now well over 1,000 words long and has addressed only a fraction of the Work and Pensions Secretary’s speech.
If he is to be congratulated on any part of it, it should be for managing to present a completely false summary of the situation facing the unemployed, sick and disabled – in a way that too many people will accept without question.
Ignorant: Priti Patel will need to work a lot harder if she thinks she’s going to convince anybody about the Conservative Government’s appalling record of deaths among people on incapacity benefits.
The new Parliamentary session is going to be very hard on Iain Duncan Smith and his team (if you can call it that) at the Department for Work and Pensions. His skiving employment minister Priti Patel discovered this on her very first day back.
Ms Patel, who had the hypocrisy to criticise the UK’s workforce as lazy at a time when her own Parliamentary attendance record was among the lowest in the House of Commons, faced an inevitable series of questions on the government’s botched release of figures relating to the deaths of people claiming incapacity benefits, including Employment and Support Allowance – and of course messed up her answers ridiculously.
“It is wrong to state that people have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit,” she stated. Oh, really?
Didn’t the DWP do just that in its statistical releases of August 27? Among the incapacity benefits population alone, the number of deaths recorded – by the DWP – between 2003 and 2013 was 444,620… or 448,300, depending on whether you’ve accepted the DWP’s accumulated death figure or checked them by adding together the separate totals for IB/SDA and ESA. As you can tell, they don’t add up – casting doubt on the reliability of any of the figures the DWP has released.
“It is impossible and completely wrong to draw any causality from the statistics,” continued Ms Patel, tragically. “Any attempt to extrapolate anything beyond those figures is wrong.” My word, she was keen to make sure we knew what the Conservative Party thinks is wrong, wasn’t she!
What a shame for Ms Patel that she was in the wrong. While the figures themselves do not – necessarily – damn the DWP’s activities since the Tories took over, they do provide enough information to support some serious questions about Conservative Government policy and its effects on people with long-term illnesses.
If all is well in the assessment of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, then why did the DWP deliberately mislead This Writer, by falsely claiming it could not answer my Freedom of Information request on the incapacity benefit deaths because those facts were to be published in the future? In fact, the DWP was planning to publish a set of ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rates’ – about which we’ll learn more in a moment. By using this tactic, the DWP successfully evaded answering my question for more than two years. Is this acceptable behaviour for a government department?
According to Ms Patel, when the ASMRs were finally published, they were “in line with Office for National Statistics requirements and to national statistics standard”. That’s all very well, but the ONS provides information on how to create ASMRs that means the figures published on August 27 are, at most, a single day’s work for one person at the DWP. I submitted an FoI request on May 28, 2014, meaning they were published almost one year and three months later, with no reason provided for the delay. Is this acceptable behaviour for a government department?
Ms Patel said: “Specifically with regard to the statistics, the trend is that the number of people dying, as a proportion of the population, is going down.” What clever phrasing (she no doubt thought)! That is, indeed, what the ASMR statistics show. But the population of the UK is increasing rapidly, and this affects per-head-of-population figures like ASMRs – perhaps Ms Patel should have liaised with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister before passing her comment.
The numbers paint a different story. For the sake of transparency, This Writer has been using the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA and the number of people who have died after being declared fit for work in order to demonstrate this. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of people in the WRAG increased by nine per cent. The number of deaths increased by 24 per cent – from 2,990 people to 3,720. Increased. This does not indicate a downward trend. This is in a group where the Conservative Government expects – no, demands – that people will be ready to return to work within a year. This means members of the group should have no worse life expectancy than anyone in the general population, but if you apply the death rate among the general population to the WRAG, then the number of deaths in 2012 should have been 1,037, and in 2013 the total should have been 1,132 – in both cases, that’s around one-third of the actual figure. Priti Patel wants us to think that is no reason to question whether the work capability assessment – the procedure used to decide if a person should receive ESA and whether they deserve to go into the support group for people with severe illnesses or the WRAG – is fit for purpose. What do you think?
Let’s look at the number of people who have died after being assessed as fit for work. The media – and the Conservative Government – have been using this figure of 2,380 deaths from December 2011 to February 2014 (inclusive). But those are only people who died within two weeks of having their claim stopped (on the grounds that they were fit for work)! What about people like Mark Wood, who died of starvation, several months after the DWP decided he was fit for work? What about people who were moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance because they were told they were fit for work? Did they all find jobs and live happily ever after? This seems unlikely. How many of them were sanctioned because they could not fulfil the requirements of their Jobseekers’ Agreement’? How often? How many of them died? How many people were pushed off benefits altogether, and what happened to them? We may accept the claim that it is wrong to extrapolate anything from the figures, but isn’t that because the figures have been deliberately phrased in order to make it so?
If you disagree, take a look at This Writer’s Freedom of Information request. The part requiring the DWP to state the number of people who died after being found fit for work calls for information covering the period between December 2011 and May 2014 (inclusive), covering everybody who had been claiming ESA but died within that period. The DWP has complied with neither of those parts of the request, despite having withdrawn its appeal against answering the FoI request, and is in danger of being in contempt of court. Do you think that is acceptable behaviour for a government department?
In a later exchange, Louise Haigh MP said: “Contrary to the Minister’s earlier remarks, figures finally released by the Department over the summer showed that 2,380 people died after being declared fit for work—more than four times the death rate of the general population. In a harrowing case, a constituent of mine reported to me that she frequently considered committing suicide, both before and after being found fit for work. Does the Minister not feel that it is therefore high time to review the work capability assessment and that thousands of people are being wrongly defined as fit for work?”
In response, Ms Patel said: “Organisations have commented on this and Full Fact, which is widely known, has said that similar comments to those made by the hon. Lady, which have been widely reported, are simply wrong.”
So Ms Haigh was wrong to say that her constituent had considered suicide due to the DWP’s treatment of her? Ms Patel had no right to make such a claim; she did not have any experience of the case.
As for Full Fact, the fact that the Conservative Government was using that website’s worthless article about the death statistics to justify its behaviour speaks volumes about the relationship between the two. We may not be able to draw conclusions about causality from the DWP’s death figures, but we may certainly draw conclusions about the DWP and Full Fact, it seems. This Writer’s advice is that any further comment on this subject from that website may be dismissed.
We should not have to wait too long for that fate to claim Ms Patel, also…
Calls for a ‘commission of inquiry’ into the impact of the government’s changes to social security entitlements on poverty have won overwhelming support from Parliament.
The motion by Labour’s Michael Meacher was passed with a massive majority of 123 votes; only two people – David Nuttall and Jacob Rees-Mogg – voted against it.
The debate enjoyed cross-party support, having been secured by Mr Meacher with Sir Peter Bottomley (Conservative) and John Hemming (Liberal Democrat).
Introducing the motion, Mr Meacher said: “It is clear that something terrible is happening across the face of Britain. We are seeing the return of absolute poverty, which has not existed in this country since the Victorian age more than a century ago. Absolute poverty is when people do not have the money to pay for even their most basic needs.”
He said the evidence was all around:
There are at least 345 food banks and, according to the Trussell Trust, emergency food aid was given to 350,000 households for at least three days in the last year.
The Red Cross is setting up centres to help the destitute, just as it does in developing countries.
Even in prosperous areas like London, more than a quarter of the population is living in poverty.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, for the first time, the number of people in working families who are living in poverty, at 6.7 million, is greater than the number of people in workless and retired families who are living in poverty, at 6.3 million.
Child poverty will rise from 2.5 million to 3.2 million during this Parliament, around 24 per cent of children in the UK. By 2020, if the rise is not stopped, it will increase to four million – around 30 per cent of children in the UK.
The use of sanctions depriving people of all their benefits for several weeks at a time, had increased by 126 per cent since 2010 and 120 disabled people who had been receiving jobseeker’s allowance had been given a three-year fixed duration sanction in the previous year.
There are now more than 2,000 families who have been placed in emergency bed-and-breakfast accommodation after losing their homes.
The per cent rise in the overall homelessness figures last year included nearly 9,000 families with children, which is the equivalent of one family losing their home every 15 minutes.
A third of families spent less than £20 a week on food and that the average spend on food per person per day was precisely £2.10. That is a third less than those families were able to afford three months before that.
The proportion of households that had to make debt repayments of more than £40 a week had doubled and the average level of debt was £2,250.
A third of families had council tax debt.
2.7 million people had lost out through the Government’s changes to council tax benefit – many of them disabled people, veterans and some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
Households were having to spend 16 per cent more on gas and electricity.
There are 2.5 million people who have been unemployed for the best part of two years, and there were 562,000 vacancies when the debate took place (Monday), so four out of five of those who are unemployed simply cannot get a job whatever they do.
Cuts to local authorities mean many home care visits are limited to 15 minutes.
The 10 per cent of local authorities that are the most deprived in the country face cuts six times higher than those faced by the 10 per cent that are the most affluent.
60 per cent of benefit cuts fall on those who are in work.
Mr Meacher said the biggest cause of absolute poverty was the huge rise in sanctioning, often for trivial reasons such as turning up five minutes late for a job interview or the Work Programme:
A dyslexic person lost his Jobseekers Allowance because his condition meant that in one fortnightly period he applied for nine jobs, not 10. He was trying to pay his way and already had work, but it provided only an extremely low income.
The jobcentre didn’t record that a claimant had informed them that he was in hospital when he was due to attend an appointment and he was sanctioned.
A claimant went to a job interview instead of signing on at the jobcentre because the appointments clashed – and was sanctioned.
A claimant had to look after their mother who was severely disabled and very ill – and was sanctioned.
A Job Centre sent the letter informing a claimant of an interview to their previous address, despite having been told about the move. The claimant was sanctioned.
A claimant was refused a job because she was in a women’s refuge, fleeing domestic violence and in the process of relocating, but I was still sanctioned.
Mr Meacher also quoted what he called a classic: “I didn’t do enough to find work in between finding work and starting the job.”
The latest DWP figures suggest that more than one million people have been sanctioned in the past 15 months and deprived of all benefit and all income. “Given that the penalties are out of all proportion to the triviality of many of the infringements, and given that, as I have said, four out of five people cannot get a job whatever they do, the use of sanctioning on this scale, with the result of utter destitution, is — one struggles for words — brutalising and profoundly unjust,” said Mr Meacher.
Other reasons for the rise in absolute poverty included:
Delays in benefit payments.
The fact that it is impossible for many poor and vulnerable people to comply with new rules – for example a jobseeker who asked to downsize to a smaller flat who was told he must pay two weeks’ full rent upfront before getting housing benefit. He does not have the funds to do so and is stuck in a situation where his benefits will not cover his outgoings due to the Bedroom Tax.
The Bedroom Tax, which applies to around 667,000 households, and two-thirds of those affected are disabled. More than 90 per cent of those affected do not have smaller social housing to move into.
The Benefit Cap, imposed on a further 33,000 households.
Mistakes by the authorities; up to 40,000 working-age tenants in social housing may have been improperly subjected to the Bedroom Tax because of DWP error (although Iain Duncan Smith claims a maximum of 5,000).
Mr Meacher said: “The Chancellor’s policy of keeping 2.5 million people unemployed makes it impossible for them to find work, even if there were employers who would be willing to take them, and the 40 per cent success rate of appeals shows how unfair the whole process is.”
Responding to a comment from David TC Davies (Conservative) that those who are not looking for work must realise there will be consequences, particularly when a million people have been able to come to the UK from eastern Europe and find work, Mr Meacher said, “Those who come to this country are more likely to be employed and take out less in benefits than many of the indigenous population.”
He asked: “Is all this brutality towards the poor really necessary? Is there any justification in intensifying the misery, as the Chancellor clearly intends, by winding up the social fund and, particularly, by imposing another £25 billion of cuts in the next Parliament, half of that from working-age benefits?
“After £80 billion of public spending cuts, with about £23 billion of cuts in this Parliament so far, the deficit has been reduced only at a glacial pace, from £118 billion in 2011 to £115 billion in 2012 and £111 billion in 2013. Frankly, the Chancellor is like one of those first world war generals who urged his men forward, over the top, in order to recover 300 yards of bombed-out ground, but lost 20,000 men in the process. How can it be justified to carry on imposing abject and unnecessary destitution on such a huge scale when the benefits in terms of deficit reduction are so small as to be almost derisory?”
Suggested alternatives to the punitive austerity programme of cuts came thick and fast during the debate. Challenged to explain what Labour’s Front Bench meant by saying they would be tougher on welfare than the Tories, Mr Meacher said: “As the shadow Chancellor has made clear on many occasions, is that we need public investment. We need to get jobs and growth. That is the alternative way: public investment in jobs, industry, infrastructure and exports to grow the real economy, not the financial froth, because that would cut the deficit far faster than the Chancellor’s beloved austerity.”
He asked: “How about the ultra-rich — Britain’s 1,000 richest citizens — contributing just a bit? Their current remuneration — I am talking about a fraction of the top 1 per cent — is £86,000 a week, which is 185 times the average wage. They received a windfall of more than £2,000 a week from the five per cent cut in the higher rate of income tax, and their wealth was recently estimated by The Sunday Times at nearly half a trillion pounds. Let us remember that we are talking about 1,000 people. Their asset gains since the 2009 crash have been calculated by the same source at about £190 billion.
“These persons, loaded with the riches of Midas, might perhaps be prevailed upon to contribute a minute fraction of their wealth in an acute national emergency, when one-sixth of the workforce earns less than the living wage and when one million people who cannot get a job are being deprived of all income by sanctioning and thereby being left utterly destitute.
“Charging the ultra-rich’s asset gains since 2009 to capital gains tax would raise more than the £25 billion that the Chancellor purports to need. I submit that it would introduce some semblance of democracy and social justice in this country if the Chancellor paid attention to this debate and thought deeply about what he is doing to our country and its people.”
Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley, Lab) suggested that the Government might save a lot more if its members “showed the same energy and enthusiasm for getting those who evade their taxes and run to tax havens as they do for going after the poor, the sick and people on the dole”.
Against this, David TC Davies offered insults and distortions of the facts, quoting the Daily Mail as though it provided an accurate account of current events: “Members of the shadow Cabinet might need a boxing referee to sort out their disputes at the moment, as we read today in the Daily Mail.”
He said: “We took office with a deficit of £160 billion and a debt that was rising rapidly to £1 trillion. That was after years of overspending in good times, as well as in bad, by Labour, a cheap money supply and lax banking regulation under the former Government.” Labour’s spending, up until the financial crisis, was always less than that of the previous Conservative administration; Gordon Brown and Tony Blair both ran a lower deficit than John Major and Margaret Thatcher, and at one point actually achieved a surplus, which is something that the Conservatives had not managed in the previous 18 years. While Mr Davies here complained about the “lax banking regulation”, Conservatives supported it at the time and in fact demanded more DE-regulation, which would have made the financial crisis worse when it happened.
“We had disastrous economic decisions, such as that to sell gold at a fraction of its real rate,” said Mr Davies. Yes – the UK lost around £9 billion. But compare that with the disastrous economic decision by George Osborne to impose more than £80 billion worth of cuts to achieve a £7 billion cut in the national deficit. The UK has lost £73 billion there, over a three-year period.
And Mr Davies said: “Worst of all and most seriously, we had a welfare system that allowed people to get into a trap of welfare dependency, leaving them on the dole for many years, but at the same time filling the consequent gap in employment by allowing mass and uncontrolled immigration into this country, which completely undercut British workers.” The first assertion is simply untrue; the second is a legacy of previous Conservative administrations that agreed to the free movement of EU member citizens, meaning that, when the eastern European countries joined in 2004, citizens migrated to the UK in the hope of a better life. Labour has admitted it should have negotiated for a delay in free movement until the economies of those countries had improved, making such migration less likely, but the situation was created before Labour took office.
Challenged on the Coalition’s record, Mr Davies fell back on the Tories’ current trick question, which is to counter any criticism by asking: “Is he suggesting that we are not doing enough to pay down the national debt? Is he suggesting that we should cut further and faster? If so, and if we had the support of other Opposition Members, that is exactly what the Government could do and, indeed, possibly should do. I look forward to seeing that support for getting the deficit down.” This disingenuous nonsense was batted away by Labour’s Hugh Bayley, who said “investing in the economy, creating jobs and thereby getting people off welfare and into work” was the way forward.
Mr Davies’ Conservative colleague Jeremy Lefroy took a different view, agreeing that increasing numbers of people are finding it impossible to make ends meet, and that job creation and apprenticeships were a better way out of poverty than changing the social security system alone. He agreed that sanctions were applied to his constituents “in a rather arbitrary manner”. He spoke against George Osborne’s suggested plan to remove housing benefits from people aged under 25, saying this “would have a drastic impact on young people who need to live away from home and who have no support from their families”. He spoke in favour of councils increasing their housing stock. And he admitted that disabled people faced severe problems when unfairly transferred from ESA to JSA: “A lady in my constituency says, ‘I am simply not fit for work, but by signing on for JSA I have to say that I am available and fit for work.’ She does not want to tell a lie.”
Steve Rotheram (Liverpool Walton, Labour) spoke powerfully about the effect of being on benefits: “Lots of people in my city are on benefits for the very first time. Far from being in clover — it beggars belief what we read in the right-wing press — they are struggling to make ends meet, and the problem that thousands of Liverpudlians are facing is new to them. For many, the idea that they might miss a rent payment is totally alien. They have not done that in the past 20 years, but since May 2010, their individual household incomes have been on such a downward trajectory that they now find themselves in rent arrears, seeking advice on debt management and unable to afford the daily cost of travel, food and energy. Figures suggest that 40 per cent of the adult population in Liverpool are struggling with serious debt problems.”
And he said poverty had health implications, too: “David Taylor-Robinson of the University of Liverpool and his fellow academics have highlighted the doubling of malnutrition-related hospital admissions nationally since 2008.”
John Hemming (Birmingham Yardley, LD) raised concerns about “the interrelationship between the welfare cap and victims of domestic violence, and whether there are situations that need more attention. I believe that people can get discretionary housing payment to leave a violent home, but it is important that we ensure that there is a route out of domestic violence for women. I am worried about that issue, just as I am about some wrongful sanctioning that I have seen. That does not help at all, because it undermines the whole process.” He also called for “a substantial increase in the minimum wage, because as the economy is improving the Government should look at that, rather than maintain things as they are”.
The vote gave huge endorsement to the call for an independent inquiry into poverty under the Coalition.
But with an election just 15 months away, how long will we have to wait for it to report?
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Despair: How can you get the government to do the right thing when the rules mean it doesn’t have to?
Those of you who read the comments on this blog will be familiar with Nick. He’s a gentleman who has been ill for a very long time. The effects of his illness are readily apparent just by looking at him – he describes himself as having the appearance of an inmate in a Japanese POW camp during World War Two.
The Department of Work and Pensions still wanted to tell him he was able to seek work; they only stopped trying to cut his benefits because his MP intervened.
This is how he describes the attitude of the Coalition government: “David Cameron … is not to be trusted as he has a way of killing people in a very barbaric way, the way of silence, in the privacy of one’s home, to have a letter dropped on them to place that person in a deliberate panic, knowing and hoping it kills them.”
Elsewhere, he states: “I myself have lost all my many online friends bar one… over the past three years – all dead at the hands of the DWP.”
Now this government department is doing its best to starve the life out of Mrs Mike, it seems.
She received a letter yesterday that makes absolutely no sense at all, to anyone with sense. Attend:
“Please allow us to apologise for the lack of communication you have received regarding the changes in your benefit. As per normal procedure, you should have received a letter and phone call some weeks ago to prepare you for the end of your contribution based ESA claim. An invitation to claim income related ESA should then have been sent out. A fault on your claim meant that our processing section did not receive a prompt to contact you to explain the changes to contribution based ESA eligibility.”
Our first reaction to that was: Not our problem. The “fault” on our claim would be one that was created at the DWP, by DWP employees, and is entirely the responsibility of the DWP. But who suffers for it? We do.
“I can see that you have an ongoing appeal against being placed in the Work Related Activities Group of ESA. I cannot see an outcome to the appeal as of yet. Once an outcome has been reached, we will contact you. If successful, you will be placed in the Support Group of ESA.”
The letter goes on to contradict itself, revealing that a decision-maker examined the appeal – in April – and determined that another work capability assessment would be necessary to find out whether Mrs Mike is less able to work now than she was in July last year.
We were not told about this decision. We have not been notified about any new WCA. And now we are confused – are we supposed to be claiming income-related ESA, or waiting for the results of the appeal – an appeal which has been ongoing for nearly half a year now – in case Mrs Mike gets put into the support group. And how is she supposed to live until then – on roots and berries?
“Please be aware that we receive a very high volume of appeals; due to the volume, it is not possible to resolve each appeal as quickly as we or our ESA claimants would like. However, please be assured that your appeal is ongoing and you will be contacted when we have an outcome. In your case, our Decision Maker has stated that we will need to know the outcome of your next medical assessment before we can progress your appeal.”
Yes, we are indeed aware that the DWP receives a very high volume of appeals – 255,084 between January and March. The cost of these appeals to the taxpayer totalled £66 million between 2012-13 – and that it is losing them in increasing numbers. This is because Atos assessors and DWP decision-makers have been making decisions that are not only wrong according to the law but harmful to the lives of those affected. Do I really need to quote the 73-deaths-per-week figure that we all know and loathe – and that we all believe has inflated to even more horrific levels since it was first released? We don’t know because the DWP – again – is refusing to release the figures it holds.
“When you were migrated across to ESA from Incapacity Benefit, you attended a medical for ESA reassessment. The outcome of this was that you were to be placed in the Work Related Activities Group for a period of 12 months, effective from 21.06.12. It is for this reason that you were sent an ESA50 form in May this year; you were due for your 12month review, as stated when your claim was migrated from IB to ESA.”
This is what we deduced when we received the form – which arrived with no explanatory letter. We completed it and sent it back very quickly and had heard nothing about it since. It would be logical to expect a response, or indeed a decision, before a benefit claim expired, but we’re dealing with the DWP here, whose agents seem to think they are a law unto themselves.
Note the two inaccuracies: Mrs Mike’s ESA started on August 14 last year, and the Work Capability Assessment is not a medical check and should not, in any circumstances, be described as one. It is a tick-box assessment to determine whether a claimant is capable of performing any work that may be used by the DWP as an excuse to close their claim. Nothing more.
“Your completed ESA50 has been received by ATOS; we are currently waiting for them to set a date for your new medical assessment. You will be contacted when this date has been set.”
Oh, so the fault lies with Atos, does it? That’s nice to know. In the meantime, what are we supposed to be using to pay the bills?
And has anyone noticed that we now have a choice between combinations of three ongoing matters: We can make a new claim for income-related ESA; we can wait for a decision on our appeal, which requires another work capability assessment; and/or we can wait for Atos to pull its finger out of whichever bodily orifice is appropriate and arrange a WCA in relation to the 12-month review, which is also awaiting a decision – all after the claim period has ended!
Will we have to attend two work capability assessments? That seems to be what’s implied, although nothing in the letter clarifies this.
“I have referred your letter of complaint to our Complaints Resolution Manager, for their response. I do appreciate that you have not experienced the level of communication or customer care that we seek to provide.
“Hopefully this answers your queries.”
How has this answered any queries? All it has done is create more questions!
“Once you have completed and returned the enclosed ESA3 form, we will be able to reassess your claim and consider income related ESA.
“Once you have been seen for your next medical, we will be able to progress your Support Group appeal. If placed in Support Group, it is possible that we will be able to recommence payment of contribution based ESA.”
Aren’t these mutually exclusive? Which do they expect us to do? And – again – how do they expect us to live while we’re doing this and waiting for them to get on with it?
Note that there is no mention that we can apply for a Short Term Benefit Advance while waiting for the DWP to fulfil its responsibilities. Few people know about this and the Department aims to keep it that way. Why’s that, do you think?
It is well-known to the DWP that, along with her physical problems, Mrs Mike suffers from mental health problems and depression. As I write these words, she’s asleep on the sofa where she has been bawling her eyes out for much of the morning, in utter despair at the situation. That’s the same sofa where she spends many days at a time in such agony that she cannot move.
She won’t be another casualty of this institutionalised cruelty, but now I have to be extra vigilant to make sure she doesn’t get low enough to do herself a mischief. That’s an extra burden on me, when I already have my hands full, running the household and trying to find ways to make ends meet (like the Vox Political book, Strong Words and Hard Times*).
Meanwhile, what sanctions have been placed upon the DWP officers who have been working on this case?
None at all.
Everyone knows unemployed people claiming Jobseekers Allowance have to sign a ‘Jobseekers Agreement’ in which they agree to meet stringent conditions in order to receive their benefit. In the same way, people on ESA must report changes in their own circumstances and medical health, in order to allow their benefit to be updated correctly. Both arrangements rely on correct and timely administration by the DWP.
But this is not happening – nor is it likely to happen in the future – because, when you check to find what sanctions may be placed on the DWP for failing to uphold its side of the agreement, what do you find?
None at all.
Of course, responsibility for the policy lies not with those who carry it out but with the policy-maker, in this case the Secretary of State, Iain Something Smith. How much will he pay as a penalty for masterminding this failure of a system that has caused so much agony to so many people – and that is costing the taxpayer so much extra money in legal challenges?
I’ll tell you. It’s exactly the same as the amount of remorse the failed, Returned-To-Unit Army bag-carrier showed when he was challenged about the people his policies have killed:
None at all.
There will be no hope for the sick and disabled of this country until those responsible for their persecution are made to pay the price for it.
*Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times may be bought here, here, here, here and here – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.
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.
Faces of betrayal: Are Ed Miliband and his work and pensions spokesman Liam Byrne about to engineer the biggest betrayal of working class people in Labour Party history? If so, how do they think they will ever be able to win an election?
Last night I read a news report that, if true, shocked me to my core.
“The Department for Work and Pensions has introduced emergency legislation to reverse the outcome of a court of appeal decision and “protect the national economy” from a £130m payout to jobseekers deemed to have been unlawfully punished.
“The retroactive legislation, published on Thursday evening and expected to be rushed through parliament on Tuesday, will effectively strike down a decision by three senior judges and deny benefit claimants an average payout of between £530 and £570 each.”
It said lawyers and campaigners have branded the DWP’s move as “repugnant” and “unbelievably disgusting”, saying it undermined the rule of law. That is my belief, also.
Then came the hammer blow:
“The Guardian understands that Labour will support the fast-tracked bill with some further safeguards and that negotiations with the coalition are ongoing.”
Labour, supporting a Bill by the Tories, specifically designed to oppress people who are in work or trying to find work?
This would be a betrayal of Labour’s core support and is something that, in my belief, nobody who supports the rule of law in this country should tolerate.
Allow me to put this into perspective:
The Court of Appeal ruling means that the Department for Work and Pensions, under Iain Duncan Smith’s supervision, broke the law more than 228,000 times. That is the number of jobseekers from whom they have deprived benefit, according to the figures available. IDS is a criminal a quarter of a million times over.
Not only that, but the Workfare programme, by making people work for employers who are perfectly capable of hiring people at the minimum wage or for higher amounts, is taking real jobs out of the economy – something that the Labour Party must abhore (the clue is in the title – ‘Labour’ Party).
There can be no justification for it.
The electorate will never forgive the party if Labour turns on its core voters – the poor and vulnerable – and attacks them in this way.
It is an absolute and certain path to defeat at the next election.
The only reasonable way forward is to fight tooth and nail against this evil subversion of the legislative process.
Just scan the responses to this article on the Labour Party’s Facebook page and the Guardian article’s comment column and you will see that (to the best of my ability to judge) nobody who has professed support for Labour has expressed support for this.
Not one person.
The response has been universally negative. Nobody wants Labour to do this.
Now, it could be that this is all a mistake and the Guardian article (by Shiv Malik) contains information that is wrong.
But I, and others, have been trying to get a response from the Labour leadership for nearly 24 hours now, to no avail. It seems – whatever their convictions – these MPs don’t have the courage to stand by them.
The new Bill is being rushed through Parliament and there will be a vote on Tuesday, so you may well be asking what is to be done.
The immediate thing to do is, if you are a Labour supporter and have a Labour MP – CONTACT THEM. Telephone them, email them, get to them whichever way you can. Make it clear, politely but in no uncertain terms, that supporting Iain Duncan Smith’s evil Bill is a betrayal of the people who support the party and that you will not tolerate it.
PRESSURE. It’s the only way to ensure the will of the people is heard.
Meanwhile, some of us will explore other avenues.
We’ll get to the bottom of this.
What a shame this shot in the foot had to happen just when support for David Cameron and the Coalition has been crumbling. It really is an abomination. My opinion is that those responsible should be ejected from the Labour Party altogether.
David Cameron, pictured in the Telegraph article: “I want to go on,” he says, neglecting to add, “harming the honest, the hard-working, the strivers and the tryers of the UK. I want to go on rewarding the tax-dodgers, the bankers, the exploiters and Parliamentary scroungers. I want to go on deceiving the easily-led into believing that my way is the only way, and duping my Coalition partners into supporting my extreme right-wing policies until I can sling them into the gutter in 2015”. Does that seem about right to you?
Apparently ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ doesn’t extend to people in certain professions.
According to a new analysis by The Children’s Society published in The Observer, almost half a million soldiers, teachers and nurses will lose hundreds of pounds every year when the Coalition’s latest benefit cut comes into force.
The cap of one per cent on benefit and tax credits upratings over the next three years means up to 40,000 soldiers will be worse-off: A second lieutenant in the army with three children, earning £470 a week and whose wife does not work will lose £552 per year.
Around 150,000 primary and nursery school teachers will lose out: A couple with two children where the sole earner is a primary school teacher earning £600 per week will lose £424.
But the majority of losers in the professions will be nurses – 300,000 of them. A lone-parent nurse with two children, earning the profession’s average of £530 per week, will lose £424 per year.
For a government that likes to state “We love the NHS”, the Coalition seems to really enjoy attacking nurses and trying to cover it up. By December 13 last year, 7,134 nursing posts had been lost since the Coalition came into power, 943 in the previous month alone. But when the issue was raised in Parliamentary debate, Health Secretary and gynaecological slang-term Jeremy Hunt did his level best to avoid giving a straight response. “The nurse to bed ratio has gone up. The average bed is getting an extra two hours of nursing care, per week, than under Labour.” That didn’t tell us how many nurses had lost their jobs. So we got: “The number of clinical staff in the NHS has gone up and not down. I don’t want to micro-manage every hospital in the country and tell them how many doctors and how many nurses.”
Perhaps there’s some deep-seated childhood trauma affected all the members of the Coalition government, that makes them want to persecute nurses and then try to cover it up? Whatever the case, I’m sure the facts would form the skeleton of a terrific little crime thriller.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that the government will be debating an increase of one per cent in benefits this year. With inflation at 2.7 or 3.2 per cent, depending on which system you use, that’s a real-terms cut of two per cent every year for the next three years.
I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that these figures were compiled by The Children’s Society, meaning they relate only to working parents. The one per cent cap on benefit rises will hit single working people as well – we just don’t have the figures for them yet.
The figures make a nonsense of Iain Duncan Smith’s increasingly desperate claims that his policy of cuts and persecution to achieve lower take-up of welfare benefits is fair.
The Tories have now alienated working people and those on benefits. Who’s next, do you think? I reckon pensioners had better prepare for the worst!
Remember last week, when he trotted out a roll of fabricated figures to make it seem that the tax credit system had run out of control under Labour (tax credits are among the benefits to be capped at one per cent)? It turns out that all his figures were wrong, with his claims about fraud – which stands at less than one per cent of total claims – spectacularly inaccurate.
How about the very next day, when he was dribbling about the relative percentage rises in Jobseekers’ Allowance and private sector salaries, claiming that the unemployed were getting a far better deal than workers – only to be rebuffed when we all checked how much this was in real money, found out that workers were still making far more (although not enough – remember many employers pay so little that people working full-time still have to claim state benefits, so that’s a subsidy for private companies, being paid out of our taxes). The amount paid in benefits as a proportion of average wages has stayed the same, as it should. The Work and Pensions Secretary is hell-bent on breaking that link in order to inflict real harm on Britain’s poorest.
Does anybody remember the Tory slogan “Broken Britain”? What they didn’t tell us was that they were the ones who wanted to break us!
And now David Cameron has told the Telegraph he wants to be Prime Minister for another full term, from 2015 to 2020. If he manages that feat, he will no doubt face pressure from some of his own cabinet members to inflict further harm on those receiving benefits.
For example, a group of 70 Tory MPs including Michael Gove and David Willetts have published an agenda of policies that one minister has already – according to the Torygraph – described as a “blueprint” for the party’s next general election manifesto.
It includes plans to lengthen the school day “to help working parents” – how do you like that, all you teachers who are losing benefits this year? You can rest assured that your pay won’t increase to cover the extra hours!
And it calls for benefits to be cut for people who live in the North, and other parts of the country where the cost of living is lower. They love regional pay, don’t they? And they WILL drive it through, no matter how much of the population oppose it!
For a representative selection of citizens’ opinions about this, I suggest you visit the MSN news site’s version of this story where (when I looked last night) the Comment column was unanimously opposed to Cameron continuing. That’s something like 20-odd pages of people demanding that he be ousted at the first opportunity.
It did my heart good to see that.
The sad truth is that none of the above will change the result of the debate and vote on benefits uprating, due to take place in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
As long as the Tories have the support of Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, they have a majority and can vote through any ludicrous and harmful policies they please.
The only thing I can suggest is that you all email your MPs in advance of the debate and put pressure on them to do the right thing – or account for their decision if they vote with the government – especially if you live in the North, or in rural areas!
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