Tag Archives: work and pensions committee

Lansley feels the heat over ‘bullying’ claims – why not Mr… Smith?

Insincerity man: Would YOU believe Iain Duncan Smith if he told you he wasn't a bully?

Insincerity man: Would YOU believe Iain Duncan Smith if he told you he wasn’t a bully?

Claims that Iain Duncan Smith bullied members of the Public Accounts Committee into blaming his permanent secretary for the failings of Universal Credit are gaining traction after the Daily Telegraph reported that committee chair Margaret Hodge said that “senior figures had sought to influence her report”.

The Telegraph report states: “In comments to students on November 11 – four days after the publication of he committee’s report – Mrs Hodge said: ‘I can’t tell you how much inappropriate talking there was to me and other members of the committee, by both ministers and civil servants, either to get me to blame the permanent secretary in the DWP and therefore transfer blame away from Iain Duncan Smith or to put the blame on Mr Devereux [Robert Devereux, the permanent secretary] and to ensure ministers escaped blame.'”

As reported here on November 7, Iain Duncan Smith “has denied claims he tried to ‘lean on’ members of the committee to place the blame on Mr Devereaux, but Labour sources on the committee told BBC News there was a ‘concerted’ effort by Tory members to shift the blame, with extra meetings and discussions over amendments ‘pointing the finger’ at the permanent secretary”.

Bizarrely, it is Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the House of Commons, who has come under attack after the revelation – because he told the Commons (on the same day) that there was “no truth” to the claims.

While it is true that knowingly telling a falsehood to other MPs constitutes contempt of Parliament, for which the penalty used to be expulsion – as we know from the record of Iain Duncan Smith it seems strange that the focus is on Lansley, who merely repeated what he had been told to say, and not Smith himself, the alleged perpetrator of the wrongdoing.

Spokespeople for the DWP and Lansley have denied any wrongdoing – well they would, wouldn’t they?

But Iain Duncan Smith is due to go before the Commons Work and Pensions Committee to account for the many offences he has committed in the last few months, and it seems right that this bullying allegation should be included alongside the financial irregularities now associated with Universal Credit (more than £160 million wasted on duff computer systems), his refusal to provide up-to-date figures on the number of deaths now associated with his social (in)security policies, the illegality of his attempts to deprive sanctioned victims of his workfare schemes of the back-benefit the government now owes them, and his own contempt of Parliament offence, in which he made false claims about the benefit cap.

That meeting is set to take place on December 9 (postponed from an original date in July). Do you think the lying coward will turn up?


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The government is weak and Labour should take the advantage

Don't dribble, David! The spittle on his chin shows us exactly how much calm leadership we can expect from this over-promoted, spoilt, overgrown child.

Don’t dribble, David! The spittle on his chin shows us exactly how much calm leadership we can expect from this over-promoted, spoilt, overgrown child.

As the Commons went into recess, both David Cameron and Nick Clegg were desperately trying to reassert their authority – not just over the government but their political parties as a whole.

For Cameron, the last couple of weeks must be like falling into an ever-deepening pit, lined with members of his own party who are criticising him and calling him ugly names.

UKIP – or, as I think I’ll call them from now on, BLIP – humiliated him at the local elections; the EU issue stayed with him when his own Parliamentary party tried to amend the Queen’s speech; Tory grandees including Tebbit, Howe and Lawson spoke against him; he alienated his grassroots party members, who now firmly believe that the Tories in government think they are “swivel-eyed loons”; and this week he alienated them again by pushing through the same-sex marriage bill via a deal with Labour, even though Conservative association members have been saying that his government is now acting against the wishes of modern Conservatives.

(Traditionally, if an amendment to the so-called ‘Gracious speech’ had succeeded, Cameron would have been forced to resign and a new government would have had to be formed. An alternative amendment, put forward by Labour’s John Mann, regretted that there was no plan for a referendum on the Coalitions shameful and abhorrent treatment of the National Health Service. Had Speaker John Bercow chosen this for discussion, matters might have been very different indeed.)

Apparently there has been some kind of campaign to oust Nick Clegg as Liberal Democrat leader, but he is now such an irrelevance to politics that I couldn’t be bothered to look up the details.

It is in this atmosphere that both men (we can hardly call them leaders any more) took to speechifying, as if talking themselves up would make any difference.

It didn’t help that Cameron included one statement that we can all see is blatantly untrue: He said the Conservative Party was a “broad church” and would continue to be, under his leadership. In fact it has become – more than ever before – a minority-interest group, aiming to suck all the money in the country into the hands of the wealthiest party members and their friends in big business, impoverishing the rest. This blog has made that clear from the start.

Cameron said the government was focused on issues that were “squarely in the national interest”. Let’s have a look at some of those issues.

The Huffington Post tells us that it may be possible to use the forthcoming Anti-Social Behaviour Bill to make homelessness a crime – and this has given rise to fears that, in conjunction with the Conservatives’ implementation of laws that make it extremely hard for poorer people to keep up rent payments on their homes, and their support of privately-owned prisons, they are planning to bring back the 19th-century idea of the workhouse, with poor people worked mercilessly to make money for the idle rich. It may seem like fantasy, but there’s something in it!

What about the failure of the Work Programme? Does anyone remember Iain Duncan Smith (Vox‘s Monster of the Year, 2012) wagging his finger and screaming at Owen Jones on Question Time last year – “I didn’t hear you screaming about two and a half million people who were parked, nobody saw them, for over 10 years, not working, no hope, no aspiration. We are changing their lives”. In fact, the government is not changing their lives, unless Mr… Smith admits he meant changing them for the worse.

Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee has discovered “growing evidence” that organisations involved in the Work Programme are the ones that are “parking” the most disadvantaged people, who had spent the longest period of time out of work.

They’re not interested in helping people; they don’t want to boost the economy by increasing employment. All these firms want is their pay packet from the Department of Work and Pensions. That is what we see.

And we have Michael Gove, failing the youth of this nation with his ridiculous ideas about education. These can be summed up by saying, “State education must never be as good as private education and state pupils must never be allowed to achieve high results”. This is why he interfered with the marking of GCSE exam papers last year (did he do it to A-levels as well?), prompting the Welsh and Northern Irish education ministers to intervene.

Mr Gove’s reaction to that, revealed this week, has been to write to the ministers concerned, suggesting that they should set up their own examination system. A Whitehall source, quoted in The Guardian, said: “The Welsh are determined to keep dumbing down their exams. Leighton Andrews interfered with exam boards last year. He opposes our attempts to toughen things up and made clear he will continue to interfere to make things easier. It’s better that we all go our own way and defend our positions to our electorates.”

For a Conservative Party that is supposedly trying not to be divisive, those words are a shot in the foot.

The Welsh Government, seeing this for what it is, responded tersely: “Wales is keeping GCSEs and A-levels, as is Northern Ireland. We wish Mr Gove well with his plans to rename these qualifications in England.” In other words, it is the English system under Gove that will let pupils down.

This is the landscape we currently inhabit. The government has treated the people abominably and seems determined to continue in the same manner. Sympathy for it is draining away and the people are looking for an alternative.

It’s time for Her Majesty’s Opposition – the Labour Party – to step up and offer that alternative. Not ‘Tory Lite’ or another shade of neoliberalism but a genuine plan to improve this once-great nation’s fortunes.

Over to you, Mr Miliband. No pressure.

Parliamentary committee says Universal Credit is an attack on the most vulnerable

Dame Anne Begg, chair of the Work and Pensions committee: “We have serious concerns about about how more vulnerable people will cope with the changes, especially the online claims system and the proposed single monthly payment.”

We all know the Department for Work and Pensions is fond of claiming disabled people are “fit for work” when they aren’t. Another thing that isn’t fit for work is its flagship Universal Credit system.

The new system will start to come into effect with pilot schemes in the northwest of England in April 2013, and full national roll-out is due to start in October 2013. But a report from the Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee says it should not progress before it addresses serious issues.

We know this won’t happen. Iain Duncan Smith is far more interested in getting a flawed system out on time than in getting it right, and Universal Credit is already seriously behind schedule, no matter what the David Cameron said in PMQs yesterday. But the report means he cannot say he was unaware of the problems.

“The Committee notes that the Government has set a very ambitious timetable for Universal Credit implementation and expresses concern about whether there will be sufficient time for the Government to learn from its pilots and whether it is desirable or necessary to implement so many changes at once,” the report states.

The committee is chaired by Dame Anne Begg, who added: “We have serious concerns about how more vulnerable people will cope with the changes, especially the online claims system and the proposed single monthly payment. Some claimants will not be able to make an online claim and others may struggle to adapt to monthly payments.”

Measures to help these claimants may be hard to access and too slow in identifying them, meaning they could fall into debt and hardship before any extra support – and none has been identified – can be applied.

The committee says vulnerable claimants will be unable to manage plans to pay rent costs to the claimant, rather than the landlord, and may fall into arrears. Appropriate “safety net” arrangements need to be developed and tested – there aren’t any at the moment. And there should be an option to continue with payments to the landlord instead – again, no such option exists in the new system.

Nor is there any process to identify claimants who are struggling to manage their housing costs, meaning the government will offer no help to them before they fall into arrears and face eviction.

There is no evidence to show that Universal Credit will provide more generous support for disabled people, despite this being a stated aim.

Some disabled people will have their entitlement reduced under Universal Credit. Transitional protection will mean that they do not lose in cash terms immediately, but this protection will erode over time, will be lost if their circumstances change, and is not available to new claimants.

Income calculation is complicated so I’ll quote the report directly:

“The Government plans to calculate monthly Universal Credit payments by using information about claimants’ employment earnings taken from data feeds from HMRC’s new Real Time Information (RTI) system, which is being introduced to administer PAYE taxation. The Committee comments that whilst Ministers are confident that RTI will be delivered on time to support Universal Credit, tax, accountancy and business organisation raised a range of specific concerns about the RTI programme, and the Committee did not receive satisfactory responses from DWP and HMRC about these issues.

“The Committee welcomes the Government’s efforts to simplify the provision of information on income by the self-employed, but shares the concerns of witnesses that the proposed system could impose a significant and unnecessary burden on the self-employed. It is also concerned that the proposed Minimum Income Floor rules could act as a disincentive to entrepreneurship.”

It’s a government IT scheme; it won’t work and we all know it.

Dame Anne Begg said: “There appears to be no contingency if the IT system doesn’t work.”

See what I mean?

The report also warns that essential elements of support are not in place. Additional resources are needed by the advice sector – such as Citizens Advice – to cope with a “significant increase in demand”.

We know this will not be forthcoming. The idea is to push people off benefits. If they get advice about how to apply correctly, this won’t happen. Advice services will be starved.

Significantly, when considered in tandem with my article on the Universal Jobmatch system, the committee attacked the sanctions regime employed by the DWP. In the report, the committee said it “believes it is essential that DWP supports claimants in the job-search and that the support available to each claimant is clearly set out and actually provided.”

Meaning: it isn’t at the moment.

The sanction system also gets a hammering: “There is little evidence that they strengthen work incentives on their own.”

The arrangements for passporting benefits, such as free school meals, are attacked as unclear: “The entitlement criteria have a significant impact on decisions about returning to work or increasing working hours… It is essential for the Government to put fair and workable criteria in place… A clear indication is now needed on the arrangements.”

In other words, fair and workable criteria are not in place at the moment.

Liam Byrne MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, poured scorn on the scheme: “Two and a half years in, the Government doesn’t seem to have a clue about the big questions it’s got to get right,” he said.

“If ministers don’t wake up and get a grip soon, then Universal Credit is going to continue its rapid descent into universal chaos, spelling disaster for millions of Britain’s families.”

Dame Anne recommended Paul Lewis for his commentary on the report. He said: “Online applications only, no paper forms. But 11 million adults have no internet at home. Support for them not clear. Disability benefits to change again as means tested help moved to UC. Over 400,000 to get less, but total remains same.

“Rent paid to individual, not landlord for almost everyone. Major change and hard to manage by most vulnerable, say MPs.”

In other words, this system should be put ESA as it is not “fit for work”.

Perhaps it should go in the ‘work-related activity’ group? Maybe after a year of hard work getting itself up to fitness, it might be serviceable. But I doubt it.

And that begs the question: If the DWP can’t get its own scheme – meant to simplify the system – workable within a year, how can it expect people to coax their disabled bodies into good condition within the same period?