Archives For claimants

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Lucy Darnell* is a job centre adviser, and despite being afraid to speak out for fear of losing her job, she passed us on this statement:

“Benefit sanction targets do exist. Government and management say they don’t, but they do. Not only that, management are very passionate about them. They are very passionate about meeting sanction targets. There’s a lot of pressure on those working in the job centre and a few of us have tried to fight against it. But they are very passionate it. It’s part of the way they are cutting back on money. The targets are part of the plan.”

Under the coalition, benefit sanctions have become commonly used for seemingly minor or mistaken circumstances. Sanctions may be applied for up to three years, which can serve as huge threat to the survival of those that cannot source any help from anywhere else. The government have emphasised that there are no benefit sanction targets, despite several accusations including a leaked e-mail earlier this year from one job centre manager pushing their team for more sanction referrals, and mentioning a league table.

Image: The guardian

Image: The guardian

Ruth King, the job centre adviser manager who sent the e-mail even threatened staff with performance improvement plans, the first stage of disciplinary action, if the number of sanctions did not rise. The e-mail said:

“As you can see Walthamstow are 95th in the league table out of only 109. Guys, we really need to up the game here. The 5% target is one thing – the fact that we are seeing over 300 people a week and only submitting six of them for possible doubts is simply not quite credible.”

Iain Duncan Smith continued to to deny that centres were set targets, but the number of unjust sanctions reported combined with a refusal from government to release sanction data suggests otherwise. Here are some examples of sanctions taken from the excellent False Economy website, where circumstances seem disproportionate, unjust or used to catch claimants out:

  • You work for 20 years, then because you haven’t had the process clearly explained to you, you miss an appointment, so you get sanctioned for 3 weeks. (source: Councillor John O’Shea)
  • You’re on a workfare placement, and your jobcentre appointment comes round. The jobcentre tells you to sign on then go to your placement which you do. The workfare placement reports you for being late and you get sanctioned for 3 months. (Source: DefiniteMaybe post on Mumsnet forums)
  • It’s Christmas Day. You don’t do any jobsearch, because it’s Christmas Day. So you get sanctioned. For not looking to see if anyone has advertised a new job on Christmas Day. (source: Poverty Alliance)
  • You get an interview but it’s on the day of your nan’s funeral. You have 3 interviews the day before, and you try to rearrange the interview, but the company reports you to the jobcentre and you get sanctioned for failing to accept a job. (source: @TSAAPG on twitter – part 1 . part 2)
  • You’re sick and miss an appointment, but you’ve already missed one so you get sanctioned (Source: @thinktyler on twitter. Rules actually state you can miss a grand total of two appointments for illness each year – particularly harsh if you’re sick and have been wrongly kicked off ESA by ATOS)
  • You volunteer in a youth club. For some reason the jobcentre thinks this is paid work so they sanction you. (source: @ukeleleKris on twitter )

Sanctions should only be applied where someone has breached the agreements they have set out with the job centre, and targets cannot be set on this without some malicious intent to deliberately trip up claimants or sanction them unfairly. Unfortunately, this is what the above examples show. Sanctions like these are widespread and common, which can only point to an underlying culture or pressure to sanction claimants, along with the DWP’s previous refusals to release sanction data and reporting following record-breaking figures last year. 

When used like this, sanctions threaten people’s survival and ability to work. For those suffering already with sickness, disability or particularly mental illness, these sanctions can throw them into worse health as they battle a system they cannot win, at the expense of their food money. For those struggling to survive a bout of unemployment when there is one job to every 5 people, or where over 1700 people apply for 8 jobs at Costa, these sanctions target them unfairly for a situation they cannot control. When used like this, sanctions push people to turn to food-banks in the name of targets. And as the number of accounts like the above grow, and the number of people dependent on food-banks increase, and the government continue delaying data, it is not hard to believe that cases like Lucy Darnell’s* are not isolated.

*name changed

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1) The Tory Party Conference sees tougher pledges on welfare, alienating young people and pushing for more ‘workfare’ programmes. 

The Tory Party Conference in Manchester saw the Conservatives pledge strong right wing policies, with tougher crackdowns on welfare claimants. Chancellor George Osborne and PM David Cameron said that under a Tory government in 2015, welfare claimants out of work for over three years would no longer receive ‘something for nothing,’ and under 25s would receive nothing at all.

The long-term unemployed would be required to do some sort of service/work for 35 hours a week whether that was attending a job centre each working day, litter picking, helping the elderly or taking on support for drug, alcohol or mental health issues.

David Cameron also said that housing benefit and jobseekers allowance would be denied to the under 25s, in the hope of preparing them for the tough economic climate.

However, these policies could cause more harm, as the Tories risk alienating young people and leaving them without any help at a time when options for work are scarce. Young people are facing greater barriers to work than years before, particularly after the slowest recovery from recession in a century. The Youth Work programmes have failed at rates of over 90% and now the Tories seem to be turning their back on the young generation altogether.

Further, the Work Programme, costing  in excess of £5bn has failed over 80% of those taking part despite using the basic principles of ‘work for the dole’ in its framework. Without creating more jobs, ‘work for the dole’ could erode the value of work, and replace paid jobs with free placements, ultimately harmful for all.

Image: Scribblelive.com

Image: Scribblelive.com

Read more about U25 benefits here. 

Read more about the ‘work for the dole’ policy here.

2) Housing boss says bedroom tax will mean more evictions

Mark Rogers, chief executive of the Circle Housing Group, which manages 65,000 homes, has spoken out against the government’s under occupancy policy which he says will force many more to be evicted.

The group say they have seen ‘a new pattern of arrears’ which is likely to be repeated nationally, where 50% of those affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ pay in full, 25% pay in part and 25% don’t pay at all.

Rogers says that there is simply nowhere for residents to go if they wanted to downsize, and added: “We won’t evict someone if we can’t find a solution for them. If they don’t take that solution then we will do, but we see it as our job to make sure we don’t go down that route.”

Read more about this story here.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

3) BBC slammed in letters to Lord Patten by disability campaigners

The BBC has been receiving complaints over its coverage of protests, most recently and notably was the 50,000 – 70,000 strong demonstration outside the Tory Party Conference last Sunday – one of the biggest protests outside London in years. The protest saw people from up and down the country join to march against coalition plans and privatisation for the NHS.

Many campaigners have urged the public to complain about the coverage which they say is biased and not in-line with the Public Service Broadcaster vows.

Disability researcher M.A Stewart recently wrote to Lord Patten, the chair of the BBC Trust, asking for an explanation for lack of protest coverage over the last year:

“I note with interest that Andy Burnham MP has written to you to enquire as to why BBC News offered no more than a token gesture to the recent mass public demonstration by an estimated 50,000 people, outside the Conservative Party Conference, in protest at the Government’s planned changes to the NHS and the identified threat that those changes infer to the greatest institution in this country.

“Given that my research exposed the real reasons behind the welfare ‘reforms’, as planned long ago regardless of the banking crisis, and the fact that the national press have confirmed that the Coalition Government have prevented the press from exposing this evidence to the British public, I invite you to now offer a detailed explanation as to why the BBC have tolerated what would appear to be obvious Government interference with BBC News editorial?”

Read more about this story and the letter here. 

4) Hundred take to the streets to protest against the Daily Mail

Following the Daily Mail’s scathing attack on Ed Miliband’s father – Ralph Miliband, brandishing him as the ‘Man Who Hated Britain,’ a backlash has begun highlighting the connections and subjects of the paper’s own proprietors and editors. On Sunday, hundreds took to the streets in a protest against the hate the Daily Mail seems to have for many sections of society.

The upbeat protest hosted by the People’s Assembly took place at the Daily Mail Offices in Young Street, London.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

You can read more about this story here. 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass 

1) Workfare Week of action sees thousands respond and take action
Image; Welfare News Service

Image; Welfare News Service

The Workfare week of action (6-14th July) saw thousands of people from around the country voice their opinion on the controversial Workfare scheme, which forces benefit claimants to work up to 30 hours a week unpaid, or risk losing their benefits.

As well as the demonstration outside the Hilton, where the network dinner was held for the welfare to work convention, there were thousands of tweets, comments and e-mails sent to companies taking part in the scheme and the DWP.

Stay tuned for our interview with Jo from Boycott Workfare up on the site soon.

Read more about this story here.

2) Sick and disabled will be forced to address their ‘barriers to work’ or lose benefits say DWP 
                     Image: http://www.ftadvisor.com

In a press release on Monday 8th July, the DWP announced a new 2 year pilot scheme which would force claimants on sickness benefit to have regular meetings with doctors and therapists in a bid to get them back to work, or they would lose their benefits.

The scheme will target 3,000 claimants on Employment Support Allowance, who have been assessed as able to work in the future. The regular meetings will focus on getting them back into work.

The scheme will run alongside two other pilot schemes to see which works best. This one involves higher healthcare involvement, another will involve enhanced Jobcentre Plus support, and the third has enhanced Work Programme advisor support.

Read the press release here.

3) Carers face eviction and debt due to bedroom tax

Carers are not receiving sufficient help and support as the bedroom tax forces some into debt and possible eviction, despite promises from government to help vulnerable carers.

The Carers UK charity found that one in six carers interviewed in the first 100 days after the bedroom tax was introduced, had fallen behind on rent or were in debt.

Around one in ten carers will continue to qualify for support from the £25m discretionary payment fund created by government specifically to help carers who need support.

Read more about this story here. 

4) £1bn benefit cut will hit Scotland’s most vulnerable

Citizens Advice Scotland has warned that disabled and ill scottish people will lose out on £1bn due to the “quadruple whammy” of the coalition cuts.

Citizens Advice Scotland

Citizens Advice Scotland

With 170,000 people facing the ‘fit to work’ test under the new reforms, Citizens Advice are worried that around 115,000 ill and disabled people will lose out on their benefits unfairly, given the track record of the tests. Around 40% of “fit to work” decisions are overturned at appeal.

On top of this, the benefit replacing the Disability Living Allowance, has new criteria. Personal Independence Payments are given under much stricter circumstances, for example – being unable to walk 50m without assistance.

Disabled people also face being hit by the bedroom tax and housing benefit caps.

Chief Executive of Citizen’s Advice Scotland, Margaret Lynch said the “quadruple whammy [was] making life a misery for sick and disabled people in our communities. The people who have suffered most from the welfare reforms are those who were already the most vulnerable.”

The DWP retains that it is “absolutely committed” to helping disabled people.

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Yesterday, Chancellor George Osborne announced the Spending Review for the year 2015. Osborne has already conceded that the coalition plans to cut the deficit are two years behind (i.e. not working), despite the harsh cutbacks already enforced to welfare, the NHS and the public sector. He blames this on ‘lower than expected’ growth. So now, the coalition answer to a failing austerity plan, is more cutbacks. Yes, you heard right. This time another £11.5bn.

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

So let’s see how welfare will be affected after George Osborne’s deja-vu performance:

1) Once someone loses a job, they must now wait 7 days before they can make a claim for Jobseeker’s allowance

An inspired idea from the chancellor, which seems to punish someone for losing their job (while he also announces a review that will cause more redundancies). An increase on the previous 3 day gap, jobseekers will now have to last longer without help. Many on Twitter added that this will be far more than 7 days, as Universal Credit is paid monthly so the time could be anything from 7 days to possibly 38.

Screen shot 2013-06-26 at 22.12.16

In a response to this particular point, the Chief Executive Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham said:

“The decision to delay eligibility for Job Seekers Allowance to seven days is a ‘foodbanks first’ policy that will hurt families stuck in the low pay – no pay cycle, moving in and out of insecure, low-paid jobs, and will lengthen foodbank queues. We’re talking about parents doing the right thing but who have very little in the way of savings to tide them over if they lose their job. There should be no doubt this will leave more families and children cold and hungry and push more families towards doorstep lenders and foodbanks.”

2) Stricter rules for receiving out-of-work benefits

Whilst still hugging tightly to the disproven idea of cultures of ‘worklessness’, the Chancellor retreated a little by saying ‘Where is the fairness in condemning people to a life on benefits because the system won’t help them get back into work?’

And so, to help claimants, they will have to arrive at the Job Centre with a CV, be set-up and logged onto Job Search online, start looking for work and then they can receive their benefits.

Single parents can now receive free child-care for children ages 3 and 4, and so Osborne said that it is fair for those with children over the age of 3 to make efforts to look for work.

On top of this, job-seekers will now have to sign on every week, as opposed to every other week, and will be given more time with advisers.

Hopefully, this will be helpful, as it will also cost more money, to see advisers twice as much and for longer. One wonders, why the Chancellor cannot get large tax-evading companies to also see an adviser once a week to ensure they are up to date with all of what they owe to the tax-pile.

3) Those looking to claim benefits must speak English, and if they don’t, then they must be enrolled on a course. 

It’s very probable that someone with difficulty speaking English would appreciate a course to help them. Such a shame then, that this very government were the ones to cutback on the amount of English courses and places available, two years ago.

You would imagine that the government would also lead by example in their own English. So the misspelling of ‘Britain’ in the first line of the document about the spending review was probably really bad-timing:

'Britian' mistake

‘Britian’ mistake

At this point, it would be criminal not to mention yesterday’s Tweet of the Day, from Andrew Selous – Tory MP and advocate of people ‘leaning’ English:

Andrew Selous - Practice what you preach.

Andrew Selous – Practice what you preach.

3) Overall national welfare cap to be announced every four years

The national welfare budget will be decided at the Budget and set for the next four years, taking into account inflation to stop it from ‘ballooning’ as politicians like to say. Should the budget be breached, benefits will be squeezed and the government will have to report to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to explain why. State pensions and unemployment benefits will not be included in this cap. But tax credits, housing benefits, disability benefits and pensioner benefits will be included.

In response to this, Caroline Lucas commented:

“The way to address the deficit is not by further cuts to public services, including tightening the financial stranglehold on local authorities, or failing to get people into work and arbitrarily capping welfare spending regardless of need.

“It is to invest in jobs – borrowing money based on record low interest rates – mount a serious crackdown on tax evasion and avoidance, and bring forward green quantitative easing to deliver investment directly into the infrastructure we urgently need for a more resilient, stable economy.”

4) Winter fuel payments will be withdrawn from pensioners living in hot countries 

The winter fuel payment will not be paid to those who have migrated to ‘hot’ places. This will be decided via a ‘temperature test’ and can depend on where in a country you are. Not too much was said, but this will be an interesting one when rolled out.

Those were the main points in direct relation to welfare.

Other cuts were made across many areas, with only things like education (money for 180 free schools), intelligence (snooping on us more) and defence escaping with more cash than before.

Local councils will also see cuts to their funding. Public sector pay rises were capped at 1%, and Automatic Pay Progression was stopped. This is when you receive an automatic pay rise perhaps every year for your service. Osborne defended this by trying to divide workers in saying it wasn’t fair on those who didn’t receive it. However, there are already many companies and firms within the public sector that had already stopped paying this when the government announced a pay freeze.

Council tax will be frozen for two years to help with ‘living standards.’

To see a more detailed break-down of the Spending Review 2013 click here. But, here’s a handy infographic to see where money has being cut and spent since the coalition came to power (Thanks to the Resolution Foundation @Resfoundation):

Cuts and spending Image: resolution foundation

Cuts and spending Image: resolution foundation

The Chancellor of course added his usual rhetoric of how ‘tough’ this is, and decisions are ‘tough’ and kept referring to the analogy/motto of the month which is that Britain is out of ‘intensive care.’ However, there is already a prediction that this hospitalised nation will still have a slow and arduous recovery. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that taxes will increase after 2015 to deal with the deficit, because even these cuts are not enough to save us. The director of the think-tank, Paul Johnson predicts that austerity will continue to 2018.

Thank you, Osborne.

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass