Archives For Department for work and pensions

1)  Council Tax Support cut sees over 600,000 now living in fear of bailiffs and court summons

Following a cut in council tax support, 600,000 people have now been summonsed to court and 87,000 are being pursued by debt collectors, because they cannot find the extra £127 on top of rising living costs and other cuts to benefits.

Those affected are some of the poorest people in the country and only gained the council tax support following means-testing which proved they could not afford it.

Among those suffering most are 394,000 disabled people and 3,000 war widows,” say the Mirror. 

Council tax benefit was slashed last year by £500m by Eric Pickles and has been dubbed the new poll tax.

Read more about this story here.

2) Nigel Farage squirms when challenged on £2m expenses claims, on ‘Have I Got News For You’

UKIP leader, Nigel Farage appeared on the BBC’s Have I Got News For You last week and was rightly challenged on his previous boastings of £2m worth of expenses claims. Farage replied “And who was it that brought up the issue of £2m and me and taxpayer’s money? Denis Macshane,” to which Ian Hislop pointed out “Yeah, he’s in jail, but you’re not.”

Watch the video here.

Image: The Mirror

Image: The Mirror

3) Iain Duncan Smith’s speech “Getting Britain Working” branded out of touch, and not a reflection of the true conditions 

Iain Duncan Smith’s speech last week was banging the same drum, once again suggesting there is a culture of welfare dependency that needs to be tackled and avoiding facts such as most people on benefits are in work. Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, responded to the Work and Pensions Minister’s speech in the Huffington Post, and called out Iain Duncan Smith’s lack of understanding and false reflection of what is really happening. Read the full post here.

“The picture he painted is one hugely at odds with the lives of the millions of ordinary people who are supported by benefits in the UK – many of whom are in work, but on low pay, caring for others, need care themselves or have lost their jobs.”

 

4) Sue Townsend dies aged 68

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

The author of Adrian Mole, Sue Townsend, died last week after suffering a stroke at home.

Townsend had tackled and written on the welfare state and it’s effects on the people it is meant to help, including the below extract from a piece she wrote for the Observer in 1989, on her own experiences and how she was left destitute.

Read the full article here.

“The DSS offices are not given enough funding, their staff are poorly paid and are driven to distraction by the amount of work they have to do. There is frequent turnover of staff. Morale is extremely low. Working with desperate people all day is very dispiriting; their unhappiness rubs off on you. For the sake of self-preservation you develop a thicker skin, you come to regard the claimants as the enemy. Because they are inarticulate in the presence of articulate officialdom, you do not respect them and habitually talk to them as though they are of lower intelligence than yourself. You are frightened of them, and all your communication takes place behind a glass screen. The furniture they sit on is screwed down because, in the past, this furniture has been thrown at you.

“They offend you in their poverty, you despise their clothes and their shoes. Some of them smell and have disgusting personal habits. That is why it is impossible to allow them free access to the lavatory; why they must queue up and ask for the key.

“Nobody goes to a DSS office to ask for state benefits if they are well and happy and employed. Nobody needs to. There is no need to have vile surroundings and seemingly uncaring staff as a disincentive.

“People down on their luck deserve the best: beautiful surroundings and well-paid professional staff to help them out of their difficulties. Why not train thousands more social workers and let them sit in on claimants’ interviews? Most social problems could be helped or prevented if people had more money and practical advice. The present benefits system is unfair, inefficient, and totally unprofessional; which is why millions of people do not claim the benefits to which they are legally entitled.”

 

5) Worldwide Wave Of Action continues

Join in. Do something – big or small. Be part of the change.

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“Dear future generations….I will do everything I can, with all my heart, body and mind, to help create a world that works for everyone and all life. The time is now!#WaveOfAction

Image: Worldwide Wave Of Action Facebook

Image: Worldwide Wave Of Action Facebook

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

 

 

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Despite an outward stress on the necessity of work, the coalition government have helped to garner an employment landscape of insecurity, poverty and low worth. Welfare policy and employment laws changed over the last two years have been crucial in creating a power imbalance in favour of employers, ultimately damaging employee worth, status and work life.

At the beginning of this year, David Cameron announced plans to make it easier for employers to fire workers. By increasing the length of service from one year to two before a hearing can be called following dismissal, and by reducing the sick pay, redundancy pay and compensation amounts employees can claim for, Cameron said that these relaxations in employment laws would make companies see less risk in hiring more people, and this would also ‘get rid of the bad’ to let in the skilled employees.

David-Cameron1

However, allowing employers to fire employees more easily by cutting red tape does not solve the problem of a lack of jobs. Further, the report that David Cameron commissioned from Adrian Beecroft in support of law relaxation was admittedly based on a ‘hunch’ rather than economic proof or explanation:

“Quantifying the loss of jobs arising from the burden of regulation, and the economic value of those jobs, is an impossible task…How many more businesses would there be, how many people would they employ, how many more people would existing businesses employ, how profitable would all these businesses be? Who knows?”

Yet, Cameron pressed to apply these measures, insisting that America had relaxed it’s laws and seen a drop in unemployment. But, while the US remained relatively stagnant in it’s position, Germany halved it’s unemployment figures whilst maintaining much stronger laws and regulations for employers.

Whilst Cameron was forced to retreat on these plans by deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the subject has surfaced again a few times, with support from Vince Cable and some Tory Ministers. Still, changes to laws like this during a fragile recovery will only cause anxiety for workers who feel the threat of losing their jobs on top of the hardship of the current climate. It also assumes the employer acts in employee interests which has been disproven time and time again, says lawyer Edward Cooper:

“An underlying assumption in these proposals is that employers all act reasonably. We see day in and day out that employers do not always act reasonably, especially when there is money to be saved.”

Edward Cooper, Channel 4, 2012

Despite these proposals being put on the back burner, changes to employment tribunal fees were passed in July this year, meaning that employees seeking justice, investigation, hearing or tribunal would now have to pay to have their case heard. Again, at a time of fragility for the market, this put employees on the back foot should they be treated unfairly by their employer.

Under the new rules, it would cost £160-250 to lodge a claim and a further £230-950 if the claim goes to court, which is usually the case with claims such as unfair dismissal or discrimination. The Ministry of Justice also charge £1200 for a full hearing if people want to challenge the decision of an employment tribunal.

Government have said that these fees were brought in to encourage ‘mediation’ and negotiation without the Courts, in the hope more cases could be settled outside the legal system.

However, these fees are attacks on the employee’s rights alone, and only make it harder for employees to fight companies who often already have the upper hand. The fees give companies more leeway to treat employees unfairly, in the hope they cannot afford to bring them to justice. For some grievances, the cost is more than the money an employee feels they are owed, but could count highly as a case for morality or discrimination and be important in ensuring a company is reprimanded for treating someone unfairly.

Despite the fees now existing, trade union Unison has won the right to take the case to judicial review, in the hope the fees will be lifted. Unison, with the support of the Human Rights Commission, argue that the fees make it impossible for workers to exercise their rights. The Ministry of Justice have vowed to refund all fees should Unison win the case.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary said the fees “give the green light to unscrupulous employers to ride roughshod over already basic workers’ rights.”

The hearing continues.

As well as these changes to laws, the government have implemented their own damaging schemes, which are currently taking their toll on the employment market. Welfare-to-work schemes which incorporate workfare policies are forcibly sending unemployed people to work for 30-60 hours a week for their unemployment benefit or they risk sanctions or withdrawal of benefits.

Minster for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith insisted these policies were designed to allow people to gain work experience to secure future employment. However, the schemes have just widened the already burgeoning ‘work experience’ and ‘intern’ industry which already operates cruelly in the fashion, media and music world and employs an entire workforce of free labour for the same, often unlikely, chance of employment at the end.

Whilst gaining months of free work experience was once expected if you wanted to get into a much sought after industry, now workfare policies insist they are required for minimum wage jobs stacking shelves. As the interns of the music and media industries are trying to gather to gain some rights and protection against being exploited by companies and employers, the welfare-to-work programmes are normalising work experience for the low paid.  Entry level jobs are beginning to carry work experience criteria, and the free workforce donated by the government rotates to feed a steady supply of workers to companies. This sort of policy replaces paid jobs with free labour. It devalues work and treats workers as commodities. It creates higher barriers to work by insisting on months of free work for minimum wage jobs.

Image: legal-aware.org

Image: legal-aware.org

Thus workers are desperate, and employers are often only happy to exploit this, as we have seen in the prevalence of the zero hour contract. Sports direct used these contracts for over 90% of staff. They offered no holiday or sick pay, and did not have to guarantee any hours. To ensure employees would take home money, they would have to take any hours the employer asked of them, at whatever short notice. Giselle Cory of the Resolution Foundation said in an interview with RealFare earlier this year, that these contracts were also found to be used as management tools, to punish employees if they did not take on work when and as the employer demanded:

“But what we see actually, is that these contracts are being used to disempower the employee. We’ve seen evidence of really bad management practice where someone is on a zero hour contract, their boss says ‘I want you to work Saturday.’ They might say ‘I can’t’ or ‘I can’t get childcare’ for example, or ‘I would simply rather not’, and they are zeroed down, which is effectively where they’re pushed to very few or no hours in the medium or longer term. So that’s in effect, using these contracts as a management tool, when that’s not what they’re intended for and that’s a great imbalance of power between the employer and the employee.”

Giselle Cory, Resolution Foundation

And with the rise of these contracts we also see the worst rates of underemployment on record, with 1.46m people in part time work in need of more hours. Thousands of people are desperate for work and so many take on any contract and terms they can. This is at the expense of their rights and their home life as work may demand availability at any time. Many are at the mercy of employers to work at short notice and so sacrifice plans, commitments, family time for minimum wage jobs that offer them no security or help should they fall ill or need time off. The imbalance is clear.

And the government’s moves have made it easier to exploit employees, and treat them as disposable. The priorities have not been to make a secure employment landscape for people in the recovery but to allow employers to use and abuse at will. Whilst the government and media rhetoric has made it shameful not to work, employers are made to feel no shame for making workers poor on time, worth and money.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

In another blow to the coalition’s efforts to streamline welfare spending and increase employment, figures released on Thursday suggest that the Work Programme, brought in during 2011, isn’t working.

Image: Parliament Uk

Image: Parliament Uk

The Work Programme, now two years into practice, was a coalition initiative which aimed to get 1.2 million long-term unemployed people living in the UK, back into a job.

The programme runs by using private contractors such as A4E and G4S, to help lift the long-term unemployed, those who have been out of a job for more than a year, into employment. These contractors operate on payment-by-result basis, meaning that the more people they move into employment lasting 6 months or more, the more money they are awarded by the government.

However, the latest figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions show that just 1 in 10 people have been helped back to work by the £5 billion scheme in the last two years, meaning that so far, each job has cost the taxpayer around £40,000 to secure.

Despite the seemingly obvious shortfalls of the scheme, on Thursday after the release of the government’s latest figures, Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: “The improvement in performance over the past year has been profound and the scheme is getting better and better. And because providers are rewarded for success, the Work Programme is designed to give taxpayers a far better deal than previous schemes.”

Crisis Homeless Charity accuses government of spin on Work Programme figures.

Crisis Homeless Charity accuses government of spin on Work Programme figures.

Although the figures do suggest that the scheme is improving, many have still accused the government of “spin”, with homelessness charity Crisis pointing out that statistics also showed just 1 in 20 sick and disabled people on the scheme have managed to find lasting employment.Despite improvements in its overall employment numbers since last year, which saw just 9,000 people finding a job lasting 6 months or more, the programme has missed government targets across the board. The most alarming of these missed targets is the Work Programmes effectiveness to get those who receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) back in to work.

ESA is the benefit for those who are ill or disabled and therefore find it hard to find a job – the very people that the programme was supposed to be helping the most, as invariably, those who receive ESA have been unemployed for the longest terms. From March 2012 to March 2013, just 5.3 per cent of those who received ESA found a job that lasted 6 months or more – well below the governments own minimum target of 16.5%.

When asked about the effectiveness of the Work Programme, Crisis Chief executive Leslie Morphy said: “The Work Programme was set up to help those furthest from work back into employment. On that measure, it has been a miserable failure. The Government’s own statistics, our research, charities and thinktanks are unanimous: homeless people and others who need more support have been left parked without meaningful help.”

The DWP has issued ‘improvement notices’ for 12 contractors who are “lagging behind” their contracted levels for helping claimants in to jobs, in an effort to try and boost numbers by the end of this year, with the threat of termination of the contracts if the companies do not show “significant” changes with their job success figures.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne has also waded in to the debate over government spin, saying: “The Work Programme is still failing and failing badly.

“The government missed every single one of its minimum targets and in nearly half the country, the Work Programme is literally worse than doing nothing.”

Careers Development Group in East London, Pertemps in Solihull, Newcastle College Group in Solihull, Rehab Job Fit in Wales and Newcastle College Group in Yorkshire have the worst conversion rates for getting those who receive ESA into work, managing to help just 2% of those who are on the Work Programme as – opposed to the minimum set target of 16.5%.

According to the Independent, the Government was warned by the private contractors that the cost of helping those on ESA could not be met by the scheme.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association, said: “It will inevitably take longer to help those on ESA into sustained jobs as many are a long way from the labour market. Over 25 per cent of people on ESA have been out of work for at least 11 years and therefore we’re going to need to pool skills and local health budgets with Work Programme cash to help more of this group into work.”

If this is indeed the case then why have the government not already started looking into other ways in which they can help those on ESA? Well, the answer, as always, seems to be money.

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

George Osborne delivering the Spending Review Image: The Telegrapg

In his budget speech this week Chancellor George Osborne announced that as part of a bid to save £11.5bn in 2015, the DWP will have to find a further 9.5% of savings in the department’s running costs.

He warned that this will require a “difficult drive for efficiency” and a “hard-headed assessment of under-performing programmes”.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, agrees: “These figures will confirm what many disabled already know about the Work Programme – it’s not working for them. A one-size-fits-all approach means disabled people aren’t getting the individual, tailored support they need.”

Head of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg has also warned that change is needed if the government want to get the Work Programme working: “We remain deeply concerned that the Work Programme, as currently designed, is insufficient to tackle the problems faced by more disadvantaged jobseekers. Doing nothing and hoping things improve is no longer an option.”

Let’s hope that this means there will now be a re-assessment of how contractors can help those who are furthest away from securing jobs, such as recipients of ESA, as opposed to just focusing on those that will yield the contractors the easiest and fastest payment securements.

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Over the last few weeks the Department for Work and Pensions has come under fire from leading experts and organisations over it’s handling of, and reporting on, the latest changes to the UK benefits system.

Iain Duncan Smith Image: The Guardian

Iain Duncan Smith Image: The Guardian

Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, faced fresh criticism this week for his use of “unsupported” statistics to promote the effectiveness of the newly implemented benefit cap.

In April of this year the new benefit cap was trialled in Haringey, Enfield, Croydon and Bromley with a view to roll the scheme out nationwide within the year.

In an interview with the Daily Mail last month, supporting the national implementation of the trialled changes to the benefits system, Iain Duncan Smith was quoted saying “already we’ve seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs. This clearly demonstrates that the cap is having the desired impact”.

However, a complaint made by Nicola Smith from the Trades Union Congress to the UK Statistics Authority about the legitimacy of these claims lead to an investigation into the statistics used. The complaint was upheld when Andrew Dilnot of the UKSA wrote an open letter to the Secretary of State stating that they had found the statement to be “unsupported by the official statistics published by the department.”

This is not the first time that the DWP has been it hot water with the UKSA over it’s use of unsupported statistics. Making a Point of Order in the Commons last Monday, Debbie Abrahams, the Oldham East and Saddleworth MP, said that this incident followed “similar issues regarding the Child Support Agency statistics in February, and also extends to the Secretary of State for Health and his health funding claims last December”.

The latest criticism of the Department for Work and Pensions comes fresh off the back of two controversial court rulings against the department in recent weeks. The first ruling was against their attempt to conceal the identities of companies that have signed up to their widely condemned Workfare scheme – due to the possible financial and reputational damage it could cause. The second was the case brought against the Work Capability Assessment – which judges have ruled “substantially disadvantages people with mental health conditions”.

Photo: rethink.org

Photo: rethink.org

The reason for the cap, according to the Department for Work and Pensions, is to “encourage people to work”. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the employment minister Mark Hoban said the best way for people to avoid the controversial benefits cap was to “move in to work”, however as the case of the Work Capability Assessment shows – this isn’t always possible for some.

In real terms the changes will mean that for single parent families, or families where neither parents are working, the total amount of benefits they can claim is set at £500 a week – including rent – and for people living alone this has been set at £350 a week.

To top off a bad month for the DWP a new storm could be about to break. On Thursday last week a judge gave permission for a full judicial review of claims that involve four vulnerable families who rely on welfare payments to provide for their children.

The cases involve victims of domestic abuse. According the the Guardian two of the families “face a stark choice between descending further into poverty and risking losing their homes, or returning to their abusers in order to escape the imposition of the cap”.

Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor at Hopkin Murray Beskine who acts for all of the claimants, warned in The Guardian: “This is a cruel and misguided policy. It will have a catastrophic impact on our clients and many thousands more vulnerable children and adults. They face street homelessness and starvation.

“A year ago the children’s commissioner warned the government that these changes would result in a sharp increase in child poverty and homelessness, with a disproportionate impact upon disabled children and children of disabled parents, and some BME groups.
“The difficulties now faced by my clients were predictable and avoidable. The reason for the policy is said to be to encourage people to obtain work but my clients face difficulties in securing employment because they are lone parents with caring responsibilities for babies and toddlers, and disabled adults who have already been recognised as unable to work due to their disabilities.”

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

The DWP’s key aim, according to their site, is to “help its customers become financially independent and to help reduce child poverty.” However, their recent actions and reforms seem to be having the opposite effect on the people they are meant to protect. And we have a feeling there is more to come….

Clea Guy-Allen
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