Archives For esa

1) Young at increased risk of poverty, says report

Joseph-Rowntree-Foundation

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has released a report revealing that the young are now at an increased risk of poverty, as unemployment and insecure work continues to blight the jobs market.

The report said:

“Youth unemployment has risen continuously since 2004. By 2011 it was two-thirds higher than 2001. At a record high, it’s three times higher than that of other adults.”

Education and qualifications seem to play a major part in whether a young person is able to remain out of poverty. The less qualified a person is, the more likely they are to be unemployed and living in poverty and after the age of 19, the likelihood of getting qualifications drops significantly.

  • “The lower people’s qualifications, the higher their risk of unemployment. This risk has risen over the past decade.”
  • “16- to 19-year-olds not in full-time education are at greater risk of poverty than any age group except the youngest.”

Though, gaps in attainment and increased risk of unemployment can be sourced back to early education. The report said:

“An ‘attainment gap‘ emerges before school. It continues through childhood. By 16 and older, it is considerable.

  • Tests at age 3 show a significant gap between more affluent children and the poorest fifth
  • Lower-achieving but more affluent children overtake the highest low-income achievers by age 7
  • Poorer children are half as likely to go to university as their more affluent peers

Across ethnic groups, white young people do less well than their peers from many minorities. But the performance and treatment of black Caribbean and Traveller children raise serious concerns.

For minority ethnic groups poverty is twice as likely, despite improved qualifications.

Poorer higher education students were already more likely to drop out, defer, switch, repeat or restart courses before tuition fees and cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance applied.

But the aspirations of disadvantaged young people are high.”

Read the report here.

2) Bill to stop ‘revenge evictions’ talked out

Image: Shelter

Image: Shelter

On Monday last week, around 1000 protesters demonstrated outside Parliament in demand for better rights for tenants.

Shelter estimate that some 213,000 people are evicted every year in ‘revenge evictions’ which happen following complaints to landlords over poor housing.

A Bill was put to the House of Commons to end these evictions. It required 100 signatures. Unfortunately, only 60 MPs signed.

Shelter also estimate that 2% of the public are landlords and that private tenancies have seen an increase in poor housing standards. Further, at a time of rocketing rents and stagnant wages, affirming rights for tenants should be a priority for government. Everybody should be able to access safe, secure housing.

Unfortunately, the outcome of this Bill shows priorities are held elsewhere.

Shelter later revealed that 2 MPs ‘filibustered’ the Bill – a tactic of talking out, to delay or ‘talk to death’. They are MPs Philip Davies and Christopher Chope.

Shelter vow to continue the fight until they win.

Read Shelter’s blog ‘We Will Make It Happen’ here.

Read more about this story here.

 

3) Government accused of ‘numbers game’ in use of apprenticeships

Hundreds of thousands of people aged 25 and over are entering apprenticeships which pay as little as £2.73 an hour.

Apprenticeships have been bandied around by parties of all colours as a solution to youth unemployment but  “figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) show that more than 350,000 of the UK’s 851,000 apprentices were over 25, with more than 50,000 aged over 50.”

“The number of UK apprentices has risen from 491,300 in 2009 to 851,500 today – an increase of 73%.

“However, the proportion of those over 25 has more than doubled – it was 19% of all apprentices in 2009/10, but now stands at 42%.”

There is now concern that apprenticeships are being used to subsidise full paid jobs and losing focus on the young whilst also massaging employment figures.

Read more about this story here.

4) Theresa May says ‘Time is right’ for more police powers

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Speaking at a counter terrorism event last week, the Home Secretary Theresa May said that the ‘time is right’ to increase police powers to monitor online behaviour in order to combat terrorism and child abuse.

This news snuck out following a general silence since the terror threat was raised to ‘substantial’ earlier this year in the UK.

Considering the ‘loss’ of 114 files on child abuse within government and the Home Secretary’s inability to find someone to lead the child abuse inquiry who had no connection with those involved, we remain unconvinced that these greater powers to probe our online conversations and activity is in our interests or for the protection of potential victims.

May said these powers should be implemented following the General Election.

Read more about this story here.

5) David Cameron attacks migrant workers, but does nothing about exploitative bosses

David Cameron was criticised for attacking migrant workers with further restrictions to benefits, whilst doing nothing to stop exploitative bosses from paying low wages.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Today David Cameron did not act as a prime minister but as a low-grade scrapper, trying to save his political skin by kicking migrant workers.

“He knows he cannot please his big business paymasters who want free access to European workers and the profits that come from their hard work on low wages.

“Instead he inflames a fear of European workers, proposing to cement them as a second-class workforce with no access to the assistance that millions of low paid workers in this country simply need to make ends meet.

“Too many UK employers are addicted to welfare to top up their low waged workforce. It is not migrants that are dragging down pay, but boardrooms that are holding it down.

“Why does he not tackle this by ensuring that collective bargaining can safeguard wages? Look at Germany, which has far greater levels of immigration than the UK but which has laws to protect decent wages.

“What the prime minister did today was to send out a message that the problems in our economy are the fault of workers, wherever they come from. This is a lie. It is not migrant workers who recruit in Poland, or force zero hours work upon people desperate for a job.

“It is not migrant workers who have sold off council homes, cut our Sure Start places, brought ruin to our NHS, or have forced the greatest collapse in living standards in generations.

“It is business behaviour and political decisions that are causing insecurity, not ordinary people trying to make a living.”

Read more about this story here.

6) Government not doing enough to tackle ESA problems

Dr Litchfield’s fifth and final independent review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has been published and the Government has responded to a Work and Pensions Select Committee review into Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
For the last five years, Mind has been feeding into the independent reviews, calling for changes to the WCA process which is used to decide whether someone is able to get the disability benefit ESA. We have also submitted evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee outlining our concerns about wider benefit reforms and the failure of government schemes to support people with mental health problems into work.MIND%20logo[1]

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manger at Mind, said:

“We welcome the ongoing improvements to the WCA through the independent review process, and particularly the focus on the experience of people with mental health problems. However the narrow scope of these reviews means that wider problems with the system for people with mental health problems have still not been tackled.

“The Work and Pensions Committee report provided a comprehensive evaluation of ESA and the WCA and included strong recommendations. Unfortunately the Government’s response represents a missed opportunity, with little sign that they are willing to make reforms of the scale needed.

“Very few people with mental health problems are being supported into work through ESA, and huge numbers of people are receiving benefit sanctions from a system that does not understand their needs and barriers. As a result, many people are finding that the stress and pressure they are put under is making their health worse, and making them feel less able to work. That’s why we’re calling for everyone with mental health problems claiming ESA to receive personalised, specialist support which acknowledges and addresses the barriers they may face in getting and staying in work.”

7) Pensioners lead protest for energy rights, after ONS reveal 18,200 excess winter deaths last year

Image: Fuel Poverty Action

Image: Fuel Poverty Action

Pensioners marched and demonstrated outside the offices of lobbyists Energy UK following the release of the winter death toll from the Office for National Statistics.

Find out more about Fuel Poverty Action here.

8) #Cameronmustgo trends for four days

The hashtag #Cameronmustgo trended for 4 days last week, with an outpouring of hundreds of thousands of messages and reasons to sack the Tory PM. Unfortunately, it got no coverage in the media.

From ‘Bring Back News to the BBC’ – Nov 25 –

#CameronMustGo is still trending in the UK on Twitter for the fourth day in a row. No sign at all of it on the #bbctrending Twitter feed. I haven’t heard mention of it on any BBC news outlets (do let us know if you see/hear anything like meaningful coverage). Daily, wall to wall coverage of a single tweet by Elizabeth Thornberry on all mainstream media outlets for many days, but 400,000 + tweets largely ignored by all but single articles in the liberal outlets (HuffPo, Guardian, etc), which have all written multiple articles on Thornberry – 2 to 3 a day for 5 days.

“The mainstream media is talking a completely different language and setting a totally different agenda to the people of the country, and it is happy to talk UKIP, immigrants, scroungers, but not austerity, injustice and poverty. That’s why we need to speak up for ourselves.”

9) George Osbourne’s #AusterityFail

Ahead of budget day on 3rd December, the People’s Assembly have put together a video of messages for George Osbourne.

 

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The BBC have reported that the Government is considering cutting the rate of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by nearly £30 per week. Those in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), who have been found to be not ‘fit for work’ but able to engage with activities to help them move towards work, could receive little more than those claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), according to Michael Buchanan at the BBC.

Let’s also not forget that more than a third of those with degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s have also been put into this WRAG group, which is a cut to Full Employment Support Allowance already, and being in this group callously suggests these people will be able to work in the future despite the nature of their conditions meaning they worsen over time.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said:

“If these proposals go ahead it would leave many people with disabilities struggling to make ends meet. People in the WRAG, over 40 per cent of whom have mental health problems, face significant barriers to returning to work and will take much longer to do so than people on JSA. As such, it is right that they receive additional support to allow them to have a reasonable standard of life while preparing for work.

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“Rather than looking to make reckless short-term savings, the Government should be focused on fixing a system that is failing people with mental health problems. The only responsible way to reduce the cost of ESA is to provide personalised and specialist support to people help them move closer to work. Current Government schemes are failing to do this and, in many cases, are causing stress and anxiety to people that is making their health worse and pushing them further from work.”

And on the new provider for Work Capability Assessments (which the BBC have reported as being US firm Maximus):

“We hope that the appointment of a new provider to carry out Work Capability Assessments will be used as an opportunity to make much needed improvements. The assessment process continues to cause a great deal of distress for people with mental health problems and often fails to recognise the impact of people’s conditions on their ability to work. We have long been calling for assessors with expertise in mental health, and greater use of evidence from professionals who knows the applicant best.”

“However, the WCA needs to be understood in the context of a wider benefits system that is failing people with mental health problems. Only a tiny proportion of people with mental health problems are moving into employment through this process, and actually many people find the pressure placed on them is making their health worse and a return to work less likely. We still need to see a complete overhaul of the system and a more personalised approach which helps people with mental health problems move closer to work and continues to provide ongoing support once they’re in work.”

1) Thousands with degenerative conditions marked as fit to work in future by DWP

More than a third of people suffering from degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis, are being denied full Employment Support Allowance by the DWP. Instead, they are put into the Work Related Activity Group for those deemed likely to be able to work in the future.  People in this group also face threat of sanction for not attending sessions and may have these benefits removed after one year as an additional ‘incentive’ to find work. Steve Ford, Chief Executive of Parkinson’s UK said:

“These latest figures are an utter disgrace and serve to underline just how little the Government cares for those with progressive conditions like Parkinson’s. To set up a system which tells people who’ve had to give up work because of a debilitating, progressive condition that they’ll recover, is humiliating and nothing short of a farce. “These nonsensical decisions are a prime example of how benefits assessors lack even the most basic levels of understanding of the conditions they are looking at.”

This follows news that the UN is looking to investigate the UK for crimes against disability rights, in the first enquiry of it’s kind. Read more about this story here.

2) Britain’s Big Four Banks to announce £9bn profit for just three months


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In direct, stark and disturbing contrast to the previous story, where the treatment of the vulnerable is hardened under the banner of austerity, those who caused the crash and spurred on the government cutbacks are enjoying huge profits.

Britain’s big four banks, Lloyds, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays, are set to announce a £9bn profit haul in three months.

While most made between £1.7 – £2bn over the summer, HSBC took the greatest leap with profits estimated at £3.7bn. Meanwhile, wages have dropped for the public for 71 of the last 74 months.

Read more about this story here.

3) People arrested for feeding protestors on Parliament Square

Two people have been arrested for giving water and food to a protestor at the Occupy Democracy camp in Parliament square.

A video emerged of a police officer confirming that anyone aiding a protestor who was sitting on a plinth at the statue of Winston Churchill, would be arrested.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1

The Occupy Democracy camp which was set to take place over ten days has seen heavy police force, handling and also severe tactics of harassment in the shape of sleep deprivation both through the removal of sleeping equipment and through constant disturbances by police in a bid to wear protestors out.

Police have a duty to facilitate peaceful protest, as was always the aim of the camp. The treatment of protestors here in a relatively small group shows us the kind of democracy we have, or don’t have.

“I attended the TUC (Trades Union Congress) march on Saturday and I took part in UK Uncut’s ‘tax-dodgers bingo’. And I saw how at every Starbucks, Nero’s and Tesco on the march route there were police lining the shop-front. Who were they guarding? Whose freedoms were they protecting?

I saw how some of the protesters had been getting creative, transforming a tarpaulin into a banner that said ‘WE DIDN’T VOTE FOR FRACKING’. And I remembered again the truth: that we didn’t vote for Prime Minister David Cameron’s ever-desperate dash to drag remaining fossil fuels out of the ground in direct contradiction to our emissions reduction targets. That we also didn’t vote for changes to trespass law, or for the criminalization of ‘Occupy-style’ protests. We certainly didn’t vote for TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership set to curtail the rights of individual governments to stand up to transnational corporations). We didn’t vote for student fees, austerity and the cuts either. So, whose rights exactly is this government representing?

Considering all this, occupying a square opposite the seat of power feels entirely appropriate and necessary in response to such an ‘undemocracy’.”

Hannah Martin, New Internationalist

Read the full piece here.

Read more about this story here.

4) George Osbourne didn’t tell Cameron about £1.7bn EU bill

Cameron has been making a show of how shocked and disgusted he is to have been handed a £1.7bn EU bill to pay on December 1st. It made him really very angry.

Interestingly, Cameron found out about this bill on the way to a meeting with EU representatives on Thursday, despite Chancellor George Osbourne knowing about the bill since the beginning of the week.

Despite the PM being unable to contain his anger, he said he didn’t want to focus on the ‘Who Knew What Whens’ – which luckily for the Chancellor means he is entirely off the hook.

Strange, that the PM is so disgusted by a bill which all EU parties had agreed to, and which the Dutch had put money aside for. Stranger still that our PM is disgusted more by this bill than the continued borrowing and failure of the Chancellor to meet any targets in terms of cutting the deficit.

Read more about this story here.

5) Support for staying in the EU surges 

An Ipsos Mori report revealed public support for EU membership has surged to a 23 year high despite the rise in UKIP support.

“New polling from Ipsos MORI shows the majority of Britons would vote to stay in the European Union in a referendum, indicating the highest support for British membership since 1991, before the signing of the Maastricht Treaty which officially renamed the ‘European Community’ the ‘European Union’. Some 56% would vote to stay in the European Union, compared with 36% who would vote to get out; eight percent answer that they do not know how they would vote. This translates to 61% support for Britain’s EU membership and 39% opposing after excluding ‘don’t knows’. This is the highest support since December 1991, when 60% said they would vote to stay in the European Community and 29% wanted to get out.”

Image: Ipsos Mori

Image: Ipsos Mori

Read the full report here.

 

The flaws in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system are so grave that simply “rebranding” the assessment used to determine eligibility for ESA (the Work Capability Assessment (WCA)) by appointing a new contractor will not solve the problems, says the Work and Pensions Committee in a report published on Wednesday.

The Committee calls on the Government to undertake a fundamental redesign of the ESA end-to-end process to ensure that the main purpose of the benefit – helping claimants with health conditions and disabilities to move into employment where this is possible for them – is achieved. This will take some time, but the redesign should be completed before the new multi-provider contract is tendered, which is expected to be in 2018.

In the meantime, the Committee recommends a number of changes which should be made now, to help ensure that claimants receive an improved service, and that the outcomes for claimants are more appropriate.

Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:

“Many people going through the ESA claims process are unhappy with the way they are treated and the decisions which are made about their fitness for work. The current provider of the WCA, Atos, has become a lightning rod for all the negativity around the ESA process and DWP and Atos have recently agreed to terminate the contract early.

“But it is DWP that makes the decision about a claimant’s eligibility for ESA – the face-to-face assessment is only one part of the process. Just putting a new private provider in place will not address the problems with ESA and the WCA on its own.”

“We are therefore calling for a number of changes which can be made to improve ESA in the short-term, while also recommending a longer-term, fundamental redesign of the whole process.”

“We hope that the new Minister for Disabled People, who was appointed last week, will respond positively to our constructive recommendations for improving the ESA process.”

One of the key issues which the Report identifies is that ESA is not achieving its purpose of helping people who could work in the short to medium term to move back into employment.

One of the reasons for this is that the outcomes of the ESA claims process are too simplistic. Claimants can be found “fit for work” and are then ineligible to claim ESA. Claimants found to have such limited functionality that that they cannot undertake any work-related activity are placed in the Support Group, where they are subject to no work-related conditionality. This leaves a large and disparate middle group of claimants who are not yet fit for work, and may even have a deteriorating condition, but who are required nonetheless to undertake activity which is meant to help them find work in the longer term. These claimants are placed in the Work-related Activity Group (WRAG). The WRAG covers too wide a spectrum of claimants with very different prognoses and employment support needs.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said:

“We welcome the findings of this report which highlights the many problems with the process used to assess applicants’ eligibility for ESA. Nearly half of people who are currently receiving ESA do so because of a mental health problem and we agree with the recommendation that the Work Capability Assessment needs to be urgently reformed in order to assess people fairly and accurately. The current assessment fails to take full account of the impact having a fluctuating condition such as a mental health problem can have on someone’s ability to work.

“The assessment process is just one small part of an entire system which is failing to provide people with the support they need. The vast majority of people with mental health problems want to work, but they need tailored, personalised support to overcome the barriers they face – from their confidence and skills through to employers’ attitudes and the support available in the workplace. Many people are being forced to undertake activities in order to receive ESA, but rather than helping people back to work, this often creates immense anxiety and can damage their health, pushing them further from work.”

Redesigning the ESA process

The Committee recommends that the ESA redesign should aim to ensure that the process properly identifies claimants’ health barriers to employment and the particular support they need, so that the conditionality that they are subject to and the employment support they receive can be tailored more closely to their circumstances. For claimants in the WRAG, proper account needs to be taken of where they are on the spectrum of readiness for work, given the wide range of conditions and disabilities which the WRAG encompasses, and the different impacts these have on an individual claimant’s functional capacity.

The descriptors used in the WCA process should also be reviewed as part of the redesign, as concerns about their effectiveness, and the way they are applied, remain, despite the recent review commissioned by DWP.

Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:

“ESA is not properly joined up with employment support because an individual’s health-related barriers to working are not being properly assessed as part of the process. We recommend that the Government reintroduces a separate assessment of these barriers, along the lines of the Work-focused Health-related Assessment – the WFHRA – which it suspended in 2010.”

Shorter term measures to improve ESA

Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:

“We know that the redesign can’t happen overnight, but the current system needs to be improved now, because it is clearly causing claimants considerable distress and anxiety.

“The re-letting of the contract provides an opportunity to address some of the problems. The new contract needs to set out robust and clear service standards on the quality and timeliness of assessments and the reports produced by the contractor, and for the way claimants are dealt with.”

“DWP has acknowledged that this will cost more money, but this is justified if the service provided by the new contractor is better. To ensure this is the case, DWP needs to rigorously monitor the service standards to ensure they are being met and to take immediate action, including imposing penalties, if they are not. This has not always happened with the Atos contract.”

“The changes we recommend include ensuring that, where possible, paper-based assessments are used to place people in the Support Group, rather than requiring them to go through a WCA, where their health condition or disability clearly has a severe impact on their capability to work. Unnecessary and too frequent reassessments should also be avoided.”

“DWP should also improve the way it communicates with claimants – at the moment, the letters that are sent to claimants are too technical and complex. They need to be in plain English and avoid using jargon. The terms “limited capability for work” and “limited capability for work-related activity”, which are currently used to categorise claimants, are too confusing and DWP needs to find more meaningful alternatives.”

The Committee recommends that DWP implements a number of other changes in the shorter-term to ensure better outcomes and an improved service for claimants. These include:

 

  • DWP taking overall responsibility for the end-to-end ESA claims process, including taking decisions on whether claimants need a face-to-face assessment, rather than this decision being made by the assessment provider.
  • DWP proactively seeking “supporting evidence” on the impact of a claimant’s condition or disability on their functional capacity, rather than leaving this primarily to claimants, who often have to pay for it. DWP should seek this evidence from the most appropriate health and other professionals, including social workers and occupational therapists, rather than relying so heavily on GPs.
  • The “descriptors” used to assess functional capability in the WCA being applied more sensitively.
  • Placing claimants with a prognosis of being unlikely to experience a change in their functional abilities in the longer-term, particularly those with progressive conditions, in the Support Group and not the WRAG.

Mandatory reconsideration and appeals

The Report also considers the impact of the introduction of mandatory reconsideration (MR) of ESA decisions, and the appeals process. MR has the potential to be beneficial, if it leads to fewer decisions being taken to appeal, and therefore reduces both stress for claimants and the cost to public funds.

However, the Committee calls on the Government to set a reasonable timescale for completing reconsiderations, rather than leaving it open-ended, and to end the current illogical situation of claimants being unable to claim ESA during the reconsideration period.

It is also important that both DWP and the assessment provider learn lessons from the feedback which the Tribunals Service now gives in the summary reasons for its decisions, so that more initial decisions are “right first time”.

 

1) Britain’s poor now on par with Eastern Bloc

The poorest fifth of UK households are significantly worse off than the poorest fifth in other Western European countries, according to analysis of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data published by the High Pay Centre last week.

High Pay Centre Director Deborah Hargreaves said:

 “These figures suggest we need to be more concerned about inequality and how prosperity is shared, as well as average incomes or aggregate measures like GDP. The fact that the rich are richer in the UK than many other countries hides the fact that the poor are poorer.

“Most people think our living standards in the UK are similar to economies like France and Germany, but being poor in the UK is more like being poor in the former Soviet Bloc than in Western Europe.”

The High Pay Centre analysis also notes that if the UK’s total income of around £1 trillion was divided in the same way as total incomes in Denmark or the Netherlands, 99% of UK households would be better off by around £2,700 per year.

Image: The Huffington Post

Image: The Huffington Post

 

Read more about this story here.

2) Labour announces plans to cut benefits for 18-21 year olds, replacing with means-tested training allowances

Ed Miliband announced Labour’s first plans on cuts to welfare, with a plan that would remove benefits from 100,000 18-21 year olds, replaced instead with a means-tested allowance based on whether the claimant is in training.

The move follows a YouGov poll released last week which found that 78% of the British public felt that the welfare system was unfair and failing to reward those who had contributed to it.

The move is also meant to symbolise Labour’s dedication to welfare reform, apparently tapping in to the need to reward people in a way that is closer to what they pay in. It does however, entirely ignore the fact that opportunities for young people are scarce in a far more insecure and lower-paid environment than the previous generation.

The removal of Jobseeker’s Allowance for those below skills level 3 will affect seven out of 10 young people, and save around £65m.10431489_686788578035740_8042865362329683316_n

Read more about this story here.

3) Royal College of Nurses threaten to unseat MPs who do not support a pay rise for NHS staff

Nursing leaders have pledged that they would work to unseat MPs who do not support a pay rise for NHS staff, at the next election.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has denied frontline health professionals a one percent pay rise across the board, infuriating health unions.

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Some have put forward the idea of strike action, Dr Peter Carter, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing has suggested that rather than risking patient care through strike action, nurses should pursue “alternative forms of industrial action” at the ballot box.

“There are many MPs on all sides of the House of Commons that have small majorities, some just a few hundred, some even as low as 30 or 40” he told RCN members. “There are about 1,000 nurses in each constituency and if we mobilise ourselves I know many of those MPs will be looking over their shoulders and wondering if they’ll be re-elected at the General Election next year.”

Power to them.

4) Don’t let them tell you that our NHS is failing or needs privatisation. It is the best healthcare system in the world.

An international panel of experts declared that the NHS is the best healthcare system in the world, rating it’s care superior to other countries who spend more. The report ranked the USA as the worst in healthcare provision.

“The United Kingdom ranks first overall, scoring highest on quality, access and efficiency,” the fund’s researchers conclude in their 30-page report. Their findings amount to a huge endorsement of the health service, especially as it spends the second-lowest amount on healthcare among the 11 – just £2,008 per head, less than half the £5,017 in the US. Only New Zealand, with £1,876, spent less.”

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Read more about this story here.

5) DWP caught out as over half a million sickness benefit appeals were won, but figures were hidden from the public

From ilegal:

“DWP ministers said only 9% of ESA decisions were wrong.  Our research reveals the DWP have been quoting from figures which state 151,800 appeals have succeeded.  Our evidence shows the true figure to be at least 567,634 – casting serious doubt over 43% of 1,302,200 ‘fit for work’ decisions.”

“These figures completely negate all of the DWP’s claims that it is getting the majority of its decisions right. Government ministers in conjunction with the DWP’s Press office have been telling us that a million claimants have been found fit for work whereas these figures show that in reality this is only a small part of the true story and that huge numbers have gone on to successfully appeal decisions which were wrong.

“These new figures highlight the dubious practice of using the unchallenged assessment results, which only encourage media sensationalisation, with headlines such as those appearing in the Daily Express in July 2011 stating that ‘75% on sickness benefits were faking’. The same article goes on to say that out of ‘…2.6 million on the sick, 1.9 million could work’ before receiving an endorsement from the Prime Minister with an assurance that his government was “producing a much better system where we put people through their paces and say that if you can work, you should work”.

Read more about this story here.

6) 50,000+ march in People’s Assembly demo against austerity, and BBC fails to report on it again

Thousands took to the streets in London on Saturday against austerity, with speakers including Russell Brand, Owen Jones and Christine Blower. Solidarity reigned supreme as the demonstration brought together a coalition of unions, political parties, activist groups and community leaders. The march also celebrated one year of the People’s Assembly.

The march comes ahead of a 1 million strong strike planned on 10th July for public sector workers against pay freezes – sending a clear message to government that damaging austerity will not be tolerated. And the People’s Assembly plan to stage the biggest demonstration ever seen later this year.

As with the Manchester march against the privatisation of the NHS, where 50-70,000 took to the streets, the BBC turned a blind eye to the demonstration, slipping out a small report late in the evening on their website.

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

A shocking report launched today (Thursday 12 June) has found that the back to work support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is causing severe anxiety for people with disabilities and pushing them further from the job market.
 
Fulfilling Potential? ESA and the fate of the Work Related Activity Group’ is based on data from over 500 people with a range of physical and mental health problems. All respondents had been assigned to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) having applied for the disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). People in the WRAG can have their benefits stopped if they do not engage with work preparation schemes.
 
This research found that the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus had helped just five per cent of respondents move into work, while six in 10 people said that their health, finances, confidence and sense of purpose had all suffered as a result.
Most people who responded to the survey had been compelled to undertake compulsory back-to-work activities or have their benefits cut. The majority said their disabilities were not acknowledged or accommodated and made engaging in such activities difficult. Eighty per cent of people said they felt anxious about not being able to access activities and 70 per cent were worried about their benefits being cut.
 
The actual or threatened cutting of benefits is meant to motivate people to get back to work, but the report suggests motivation is not a problem. Sixty per cent were strongly committed to work, 30 per cent weren’t sure they could work and just 10 per cent either didn’t want to, or didn’t think they’d be able to, work. For most people (90 per cent), their health or impairment was the main barrier to work.
 
The report was produced by Catherine Hale, a Work Programme service user, with support from the mental health charity Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform. Catherine currently claims ESA due to myalgic encephalopathy (ME), a long term health condition, and said:
 
“The majority of disabled people want to work. However, people who have been awarded ESA have genuine and often severe health problems which make it difficult to access employment. The current system ignores these difficulties, and relies on the threat of sanctions to get people into work. It is no surprise that it is not only failing disabled people but causing additional distress and anxiety, on top of the barriers that they already face.
“At my first back to work meeting, the Jobcentre adviser accused me of fraud and threatened to stop my benefits if I didn’t try harder to get well. They assume that people are not working because of defective attitudes and morals, not because they’re ill or disabled. This is wrong and deeply damaging.
 
“People claiming ESA need to be placed with specialist organisations experienced in supporting disabled people into employment, not into mainstream welfare-to-work schemes. Employers should widen job opportunities and consider making adjustments to accommodate people with disabilities including flexible or shorter working hours and the option of working from home.
 
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, commented:
 
“This report adds to the existing evidence that the current benefits system is failing people with disabilities and mental health problems. There is far too much focus on pressuring people into undertaking compulsory activities, and not nearly enough ongoing, tailored support to help them into an appropriate job.
 
“Just five per cent of people are actually managing to get into work through this process, while many people are finding that the stress they are put under is making their health worse and a return to work less likely. We urgently need to see an overhaul of this system.”
 
The report, which has been endorsed by a further 18 organisations including Mencap, RNIB, Parkinson’s UK and the National Autistic Society, also found:
 
  • Most people received generic back-to-work support such as CV writing classes with very few receiving specialist support. Over half the respondents felt their ‘action plan’ of activities was inappropriate for them, and six in 10 people felt no adaptations were made to activities to take account of their barriers.
 
  • Almost all respondents were threatened with sanctions if they failed to participate in mandatory activities. On average, respondents had at least three different kinds of difficulty in participating in activities due to their health condition or impairment. 50 per cent said these difficulties were not acknowledged and 70 per cent said no adjustments were made to accommodate their disability.
 
  • 87 per cent of respondents who failed to participate in a mandatory activity were prevented by factors relating to their health or impairment. Only 6.5 per cent had actually received a cut in benefits.
 
  • The majority of respondents said they wanted to work given the right support and a job suitable to their disability, and that they believed employers could make use of their talents if jobs were more inclusive. 82 per cent of respondents said their Work Programme provider or JCP made no effort to adapt jobs on offer to make it easier for them to work.
 
  • Most people agreed the most helpful would be a package of support agreed upfront so that they could reassure potential employers of their ability to do a job. Adjustments that employers could make included flexible hours, working from home, working fewer than 16 hours per week, increased confidence on the part of employers and recruitment through work trials rather than interviews.

1. Iain Duncan Smith used false statistics to justify benefit cuts

Image: theweek.co.uk

Image: theweek.co.uk

Following a complaint from the charity Parkinson’s UK, the official statistics watchdog has revealed that the DWP repeatedly used false disability statistics to justify welfare changes and cuts.

The DWP and it’s spokespeople repeatedly claimed that the majority of those on DLA (Disability Living Allowance) were give benefits for life without supporting medical evidence. But the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) has revealed that only 10% of those passed for life support had no supporting medical evidence.

“The DWP also claimed that “under the current system of DLA, 71% of claimants get indefinite awards without systematic reassessments. However the UKSA found that in the last two years of the DLA, just 23% and 24% of claimants were given indefinite awards.

…..Last year Duncan Smith claimed that 8000 people who had been affected by the benefits cap had moved back into work. The UKSA found that this figure was “unsupported by the official statistics.”

Politics.co.uk

Parkinson’s UK policy advisor Donna O’Brien said:

“The Department of Work and Pensions has a long track record of misusing statistics when it comes to the benefits system, and it’s clear this was a tactic to vindicate further welfare cuts.”

 Read more about this story here.

2. Farage’s excruciating LBC interview forces him and the public to face his hypocrisy, finally

Farage faced a difficult interview when he agreed to appear on James O’Brien’s LBC radio show which resulted in UKIP’s communications director intervening to stop the interview.

O’Brien questioned Farage on racism and discrimination, highlighting that Farage’s attitude and comments were discriminatory against his own wife and children who are German.

Well done James O’Brien. Just a shame it took so long for this sort of questioning on UKIP policies and rhetoric to happen.

Watch the full interview here.

 

3. Universal Credit could lead to increase in error and fraud, warns Work and Pensions Committee

The government has stated that the IT system IRIS (Integrated Risk and Intelligence Service) will be used to perform safeguards against fraud throughout Universal Credit, as it does with housing benefit now. However, there are now problems with how the system will run, and access the necessary data – which could mean the overhaul of the system and a design of a new one which could put the system back, and increase fraud and error in the meantime.

Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Dame Anne Begg MP, said:

“Through the use of RTI—real-time information on PAYE earnings—Universal Credit has the potential over the longer term to substantially reduce fraud and error in the benefits system. However, this could be seriously undermined because of the uncertainty about how DWP will administer the housing element of Universal Credit without increased risks of fraud and error.”

Read more about this story here.

4. Government quietly announces proposals to privatise child protection services

The Department for Education, under Michael Gove, has a proposal to permit the outsourcing of child protection services to companies like G4S and Serco.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

This has alarmed experts, who say “profit-making companies should not be in charge of such sensitive family matters, and warn that the introduction of the profit motive into child protection may distort the decision-making process.”

Professor Ellen Munro, who was commissioned by Gove in 2011 to carry out a review into child protection services, said:

“……establishing a market in child protection would create perverse incentives for private companies to either take more children into care or leave too many languishing with dangerous families.

“It’s a bad idea,” she told the Guardian. “It’s the state’s responsibility to protect people from maltreatment. It should not be delegated to a profit-making organisation.”

Sign the petition to keep profit out of child protection here. 

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

1) 1.4 million Britons now on zero hour contracts

Official statistics released on Wednesday revealed there are now 1.4 million people on zero hour contracts in the UK. More than one in ten employers use these casual employment contracts, and they are mostly found in the retail, care and service sectors.The figure has increased rapidly since 2010 and has more than doubled in the last year.

Zero-Hours-Contracts

Zero hour contracts do not provide a minimum number of hours, and no holiday or sick pay which is leaving an ever growing number of people without job and financial security week to week. Defenders of the contracts say that they can be used well and work for certain jobs, however, the increase in their use is normalising these contracts in further sectors and can be used as a way of disempowering the employee and keeping wages low. We spoke to Giselle Cory from the Resolution Foundation a little while back about the issues surrounding increased use of zero hour contracts:

“Labour market flexibility is on the one hand a very good thing, and for some people zero hour contracts will be perfect, but for a lot of people we know they’re not. So for people who perhaps have responsibilities at home, young children for example, and are on zero hour contracts where they need to be available for work all the time, but don’t know what hours they’re going to get that week, it’s very difficult to manage their lives – both manage their budget but also manage their childcare and make sure they can get to work if they’re needed. For those families, when they have no option but to take these zero hour contracts, they’re left in a quite miserable and precarious position because they have no security day-to-day or week-to-week.

“[Some employers are] 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.”

Read the full interview here.

Pressure now mounts on Vince Cable to act on providing better job security during the ‘recovery.’ Cable has also commissioned his own study into the contracts, the findings of which will be published shortly.

Read more about this story here.

2) Sanctions are ‘damaging’ and have ‘no positive impact’ say Jobcentre advisers

The coalition government introduced a new benefit sanctions regime in 2012 as they believed the old system was too soft. However, 70% of Jobcentre staff that responded to a PCS survey said that sanctions “had ‘no positive impact’ in influencing jobseeker behaviour” and “three quarters had noticed an increase in the number of claimants being referred to food banks as a result of their benefits being cut.”

Image: powerinaunion.co.uk

Image: powerinaunion.co.uk

Sanctions have increased dramatically in the last two years. In statistics released a couple of weeks ago, 5 times as many people were sanctioned as found jobs, raising questions on the legitimacy of the sanctions where there are no opportunities or jobs for people.

The news also supports what was said by the 2 Jobcentre advisers we interviewed last week. You can read their accounts here.

Read more about this story here.

3) Green Party push Lib Dems into 5th place in Euro election polls

“Green Party of England and Wales ahead of the Lib Dems in the Euro election polls, and David Cameron has confirmed he will have a live TV debate with Nigel Farage and Natalie Bennett – Green Party Leader. That’ll be the first time a woman has appeared in these election debates.”

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4) UKIP have to cancel freepost address after receiving bricks and faeces

UKIP have had to cancel their freepost address after they were sent unwanted and unpleasant packages at their own expense.

After the freepost address was circled online, many took to sending bricks to the political party in order to charge them with hefty postage fees. Others sent leaflets and phone books, but after receiving blood and faeces the party decided to cancel the address.

Polls suggest that UKIP may do well in the European elections on 22nd May. To find out all you need to know about the party – check our lowdown.

In other UKIP news, Farage will once again appear on Question Time this week, prompting a petition calling on the BBC to stop giving the leader of the UKIP party disproportionate airtime. The petition says:

“Despite leading a party with no elected Members of Parliament, Nigel Farage has appeared on the BBC’s foremost political discussion programme more often than any other British politician: 14 times since 2009. This utterly disproportionate airtime runs contrary to the BBC’s duty as a public service broadcaster to provide balanced coverage.”

You can sign here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

1) ‘Help To Work’ comes into effect today

A new government scheme starting today will put tough new requirements on the long-term unemployed to continue receiving benefit.

‘Help To Work’ will affect those who have already completed the Work Programme and have been out of work for longer than two years. These claimants will now have to take part in community placements for 30 hours a week, which could include picking up litter or removing graffiti. They will also have to ‘sign on’ at the job centre every day, and receive at least 4 hours of intensive job search monitoring with advisers each week.

Should claimants not find work after six months, they will be re-enrolled on the programme and sanctioned if they do not comply.

Recent statistics show that only 3% of those on the Work programme have gone on to find gainful employment, which suggests problems within the government system and approach. Community placements also seem a lot like community service under threat of sanction, a worrying treatment of the unemployed like criminals and once again an attempt by the coalition to fix unemployment by fixing the unemployed.

Image: theweek.co.uk

Image: theweek.co.uk

Read more about this story here.

2) Occupy Wonga – May 1st

Occupy, DPAC and UK Uncut have joined to stage an action on May 1st against ludicrous interest rates and pay day loans. The action will form part of the Worldwide Wave of Action running from April 4th to July 4th.

The plan for the day is:

“May Day Itinerary:-

12:00 (High Noon) Assemble at Clerkenwell Green.

13:00 March sets off

2:30 Rally in Trafalgar Square in Honour of Tony Benn and Bob Crow.

As soon as the rally is finished, we march. When we arrive at the target we will occupy a space and Occupy London will hold a General Assembly on site; the assembly agenda will be confirmed on the day, by those present.

Supporting this action on the day will be:- *Occupy London *Disabled People Against The Cuts *Fuel Poverty Action *ClassWar *The Resistance Movement Of The UK”

Image: Occupy

Image: Occupy

Read more about this story here.

 3) Councils are sitting on £67m of emergency help

A Freedom of Information request obtained by the Guardian revealed that councils are sitting on £67m of the £136m given out to help with emergency appeals.

Record numbers of families are being turned down for help despite many being left penniless and hungry by benefit sanctions, welfare reforms and the bedroom tax. 4 in 10 applications are turned down for emergency help. In some places as few as one in 10 receive crisis loans.

Councils told the Guardian that they had given out less help than in the past because the public knew less about the schemes, with some failing to advertise that there was help available.

Read more about this story here.

4) Real Talks: A Job’s Worth

Real Talks’ first event went well on Thursday last week with a great discussion about current experiences, unemployment, policies and alternatives. Keep an eye on RealFare for the video and photos! Thanks to all those who attended.

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

As we get closer to our Employment debate –  ‘A Job’s Worth’ on Thursday 24th April @ Hoxton Hall, we bring you some insight from a Jobcentre adviser on their experiences of welfare reforms since the coalition came to power. This is one of two separate interviews with anonymous Jobcentre advisers (the next one will be posted next week). In this one, we talk about the effects of sanctions on claimants, and what vital services have been removed from Jobcentres.

Image: Welfare News Service

Image: Welfare News Service

How long have you worked in the Job Centre?

“I don’t wish to be specific about the actual length of time I’ve worked for the DWP (Department for Work & Pensions) in JCP (Job Centre Plus) but it is less than 10 years.”

What are your thoughts and experiences of welfare reforms and rules since the coalition came to power? How have they changed? What are they aimed towards? What have been the effects on the people you serve? 

“The easiest response to this is to say that JCP services have gotten worse. As an example, we used to have support schemes in place for jobseekers who took up employment and who would have to wait until they were paid. Most jobs now are paid monthly and the return to work credit was one way of supporting people who were moving from benefit into employment.

“Another example is the loss of the crisis loan (CL) service. This was part of the “social fund” and was a very useful service for both jobseekers and surprisingly, us. Let me explain, if there was ever a problem with a jobseeker’s claim, through maladministration or another error, the CL service was a really good way for jobseekers to be able to receive at least a partial payment of their benefit. Now, if a payment is delayed or a jobseeker is without money there is the short term benefit advance or they can make an application to the hardship fund. More hoops to jump through and more levels of bureaucracy to climb.

“The most significant change has obviously been the changes to DMA or decision making and appeals – the sanctions. These reforms were introduced in Autumn 2012 and have been quite significant. They are mainly targeted at jobseekers. The main components, or what jobseekers are mainly sanctioned for, are Actively Seeking Employment and Refusing Employment.

“There has been a significant increase in jobseekers being sanctioned and I must say now, here, that some jobseekers need sanctioning as they have the attitude that they should be paid benefits for doing nothing. I am not going to give an opinion one way or the other about this only to say, what do you do with a group of people who will not look for a job? Do you say ‘it’s okay, you don’t have to as you are a special case,” but how do you justify this to the jobseekers who are genuinely looking for a job and meeting the conditions for benefit? There are lots of justifiable critics of sanctions, but I have yet to see any alternative suggestions to them.”

Have you ever experienced any use of target culture for sanctioning? If not, what are you told about sanctioning? If yes, how are you told to sanction and by who?

“At all staff meetings DMA is always mentioned. DMA is basically the sanction process. The two main reasons a claim has a sanction imposed are Actively Seeking Employment (ASE) and Refusing Employment (RE) A typical scenario could be this: a customer would typically have an ASE sanction imposed if they hadn’t shown enough evidence of jobseeking activity.”

“Numbers of actively seeking referrals to a decision maker or the number of refusing employment referrals are always mentioned at team meetings. We are also constantly being told that our off flow targets are going through the roof. I’m sure senior managers think we are incapable of reading blogs and social media output thinking we can’t make the connection that it is DMA which is generating the impression that unemployment is falling and employment is rising. Anyone sanctioned still has to attend to sign as they have to sign for their National Insurance contributions.”

What have been your experiences of the success/failure of the Work Programme?

“Very limited really due to the job I currently do. I can say with confidence that it is true the providers have been “parking” harder to help jobseekers. When the claimants were returning to the Jobcentre after the 2 year participation on the Work Programme, there was a very mixed set of experiences. Some jobseekers had multiple meetings with the advisors employed by the providers, some of them were reporting hardly having any contact with them. Also, some customers were coming back to the Jobcentre without even a CV. You have to ask yourself how they had been looking for work.”

What one policy would you change to help jobseekers?

“I would give each jobseeker a guaranteed maximum number of hours help from a member of the Jobcentre on a 1-2-1 basis. Give a more personal service. As it is there is a one size fits all approach and it does not work for everyone.”

 

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