Archives For fit to work tests

1) Real Talks: A Job’s Worth – Employment in 2014 – 24/04/2014

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We announced our first live debate in collaboration with Inner City Theatre last week. On 24th April at Hoxton Hall, we tackle employment in 2014 in an environment of wage pressures, rising living costs, zero hour contracts and continuing unemployment. We aim to start the conversation on the ground with an audience, panel and some UK artists, and without the usual question-avoiding officialese of usual political debates.

We are pleased to announce our panellists as follows:

Natalie Bennett – Leader, Green Party

Thomas Barlow – Equalities Officer, Greater Manchester Union

Kam Sandhu – Founder, RealFare

YEUK representative – Youth Employment UK

If you want to attend, the tickets are free for unwaged and £5 for waged. You must register first by emailing admin@innercitytheatre.co.uk to save your place.

Please see our trailer here:

 

2) ATOS quits fit-to-work tests

French healthcare company ATOS, who were awarded the £500m contract to administer all fit-to-work tests until next August, will end their contract early, the government have announced.

With mounting call and evidence from campaigners and many sick and disabled people up and down the country that ATOS were wrongfully administering the test and results, leading to inhumane and stressful consequences for those facing the tests, the company have decided to exit the contract by early next year. They will receive no compensation for doing so, and have agreed a penalty payment with government.

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However, whilst many charities and campaigners welcome the exit of ATOS, they say the whole system needs overhauling, rather than continuing with the same tests with another company.

Last year, the Work and Pensions Select committee backed this by saying the responsibility for problems with the fit-to-work tests and their administration “lay firmly with the DWP” but that the department was failing to “apply sufficient rigour or challenge to ATOS.”

Read more about this story.

3) Low Income families increase debt by 29% in six months to deal with welfare reforms

Low income families are increasing their debt by £52 a week after being hit by welfare reforms, wage pressures and the rising cost of living, according to research from a poverty project.

“The project found that the average household debt stood at just under £3,000, up by 29% since October, equivalent to £670. Families were typically spending £34 a week repaying debts, from an average income among those surveyed of £176 a week.”

The findings are the third instalment of six, from the Real Life Reform project which examines the financial and social changes and behaviours of up to 100 households.

Andy Williams, chair of the Real Life Reform steer group said:

“In our first report in September, people said they’d resist falling further into debt, yet just six months later this picture has emerged.

“Nearly eight out of 10 people in the study owe money. With an underlying average debt of £2,943, some may never pay this off given that they have, on average, as little as £3 left at the end of each day for food.”

Read more about this story.

4) MPs approve welfare cap

The permanent welfare cap was voted through on Thursday by a vote of 520 to 22. 13 Labour rebels defied Ed Miliband by voting against it. See their names here. It was thought there would have been more rebellions against the cap but the vote fell on the same day as Tony Benn’s funeral and some were absent. It is thought others were convinced to vote for it, as the level of the cap could be adjusted as Labour sees fit should they get in at the next election.

However, Save The Children have warned that the cap will push 345,000 children into poverty. The cap excludes Jobseeker’s Allowance and the state pension, so will pressurise working benefits – affecting families across Britain.

Will Higham, the charity’s director of UK poverty, said: “Parties need to explain how they will work to improve wages and welfare to ensure that work pays. Otherwise, the vote will become a straitjacket, binding future governments from taking action to stem a rising tide of child poverty.”

Image: The Drum

Image: The Drum

Read more about this story here.

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1) Thousands across country falling into rent arrears as reforms and bedroom tax effects deepen

The number of people falling into rent arrears has almost doubled from 35% to 62% in the first three months of the new bedroom tax policy, where social housing tenants deemed to have a spare room are charged.

“Rent arrears for all 500,000 tenants covered by the 45 survey respondents rose by an average of 21 per cent. This is £17.5 million in cash terms, enough to build almost 1,000 homes.”

A combination of a rise in living costs, rising rent, below inflation increases of benefit rates and a lack of smaller housing for tenants looking to downsize is causing people to become trapped in arrears, which forces landlords to lose out on rent and pushes people into poverty cycles.

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

Read more about this story here.

2) Universal credit rolled out further, despite criticism and instability of reform so far

Universal Credit is being rolled out across West London today, in the next step towards a national launch. Hammersmith and Fulham will be the latest councils to take on the government’s flagship reform which will replace several means tested benefits and pay in a single amount, monthly.

The scheme is being rolled out more carefully and slowly than anticipated, following problems with IT, staff and responses to the new payment.

Labour have described the reform as “total chaos.”

Still, the Department for Work and Pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith has pressed forward amid strong criticisms and clear failings of budgeting and control, and the reform will be fully rolled out by 2017.

Image: theweek.co.uk

Iain Duncan Smith – Image: theweek.co.uk

Read more about this story here.

3) Mother of four with rare allergy told to find work

A mother of four with an allergy to shoes has been ruled fit-to-work and had her benefits cut.

Tracey Kenny, 45, from Eccles, Greater Manchester has been out of work for 24 years due to an allergy that stops her from wearing shoes. Tracey is allergic to dust, metal, glue, rubber and nickel, and is forced to wear gloves to handle her cutlery.

Doctors even sourced and made some special shoes from Switzerland for Tracey to wear, but they still irritated her feet.

She said: “I don’t know how these  people expect me to go to work or go to job interviews with no shoes on – because that is what I would have to do.”

“I can only wear shoes for ten or 15  minutes, before my feet blister and split. It stops me from doing everything.”

Read more about this story here.

4) Russell Brand’s Newsnight interview calls for revolution against wealth gap, politics and environmental damage, and goes viral

If you haven’t seen it, you must watch:

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Writer, comedian, actress and disability campaigner Francesca Martinez began this petition to put an end to the devastating welfare reforms and tests which are causing suffering for the sick and disabled, and an end to the war on welfare – hence the nickname WoW petition.

The petition has reached around 70,000 and we need an extra 30,000 for it to be debated by a government committee.

This is a great opportunity to take this issue to Parliament. Sign.

Francesca Martinez - Image: The Guardian

Francesca Martinez – Image: The Guardian

“We call for:

“A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

“An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.

“Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

“An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.”

To sign the petition click here. 

1) Energy prices begin to rise and more winter deaths anticipated as families choose between heating and eating. Meanwhile, PM David Cameron advises wearing a jumper.

British Gas announced a 9.2% price rise this week ahead of winter, and others of the Big Six are expected to follow suit forcing many more families, poor, vulnerable and elderly to choose between heating and eating.

Following the announcement, British Gas made a PR faux-pas in allowing the public to ask questions through the Twitter hashtag #AskBG

Thousands used the hashtag to hit out at British Gas for the price hike and the expected deaths caused by the increase.

PM David Cameron then made a bad move in suggesting that people should wear jumpers in order to keep warm – a suggestion that has inflamed the public and politicians alike. Labour MP John Robertson branded the Prime Minister “patronizing and out of touch.”

Read more about this story here. 

2) DWP Secretary to resign over Universal Credit ‘fiasco’

Robert Devereux, the permanent secretary to the DWP will be criticised in a new report highlighting the problems in the government’s Universal Credit programme.

Deveraux has said to colleagues that he will resign if he is personally criticised in the report made by the Commons Public accounts committee.

Image: Civil Service World

Robert Devereux – Image: Civil Service World

Minister for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith is thought to have fought with Devereux in the rollout of Universal Credit, which puts several benefit payments into one monthly sum.

In August, a leaked survey of staff working on the scheme revealed chaos, a lack of management and frustration. One employee described the work as “soul destroying.”

A report by the National Audit Office in September said it suffered from “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance” and could miss its 2017 deadline for implementation.

Read more about this story here.

3) 150,000 complain about ATOS

Sky News have obtained figures showing that Citizens Advice has had 150,000 complaints about the fit-to-work test administrators ATOS.

Citizens Advice say that the tests are failing genuinely sick and disabled people across the country.

Doctors are also warning that the service is “unfit for purpose.”

Read more about this story here.

Image: The Backbencher

Image: The Backbencher

4) Widow speaks out against ATOS on treatment of husband: “Cancer killed my husband, but ATOS took his dignity a long time before his death”

Lyn Coupe has vowed to continue the fight against healthcare group ATOS following the death of her husband David, who lost his life to cancer.

David Coupe had been ill for 24 years with a back injury, diabetes and a heart condition.

ATOS found David “capable of limited employment” and cut his benefits by £50 a week – a decision he appealed against, though he was told that a ruling would take a year.

Shortly after, David found he had cancer, which left him in even more pain and took his sight and hearing. He died before the appeal ruling. Lyn now says she will continue the fight:

“One night I heard him sobbing downstairs. He was blind, almost deaf and in terrible pain, yet they still said he was fit enough to work. He told me ‘I can’t go on. I’m done in duck’.

“All David wanted to do was stay alive long enough to see them pay back the money he was entitled to. Sadly he didn’t live long enough.”

MP Dennis Skinner brought the case to light in a speech to the Prime Minister, in which he called on David Cameron to end the fit to work tests and the “monster” that is ATOS.

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

On Monday, Sue Marsh from the RNIB, who is also a disability campaigner and author of the Diary of a Benefit Scrounger blog, took her chances and barged on stage to make her speech at the Labour Party Conference, and we are so glad she did. Here is what she said:

“Friends, I’m Sue Marsh. I’m a disability campaigner and a Labour member. Those two things have not always sat easily together. For years now, charities and campaigners alike have argued in stronger and stronger terms that we as a country are getting it wrong on sickness and disability . Too many sanctioned, a tick box computer system of assessments that sees millions fall through the cracks. Work support that failed to support people into work but paid huge corporations thousands to fail. A total lack of understanding to know what it’s really like to live in pain, or to be exhausted all the time. What it’s like to deal with chemotherapy or a terminal diagnosis. How hard it can be to just get through the day and stay cheerful, let alone hold down a full time job.

Sue Marsh Image: bbc.co.uk

Sue Marsh Image: bbc.co.uk

“We made too many assumptions and presented too little evidence. We allowed the media to fall into lazy stereotypes of ‘scroungers’ and ‘skivers’. We designed policy in a bubble, far, far away from the lives of those who would ultimately be affected. No one was more critical than I was. Few fought harder to try to change things. I didn’t hold back. I spread my criticisms evenly between Conservative or Labour politicians. Failure is failure and we should never be afraid to say so.

“For a long time it made no difference, the consensus was just too strong, the assumptions just too widespread, but recently there has been a change. Don’t get me wrong, not from this coalition of privilege. They’ve compromised on nothing and listened to no one. But slowly and surely, Labour have started to listen. Not to Rupert Murdoch, not to the Daily Mail but to sick and disabled people up and down the country. First a tentative speech or two, then replacing the word welfare with social security. Language does matter. And today, the result of a listening exercise up and down the country, hearing the painful, shameful stories I hear every day, we pleaded with politicians to make assessments simpler, to cut down on paperwork, and endlessly repeating the same information to different departments.

“We asked why on earth huge corporations were paid thousands to fail us when we could use that money for re-training or further education or rehab, that would really help us to find work. We explained how work may never be self—supporting but that every hour worked was valuable. Every carer hour saved the economy billions. Every voluntary contribution kept society safe and united. We told of the unnecessary suffering caused by ignorance and misunderstanding. We explained how very much we wanted to work but how that work needed to be flexible and tailored.

“Today the Labour Party, my Labour Party, release their ‘Making Rights a Reality’ document. It outlines every failure, describes every fear. Nothing is left out. And the solutions it offers are the solutions we called for. Many will be cynical and we have a very long way to go to translate noble aims into real workable policies. But I believe we should never judge people on where they started, but on how far they have travelled. Liam Byrne, Anne McGuire and all those involved have truly listened, not afraid to admit they were wrong. How very rare that is in politics. With continuity and mutual respect, I begin to believe that we can move forward and hopefully leave these dark, dark days behind us.”

1) Half of families hit by ‘bedroom tax’ now in debt

The bedroom tax has pushed more than half of those affected by it into debt, in the first three months since its launch.

The National Housing Federation (NHF) reported that in a survey of 51 of it’s biggest housing association members, more than half of tenants affected could not pay their rent between April and June.

The findings come after UN Special Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik was caught in a row with Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps over the spare room subsidy. Rolnik put out a press release last week asking the government to suspend the levy after her investigation into housing found that it may be in breach of human rights. Shapps hit back at Rolnik claiming that she had not spoken to the appropriate officials, and even wrote to the UN to complain.

The findings of the NHF will now come as a blow to Shapps and the government.

NHF Chairman, David Orr will now follow Rolnik’s argument. He is expected to say: “Housing associations are working flat-out to help their tenants cope with the changes, but they can’t magic one-bedroom houses out of thin air. People are trapped. What more proof do politicians need that the bedroom tax is an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families? There is no other option but to repeal.”

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

Read more about this story here.

2) Labour announce policies, including scrapping of ‘bedroom tax’ and sacking of ATOS

Labour have announced that they will scrap the ‘bedroom tax’ and sack French healthcare group, ATOS who provide the fit-to-work tests, should the party win the next general election.

Other policies include strengthening the offence laws on disability hate crime, which are thought to have risen in part due to the “benefit scrounger” rhetoric pushed by government and media. Ed Miliband has also promised to strengthen the minimum wage.

The Labour Party Conference was held on Sunday, in Brighton. For many campaigners, the news that Labour will take strong action against the mis-handlings of the benefits system, pay, fit-to-work tests and ‘bedroom tax’ comes as a relief. However, many believe there is more to do to ensure that Labour lives out it’s promises and does away with faulty social policy systems.

Read more about this story here. 

3) Homeless hit harder by welfare cuts, says research

According to research carried out by the charity Homeless Link, the increased punitive measures used against jobseekers are hitting the homeless harder than other groups.

Image: towntalk.co.uk

Image: towntalk.co.uk

Research covering more than 50 organisations show that around a third of homeless people have been sanctioned compared to 3% of other jobseekers. With homeless people often battling a number of obstacles including mental health issues, learning disabilities and substance abuse, the sanctions pose a further threat to their wellbeing, instead of motivating them (as the sanctions were meant to, according to the coalition).

Chief Executive of Homeless Link, Rick Henderson said: “Claimants do have responsibilities but it is clear that sanctions may be forcing them deeper into the problems that led them into homelessness in the first place. We’re calling on the Government to ensure the conditions for receiving benefits take into account individual circumstances.”

Read more about this story here.

4) In-Work poverty exceeds out of work poverty in Wales

Around 700,000 people live in poverty in Wales, equating to a quarter of the population. 51% of working age adults and children in poverty are in working families, according to new research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – outnumbering those out of work and in poverty.

The report reveals the pressures put on families and wages, and calls on government to deal with low pay and working conditions, as well as welfare reform.

“Peter Kenway, Director at NPI, said: “This report shows there are not enough jobs, not enough hours and not enough pay for people in Wales. These are families who are going out to work but still have so little they are living below the poverty line and struggling to make ends meet. Low pay and low hours go hand in hand: job creation is a priority, but this must lead to better pay and more hours to tackle in-work poverty.”

Image: The Huffington Post

Image: The Huffington Post

Read the press release and report here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass