DPAC Report into abuse of statistics by the Department for Work and Pensions and UK Government Ministers

At the end of June, the Department for Work and Pensions will be releasing their Annual Report.

Iain Duncan Smith and his hench-ministers will no doubt be touring the TV studios to deliver more propaganda about worklessness and disability.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have released their own report of the DWP.

The report outlines 35 cases where Ministerial claims using statistics on the subject of Work and Benefits have fallen short of the standards expected of Government Ministers. DPAC believe that this demonstrates a consistent pattern of abuse of official statistics by Ministers of the present Government to paint a false picture of benefit claimants in the UK in support of policies which are aimed at cost cutting to the detriment of jobless, sick and disabled people.Within the document, each case is presented, and fully referenced to source material throughout.

When you next see Iain Duncan Smith on the TV News, ask yourself – is he lying? or is he simply making it up out of thin air again?

We’ve decided that he’s lying.

dpacDPAC is a grass roots campaign body. It was formed by a group of disabled people after the first mass protest against the austerity cuts and their impact on disabled people held on the 3rd October in Birmingham 2010, England. It was led by disabled people under the name of The Disabled Peoples’ Protest. DPAC has over 15,000 members and supporters and works with many anti-cuts groups, Universities, Disabled Peoples’ Organizations, and Unions

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How To Deal With Benefits Medical Examinations

welfare-wrongs

Never Face Them Alone

This article describes how claimants for disability benefits can deal with the medical examinations by medical professionals, which for many claimants are central in deciding whether or not you are entitled to disability benefits.

Before The Examination

The examinations are run by Medical Services (MS) which is operated by the private profit making company ATOS on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Before a MS examination your own GP sends info to the DWP. It is important that this info is as full as possible and states clearly whether or not in their medical opinion you are fit for work at that time and in the foreseeable future (at least 6 months ahead).

It is frequently the case that people with a long-term illness gradually minimise in their own minds the effect of their illness on their everyday lives and develop survival strategies to cope on a daily basis in an attempt to lead as normal a life as possible.

This can cause a problem as this habit when taken into a medical examination does not present a true picture of the illness and could be misleading. It might be helpful to discuss the reality of your illness and the limitations it imposes on your life with someone who knows both the illness and yourself well. The reality of your illness is what must be presented to the MS medical professional and to the DWP.

If you have a Medical Services examination, either at the MS office or at your home, always have someone accompany you. This is your right. We have often done this. They cannot refuse you this right – if they try then just insist you need someone with you.

To obtain benefits you are legally required to attend this examination, and the information obtained at the examination is used, within a legal framework, to decide on your benefit entitlement – it is therefore vital to make sure your legal rights are protected.

If the date for the examination is not suitable, eg your accompanying person cannot make it on that date, you can get the date changed. If you are unable to travel to the examination you can ask for a home visit instead. If you change the arrangements over the phone write to confirm the changes. You have the right to be seen by a medical professional of the same sex.

Meet the accompanying person beforehand to discuss what’s going to happen. Before the examination you should be clear that:

  • The examination can be halted to allow you to go to the toilet, have a glass of water, take a pill, or if you feel faint or ill.
  • The examination should only proceed if you feel happy to continue.
  • You should refuse to do anything that hurts or distresses you.
  • The person accompanying you should take a pen and paper and also a watch.
  • If possible, take a tape recorder. Take your medicines, and any aids you use, such as a walking stick or crutches.
  • You can claim travel expenses for going to the examination – but if you need to take a taxi you must contact the MS beforehand.

At The Examination

You should be aware that the examination begins on entry to the examination centre and does not end until you leave the centre. An evaluation of your medical condition does not only take place when you are in front of the examining doctor, but also potentially on your way into the building, in the waiting room, and on your way out. They could note the length of time you can sit without apparent discomfort, how you pick up your bag, etc..

At the examination the medical professional should:

  • Be courteous and considerate.
  • Spend some time explaining the purpose of the examination.
  • Ask if you are willing to be examined.
  • Ask you and give you time to explain YOUR OWN VIEW of how you are affected by your condition, including how it affects your ability to do day to day tasks like shopping, cooking, cleaning and so on.

The examining medical professional should not attempt to ‘manipulate’ parts of your body.

During the examination you should:

  • Make sure the medical professional realises the full extent of your illness/ disability, including any other conditions/ illnesses you may have. Remember, unlike your GP, this medical professional does not know your medical history.
  • Describe how you feel on a “bad day”, rather than on a “good day”.

If you are accompanying the claimant you should:

  • Write down the name of the medical professional, the place of examination, the time of starting and finishing the examination.
  • Take notes on everything the medical professional and the claimant say, what the Doctor asks the claimant to do and what happens. Especially note any aggressive attitude or manner adopted by the medical professional. Note the exact words spoken.
  • Intervene and ask for the examination to be halted if the claimant becomes unwell or distressed. The claimant should have a break until they feel well enough to continue.
  • Object to and stop any attempt by the medical professional to have the claimant do exercises which could injure or distress them.
  • You should have the examination stopped if the claimant is becoming ill or distressed for any reason. If the claimant is not fit to continue then the examination should be postponed until another day.
  • If the claimant’s distress is due to mistreatment by the medical professional, stop the interview, then say that you will be making a complaint with a request for an examination at a future date with a different medical professional.
  • Time the length of the examination and any breaks taken (some medical professionals have been known to exaggerate the length of time of the examination to make it appear more thorough than it was).
  • At the end of the examination ask the medical professional to read back their notes, to check that they have made an accurate record. If the medical professional refuses, then note that together with the reason given for refusing. If there seem to be any inaccuracies in the medical professional’s notes, check with the claimant, then if necessary ask the medical professional to change their notes. If they refuse then make a note of that, writing down exactly what they said.

After The Examination

If the medical professional did anything wrong, then as soon as possible afterwards write a letter of complaint to DWP – don’t wait for the decision to come through. The letter should be signed by both the claimant and the accompanying person.

How You Can Be Found Incapable Of Work Even If You Don’t Score Enough Points

Even if you don’t score enough points under the personal capability assessment – the medical test to decide if you’re incapable of work – you may still have a chance of being found incapable of work either at claim or appeal stage. This is because of the little known ‘exceptional circumstances’ rules.

There are a number of these, but probably the most important is regulation 27(b), which states that you will be found incapable of work if:

  • “There would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if he or she were found capable of work’’

This regulation could apply to you on physical health or on mental health grounds.

For example, if you experience severe anxiety attacks and might harm yourself or somebody else if placed in a situation you find threatening, then this might be grounds for applying regulation 27(b).

Or you may have a lung condition which is made much worse by stress and, in the past, such situations have led to a serious deterioration in your health and perhaps hospitalisation. If you would find being found capable of work, having to sign on for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and take part in training or work experience very stressful, then that may be grounds for declaring you incapable of work under the exceptional circumstances regulations.

However, neither doctors nor decision makers are quick to identify people who might be covered by these clauses. And very few claimants even know they exist.

ATOS And The Bigger Picture

atos2

ATOS are currently recruiting more staff to help meet Government targets to force more people off disability benefits to reduce the public debt problem caused by banks gambling in the financial markets. The process is driven by cost cutting not objective medical opinion. The most vulnerable in society are being made to pay for the greed of others and the inevitable booms and busts of capitalist economics.

Medical professionals, including physiotherapists, with no experience of mental health problems, for example, are only given a matter of days training before making assessments of claimants. They are paid substantially more than NHS doctors and nurses for leaving their ethical concerns at the door. ATOS claim that they do not make the decision as to whether someone can work and have their benefits reduced, but that the decision is made by the DWP from their report and that performance targets are based simply on the number of claimants seen in a day. However they admit that if a medical professional passes all claimants for disability benefits it will not go unnoticed.

This information has been reproduced from The Crutch Collective formerly Anti Benefit Cuts Glasgow

Please contact BPACC if you require any further information, support or advice. We are not experts in this field but will always show solidarity and try to help in whatever way we can.

Related links:
How to prepare for a ESA Tribunal Hearing – The Crutch Collective
ESA Internal Handbook via The Crutch Collective (pdf)
How points are awarded in ESA assessments via The Crutch Collective (pdf)
Links to factsheets relating to benefits, debt and mental illness – Rethink
Personal Independence Payment – Our free guide to making a claim – Disability Rights UK

underattack

Victory as judges rule controversial disability benefits procedure is unfair

Republished from False Economy

Sent from Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and the National Autistic Society:

Wednesday 22 May 2013 – Three judges have ruled that the procedure currently used by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to decide whether hundreds of thousands of people are eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) disadvantages people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism.

The judgment, which was made public at a high court hearing today, is the result of a judicial review brought by two anonymous claimants with mental health problems.

The charities Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and the National Autistic Society intervened in the case to provide evidence based on the experiences of their members and supporters.

The case centres on how evidence is gathered for the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the process used to determine whether someone is fit for work.

Under the current system, evidence from a professional such as a GP or social worker is expected to be provided by people themselves. There is no obligation for the DWP to collect this evidence, even on behalf of the most vulnerable claimants, apart from in some rare cases.

Seeking evidence can be very challenging for people with mental health problems, learning disabilities or autism whose health or condition can make it hard for them to understand or navigate the complex processes involved in being assessed.

As a result, those who need support the most are frequently being assessed without this important evidence being taken into account.

It was ruled that the DWP had breached its duties to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 and that the Department must do more to ensure this sort of evidence is collected and taken into account. This means the current procedure for the WCA puts some groups at a substantial disadvantage.

The three charities have hailed the ruling as a victory for people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism who are being put through a process which puts them at a disadvantage.

Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness said: “This ruling proves once and for all that this cruel and unfair process is unlawful. The judges have independently confirmed what our members have been saying for years – the system is discriminating against some of the most ill and vulnerable people in our society, the very people it is meant to support.

“The Work Capability Assessment process is deeply unfair for people with a mental illness – it’s like asking someone in a wheelchair to walk to the assessment centre. The Government is setting people up to fail.

“Now that the court has ruled that these tests are unfair it would be completely irresponsible to carry on using them. The Government must halt the mass reassessment of people receiving incapacity benefit immediately, until the process is fixed.

“This ruling will help improve one aspect of the Work Capability Assessment, but there are still many other problems with it. We will keep campaigning on behalf of everyone we represent until the whole process is fair for everyone.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “Mind welcomes the tribunal’s judgment, which has found that the claims process for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is unfair to people with mental health problems and that it has to change.

“The judgment is a victory, not only for the two individuals involved in this case, but for thousands of people who have experienced additional distress and anxiety because they have struggled through an assessment process which does not adequately consider the needs of people with mental health problems.

“Following this judgment, Mind hopes changes will be implemented quickly to ensure the claims procedure is fairer and more accurate.

“Mind has campaigned to improve the assessment process for many years and we will monitor the situation closely to ensure people with mental health problems receive the benefits they are entitled to.”

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society said: “The court’s decision is a victory for fairness. Now that the tribunal has ruled that the Work Capability Assessment process disadvantages people with autism, the Government must stop putting them through it until a more equitable system is in place.

“Those who devised this process failed to understand the complexities of conditions like autism. By the nature of their condition, people with autism can struggle to understand and articulate how their disability affects them – which is just what this current system requires them to do, by placing the burden on them to collect their own evidence.”

Read more:
The controversy around Atos Mental Function Champions
The judicial review taken by people with mental health illnesses

false economy

Statement from Boycott Workfare: Stop the Sanctions!

Boycott Workfare call on the PCS to take action on conditionality, workfare and sanctions

Public sector workers, including at the DWP, will soon face sanctions under Universal Credit unless we take action now

Public sector workers, including at the DWP, will soon face sanctions under Universal Credit unless we take action now

The PCS conference takes place in Brighton later this month. Join a rally urging delegates to support a position of non-cooperation with sanctions against welfare claimants at 12.30pm on 21st May.

We are extremely disappointed that PCS leadership have decided not to allow debate at their conference on two motions which called for the union to move from theoretical to practical unity with claimants in challenging sanctions.

Current welfare policies and reforms represent an unprecedented attack on claimants and on the welfare state itself. Conditionality, workfare and the huge rise in sanctions are driving claimants further into poverty and destitution. At the same time a vicious campaign of hatred driven by the media and political classes has stigmatised those on benefits and poisoned public debate.

Workfare forces claimants to work without wages under the threat of sanctions. Those on workfare are exempted from legislation that protects the rights of people at work and denied access to union membership and representation. Sick and disabled people claiming ESA can now be forced onto workfare. Workfare drives down wages and conditions for all workers and it is in all our interests to end it completely. Between 2009 and 2011 the number of sanctions handed out to claimants tripled to reach over half a million. In January this year 85,000 people were sanctioned, suggesting that the number of sanctions could reach one million this year. People are now having benefits withdrawn for up to three years (including for failure to participate in workfare). As the PCS have said this increase in the number and severity of sanctions is purely a political decision.

As conditionality and sanctions have increased and become more severe so the range of claimants subject to them has been extended. Sick and disabled people found “fit for work” by the hated Work Capability Assessment are now subject to this regime as are single parents with young children. Plans for in-work conditionality will see sanctions applied to part time workers and the self employed. The introduction of Universal Jobmatch and a requirement for claimants to spend 35 hour each week on jobsearch or workfare will inevitably lead to more sanctions and is intended to do so. Plans to make hardship payments a recoverable loan will force those who are sanctioned into debt. Housing benefit is increasingly being suspended where people are sanctioned. This systematic removal of welfare support is causing sharp increases in homelessness and the use of food banks.

Boycott Workfare welcome the fact that the PCS have spoken out against workfare and the huge rise in sanctions. We also understand that the primary role of the PCS is to represent their members including around 84,000 staff in the DWP. It should be obvious that there is a tension here where the PCS are campaigning against policies that their own members are required to implement. But there is also the possibility that the PCS could take concerted action to defend the welfare state in the interests of both claimants and their members. Government policies cannot be implemented without workers to implement them.

At meetings with the PCS we have raised the possibility of action being taken. Sadly the PCS have been dismissive of our suggestions and they have been met with arguments for inaction. PCS leadership have argued that anti-strike laws prevent action being taken in solidarity with claimants. But the interests of claimants and PCS members are intertwined and these policies directly impact on the working conditions of PCS members. Increased aggravation between PCS members and claimants put both at risk. And under Universal Credit many DWP staff will themselves face conditionality and sanctions. The right of workers to withhold their labour is fundamental. Laws which undermine this right do not comply with international obligations and should be challenged. Without those prepared to take risks and challenge injustice we would not have unions or a welfare state.

This is not about blaming those PCS members tasked with implementing unjust policies. We know that the blame lies elsewhere. This is about the role that unions could and should take in building solidarity between workers and claimants and in empowering workers to take action. If the PCS are sincere about campaigning for social security justice then they should refuse to cooperate with the implementation of unjust policies. Words are not enough. Boycott Workfare therefore calls on the PCS to take action to protect welfare provision and to frustrate the imposition of policies designed to undermine it.

Boycott Workfare would like to thank those PCS branches who have signed our pledge and those members who have taken part in our actions. We are grateful to members of the PCS in the Civil Service Rank and File Network who put forward a motion to this year’s PCS conference. We urge all PCS members to call for proper debate and practical action on challenging sanctions and to support the emergency motion calling for non-cooperation with sanctions to be debated as well as the rally on the 21st May.

© Copyright 2013 | Boycott Workfare | All Rights Reserved

Benefits in Britain: Separating the facts from the fiction

Fiction: Welfare reforms are just about benefit cuts
Fact: Simply not true. The attack on our welfare state is hitting a whole range of services – privatising the NHS, winding up legal aid for people in debt and closing SureStart centres and libraries. All this will make life poorer for every community.


Fiction: There are families living on benefits where generations have never worked
Fact: Despite research from various organisations, no evidence has been found of families with three generations which had never worked. Less than 1% of families have two such generations which have never worked, although such families had wide ranging problems which made it both difficult for the parents or the children to find employment. Contrary to government claims about endemic worklessness, four in five people who claim JSA come off the benefit within six months.


Fiction: People believe that some 27% of the Welfare Budget is claimed as a result of fraud
Fact: The actual figure is 0.8 % whilst tax avoidance and evasion is estimated at anywhere from £30bn to £120bn.


Fiction: Those on benefits have made a lifestyle choice and are shirkers
Fact: 20.3 million families, (64%, of all families) are in receipt of some benefit, 8.7 million of them are pensioners. These benefits include Child benefits, Working / Child Tax Credits, unemployment, disability and sickness payments plus State Pensions. There are currently around 6.1 million people looking for full time work; this figure consists of 2.6M registered as unemployed; 1.3M “underemployed” adults who are in part-time work because they cannot find full-time work; 2.2M unemployed people who want work but have not actively sought it for six weeks. At the same time, there are only around 460,000 job vacancies. Contrary to government claims about endemic worklessness, four in five people who claim JSA come off the benefit within six months.


Fiction: More of the Welfare Budget is being spent on the jobless than on the needy
Fact: Since the global credit crunch crisis in 2007/8 and ongoing economic depression the percentage of welfare spending up has been pushed up. The biggest increases have been due to Pensions and Housing Benefits. The £54BN increase from 2001 to 2011 is mainly due to inflation linked benefits, such as Pensions, Housing Benefits. This period has also seen the introduction of many ‘in work’ benefits.

Of the 1,008,000 benefit claimants that have been out of work for three of the last four years, around 40 per cent have been claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), a further 30 per cent are lone parents with children under seven claiming Income Support (IS) while the remaining 30 per cent are either claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or are in the process of being assessed. All ESA claimants are unable to work. Those on the work-related activity group are expected to be able to work eventually but are not-yet-fit-to-work.


Fiction: The benefit cap of £26,000 per annum will help reduce the overall Welfare Bill
Fact: The cap will only affect a small number of people with some 58,000 seeing their benefits reduced by 2014/5. Many more families are losing a range of benefits irrespective of the cap.


Fiction: The welfare reforms are targeted at the ‘shirkers’ not the ‘workers
Fact: There are 2.8 million workless families of working age. Due to welfare cuts, 2.5 million will face a reduction of £215 per annum. There are 14.2 million working families and 7 million of these will lose some £165 per year. There will be reductions in Child Benefit and Council Tax relief which will increase the costs of non- working families by £140 and working families by £132. So “they are all in it together. Workless and working poor alike.”


Fiction: Reducing the welfare bill and the ‘dependency culture’ will improve the growth rate of the country
Fact: There is no evidence to support this. What is needed is to target the State Support in such a way that it creates opportunities for training, improves mobility, provides adequate child care but above all we need to see a living wage and some degree of rent control if the housing benefit and the working Tax credit is to be controlled. The welfare bill has not increased as a result of a growing ‘welfare dependency’. The number of people on unemployment, lone parent and incapacity benefits is over a million less than in 1990.


Fiction: Too many people have too many children
Fact: In 2011 there were just 130 families in the UK with more than 10 children. Only 8% of benefit claimants have three or more children. The UK spends much less on unemployment that France or Germany and is at the same level as the EU average.


Fiction: Osborne claimed that there are families receiving more that £100,000 in benefits
Fact: There were no more than five families receiving such a sum. No doubt they are living in London with large families and disabilities.


Fiction: Benefits are too generous
Fact: Really? Could you live on £53 a week as Iain Duncan Smith is claiming he could if he had to? Then imagine handing back 14% of this because the government deems you have a “spare room”. Could you find the money to pay towards council tax and still afford to eat at the end of the week whilst at the same time paying all the utility bills etc? JSA Payments are £71.70 a week for single people (single person under 25 gets £56.25); £71 a week for lone parents over 18 (under 18s receive £56.25); £111.45 a week for couples aged over 18.


Fiction: Benefits are going up
Fact: They’re not. A 1% “uprating” cap is really a cut. Inflation is at least 2.7%. Essentials like food, fuel and transport are all up by at least that, in many cases far more. Benefits are quickly falling behind the cost of living.


Fiction: The bedroom tax won’t hit army families or foster carers
Fact: Yes it will. Perhaps most cruel of all, the tax will not apply to foster families who look after one kid. If you foster siblings, then tough. But these kids are often the hardest to place. Thanks to George Osborne and IDS, their chances just got worse. And even if your son or daughter is in barracks in Afghanistan, then don’t expect peace of mind as the government still has to come clean on plans for their bedroom.


Fiction: Social tenants can downsize
Fact: Really, where? Councils sold their properties – and Osborne wants them to sell what’s left. Housing associations built for families. In Hull, there are 5,500 people told to chase 70 one-bedroom properties.


Fiction: Housing benefit is the problem
Fact: In fact it is rental costs. Private rents shot up by an average of £300 last year. No wonder 5 million people need housing benefits, but they don’t keep a penny. It all goes to landlords.


Fiction: It’s those teenage single mums
Fact: An easy target. Yet only 2% of single mums are teenagers. And most single mums, at least 59%, work.


Fiction: We’re doing this for the next generation
Fact: No you’re not. The government’s admitted at least 200,000 more children will be pushed deeper into poverty because of the welfare changes.
Sources:
Benefits in Britain separating the facts from the fiction
10 lies we’re told about welfare – Guardian
Work and Pensions Secretary guilty again of peddling benefit myths – TUC
‘True’ UK unemployment is 6.3m – TUC

April 1st 2013 – A dark day for the Welfare State

April 1st 2013 will go down as a dark day in the history of the Welfare State, not only and very depressingly, did the Health and Social Care Act become law but yet another avalanche of benefit cuts were brought into effect. This is despite the prolonged and persistent lobbying and protests by disability groups calling for the govt to assess the impact of its benefit cuts along with the UK’s leading experts on social policy and the welfare state urging the government to reconsider. And, staggeringly, at the same time, those with an income of over £150,000 per annum will see their tax rate reduced from 50% to 45%. Anyone who believed the Government’s rhetoric that “those with the broadest shoulders should carry the greatest burden” could be forgiven for thinking that all this an April Fools prank.

This week also saw the conviction of 3 people for the manslaughter of 6 children. The death of any child is a tragic and emotive issue, the judge described the act as “outside the comprehension of any right-thinking person” yet George Osborne and his fellow government ministers seem hell bent on using this tragedy to justify their policies of welfare reform / cuts. We have seen both the government and the media suggest and imply that the perpetuators of this evil crime are “a vile product of Welfare UK”.

George Osborne has questioned why the Welfare State subsidises such people with the underlying suggestion that “living off benefits” somehow turns a person into an abhorrent scumbag. That suggestion is in itself abhorrent. The fact is the small percentage of evil people that commit such atrocities come from all walks of life, are both rich and poor, employed and unemployed. We are led to believe there is a massive problem with people who have never worked having multitudes of children to boost their benefits. However this is simply untrue. Only 4% of families with a parent on Jobseeker’s Allowance have more than two children and only 1.5 per cent of those on benefits have never worked. The extreme cases as highlighted by the court case are even rarer; out of the 1.35 million households where one of the adults is claiming out of work benefit, only 190 of those families have 10 or more children.

The question should be turned back on George Osborne and we should ask why the government does not put all its efforts into catching those who defraud the system. Official figures show that 0.8% of benefit spending is due to fraud. So why are the 99.2% in receipt of assistance from the State being portrayed in some parts of the media – with full knowledge and acceptance of the government – as “scroungers and skivers”. Good people, who through no fault of their own require support, are being demonised and scapegoated whilst it is highly probable that a minuscule minority continue to defraud the system. The government should of course go after those who commit fraud and while they are it, they should also close down the loopholes that allow corporate giants and individuals to avoid paying tax which is estimated by some to be around £25 billion a year and by others to be £70 billion while some state it to be closer to £100 billion. Whatever the exact figure is, it is blatantly clear that there are alternatives to hammering those who have the least.

We all need to ask ourselves the kind of society we want to live within. The Welfare State should be considered as an insurance scheme which was set up without incentives to make a profit. All who can contribute, do so at a progressive rate and it is something that is there for all of us whenever we need it. Public services run along the same lines (or rather most used to before the influx of outsourcing!). Make no mistake it is highly unlikely that anyone in this country has not been reliant upon or received the benefits both offer; from Child benefits to the NHS; libraries to refuse collection; education to state pensions. Are we prepared to throw all this away so a small minority can prosper?

Click here to sign the WOW petition from the Site of the resistance to the War on Welfare
“We call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform, and a New Deal for sick & disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions”

first the came corder

This week we have also learnt that the government are coming after the National Minimum Wage. In 2008, a senior Tory source said: “The minimum wage won’t be scrapped but it will be allowed to wither on the vine. A series of smaller, more affordable increases will mean it will just melt away.” This seems to becoming to fruition with government ministers hinting that the national minimum wage could be held back from rising due to difficult economic circumstances.

Click here to sign the petition to protect the minimum wage.
”We believe that the minimum wage should be protected from being cut or frozen. The poorest paid should not be paying the price for this Government’s failed austerity economics. We call on the Government to stop their changes to the Low Pay Commission’s terms of reference, and protect the lowest-paid workers from these pay cuts.”

In one way or another we are all being affected by the savage policies of austerity, directly or indirectly. Of course the natural tendency is to fight your own corner but now, more than ever before, we must all come together in solidarity to oppose all the cuts irrespective of whether we are directly affected, which groups we belong to or individual political beliefs. We must organise and resist in whatever way we can. Online, offline, inform, educate, write to your MP, petition, leaflet, take direct action, partake in civil disobedience, strike and occupy. This is not only a metaphorical life and death struggle; people are dying as a direct result of the actions of this government. Resist, resist and then resist some more.

DWP’s culture of sanctions, denials and bad policy

The government has been forced to launch an inquiry after it was forced to admit that jobcentres have been setting targets and league tables to sanction benefit claimants despite recent assurances to parliament that no such targets were being set. The Employment Minister, Mark Hoban, had told MPs that decisions on sanctioning claimants “need to be based on whether people have breached the agreements they have set out with the jobcentre, and there are no targets in place”.

However a leaked email (click here to view original) shows staff being warned by managers that they will be disciplined unless they increase the number of claimants referred to a tougher benefit regime. In the email the Jobcentre manager sets out ways jobcentre staff can catch out claimants, saying: “You should consider every doubt – if you are unsure then please conference with me.”

The advice includes: “Do not accept the same job search every week, do not accept ‘I dropped off CV to shops like Asda or Sainsbury’s’, listen for telltale phrases ‘I pick up the kids’, ‘I look after my neighbours children/my grandchildren’ or just ‘I am busy’ – all of which suggest that the customer may not be fully available for work, even cases where a parent shares custody can be considered.” The Jobcentre manager also said someone can be deemed not to be actively seeking employment, and therefore subject to sanction “if someone is going away from home, but is not willing to return to take up employment, not willing to leave details of how they can be contacted should a job become available or not looking for work whilst away”.

Faced with the email, the DWP said: “We are urgently investigating what happened in this case. If a manager has set a local target for applying sanctions this is against DWP policy and we will be taking steps to ensure these targets are removed immediately.”

The recent denials of Mark Hoban, Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP seem to fly in the face of honesty when as long ago as April 2011 the govt admitted Jobcentre staff around the country have been involved in a drive to kick people off benefits amid pressure to meet welfare targets set by their managers. And even back then the govt initially dismissed revelations made by another whistleblower who said staff at his jobcentre was given targets of three people a week to refer for sanctions, where benefits are removed for up to six months.

He said it was part of a “culture change” since last summer that had led to competition between advisers, teams and regional offices. “Suddenly you’re not helping somebody into sustainable employment, which is what you’re employed to do,” he said. “You’re looking for ways to trick your customers into ‘not looking for work’. You come up with many ways. I’ve seen dyslexic customers given written job searches, and when they don’t produce them – what a surprise – they’re sanctioned. The only target that anyone seems to care about is stopping people’s money. Saving the public purse’ is the catchphrase that is used in our office … It is drummed home all the time – you’re saving the public purse. Feel good about stopping someone’s money, you’ve just saved your own pocket. It’s a joke.”

The Guardian also spoke to several Jobcentre staff who, speaking anonymously, claim that targets and pressure to stop people’s benefits still existed in their office, and that vulnerable clients are often affected. One employee claimed the practice had been going on at his office since they joined in July 2009.

These revelations are very disturbing considering that from 22 October 2012, a new level of sanctions was introduced which meant people could have their benefit stopped for up to 3 years. How exactly people are meant to survive without any form of income is bewildering and the fact that a decision may be reached to meet a set target should be a concern for everyone.

Jobcentre sanctions: Your money is stopped; you go into freefall

All this comes at a time when the government have pushed through emergency legislation to reverse the outcome of a court of appeal decision and “protect the national economy” from a £130m payout to jobseekers deemed to have been unlawfully punished.

Tessa Gregory from Public Interest Lawyers, who successfully represented Reilly and Wilson at the court of appeal, said the legislation smacked of desperation.

“The emergency bill is a repugnant attempt by the secretary of state for work and pensions to avoid his legal obligation to repay the thousands of jobseekers, who like my client Jamieson Wilson, have been unlawfully and unfairly stripped of their subsistence benefits.

“The use of retrospective legislation, which is being fast-tracked through parliament, smacks of desperation. It undermines the rule of law and means that Iain Duncan Smith is once again seeking to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny of his actions.

“It is time for his department to admit that maladministration and injustice costs. In light of the bill we are considering what further legal action we can take on behalf of our clients.”

The govt’s precarious stance on all this is nothing new. A constant theme with their ‘back to work schemes’ and implementation of sanctions seems to be one of ill thought out rushed through policies based on ‘their’ ideologies rather getting people back into work or indeed factual evidence. Someone looking in from the outside could quite easily come to the conclusion that a vast section of the population is being persecuted simply because they are unable to find work through no fault of their own.

Around one in 10 of those who are assigned to the Work Programme, an £5 billion initiative which uses private-sector providers to train the long-term unemployed and get them into work, end up losing their benefits for failing to “play by the rules.” From the start of the scheme in June 2011 up to April 2012, more than 73,000 claimants were “sanctioned” out of a total of 734,000 referred to the programme.

The Work Programme isn’t working. It’s a £5 billion pound failure. Not one of the 18 contractors reached the target set by the government of getting 5.5% of clients a job for at least six months. Only 3.5% of people referred to work programme found jobs lasting six months.

But that’s not even the whole story. Workfare industry lobbyists the CESI have calculated that the real figure of people getting any kind of employment on the scheme in its first 12 months is in fact just 2.1%. The government’s target for minimum performance by providers is 5.5%. Even these pro-workfare industry lobbyists have now stated “this suggests that the Work Programme as a whole is underperforming against contractual expectations, even when accounting for changes in the economy.”

Sources:
Jobcentre was set targets for benefit sanctions – Guardian
DWP seeks law change to avoid benefit repayments after Poundland ruling – Guardian
Government admits Jobcentres set targets to take away benefits – Guardian
Jobcentres ‘tricking’ people out of benefits to cut costs, says whistleblower – Guardian
Jobless stripped of benefits in Government scheme – Telegraph
Boycott Workfare: Week of Action 18th – 24th March: Local events
Important changes to Jobseeker’s Allowance Sanctions from Monday 22 October 2012