Independent Living Fund recipient interviews

Reproduced from False Economy

The videos on this page are interviews made, by False Economy, with people who are directly affected by the government’s atrocious recent decision to close the Independent Living Fund (the ILF).

The ILF was set up as a standalone fund to pay for extra carer hours for people with severe disabilities. That additional funding made it possible for people to pay for enough care to continue to live independently in their homes, rather than in residential care. At the end of last year, the government made an extremely unpopular decision to close the fund and devolve it to local authorities. A recent attempt to challenge the closure was lost, but claimants plan to appeal.

In these videos and linked case studies, ILF recipients around the country explain how vital the fund is to them and what will happen if they are no longer able to pay for the high levels of care that they require.

Mary Laver

In this video, Mary Laver, who lives in Newcastle, talks about the life that she leads with carer hours paid for by the Independent Living Fund. The ILF pays for about 46 of Mary’s carer hours a week. With that support, she does everything and a lot more: last year, for example, she raised money for the Royal British Legion by travelling from Lands End to John O’Groats in her electric wheelchair and went to London as a 2012 Olympic volunteer. Without that funding, things will change drastically:

Gabriel Pepper

Gabriel is 41. He began his working life as an archaeologist after completing a Phd. He has had three brain tumours and has sight, speech and mobility impairments. The ILF pays about two-thirds of his care costs. Waltham Forest council pays for the rest. His view on the importance of taking legal action to fight to save the ILF fund in court (he was in the group of ILF recipients that took the recent court action): “I don’t believe the Tory party will ever hang their heads in shame, because they don’t have shame.”

He also talks in the video about the effort that he’s had to make to convince MPs to sign early day motion 651 – an EDM which called for the government to “look at ways of expanding the Independent Living Fund to provide needs-based support to all adults in the UK who require it.”

Sophie Partridge

Sophie is an actor, writer and workshop artist from Islington:

“My PAs [carers] do everything for me – everything physically that I can’t do for myself. It’s all aspects of personal care – like getting up, going to the loo, washing, dressing, cooking for me, cutting my food up, cleaning, laundry, driving me in my van. I still need the same levels of assistance whatever I’m doing, so if I’m working or round at a friend’s house, I need them with me to do all those things.

Fighting the cuts has been difficult. [In their arguments against benefit cuts], people do use this word “vulnerable” a hell of a lot. I actually wrote a letter to David Cameron – and I’m still waiting for a reply – in which I said: ‘It’s not my impairment which makes me vulnerable. It is your cuts. It is your policies. Give us decent resources and we will add to your economy. We can’t be cast as victims all the time. It’s difficult, because we do have to fight the good fight without appearing pathetic cripples. It’s hard to find the right balance.”

Penny Pepper

Penny Pepper is an Islington writer and journalist: “The reason I get the independent living fund (ILF) is that I’m judged to have a severe disability with severe levels of mobility impairment. I’m assessed as needing 24/7 care. The ILF pays for just under half of my care costs(and Islington council pays the rest. I need support to do most things of a physical and practical nature – from getting out of bed, using the bathroom, getting dressed and food preparation to moving from A to B, getting into my wheelchair and getting out of my wheelchair. I would not be able to work without that funding. This is what is terrifying to me. Council funding alone, for carers, would not be enough to retain my personal assistants.

There is this bizarre idea coming our way that you can eat sandwiches, lie in bed and use incontinence pads. If that happens, then that is, in effect, the end of my career. Now, we’re being forced backwards into having to go on about how pathetic we are as individuals – you know, with your poor legs and your this and your that. If the council ever tries to put me in a care home [because it cannot afford to fund independent living costs ] I will take it to court.”

Kevin Caulfield

Kevin lives in West London, works in Brixton and is training to be a barrister.

“For my care, I need two people during the day at some points during the day, so my care package totals 25 hours. It’s quite significant. It’s enabled me to stabilise my health and it’s improved quite a lot. I’ve been able to work during the last 15 years. I’ve been able to go to college. I’m training to be a barrister – things that I would have been able to do in my life if I wasn’t a disabed person, but certainly things that I couldn’t do without this support.

Hammersmith and Fuham council pay for about 60% of my care package and about 40% of the pacakge comes from the Independent Living Fund. For disabled people to be included as equal members of society, [the great thing about the ILF is that the assessment really is based on your needs and you don’t feel that someone has come in with a cash register next to them.”

There are more testimonies from people on the Disabled People Against Cuts site:

What the Closure of the Independent Living Fund means to disabled people – Mary’s story
What the Closure of the Independent Living Fund means to disabled people – Justine’s story
What the Closure of the Independent Living Fund means to disabled people – John, Paul and Evonne’s story
What the Closure of the Independent Living Fund means to disabled people –Roxy ’s story
What the Closure of the Independent Living Fund means to disabled people – Kathy’s story
What the Closure of ILF means to disabled people – Richard’s story
What the Closure of ILF means to disabled people – Penny’s story
What the Closure of ILF means to disabled people – Anthony and David’s story
What the Closure of ILF means to disabled people – Kevin’s story
Template letter to MPs to stop ILF Closure
What Local Authorities said about the Closure of ILF

false economy

Demos against the Bedroom Tax – Tuesday 18th June – 6pm

We are calling on Bournemouth and Poole councils to give assurances that no social housing tenants will be evicted due to arrears accrued through the Bedroom Tax and will be holding demonstrations outside both town halls prior to full council meetings on Tuesday 18th June. Please show your support and assemble outside either Bournemouth Town Hall or Poole Civic Centre from 6pm. Thank-you

bedroom-tax-demo-flyer-front x500
Download flyer (pdf) A4A5

The Bedroom Tax – What it is and why it’s unfair

As part of the government’s Welfare Reform Act 2012, the Bedroom Tax came into effect in April 2013. It is also known as the spare room subsidy, social sector size criteria or under-occupation penalty. The changes mean that Housing Benefit will be cut for people who rent from a council or social landlord if they are considered to have a spare bedroom. Strictly speaking it is not a tax but that is the name it was given and it has stuck.

The Bedroom Tax is a cynical attack on the poorest in our society. Only those claiming benefits are affected. Anyone who lives in social housing but does not claim housing benefits will not have to pay any extra. This highlights that it is not about freeing up scarce social housing.

If a property is deemed as having spare bedrooms, the following applies:

  • One spare bedroom means you will lose 14% of your entitled housing benefit
  • Two or more spare bedrooms means you will lose 25% of your entitlement

According to Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) analysis, the average claimant will see their housing benefit cut by £14 / £16 per week although 7% of people will face a cut of £31.

The Bedroom Tax affects anyone of working age who rents from a council or social landlord, ie Housing Association, and is in receipt of Housing Benefit. There are a number of different rules about what counts as a spare bed room and what rooms will result in a reduction of Housing Benefit revenue:

  • Children of both sexes under 10 are expected to share a bedroom. If they currently do not share and they remain in separate rooms, one of their rooms is considered as a spare bedroom
  • Children of the same gender under 16 are expected to share a bedroom
  • Couples and adults are entitled to have bedrooms of their own
  • If a bedroom (with or without furniture) is kept free for when a child comes to stay with a parent that they do not normally live with, this room is considered as a spare bedroom
  • Bedroom Tax allowance for a child can only be claimed by one parent, even where they share access to the child
  • Extra bedrooms for medical reasons is not allowed and considered as a spare bedroom e.g. a couple using separate bedrooms because one of them is ill or recovering from an operation will be liable to the bedroom tax

Around 660,000 people will be effected and thousands of families and single people are at risk of losing their homes. Families will loose their neighbourhood, their community, children will have to change schools and teenagers will lose their friends. In Bournemouth and Poole, 1224 social housing tenants are affected by the bedroom tax.

It has been estimated that up to 420,000 of those affected are disabled or chronically sick. Many of these properties have been modified by social housing landlords to assist people in daily living and unless they can prove that they require ongoing overnight care, disabled tenants are trapped in a situation where they will have to pay more rent.. It is highly unlikely that people forced to move through financial difficulties, will find private landlords willing to spend money to modify properties.

The government claims that the Bedroom Tax will encourage more efficient use of social housing. However the reality is, not only are many people in need of their ‘extra’ rooms but, there are simply not enough one and two bedroom properties for those affected to move into. Across the country there are already 1 million people on council waiting lists for one bedroom properties.

The vast majority of those who are forced to ‘downsize’ will switch from social housing to the private rented sector which will inevitably lead to higher rent costs and local authorities paying out more in Housing Benefits. The solution to a lack of social housing is not to punish those who live in social housing but to build more council homes.

Please also see Some ideas to fight the bedroom tax

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.

The battle of the bedroom tax: A summary for beginners

Reblogged from CMS Home – Social Housing and Policy

The bedroom tax is big news – you can’t have missed it. You’ve probably already chosen sides. But it’s complicated too. When Cameron muddled the details in Parliament, even Miliband didn’t notice. Read on, if you want to find out what’s really going on.

A massive cut in housing benefit – thinly disguised as an attempt to rationalise the use of scarce resources – is about to have a huge impact on 660,000 of the poorest households in the country.[1] It will also have a lasting effect on their social landlords.

From 1 April 2013, social housing tenants of working age who are ‘under-occupying’ their homes will see their housing benefit cut by:

  • 14% of their full rent for one bedroom ‘too many’, or
  • 25% of their full rent for two or more bedrooms ‘too many’.

For some people this means they will no longer receive housing benefit at all.

Answering the myths

Myth 1:
It’s only fair to cut subsidies for rooms that aren’t being used

The largest group of genuine under-occupiers – especially in the South – are elderly people, who are not affected by this change.[2] In the North, where social housing landlords tend to provide larger properties than in the South, many households are allocated social rented homes with more bedrooms than they need – because it’s all that’s available.

The Government accepts that most people will not be able to move, because there aren’t enough smaller homes to move to. And that’s not just in the social housing sector. Private landlords have always been reluctant to rent their properties to people on benefits, but an increasing number of mortgage lenders are actually prohibiting their buy-to-let landlords from doing so.

So, most people will be forced to stay put and pay more. Social landlords know this is a ticking time bomb. An Ipsos Mori survey for the National Housing Federation reported in January that around 84% of housing associations expect their rent arrears to increase – by an average of 51%. Shockingly, more than half reported that their tenants knew little or nothing about what to expect.

Spokespeople from the Department of Work and Pensions have suggested that people will just need to work an hour or two more to pay the extra – but this is not true, as means testing would claw back most of any extra earned.[3]

Myth 2:
Similar rules already apply to local housing allowance (The name for rent benefits paid to people renting privately)
People renting privately have a cap on how much they can claim, depending on the size of their household and the area they live in. They aren’t specifically penalised because of the number of bedrooms they have. However, since tighter rules were introduced, many privately renting tenants have had to move to smaller homes in cheaper areas. Some have had to uproot their families, leaving behind schools, family support and local connections.

But the bedroom tax targets the number of bedrooms a tenant has, regardless of the actual cost, and it ‘fines’ people who are deemed to have too many. It is up to landlords to define how many bedrooms there are in each property. In practice, social landlords are more likely than a private landlord to call a box room or small second living room a bedroom. One reason is that housing associations have to satisfy their lenders by keeping the value of their assets high and getting the most rent possible.

And there are other, more important, differences. Social housing, by definition, tends to house a high proportion of vulnerable people. Households with disabled members, who make up at least two-thirds of the people affected by the bedroom tax (see below) are twice as likely to be social housing tenants as non-disabled people.

Myth 3:
A bedroom is a bedroom is a bedroom

There are several statutory definitions for the minimum size for a bedroom – and they differ. For the purposes of the bedroom tax, if your social housing tenancy agreement says you have three bedrooms, you pay a three-bedroom rent, whatever the size of the smallest room. The National Housing Federation has explained this more fully here.

Some tenants may find they are expected to put two children into a tiny box room, or even an adult child and their partner. Housing lawyers are expecting some challenges on this point as arrears cases start to come to court.

Myth 4:
Every under-occupier actually has empty rooms

Not true. Under the rules, you are only allowed a bedroom for:

  • a couple
  • a single person aged 16+
  • two same-sex children under 16
  • any two children under 10
  • another child
  • a carer for a disabled person who sometimes stays over.

For the time being, you can keep a room for a student studying away from home – providing they spend at least a week at home each year. (The rule is set to change to six months in the future.)

However, it took until 12 March 2013 for the Government to agree that foster children could be counted (providing the tenant has fostered, or started fostering, within the past year). They conceded this after lots of adverse publicity and a letter from 11 charities, who warned that this could stop some people from fostering. Unfortunately, within 24 hours, it emerged that only one bedroom would be allowed – regardless of the number of children being fostered. This will hit people wanting to foster siblings.

Also on 12 March, the Government finally conceded that someone on a tour of duty with the armed forces could have a room to come back to. Almost immediately, military charities were expressing doubts as to whether this would include someone away on training exercises.

You are still not allowed extra bedrooms because you share childcare with your ex-partner or are a disabled person living in an adapted property – even if it was adapted especially for you. You are not automatically allowed a room for a child who needs to sleep away from siblings, even if that child is disabled (more on this below).

A phone survey carried out for three housing associations found that 72% of ‘under-occupying’ households included a disabled member, with 20% of under-occupiers living in specially adapted homes. Some 9% reported storing essential medical equipment in a spare room. Many had disabled children who needed a room of their own. Speaking in the ‘under-occupation’ parliamentary debate on 27 February 2013, SNP MP Stewart Hosie reported that 80% of those affected in Scotland are disabled.

The housing association phone survey also identified that 15% of couples did not share a bedroom, 13% regularly shared parenting and 4% slept separately as they worked shifts. Half of the families used their ‘spare room’ to give a child their own bedroom.

Myth 5:
Well the rules are fair enough, people will just have to live with them

The Government has been facing a series of human rights challenges on its rules about who should be allowed to have a bedroom and who should be forced to share.

In 2012, the Government lost three relevant cases on appeal, involving the Article 14 human rights of private sector disabled tenants. [4] The Government gave way on the first two cases (which established the need for a bedroom for overnight carers), but it intended to take a third case (around the need for a separate bedroom for some disabled children) all the way to the Supreme Court. The Government finally backed down on 12 March, adding this to the day’s list of concessions. However, in this case, they made the concession discretionary. In future, tenants in this situation – whether renting privately or from a social sector landlord – will be able to apply to their local authority for a discretionary exemption from the bedroom tax. [* Thank you to Sue for clarification on this point – see comments.]

In early March 2013, new legal challenges were launched against the bedroom tax on behalf of a disabled couple and five families with disabled children. The challenges were due to argue that the under-occupation rules break Article 14 of the Human Rights Act and Article 28 of the UN Convention, by ignoring their needs as disabled people. Despite the u-turn on the earlier case (which makes some of the new cases relating to children academic), the adults and some of the children are likely to go ahead with their challenges. The first judicial review case is to be heard in May 2013.

On 21 March, Liberty, the civil rights charity, announced that it was launching a judicial review on the issue of parents sharing custody of children. It will argue that the rights of three parents, who will lose benefit because they are not their children’s primary carers (defined for the bedroom tax as being the person who claims child benefit) are being denied. The appeal will use Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to a private and family life) and Article 14 (which outlaws discrimination) to challenge the legality of these rules.

Myth 6:
Discretionary Housing Payments will sort out the worst anomalies

Local authorities have been given additional funding to help out families caught in the worst circumstances. Adverse press and lobbying led the Government to concede another £25m to this pot for disabled wheelchair users in significantly adapted properties. But this cannot help every disabled person affected, because fewer than one in 10 disabled people uses a wheelchair. [5] Since the u-turn on 12 March, the funding will also have to cover disabled children who cannot share a bedroom.

An additional £5m set aside for foster carers has been taken back since the decision to allow them to have one extra bedroom.

These discretionary payments are designed to avoid the Government having to change the bedroom rules. They offer a concession as a nod to the legal challenges. The Government is hoping that most disabled people and foster carers will simply come up with the extra money.

Myth 7:<
The bedroom tax will save money

Many in the housing sector doubt this. See also the National Housing Federation Report of 28 March 2013 (p3). Tenants who manage to move to privately rented homes will actually cost more in benefits, because rents are higher in the private sector. Also, tenants with children who are evicted for rent arrears by their social housing landlord may end up registered with their council as homeless – with all the associated costs of providing them with temporary housing.

Social landlords are preparing to spend large sums on extra rent collection staff and welfare and debt advice – very probably at the expense of their community work. Housing lawyers are expecting a stream of possession cases against people who have, up until the bedroom tax, been good payers. Unlike poor payers in the past, who could offer to pay their arrears off gradually, these will be people who really cannot pay their rent, let alone a bit extra. This is a new twist and likely to lead to more defences that challenge the application of the rules.

One housing association has decided to reclassify the size of 500 of its homes, which will let some of their tenants off the bedroom tax hook, but at a cost to the organisation of £250k in lower rents. A housing consultancy recently blogged advising landlords to reconsider collecting the bedroom tax – they say landlords should do the maths, because they might even lose less this way. To take this step, housing associations would first have to check whether their lenders or covenants allow them this flexibility.

However, as the article points out, there are wider economic implications. Durham County Council has estimated the impact of welfare reform as a whole on its local economy in 2013 as £150m. Lowering rents, especially in the North, could put more money in tenants’ pockets – with a knock-on effect for the whole area.

Of course, the bottom line is that, if the housing benefit bill drops because landlords are charging lower rents, the Government will, in effect, have achieved a saving by passing on the cost of housing support to social housing landlords.

Myth 8:
The bedroom tax will help solve overcrowding

In its report issued on 28 March (see p2), the National Housing Federation points out that in the North under-occupiers in the social and private rented sectors outnumber overcrowded households by 3:1. It arrives at this figure using the Government’s own data.

By contrast, in the South, there are many families living in overcrowded conditions. In theory, the bedroom tax is supposed to encourage under-occupying tenants to move elsewhere, freeing up larger homes. However, in practice, the shortage of smaller homes means this cannot happen on any real scale – unless literally thousands of people are moved between the North and South. The massively reduced amount of state funding for building social housing (it dropped by 63% in 2010) and the harsh climate for social housing landlords seeking loans – makes building out of the crisis a non-starter.

Affinity Sutton has pointed to an unintended possible consequence of the bedroom tax. Older people who really need to move somewhere smaller, and who may genuinely have a larger home to free up, are going to find it harder, because they will have to compete with demand from people needing to downsize because of the bedroom tax.

And in case you assumed all claimants are unemployed…

In fact, 28% of housing benefit claimants are over pension age. Amongst those of working age, 24% are actually in work (a figure that has grown by 10% since the start of the crisis in 2008). [6] The size of the housing benefit bill is not just about unemployment. It is also about low wages and pensions, and the high cost of housing – especially now that as much as a third of former council housing may be owned by private landlords.

[1] See page 10 of the Government’s own Impact Assessment.

[2] However, blogger Joe Halewood points out that the new rules may hit many couples where only one is a pensioner.

[3] Affinity Sutton have calculated that someone working 16 hours at the minimum wage will need to work 32 more hours to pay a £14 a week increase. See here.

[4] Burnip v Birmingham CC, Trengove v Walsall MBC, and Gorry v Wiltshire C [2012] See analysis.

[5] The National Housing Federation has calculated a shortfall of £100m for disabled people. See here.

[6] See the TUC blog.

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Francesca Martinez on cuts and austerity at the People’s Assembly launch

Click here for more information about The People’s Assembly being held on Saturday 22 June 2013, 9:30am – 5pm at Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, London, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH.

Click here to sign the War on Welfare petition.

Click here to view Francesca’s full article “Hands off our Public Services” at Huffington Post UK.

Telling Truth About Universal Credit Would Be ‘Mental’ Admits DWP Chief

thevoidReblogged from The Void

universal-credit-shambles

Iain Duncan Smith’s bodged welfare reforms could be falling apart at the seams according to Whitehall insiders. The Independent today reveals that Universal Credit is now a year behind schedule, £100 million over budget and that senior figures involved in the new benefit roll out have quit.

A government adviser on information technology is reported to have said: “IDS, like other ministers before him, has been hypnotised by promises of what an online system can deliver. Warnings were given to him more than a year ago. They were ignored.”

Universal Credit is dependent on a colossal database and IT system being created which is far more ambitious than has ever been attempted by any country previously. The new benefit regime will be digital by default, meaning millions of people, many of whom don’t have and can’t afford internet connections at home, will only be able to access benefits from Jobcentres and libraries.

Whilst Iain Duncan Smith has claimed that Universal Credit will simplify the benefits system and ensure that being in work always pays it seems that neither of these objectives are likely to be met. Increasingly there have been warnings that many working people could be worse off under the new regime.

Already the new benefit is mired in complexity, as the reality of throwing away 50 years of steady development in welfare administration is thrown away to be replaced by Iain Duncan Smith’s increasingly crazed schemes.

Iain Duncan Smith and Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Fraud have repeatedly announced policy off the cuff, with little thought as to whether the new systems can be made to work in reality. Bodged proposals to deal with everything from how rent payments to supported housing such as Women’s Refuges will be administered or how free school meals will be managed have been invented on the spur of the moment with barely a thought for the practicalities.

Research which recently suggested that just under half of social housing tenants are expected to fall into budgeting difficulties and be unable to pay rent has even been presented by Lord Fraud as somehow representing good news.

The social costs when the new system is implemented are chilling. Part time workers could be bullied by Jobcentre staff to give up their jobs in favour of temporary full time work. Single parents with young children could be compelled to work from dawn to dusk with reduced childcare support or face sanctions which mean they are unable to feed their kids. Sick or disabled claimants will face unprecedented harassment and brutal benefit sanctions if they are not judged to be trying hard enough to find non-existent jobs. A combination of the new payment system and benefit caps have meant that many private landlords are saying they will no longer let to benefit claimants due to the complexity of the new plans.

Astonishingly Universal Credit won’t even save any money and is likely to cost far more to administrate than the current system.

Today’s revelations reveals that behind the scenes the implementation of Universal Credit is equally shambolic.

Whilst the new benefit system was intended to be rolled out in just next April it now seems that these will just be small pilot projects in Chesire and Manchester. With just six months to go, The Independent claims a complete reorganisation of the complex IT system is now taking place which could add another half a billion to the cost by next Spring.

The Universal Credit programme director Malcolm Whitehouse, and the DWP’s head of IT, Steve Dover, are both reported to have left the DWP last week. Other key staff are also claimed to have left whilst the civil servant in charge is on extended sick leave.

The small pilots which have taken place to test the IT system are reported to have reported errors in dates and payments, with one trial involving just 400 claimants being described as ‘chaotic’.

None of this is likely to stop Iain Duncan Smith whose defiant charge into political oblivion may yet drag half the country with him. It will not just be benefit claimants who suffer as rents go unpaid, debts are defaulted on and household bills are unpaid. With 18 million people likely to be affected by the change to Universal Credit, a bungled roll out could send the economy into meltdown.

And bungling is what Iain Duncan Smith does best as he attempts to steamroll through the welfare reforms he designed on the back of an envelope after watching an episode of Shameless. The end result could be a shambles that dwarfs anything we’ve seen so far from this toff Government.

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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

Week of Action against Workfare

Over 3 days of events, hundreds of leaflets were handed out to people. Day 1 consisted of protestors outside Abilities in Poole (a provider of the govt’s Work Programme), then Poole Jobcentre, the High Street and later in the afternoon Prospects (another provider of the Work programme. On day 2 the protests moved to Bournemouth outside another Prospects office and then the Jobcentre. The 3rd and final (rainy) day was held outside The College in Poole due to their close association with Working Links a major national provider of the Work Programme which uses unpaid work placements. See also “anti workfare activists target Bournemouth and Poole College – Demotix” During the 3 days of action, a few songs were sung and hopefully a lot of awareness was raised with moments of humour especially a senior College official demanding “get of my land”!!!

A massive thank-you to all who helped and supported these events

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The action continues… via Boycott Workfare

Earlier this week Superdrug announced they would be pulling out of workfare schemes and the promise of demos taking place across the UK this Saturday must have helped! Unfortunately other high street chains are still profiting from unpaid work. What we are doing works! We are winning so let’s keep it up and let more businesses know workfare is wrong! Please contact the following companies today. If you’d like to use a standard letter, there’s one here. For more details about high street retailers using workfare – click here

Retailers like to claim these schemes are voluntary. One thing needs to be clear: the Work Experience scheme they refer to is not free of sanctions. It is workfare. Bullying and pressure from the Job Centre often coerces us into supposedly “voluntary” actions. We are rarely told that we have a right to choose whether to attend. Now that sanctions can escalate to three years, getting it wrong is not a risk many of us can afford to take.

Soon after the changes last year, the Guardian exposed that people who refused Work Experience were being sent on Mandatory Work Activity for standing up for their rights. Work Experience is only “voluntary” until you refuse.

Five things the government won’t tell you about Workfare via Left Foot Forward

1) Mandatory Work Activity doesn’t improve job outcomes but it does increase disability claims. According to a study published last June, it has no impact on employment and may even lead to those on the programme moving from Jobseekers’ Allowance to Employment and Support Allowance instead.

2) The Work Programme actively reduces the chances of people finding a job. Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) showed that just 3.6 per cent of people on the work programme had found work on the work programme, below the contractual minimum of 5.5 per cent.

3) The Community Action Programme has no impact on how many people find work. Under this six month workfare placement, just 15-18 per cent of people found work – roughly the same percentage as those receiving standard JobCentre Plus support.

4) The rate of people on the Work Experience Scheme leaving benefits is the same as it is for people not on the scheme (see graph below). To quote the Center For Economic and Social Inclusion: “This [graph] appears to show that the youth work experience scheme has had no additional impact on the speed at which young people leave benefit, and may have actually led to them spending longer on benefit than they would have done. However, these figures require some caution – the stated intent of the Department has been to target work experience at those with the biggest barriers to work, who would likely have had rates below the average for all claimants.”
work programme graph

5) Workfare schemes haven’t helped people into work when the schemes have been tried in other countries. As the DWP noted in 2008: “There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.”

end unpaid single stick no border temp

Videos from the Benefits Justice Summit 9th March 2013, London

The start of Benefits Justice Summit

Winvisible

Mental Health Network

Using the law to fight the cuts – Wendy Pettifer (1 of 2)

Using the law to fight the cuts – Wendy Pettifer (2 of 2)

Using the law to fight the cuts – Liz Davies (1 of 2)

Using the law to fight the cuts – Liz Davies (2 of 2)

Closing session – Action plan

Building campaigns locally (1 of 2)

Building campaigns locally (2 of 2)

Tenants Federation

Food & Allied Workers Union

Pensioners Association

Single Mother’s Self-Defence

defend council housingdpac

right to work