Sep 112014
 

SERTUC disability workers open meeting –

“How will Labour improve the lives of disabled people?”

Speakers:

Kate Green MP, Shadow Minister for Disabled People

Paula Peters, Disabled People Against Cuts. (DPAC)


 

Date: Thursday, 30th October 2014

Time: 6.30-8.30 pm

Venue: TUC Congress House, 23-28 Great Russell Street, London, WC1B  3LS.

Please e mail sertuc@tuc.org.uk to register a place


 

 Posted by at 11:13
Sep 102014
 

In less than 2 months time, a new occupational service called Health and Work Service will be introduced in the UK run by a private company, in order to ‘help employees on sick leave to return to work’. This will be done through an occupational health assessment when they reach or are expected to reach more than 4 weeks of sickness absence.

After four weeks, employees will be referred by their GP for an assessment by an occupational health professional, who will look at the all the issues preventing them from returning to work. Following this assessment, employees will receive a return to work plan containing recommendations to help them to return to work more quickly, and information on how to access appropriate interventions.

Given that the referral volumes anticipated are in the region of 350,000 to 700,000 per annum , of which between 5 per cent and 10 per cent are expected to require a face-to-face assessment, it means that the majority of employees will be assessed by telephone. This assessment will not only look at health issues in the workplace but also at non health and non work issues. So the advice given will not just be health related.

There will also apparently be tailored support for the employees through case management. The package is supposed to be agreed between the employee and the private company and failure to cooperate with the service will mean the employee will lose their sick pay.

There are many issues with this scheme which have already been debated in the House of Commons, notably the removal of the percentage threshold scheme, and others which are likely to emerge once it is implemented, but one which did not receive as much publicity as it should have is the tender winner, Health Management Ltd which is a subsidiary of the American multinational Maximus.

Maximus operates in many countries, and it shares the particular distinction with UNUM (the architect of the Welfare reform in the UK, which has close contact with 2 of the authors of a report on which this new Health and Work Service is based, namely Dame Black and Kim Burton) of ‘improper benefit denial’ (in addition to insufficiently trained contractor staff, delays in application processing, etc.). But what looks like a repeat of the Atos disaster is much more sinister. It seems that Maximus not only denies sickness benefits to people who are entitled to them, but also worker compensation and treatment. The following letter is addressed by Maximus to an US employee who made a compensation claim against her employer. Not only was her claim dismissed, but all the medication she took to manage the pain were deemed ‘not medically necessary and appropriate’, meaning she could no longer get her medication on prescription.

Will Maximus behave or be allowed to behave in the same way in the UK?

Sample IMR Determination (Upheld Denial) Letter, Page 1

Sample IMR Determination (Upheld Denial) Letter, Page 2Sample IMR Determination (Upheld Denial) Letter, Page 3Sample IMR Determination (Upheld Denial) Letter, Page 4Sample IMR Determination (Upheld Denial) Letter, Page 5

By Anita Bellows, with thanks to assistance of George Berger

 Posted by at 22:03
Sep 062014
 

 

“£18bn of value will be delivered to the economy…” 

…..In reality it’s another far fetched claim that the economy will benefit to the tune of £18 billion pounds over the next 50 years with the government getting back £7 billion, employers receiving £4 billion ££££’s in handouts and employees seemingly benefiting by up to £7 billion pounds….. 

 

This latest claim has Iain Duncan Smith’s name written all over it…..

It follows in the wake of Monday’s Parliamentary Pantomime which saw Smith, flanked by fellow spin masters & mistress, Mike Harper, Steve Webb, and Esther McVey taking it in turns to head off fierce opposition over the chronic state of chaos which continues to bog down the DWP, making IDS’s promises to turn around the welfare state even more unbelievable.

This latest and perhaps most absurd announcement to date also comes after yet another Parliamentary probe in to employment support and access to work schemes for disabled people which was held on Wednesday.  The inquiry is in its early stages but has already revealed that the access to work scheme is one which is being ‘hidden’ from those who need the most help.  One witness described access to work as being ‘90% bad’ with rude and intimidatory letters as well as abrupt staff handling disabled people’s pleas for help with people not being phoned back after frustrated efforts being made to get support.

She went on to say the ‘whole culture of the scheme was against supporting disabled people’.  The video footage of the evidence session is one which I’d encourage you to watch – it very effectively highlights the difficulties which disabled people are facing, it brings shame on the government for incessantly drawing so many parallels with top class paralympians as the measure of what can be achieved.

On Monday, Smith left all the technical stuff to fellow statistical partners in crime with McVey up and down as though she was tightly suspended on elasticated string spouting continual reminders that ’employment was up, up, up, up’.  Webb told us all of his wondrous pension reforms and Harper proudly announced how the number of Employment & Support Allowance claimants awaiting assessment had reduced by 75,000 to a still very chaotic 637,000.

Smith put the icing on the cake with his insistence that his beloved but much beleaguered Universal Credit was still going to happen with a less than convincing assurance that his much slated scheme was a step nearer towards getting business case approval – “The final stage in Treasury approvals is sign-off of the full business case, which covers the full lifetime of the programme.”

He added: “I genuinely believe, from my discussions, that it will be signed off very shortly.”

Very few people looked or sounded convinced.  Even David Cameron could be seen looking skywards as IDS mentioned claimants being left in limbo.

This latest booming success story emanates from a report commissioned by the Employment Related Services Association who promote the following ‘good’ news….

“The figure of £18bn refers to the value to the economy provided over the lifetime of the workers on the programme who would not have otherwise found work. Of the £18bn total:

£7bn will be delivered to workers

• £7bn will be delivered to the government

• £4bn will be delivered to employers

Around 300,000 workers have found lasting work while on the Work Programme. Europe Economics estimates that around 100,000 jobs for the long term unemployed would not have taken place without the programme.”

You can read the ERSA’s press release here

Work Programme providers have echoed the apparent success of the Work Programme with various releases repeating the £18 billion pound boost to the economy.

The glitzy promotion

One time TV presenter, Esther McVey may be the smiling face of the DWP, but no – one be fooled, she’s been well and truly conditioned in to promoting IDS’s failing welfare reforms at every opportunity….

She’s ‘proud to work’ and even seems convinced the Work Programme is….working:

“The Work Programme is helping more people than any previous employment programme and we are committed to keep driving up performance to get the best deal for jobseekers and taxpayers.

“It is transforming how we help claimants who have been unemployed for a long time whereas before many would have been written off to a life on benefits. As part of the Government’s long term economic plan, it has helped people to turn their lives around and build a career – from catering to construction and care work to hairdressing – contributing to the biggest annual fall in long term unemployment since 1998.”

There’s a few token video’s of people supporting the DWP in their efforts to get people back to work….

Well Brian, you’ve really sold it to me, not quite sure whether you ended up with a job or not but there you are ….

Matthew Sinclair of Tax Payer’s Alliance seems taken with the good news as he retweets Conservative MP Guto Bebb’s words of support….

Tweet by Guto Bebb "Research by ERSA highlights delivery of £18bn of added value to the economy through the Work Programme."

Guto thinks everyone who damned the Work Programme now owes the government an apology due to it finding this new found ‘success’ status….

Tweet by Guto Bebb - "Those who ridiculed and attacked the Work Programme need to apologise. It's a real success."

I’m not so sure the National Audit Office would agree after their scathing report which led to the BBC reporting that 26% would be helped by the Work Programme rather than government’s estimate of 40%

I’m also a little perplexed as to why Matthew Sinclair didn’t appear to tweet the good news in his own name; especially given that he was one of the authors of the report which led to this apparently wonderful news for the economy (if you’re around for 50 years to see the results come in).

All that glistens is not gold 

Amidst all the good news is reality.

A million miles from where the right wing want you to be, but none the less it’s the place where the facts are to be found.  Reality is to be found deep within the DWP’s overly complex set of Work Programme statistics.

For all of Iain Duncan Smith’s talk, here’s the deplorable reality of the Work Programme when it comes to actual Job Outcome results:

In the New ESA claimant group, out of 484,900 in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’, just 10,760 ended up with a Job Outcome (2.2%)

In the Incapacity Benefit to ESA conversion group, out of 469,200 in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’ just 980 ended up with a job outcome (0.2%) – this is the group which IDS claims to be tackling the most effectively!

In the Incapacity Benefit to ESA conversion group, out of 249,300 found ‘fit for work’ just 3,160 (1.4%) ended up with a job outcome.   Whilst this appalling result is shocking in itself, it should be remembered that the DWP’s figures only point to people on JSA who have been on incapacity benefits.  This may therefore relate to someone who has ended their older incapacity claim and taken up a JSA claim voluntarily without being tested for ESA.

In the overall ‘voluntary participation group’ where there is no mandatory requirement to take part (until you’ve signed up) out of 957,500 claimants placed in the Support Group (from both new ESA and incapacity to ESA claim groups) 3,350 claimants (0.4%) ended up with a job via the Work Programme. This group does better than the mandatory groups in incapacity to ESA conversion cases.

 

And IDS has the raw nerve to call this
programme a success?

 

 Posted by at 15:45
Jul 242014
 

 

Joint statement by Black Triangle Campaign, CarerWatch, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network, Pats Petition, #NewApproach and WOWPetition

The WCA presumes that there are too many people on disability benefits because disabled people are too lazy or too comfortable living on benefits to work.

It is founded in the idea that disabled people need to be harassed and hounded out of their comfortable life into finding work under the threat of loss of benefits.

No one is comfortable living on benefits. Disabled people are no more lazy that the rest of the population.

The real reason that there are so many people on benefits is that society does not include disabled people.

We do not have the same access to education, transport, housing and jobs.

Social attitudes ensure that disabled people in the workplace are seen as a problem, rather than an equal opportunity.

And there are large numbers of disabled people who simply can not work. Why should they be harassed? Why should they be hounded?. Why should they have to live in fear?.

We know, and this report confirms, that many people have wrongly been found “fit for work” when they can’t work.

We also know and the UK courts have confirmed WCA discriminates against claimants with mental health impairments.

The Work and Pensions Committee report recommends “improvements” to make the system more workable and less harmful.

This is pointless, because it would not make the WCA any less wrong or any more useful

We call once again on Labour to commit to scrapping the WCA and to address the real problems that disabled people on benefits face in society.

We call once again on the British Medical Association to send guidance on DWP rules “29 and 35” which allows doctors to prevent foreseeable harm being done to ‘at risk’ patients.

They didn’t improve slavery, they abolished it, because it was wrong.

They didn’t amend Apartheid , they ended it because it was wrong

The WCA is wrong, and it needs to be abolished

Signed

Andy Greene, Disabled People Against Cuts
Annie Howard, Disabled People Against Cuts
Bob Ellard, Disabled People Against Cuts
Debbie Jolly, Disabled People Against Cuts
Denise McKenna, Mental Health Resistance Network
Jane Bence, #NewApproach
Eleanor Firman, Disabled People Against Cuts
Ellen Clifford, Disabled People Against Cuts
Gail Ward, Disabled People Against Cuts
John James McArdle, Black Triangle Campaign
Katy Marchant, Disabled People Against Cuts
Linda Burnip, Disabled People Against Cuts
Michelle Maher, WOWPetition
Nick Dilworth, #NewApproach
Pat Onions, Pats Petition
Paula Peters, Disabled People Against Cuts
Rick Burgess, #NewApproach
Roger Lewis, Disabled People Against Cuts
Rosemary O’Neil, Carerwatch
Roy Bard, Disabled People Against Cuts
Wayne Blackburn, #NewApproach
 
 Posted by at 14:47
Jul 012014
 

Urgent – Legal Challenge to PIP 20 metre descriptor to be held in Birmingham Administrative Court, Bull Street next week on July 9th and 10th.

 

The solicitors have asked for a room for observers to the case and are waiting for confirmation of that. They would like anyone who can to attend to show how important this case is to disabled people.

 

There will also be a vigil outside the court from 1- 2pm on July 9th. Bring placards, banners and friends and supporters.

 

To get updates on room availability and to check the case will not be affected by strike action on July 10th please email

birminghambenefitjustice@gmail.com

 

 

 

 Posted by at 21:30
Jun 062014
 
Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare. Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage. We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.

PCS need to ballot for non-cooperation on workfare and sanctions!

dpac-logo-3-amendment-1-smallblack-trianglebw logoMembers of PCS union work for the DWP and job centres so are involved in the day to day delivery of workfare and sanctions. Members have shown they oppose it by voting for national policy against workfare and sanctions. Now Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle and Boycott Workfare are asking them to use their power to help put a stop to these punitive measures. 

Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle and Boycott Workfare joint statement on PCS Union and non-cooperation:

1. We note that motion A81 that recently passed at the PCS conference makes reference to the PCS Union working with Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle. (1)

2. We note that motions E340-E342 submitted by DWP branches also called for the PCS to work with Boycott Workfare, but that references to Boycott Workfare were dropped by the NEC from motion A81. (1)

3. Black Triangle and Disabled People Against Cuts wish to express their solidarity with Boycott Workfare who we believe have organised a broad based and successful campaign against workfare and sanctions.

4. We note that the legal advice received by the PCS in 2013 accepted that the tactic of non-cooperation could be used as part of a campaign of industrial action consisting of action short of a strike. (2)

5. We note that the PCS currently have a live mandate for industrial action and will be consulting members on 12th June about coordinated strike action. (3)

6. Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle and Boycott Workfare therefore call on the PCS NEC to consult members on adopting a tactic of non-cooperation with workfare and sanctions.

References:

(1) http://www.pcs.org.uk/download.cfm?docid=3FBA9F5E-D8B1-4164-AA1B7CF5C50F3E33
(2) http://www.pcs.org.uk/download.cfm?docid=C20641E2-9DE4-4FFE-8E11590CCB7E0F51 (Motion A533)
(3) http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/vote-yes-in-pcs-ballot-for-fair-pay

 Posted by at 22:48
Jun 042014
 

Disabled people’s experiences needed

Please send me short descriptions of disabled people’s experience on 3 employment related issues.   I can tidy the case studies up and make sure they are anonymous so you don’t need to spend too much time writing them up –  I just need proof of the points I’m making!  See details below:

·       If you have examples of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants where the loss of £40/50 will have a serious impact on the ability to pay for food and other essentials please let me know. There’s a consultation on the increase of ‘waiting days’ for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Employment Support Allowance (ESA).  Claimants will lose, on average, £40 or £50 respectively.  More information is at: http://ssac.independent.gov.uk/news/press-releases/23-05-14.pdf http://ssac.independent.gov.uk/consultations/

·       I also need examples of disabled people that have experienced difficulties either obtaining or maintaining Access to work e.g. cuts in their budget etc., changes to BSL interpreters conditions for the Access to work inquiry at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/access-to-work/

·       Lastly I would welcome recent examples (i.e. from beginning of Sept 2013) of difficulties caused by the WCA/ESA including issues around difficulties in paying bills due to benefit delays as above as well inaccurate assessments, lack of mental health champions or recording equipment or any other issues for the 5th and final review of the Work Capability assessment (to be announced shortly, see information below).   

 

Henrietta  Doyle

Policy Officer

Inclusion London

 

henrietta.doyle@inclusionlondon.co.uk

www.inclusionlondon.co.uk

Twitter: @inclusionlondon

 

 Posted by at 13:59
Jun 032014
 

 

Who 2 Vote 4 As part of DPAC’s Who 2 Vote 4 campaign Anita Bellows delves in to the history files, to examine who made the decision to move Incapacity Benefit Claimants onto ESA and the warnings that were made about that at the time.


Even before the full reassessment of Incapacity Benefits claimants was in full swing, academics predicted a disaster with 600,000 claimants forced off Incapacity Benefits, particularly for those living in regions of high unemployment.

A Guardian article refers to a study undertaken in 2011 by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research of Sheffield Hallam University (CRESR)  which showed that it was possible to anticipate the dire consequences of IB reassessments and of the ESA regime which relied on a tougher test, but which was already known at the time to be flawed: the Work Capability Assessment.

But the CRESR was not the first, and certainly not the only opponent to the IB migration, and to raise doubts about IB reassessment, the Work Capability Assessment, and the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) regime.

As early as May 2010, the Social Security Advisory Committee, the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, and the House of Lords all separately warned first the Labour government and then the Coalition government of the potential negative impacts on disability benefit claimants if the IB reassessments went ahead, especially with a tougher test and a standard of assessment which was “not always good enough, especially for people with mental health and cognitive difficulties”.

Both governments decided to ignore these warnings and to go ahead, even before knowing the findings and recommendations of the first review of the WCA.

Background to the reassessment of  existing Incapacity Benefit claimants

Employment and Support Allowance did not initially affect existing claimants of incapacity benefits, but the Labour Government made it clear from the outset that existing claimants would be reassessed for ESA.

Budget 2008 [para 4.5] announced that all existing Incapacity Benefit claimants would be required to take the Work Capability Assessment from April 2013.

March 2010 regulations

Regulations laid before Parliament by the Labour Government on 29 March 2010 provided for the “migration” of the remaining incapacity benefits claimants customers to ESA between October 2010 and March 2014, provided they satisfied the Work Capability Assessment.

The draft regulations were subject to full scrutiny by the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), who published its report in March 2010 with the response of the government.

March 2010 Social Security Advisory Committee’s report

The Committee believed that the migration arrangements in the draft regulations could not be implemented without the risk of operational stress and adverse impacts on significant numbers of vulnerable people before adding: “In our view, the Department should not embark upon the proposed migration until the well-documented problems with current ESA processes and procedures (including those with the WCA) have been resolved, any changes to the Pathways programme have been implemented and bedded-in, and improvements have been made to the support available for JSA claimants with a health condition or disability”.

The Committee raised also several concerns:

  • Lack of a solid evidence base for the decision to migrate or the proposed migration arrangements.
  • Underestimation by DWP of the support required by this group of claimants, in terms of both their participation in a more active benefit regime and the support required to move them closer to the labour market.
  • ESA evaluation for new claimants is not planned to be completed until 2011, by which time the proposed migration arrangements will have commenced.

And the Committee recommended that the migration to ESA did not proceed to the current timetable but waits until:

  • a stronger evidence base on what works and whether ESA is achieving its aims is available
  • the new regime for claimants with a health condition or disability (as an outcome of the Pathways review) has bedded down
  • DWP’s review of the WCA is complete, recommendations have been considered and any necessary changes have been made
  • demand-side approaches to stimulating the labour market have begun to have a positive impact on local demand for labour, particularly in areas with a high concentration of IB claimants.

And in case the migration did proceed as planned the Committee made several recommendations, notably that the quality of the WCA should be improved, particularly for claimants with mental health problems and cognitive and learning difficulties, and that Incapacity benefits claimants currently exempt from the PCA should be automatically treated as meeting the conditions for the ESA Support Group.

March 2010 Government’s response

In its response in the same document, Point 141, the Labour Government rejected the Committee’s call to alter the timetable for migration, but took on board some of the Committee’s concerns and undertook to continue to engage with “stakeholders” as the migration proceeded, stating:

“The Government has carefully considered the Committee’s concerns in relation to the ESA transitional Regulations and their wider concerns about the migration programme. However, for the reasons outlined in this response it does not accept the Committee’s recommendation that migration should not continue to the current timetable. The Government considers the migration of existing incapacity benefits customers to be a key element of welfare reform and one that will greatly benefit customers at a time when support to get back to work is urgently needed. The Government does not believe it would be right or fair to delay this support for customers who have been without it for too long already”.

June 2010 House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee’s report

In June 2010, after the General election, the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee published a report which echoed the concerns voiced by the SSAC about whether there would be sufficient support for these groups of claimants, and the lack of evidence on how ESA was working for new claimants, notably that the Committee, from the limited evidence they have seen thought that a

“major project with a potential impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable in the community is being conducted in a rather ad hoc fashion. The second phase is being rolled out before the first has been evaluated and although better information will be sought on the outcomes, the Department’s intended course of action, and evidence to support it, all seem rather vague”

It voices also concerns about the capacity of only 20 Benefit centres to absorb and process the transition of 10,000 cases per week, the arrangements put into place by DWP for Job centres, as “many of the customers will have special needs”, and the quality of the Work Capability Assessment.

The Committee also asked DWP what percentage of those ESA claimants sent down the JSA route obtained work, and what happened to the 30% who moved off benefits, to which DWP replied that the Department did not hold the information centrally, but that it intended “to carry out a qualitative piece of in-depth research on unsuccessful ESA claimants who do not qualify for ESA, have their claim closed, or withdraw their claim”.

One report was published in 2011 [para 4.4.2] in which DWP acknowledged that it knew nothing about ESA claimants found fit for work, and not claiming JSA.

July 2010 House of Lords’s debate to motion

The House of Lords then debated a motion to take note of the Merits Committee’s report on 20 July 2010 which criticised the reassessment of existing IB claimants, the WCA and the ESA regime and which quoted Professor Gregg, the architect of the sanctions regime in the two most recent Welfare Reform Acts as saying: “To start moving people who may have been on incapacity benefit for years straight onto jobseeker’s allowance is ridiculous. Before wading into the stock, the system has to be right“.

To which Lord Freud answered by providing reassurance that everything was fine and under control, and that even this year in March (2010), “a DWP-led review of the work capability assessment found that generally it is accurately identifying individuals for the right support”.


The General Election is one year away and the choice is likely to be between the two main parties.

  • Both of them were alerted in 2010 to the risks people claiming incapacity benefits could be exposed to, if IB reassessments went ahead.
  • Both parties knew there was a real capacity gap in Job centres and Benefit centres to deal with the number estimated by DWP to be found fit for work.
  • Both parties were warned about the issues already plaguing the Work Capability Assessment.
  • Both parties chose to ignore these warnings and to proceed with a flawed reassessment process.

While the Conservative party, through Iain Duncan Smith, and the various Ministers for Disabled People has shown itself to be indifferent to the plight of people who need support because they cannot work, the Labour party should not be let off the hook.

Would Labour have done things differently? Maybe, but the fact is we don’t know, and while they were in power, they did not show any willingness to protect these groups of people from harm.

Before being trusted again, the Labour party has to acknowledge its errors of the past and make concrete proposals to put things right.

The ball is in their court.

 

 Posted by at 16:19
May 202014
 

 

By Anita Bellows

David Webster, a leading authority on UK benefit sanction statistics, reacts to the report published in March by the Policy Exchange think tank (Smarter Sanctions: Sorting out the system).

His concern is the influence Policy Exchange has on the right of British politics, (having for instance fathered the JSA ‘claimant commitment’ currently being rolled out) and that the report, if left unchallenged, might affect policy.

The report is flawed in many ways:

  • It splits sanctioned claimants into 2 groups: deserving claimants who are sanctioned for the first time for a lower level ‘offence’ and the others, the repeat ‘offenders’. The flaw is that repeat ‘offenders’ are just as likely as first-timers to be wrongly sanctioned, and there is no statistical or factual basis for the report to establish such a distinction. In fact the reconsideration/appeal success rate for ‘higher level’ sanctions is much higher than for ‘lower level’sanctions.
  • The lack of reference to the difficulties of sanctioned claimants highlighted in British literature dealing with sanctions, whichshows considerable objections to the proposed more ‘compassionate’ penalties recommended by the report for ‘deserving claimants’, and also that claimants with repeated ‘failures’ are likely to be people with difficulties that make them unable to cope with the system.
  • The report is open about its belief in ‘punishment’ which seems to be desirable in itself. The report builds on the language of criminalisation of sanctioned claimants introduced by the Coalition, although most sanctions challenged in court or through reconsideration have been found to be wrongly applied.
  • The scale of financial sanctions is breathtaking: the maximum penalty for jobseekers is £11,185.20, while the fines normally applied to all offenders by mainstream Courts range from £200 (Level 1) to £5,000 (Level 5).

For Annie Piece

It is imperative to challenge this report which relies on the system’s complexity and the use of selective figures and statistics to obfuscate the fact that most sanctions are wrongly applied, that 9 out of 10 challenged sanctions are overturned and that ‘offenders’ are mainly people who have done nothing wrong and who are facing specific difficulties. Ultimately, David Webster calls for an end to sanctions. It is an objective which must be supported.

Read also the Hit The Donkey blog for a good summary and analysis of David Webster’s comments


NOT SO SMART!

Comments on the Policy Exchange report

Smarter Sanctions: Sorting out the system’ by Guy Miscampbell, published 3 March 2014

Dr David Webster

Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Urban Studies, University of Glasgow

24 March 2014

SUMMARY

The Policy Exchange report Smarter Sanctions: Sorting out the system (March 2014) aims to address two issues in the current UK regime of sanctions for JSA and ESA claimants: hardship suffered by claimants who subsequently win their appeals, and the existence of some 30,000 claimants per year (around 5% of the total number of people sanctioned in a year) who are repeatedly sanctioned. Its proposals are misconceived and would be counterproductive. The problems of hardship, including resort to food banks, and of wrongly applied sanctions, can affect any of the people receiving the almost 900,000 sanctions handed out per year, not just the around 300,000 first-time ‘lower level’ ‘offenders’ per year who the Policy Exchange proposes should receive what it claims is more ‘compassionate’ treatment. There is no logic to the identification of this group. The proposals would do nothing to reduce wrongly applied sanctions, and while potentially reducing hardship for some, would increase it for others and leave it unrelieved in the case of most sanctions. The proposal for a shaming ‘yellow card’ instead of loss of benefit is destructive and for many claimants would reduce rather than increase engagement. Daily signing-on would also be impracticable and counterproductive for many. The Policy Exchange proposes that these penalties should be applied to people who have done nothing wrong at all. Its claim that harsher sanctions for repeat ‘offenders’ would be more effective in producing compliance is contradicted by the available evidence. Addressing the problems of destitution caused by sanctions, and of wrongly applied sanctions, would require much more drastic reform including ensuring a decent minimum income for all sanctioned claimants, and proper protections against abuse in what is a gravely defective system of administrative justice. More fundamentally, in so far as the state has valid reasons for attempting to promote particular behaviours – and the reasons are often not valid – there are better ways of doing it than taking money away from already poor and/or crisis-stricken people. Sanctions should be abolished.

Comments on the Policy Exchange report

Smarter Sanctions: Sorting out the system’

This Policy Exchange report has secured wide publicity. The Policy Exchange has influence on the right of British politics (having for instance fathered the JSA ‘claimant commitment’ currently being rolled out) and, if left unchallenged, the report might affect policy. The purpose of these comments is to point out where it is wrong.i

The Coalition has changed the official language used in referring to sanctions in such a way as to imply that sanctioned claimants are in effect a type of criminal, particularly through the drafting of the October 2012 Regulations and their Explanatory Memorandum.ii Thus we read of ‘offences’, ‘failures’, transgressions’, ‘serial and deliberate breach’, ‘failure to meet their responsibilities’, and the like. The Policy Exchange report adopts this language uncritically, and adds to it, with phrases such as ‘flout the system’ (p.6), ‘defying the conditionality regime’ (p.7), ‘separate levels of punishment depending on the offence’ (p.29), ‘prevent the system from being gamed by those who have no intention of being compliant’ (p.36), ‘abuse the leniency in the “first” sanction’ (p.36), ‘the most troublesome cases’ (p.37) ‘more extensive punishment for those who consistently abuse this system’ (p.37). But it should be remembered that even when a sanction is lawful (which is often not the case), the claimant has frequently done nothing deserving of any criticism from either a moral or a practical point of view. Very often they have simply taken a different view from the state about the most constructive way forward. Or they are exercising a fundamental right, such as the right to give up a job at any time on whatever grounds they see fit, subject only to their employment contract. Moreover, the fact that a sanction may go unchallenged does not mean that it is reasonable or lawful, since we know from the research evidence that most claimants find the process of challenge too difficult to undertake.

In what follows it has not been possible to avoid using the language of ‘offence’ and ‘punishment’ in reporting what the Policy Exchange has said, but it is important to bear the above points in mind.

BACKGROUND

In order to understand the report it is necessary to be aware that sanctioned claimants lose their benefit immediately and even if they successfully ask for reconsideration or appeal, the money lost is only refunded months later. The financial position for JSA and ESA claimants while under sanction is as follows:

  1. JSA: Since the Jobseekers Act 1995 (implemented October 1996), sanctioned claimants lose all their JSA for the varying period of weeks. They may apply for hardship payments of 60% of JSA (80% for those in a ‘vulnerable’ group) but these are discretionary and are assessed according to a special set of rules designed to ensure that the claimant has no other resources left and has exhausted any possible assistance from family and friends. Claimants not in a ‘vulnerable’ group are not allowed even to apply for hardship payments for the first two weeks. There is no assessment of ‘vulnerability’. ‘Vulnerable’ groups are arbitrarily defined and are mainly people looking after children.

  2. ESA: Sanctions were introduced for long-term sick or disabled claimants in the ESA Work Related Activity Group in October 2008. Up to 3 December 2012, sanctioned ESA claimants lost half of their ‘work related activity component’ (£28.45 per week) for the first 4 weeks and all of it thereafter. Since December 2012, they have lost all of their main payment (the ‘personal allowance’, the equivalent of JSA) but retain the smaller ‘work related activity component’. Sanctioned ESA claimants can apply for hardship payments immediately.

These sanctions are in effect fines. For claimants over 25, and disregarding open-ended loss of benefit for some types of ‘failure’ pending ‘compliance’, they range from £286.80 up to £11,185.20 for JSA, and from £71.70 to £286.80 for ESA. Under -25 benefit rates are lower, so the amounts lost through sanctions are also lower. ‘Hardship payments’ may reduce the amounts lost. About a quarter of sanctioned JSA claimants get hardship payments, but only around 1 per cent get them at the ‘vulnerable’ rate. Table 1 shows the net amounts lost by the various types of claimant, on the assumptions shown.

For comparison, the fines normally available to the mainstream Courts range from £200 (Level 1) to £5,000 (Level 5).

The impact of these sanctions varies according to the circumstances of the claimant. Those with significant financial resources and/or support from relatives or friends may be relatively little affected, especially if they quickly get a job. Those who are already without resources, especially where they do not have support from relatives or friends, and have barriers to employment such as age, literacy/numeracy problems, sickness etc., are driven into total destitution and frequently actual hunger. To its credit, this Policy Exchange report gives short shrift to Ministers’ claims that there is ‘no robust evidence’ to link the increase in food bank usage to welfare changes, including the increase in sanctions. It accepts the obvious, namely that sanctions drive people to food banks.

Table 1: Minimum and maximum financial amounts of sanctions

Age 25+

Age under 25

Minimum £

Maximum £

Minimum £

Maximum £

JSA, no hardship payment

286.80

11,185.20

227.20

8,860.80

JSA, hardship payment, non-vulnerable

200.76

4,560.12

159.04

3,612.48

JSA, hardship payment, vulnerable

57.36

2,237.04

45.44

1,772.16

ESA, no hardship payment

71.70

286.80

56.80

227.20

ESA, hardship payment

14.30

57.36

11.36

45.44

Notes: These amounts do not include open-ended sanctions for some types of ‘failure’ pending ‘compliance’. It is assumed that application for hardship payments is made as soon as permitted and is immediately successful, and that hardship payments are paid throughout the period of the sanction at maximum rate. These assumptions will probably not often be correct. Benefit rates are as at 2013-14.

Source: Author’s calculations.

SUMMARY OF THE POLICY EXCHANGE REPORT’S ARGUMENT AND PROPOSALS

The report argues that the current sanctions system is too harsh on some people and too lenient on others.

It argues that it is too harsh to an estimated 68,000 people per yeariii who receive a 4-week sanction which is subsequently overturned by reconsideration or appeal, for a first-time ‘offence’ which is defined as ‘lower level’ by the October 2012 Regulations. Therefore a policy should be piloted whereby lower level first-time ‘offenders’ should receive either or both of the following penalties (argued to be more ‘compassionate’):

  1. Upon ‘re-engagement’ with Jobcentre Plus, the claimant would have their benefits paid via a ‘yellow card’, usable only at designated shops and, technology permitting, only for designated goods. This substitute penalty should be imposed for a longer period of 8 weeks.

  2. The claimant should have to sign on daily.

The most effective permutation of these penalties (one or other or both) would be established by the pilots.

These first-time ‘offenders’ (but not other ‘offenders’) should also automatically receive assistance with applying for reconsideration or appeal.

The proposed measures would have to be applied to all first-time lower level ‘offenders’ since the outcome of reconsideration/appeal is not known until too late. The report estimates that about 19,000 people a month would be subject to them, but it does not attempt a full-year estimate. At current levels, this would be of the order of 300,000.iv This is somewhat over half the total number of individual JSA claimants sanctioned during a year, which is over 528,000, but only one third of the total number of JSA sanctions (874,850).v

The report argues that the current system is too lenient to people who incur repeated JSA sanctions defined as ‘lower level’ by the October 2012 Regulations. At present a second or subsequent lower level ‘failure’ within the same year incurs a 13 week sanction. The report proposes to add further progression, namely 26 weeks for a third ‘failure’, 39 weeks for a third, and in general 13(n-1) weeks where n is the number of ‘failures’, with a maximum of 156 weeks (which would be reached upon the 13th ‘offence’).vi This proposal would raise the maximum sanction for this group from £932.10 (under-25s £738.40) to £11,185.20 (under-25s £8,860.80). The report does not offer an estimate of the number of people who would be affected by this proposal but the DWP statistics indicate that it would be somewhat over 30,000 per year, around 5% of the total number of people sanctioned during a year.

The report also considers that treatment is too lenient for people with repeated ESA sanctions. At present, the sanction is open-ended until re-engagement and is then followed by a 1-week sanction for a first ‘failure’, 2 weeks for a second, and 4 weeks for a third or subsequent ‘failure’. The report proposes to add further unlimited progression, to 8 weeks for a fourth ‘failure’, 12 weeks for a fifth, and in general 4(n-2) weeks where n is the number of ‘failures’. The present maximum sanction for this group of £286.80 (under-25s £227.20) would be raised to a level limited only by the time to retirement.

This proposal seems scarcely worth making since the DWP statistics show that there are under 1,200 ESA claimants who have ever had more than three sanctions. The algebraic formula is certainly wasted since once beyond six sanctions the numbers are down to double figures in the whole of Great Britain.

The report does not comment at all on the treatment of people sanctioned for JSA ‘offences’ defined as ‘intermediate’ or ‘higher’ level by the October 2012 Regulations. It does not make any attempt to cost its proposals or make any kind of impact assessment.

In considering the weaknesses of the report, these comments deal separately with the ‘too harsh’ and the ‘too lenient’ aspects.

CRITICISMS OF THE REPORT: ‘TOO HARSH’

Identification of claimants who should be treated less harshly

The identification of first-time ‘lower level’ ‘offenders’ as the only claimants who should be treated less harshly is odd. It leaves the following categories of sanctioned claimants who would not be treated less harshly:

– second and subsequent time lower level ‘offenders’, whether successfully appealing or not

– all intermediate and higher level ‘offenders’, whether first-time or not and whether successfully appealing or not.

.

There is no justification for the Policy Exchange proposal to treat these groups less favourably.

Discrimination by first-time/repeat

Repeat ‘offenders’ are just as likely as first-timers to be wrongly sanctioned. Wrongly sanctioned people with a previous ‘offence’ should not be treated less favourably than wrongly sanctioned first timers. The report does not attempt to justify this discrimination, which presumably arises from an implicit assumption that an ‘offence’ renders a claimant ‘undeserving’ and that as a result they should forfeit their right to justice.

Such discrimination would be counterproductive. Consider the hypothetical case of a claimant who ‘offends’ on one occasion, is sanctioned, and who then ‘reforms’ only to find that they are then subjected to a further sanction which is wrongfully imposed, and they are told that because of their previous offence, they are not entitled to fair treatment. This would promptly undermine the supposed effectiveness of the system.

Discrimination by ‘level’

As the report itself acknowledges (p.20), the reconsideration/appeal success rate for ‘higher level’ sanctions is much higher than for ‘lower’: 31.8% compared to 19.9%.vii So there are actually more wrongly sanctioned claimants in this group, and this is even more serious as the sanctions are of much longer duration. Reconsideration/appeal success rates are also significant for ‘intermediate’ sanctions, at 12.3%. Therefore if the objective is to reduce the suffering of wrongly sanctioned claimants, the report’s proposal will not achieve it.

The report does not offer any justification for treating ‘higher’ and ‘intermediate’ ‘offenders’ less favourably than ‘lower’ offenders. It appears simply to have accepted these distinctions uncritically at face value. But this categorization did not exist until October 2012. The Explanatory Memorandum to the October 2012 Regulations did not offer any justification for the categorization, simply claiming without explanation that ‘under the existing regime some sanctions are not proportionate to the failure’. The designation of some ‘failures’ as more serious than others is shot through with unwarranted assumptions.

Intermediate level – Until October 2012 these were not treated as offences at all. They all relate to cases where the claimant does not meet the entitlement conditions for JSA because they are not available for work, not actively seeking work, have not signed on or have not completed a Jobseeker’s Agreement, or are unemployed because of a relevant trade dispute. Such claimants were simply ‘disentitled’, and a new claim showing that the claimant now met the conditions resulted in immediate restoration of JSA, apart from a few ‘waiting days’. The Coalition decided to turn these matters into ‘offences’ and by adding a fixed 4-week sanction to the disentitlement arbitrarily promoted their seriousness above that of ‘lower level’ offences.

Higher level – These ‘failures’ all relate to cases where it is argued that the claimant’s conduct has actually caused their unemployment, i.e. their unemployment is ‘voluntary’ (a claim which is obviously unsustainable in relation to almost all the reasons why claimants are currently sanctioned). This is the rationale for treating them as more serious. In the case of the new offence of ‘failing to participate in Mandatory Work Activity’, this claim is dishonest, since the claimant is not getting a job, but only ‘workfare’ – having to work for their benefits. MWA is ‘intended to help claimants move closer to the labour market, enabling them to establish the discipline and habits of working life, such as attending on time regularly, carrying out specific tasks and working under supervision while delivering a contribution to the community’.viii MWA should be classified as a ‘lower level’ failure, like the other training activities with which it belongs.

But the severity of the penalty for the other ‘higher level’ ‘failures’ has also long been challenged. For 75 years until 1986, the maximum penalty for ‘voluntary unemployment’ was 6 weeks’ loss of benefit. At that time, there were almost no sanctions or disqualifications except for voluntarily leaving a job or losing it through misconduct. During the Thatcher/Howe recession from 1979 on, job leaving was suppressed because people are more careful to hold on to a job when it is more difficult to get another. As recovery proceeded, job mobility rose – as indeed economic efficiency required – and disqualifications for ‘voluntary leaving’ and ‘misconduct’ rose with it, since many of them are imposed on people who simply miscalculate about how easy it will be to get another job. Conservative ministers of the day did not understand this and thought the penalties needed to be increased, to up to 26 weeks in 1988. The Department of Social Security itself subsequently pointed out: ‘Changes in the economic climate …play an important part in people’s attitude to job leaving and job search…Thus it is not surprising that the length of disqualification appears to have little effect on voluntary leaving’ (DSS 1989, p.5). The relatively trivial ‘offences’ introduced or made more common by the Jobseekers Act 1995 could not credibly be penalised at the level of these ‘voluntary unemployment’ disqualifications and this then left it open to the 2012 Regulations to designate the latter as ‘higher level’.

Lower level – Inclusion of missing an interview as a sanctionable ‘offence’ at all is a recent innovation, in April 2010. Before then, it was regarded as an entitlement issue, permitting a resumption of benefit after only the ‘waiting days’. The logic was that if the claimant does not attend interviews, their availability for work is put into question and their claim cannot be progressed. It was the previous Labour government which decided to turn it into a sanctionable ‘offence’.

Discrimination in relation to assistance with reconsideration/appeal

Given that wrongly sanctioned claimants can be found in any group, there is a lack of logic in the proposal that only first-time lower level ‘offenders’ should receive assistance with their appeal. The research evidence (e.g. Peters & Joyce 2006), and the low levels of both reconsiderations and appeals, show that most claimants find the process of challenging decisions too difficult – which is not surprising given the multiplicity of other difficulties which they will be attempting to cope with at the same time.

The proposed more ‘compassionate’ penalties

It is striking that the Policy Exchange report makes very little reference to the British literature on the difficulties of sanctioned claimants.ix Instead, references are mainly to US literature on ‘workfare’, revealing the Policy Exchange’s political preferences and connections.x A reading of the British literature would show that there are considerable objections to both of the proposed more ‘compassionate’ penalties.

‘Yellow card’ – This proposal is modelled on the ‘Azure card’ issued to asylum seekers denied leave to remain.xi The British Red Cross is calling for this to be abolished, a fact of which the Policy Exchange appears unaware.xii The implied withdrawal of full citizenship recalls the overt removal of citizenship rights introduced for workhouse inmates by the 1834 Poor Law. The report itself states (pp.6, 33, 36) that the card would work partly through ‘social pressure’, in other words sanctioned claimants would be publicly shamed, even when they are subsequently found to have done nothing wrong at all. Shaming is undesirable, whether claimants are wrongly sanctioned or not, for all the reasons considered by Walker et al. (2013), Ellis (2010) and Citizens for Sanctuary (2010). The report also proposes (pp.6, 32-33) that the card should have to be picked up from the Jobcentre, ‘fostering renewed contact with the sanctioned individual. If they did not re-engage then they would be unable to pick up the card and access benefits’. Given the shame involved in using the card, it seems likely that only claimants in dire need of money would opt to pick it up, and for many, there would thus be a reduced incentive to ‘re-engage’. The report itself (p.10, note 17) references a case where a teacher was wrongfully sanctioned for attending a job interview which took place at the same time as her signing-in time. An offer of a ‘yellow card’ would not only make such a person justifiably very angry; it would also most likely be rejected.

Another problem is that sanctioned claimants often have multiple urgent calls on any funds that come in, e.g. repaying informal debts, feeding a coin electricity meter, buying a child’s birthday present. Many of these would continue to require cash, so denying it would be likely to cause serious crises. The need to find and travel to stores accepting the card would impose further financial costs and waste of time. Indeed it might become impossible for some claimants even to get to the Jobcentre, unless the card was accepted on public transport – an issue on which the Policy Exchange is silent (Reynolds 2010).

The Policy Exchange proposal is that all of these problems should be imposed on people who are completely blameless.

Daily signing-on The main practical objections to this are the time and cost of travel, and the difficulties created for any kind of carer (bearing in mind that large numbers of people have some caring roles even when not classified as ‘carers’, and that there are some 140,000 lone parents with children under 12 on JSA as a result of the ‘lone parent obligation’). Daily sign-on is simply unrealistic for many claimants. It would also run counter to the Policy Exchange-inspired Claimant Commitment, since for many claimants so much time would be taken up in travel that there would be little left for job search. Because of the extremely large differences in the travel times and costs involved, especially between rural and urban claimants, this penalty would bear very unequally on different claimants. It also has a strong resemblance to the oakum-picking of the nineteenth-century workhouse – a deliberately purposeless activity, designed to depress and humiliate. It would be an abuse of the principle of signing on, whose purpose is simply to ensure that the claimant demonstrates their availability for work by their physical presence, and affirms by their signature that they meet the entitlement conditions for unemployment benefit during the relevant payment period. Again, the Policy Exchange proposes that this penalty should be applied to people who are blameless.

CRITICISMS OF THE REPORT: ‘TOO LENIENT’

The report does not cite any empirical evidence in support of its proposal to add further progression of penalties beyond 13 weeks for a third or subsequent lower level ‘failure’. It says (pp. 10-11) that ‘more needs to be done to prevent this group of individuals’ – a ‘hard core of claimants’ – ‘consistently wasting time and resources’. Sanctions should be ‘more punitive for those who are repeatedly attempting to avoid the conditionality regime’ (p.7). The harsher progression ‘would increasingly shift the most troublesome cases onto more punitive sanctions’ and ‘should help provide a more extensive punishment for those who consistently abuse this system’ (p.37). This implies beliefs that (a) claimants are deliberately not meeting requirements, (b) harsher penalties will have greater effects in producing compliance, (c) claimants waste the time of Jobcentre staff but Jobcentre staff do not waste the time of claimants and (d) punishment is desirable in itself.

  1. Claimants deliberately not meeting requirements The Scottish Government (2013) concluded that ‘Research shows that claimants who face sanction are often unable to comply with conditions rather than unwilling. The reasons why claimants receive sanctions are complex and include: lack of awareness, knowledge and understanding of the sanction process; practical barriers and personal barriers’. The evidence shows that the great majority of claimants are doing their best to find work, and that Jobcentres contribute little of value to their search.xiii For them, what the sanctions system often does is to enforce contrived and pointless actions which bring no actual benefit to anyone.

  2. Harsher penalties to produce greater effect At present JSA claimants ‘committing’ a third lower level ‘failure’ receive a sanction of £932.10 (under-25s £738.40), on top of what will have been a total of £1,218.90 (under-25s £965.60) for the first and second ‘failures’, bringing the total penalty to £2,151.00 (under-25s £1,897.70). These sums are already so large for an unemployed person that there is a lack of credibility in the Policy Exchange’s claim that a further increase to a grand total of £3,083.10 (under-25s £2,442.40) upon the third ‘failure’, with yet further subsequent increases of £932.10 (under-25s £738.40) for each subsequent ‘failure’, would succeed where the earlier penalties failed. However, what certainly would happen is that many claimants would spend much longer on the vicious ‘hardship payments’ regime, thus reducing them, and their friends or families, further towards destitution (if they are not there already), and making recovery of their lives much more difficult. ESA claimants currently face much smaller sanctions for repeated ‘failures’ than do JSA claimants, but nearly all of them will be in a weak financial position due to a weak employment record; as in the case of JSA, non-means-tested ESA now lasts only a year, so that very few sanctioned ESA claimants will have income or capital above the qualifying levels.

  3. Claimants waste the time of Jobcentre staff but not the other way round It is clear from the abundant evidence from advice agencies and claimants themselves that most of the waste of time in the JSA system is of claimants’ time by Jobcentre staff, not the other way round. Not only are there the absurd requirements for multiple token applications for jobs the claimant has no chance of getting; there is also the chasing after undelivered letters, the attempts to get phone calls efficiently dealt with and changes of circumstances properly recorded, the referrals to inappropriate courses, the struggle to find a web terminal allowing access to ‘Universal Jobmatch’ followed by the need to screen out the fraudulentxiv vacancies recorded in it, etc., etc.xv

  4. Punishment desirable in itself The report is quite open about its belief in punishment: sanctions’ ‘purpose is twofold; attempting to ensure compliance with the conditionality regime, and’ (emphasis added) ‘punishing noncompliant behaviour’ (p.6). This position is clearly different from that of more moderate advocates of sanctions, such as Gregg (2008), whose report does not mention the words ‘punishment’ or ‘punish’ at all.

The British literature indicates that claimants with repeated ‘failures’ are likely to be people with difficulties that make them unable to cope with the system, like 19-year old ‘Sally’ with learning difficulties mentioned by Broadway & St Mungo’s (2014, p.6). They simply do not fit the image of the deliberately ‘serially noncompliant’ claimant which the Policy Exchange has imagined (p.39). Oxfam (2014) comments ‘The experiences of our projects and partners suggest that someone who is sanctioned for four weeks is more likely to be sanctioned again. Many of these same people are the most vulnerable members of our society.’

A Freedom of Information disclosure by DWP (2013-1075, 18 April 2013) showed that in 2012 (to 21 October), the type of ‘failure’ with by far the highest proportion of sanctions which were repeats (33.4%, relating to 27,570 individuals) was non-participation in the Work Programme.xvi Given the many reports of unsatisfactory services delivered by Work Programme contractors, this is at least as likely to indicate their failure to meet claimants’ needs as fault on the part of claimants. This is borne out by a recent Work Programme evaluation commissioned by the DWP (Meager et al. 2013), which reported a survey of Work Programme providers as revealing that 25.4 per cent thought the Programme ‘very ineffective’ and 22.5 per cent ‘somewhat ineffective’. The same report also stated that there is ‘no conclusive evidence that sanctions were changing job search behaviour or increasing job entry rates.’

There is not much systematic empirical evidence on the effects of escalating sanctions for repeat ‘failures’. An exception is Saunders et al. (2001). Most of their findings about escalating sanctions (2, 4, 26 weeks for 1st, 2nd and 3rd ‘offences’) in the New Deal for Young People were decidedly unfavourable. Many people received 26-week sanctions because the New Deal did not meet their needs, or because of misunderstandings, and many had significant obstacles to employment. They had mainly been allocated to the most unpopular of the four New Deal ‘Options’ and had had little choice. It was felt that once a client had reached the 26 week stage they were unlikely to return to the Option which they had been sanctioned for not attending. Some claimants talked about losing their confidence in relation to job interviews. In general, jobseekers disengaged from ‘the system’ after being sanctioned, particularly those with 26 week sanctions. Many wanted to sign off and have nothing to do with claiming benefits if it meant remaining on the New Deal. Concerns were also expressed over sanctioned clients who had serious personal difficulties that really needed intensive help.

While there is some evidence that sanctions do get some people off benefits faster, and sometimes even into work, all of it appears to relate to sanctions which are much milder than the present UK regime, let alone that proposed by the Policy Exchange. The Netherlands sanctions studied by Abbring et al. (2005) ranged from around 5% of the previous wage for 4 weeks, to 25 or 30% for 13 weeks. Those studied by Van den Berg et al. (2004) were a maximum 20% reduction in benefits for one or two months. Both of these articles were cited by Gregg (2008) to support his advocacy of sanctions. There appears to be no evidence that heavy sanctions are more efficacious than mild ones.

ALTERNATIVE PROPOSALS WHICH WOULD BETTER ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS IDENTIFIED

The Policy Exchange report correctly recognises that two of the biggest problems of the current sanctions regime are the reduction of poor claimants to destitution, and the high proportion of claimants who are wrongly sanctioned. But it is evident from the above discussion that its proposals, far from making sanctions ‘smarter’, would be ineffective and largely counterproductive in addressing these problems. Much more effective solutions are available.

Destitution The report recognises that many sanctioned claimants are made destitute, but proposes to relieve the destitution only of a minority. No one should be made destitute by sanctions, and prior to the Jobseekers Act 1995, no one was. Disallowed or sanctioned claimants were entitled to a reduced rate of Income Support or Supplementary Benefit as of right from the start, assessed on the normal rules. The present vindictive provisions were introduced by the populist right-winger Peter Lilley. Although the Labour Party voted against them, and a Conservative MP crossed the floor of the House in protest, nothing has since been done to reform the system. Gregg (2008), in his review commissioned by the Labour government, side-stepped the issue. He declared (pp.14, 69, 70, 71) that ‘an effective sanctions regime is one that drives behaviour to increase the chances of finding work, and penalises non-compliance without creating excessive hardship’ (emphasis added), but he did not make any recommendations for the avoidance of hardship or even ask how the JSA regime actually impacts on the poor.

Reducing claimants to destitution does not help them to find work and is simply counterproductive (Homeless Watch 2013). Led by the churches,xvii increasing numbers of people are recognising that the creation of destitution by the state, most strikingly revealed by the growth of food banks, is unacceptable. Restoration of a decent income for poor JSA and ESA claimants, whatever they are alleged to have done or not done, is an urgent priority, demanding legislation without delay.

Wrongful sanctions If people are being wrongly sanctioned on a huge scale, as the report admits, then the obvious solution is not the report’s proposal to treat wrongly sanctioned people supposedly less harshly, but to ensure that sanctions are not wrongly applied in the first place. The report avoids this issue by arguing (p.29) that ‘It seems reasonable to conclude that sensible steps are being taken to resolve process issues.’ Presumably this is a reference to the current government-commissioned review of some JSA sanctions by Matthew Oakley, a Policy Exchange alumnus. But Oakley’s terms of reference limit him to communications and process, excluding the issue of wrongful sanctions. Although the current Employment Minister has declared her intention to hold a wider review, she has committed herself to neither the scope nor the timescale of such a review.xviii

Adler (2013), on the basis of evidence running to 2010, has pointed out how few are the protections for claimants in the JSA/ESA sanctions regime and its grave defects as a system of administrative justice. Under the Coalition, matters have become very much worse. Added to the pre-existing problems, there is now a deliberate policy on the part of ministers to drive up the level of sanctions to previously unheard-of levels through managerial pressure on Jobcentre staff. In evidence to the Oakley review (Webster 2014), I have spelled out many of the individual changes which would be required to provide a proper level of protection.

However, these reforms will not address the many other fundamental objections to sanctions. In so far as the state has valid reasons for attempting to promote particular behaviours – and the reasons are often not valid – there are better ways of doing it than taking money away from already poor and/or crisis-stricken people. Sanctions should simply be abolished (Webster 2013).

REFERENCES

Abbring, Jaap H., van den Berg, Gerard J. and van Ours, Jan C. (2005) ‘The Effect of Unemployment Insurance Sanctions on the Transition Rate from Unemployment to Employment’, Economic Journal, 115 (July), 602–630

Adler, Michael (2013) ‘Conditionality, Sanctions, and the Weakness of Redress Mechanisms in the British “New Deal”’, in Evelyn Z. Brodkin and Gregory Marston, eds, Work and the Welfare State: Street-Level Organizations and Workfare Politics, Georgetown University Press

Van den Berg G. J., Van der Klaauw B., van Ours, J. C. (2004) ‘Punitive sanctions and the transition rate from welfare to work’, Journal of Labor Economics, 22(1), 211-41

Broadway & St Mungo’s (2014) Joint Response to the Independent Review of Jobseeker’s Allowance Sanctions, at

http://www.mungos.org/documents/4559/4559.pdf

Citizens for Sanctuary (2010) ‘This new system is breaking my spirit’: A Glasgow Citizen Monitoring Report on the Introduction of the Azure Payment Card, September, at http://www.justiceandpeacescotland.org.uk/Portals/0/Resources/azurecardreportglasgowcitiz.pdf

Department of Social Security (1989) An Analysis of Voluntary Unemployed Claimants, Analytical Services Division, November

Ellis, Jonathan (2010) ‘Time to cash in the Azure card’, Guardian, 6 November 2010, at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/nov/06/asylum-seekers-azure-card

Gregg, Paul (2008) Realising Potential: A Vision for Personalised Conditionality and Support. An independent report to the Department for Work and Pensions

Homeless Watch (2013) A High Cost to Pay: The impact of benefit sanctions on homeless people, September, available at

http://homeless.org.uk/sanctions#.UtBCyLRZi8F

Manchester CAB Service (2013) Punishing Poverty? A review of benefit sanctions and their impacts on clients and claimants, October, available at http://www.manchestercab.org/news_more.asp?news_id=19&current_id=1

Meager, Nigel, Newton, Becci, Foley, Beth, Sainsbury, Roy, Corden, Anne, Irving, Annie, Lane, Pippa, Weston, Catherine (2013), Work Programme Evaluation: Interim meta-report, September. According to Channel 4 News, this report has been suppressed by Coalition ministers and the points from it cited here are as reported in the blog of Gary Gibbon, Channel 4 political correspondent, 12 March 2014, at http://blogs.channel4.com/gary-gibbon-on-politics/work-programme-work/27769

Oxfam (2014) Independent review of Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions:

Response to call for evidence, available at http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/oakley-sanctions-review-responses-other-organisations

Peters, Mark and Joyce, Lucy (2006) A review of the JSA sanctions regime: Summary findings, DWP Research Report No. 313

Reynolds, Sile (2010) Your inflexible friend: The cost of living without cash, Asylum Support Partnership, October, available at http://www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk/what_you_can_do/campaign/azure_card

Saunders, Tanya, Stone, Vanessa, and Candy, Sara (2001) The impact of the 26 week sanctioning regime, BMRB Qualitative, April

Scottish Government (2013) The potential impacts of benefit sanctions on individuals and

households: Welfare Analysis, December, available at

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/welfarereform/analysis/analysisonsanctions

Walker, R., Kyomuhendo, G. B., Chase, E., Choudhry, S., Gubrium, E. K., Nicola, J. Y., Lødemel, I., Mathew L., Mwiine, A., Pellissery, S. and Ming, Yan C (2013) ‘Poverty in Global Perspective: Is Shame a Common Denominator?’, Journal of Social Policy, 42 (2), 215–233

Webster, D. (2013) ‘JSA Sanctions and Disallowances’, evidence submitted to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into The Role of Jobcentre Plus in the Reformed Welfare System, 22 May 2013, revised and corrected 8 August 2013, available at

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmworpen/479/479vw.pdf,

pp. Ev w90-w101

Webster, D. (2014) Evidence submitted to the Independent review of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) sanctions for claimants failing to take part in back to work schemes, 10 January, revised 13 January, available at

http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/oakley-sanctions-review-responses-other-organisations

i Some technical issues about the report are not discussed here. One of these is the question of the reasons for the recent rise in ‘reserved’ and ‘cancelled’ sanctions decisions, on which the report quotes my own work. My up-to-date view on this is set out in the briefing at http://paulspicker.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/sanctions-stats-briefing-d-webster-19-feb-2014-1.pdf

ii Explanatory Memorandum to the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Sanctions) (Amendment) Regulations

2012, 2012 No. 2568

iii The figure of 68,000 is actually an overestimate of the group as defined by the Policy Exchange report. It refers to claimants with a first ‘failure’ falling within the period 22 October 2012 to 30 September 2013. The number of claimants within this group failing for the first time ever – which is the group apparently talked about by the Policy Exchange report will be smaller than this but cannot be found from the DWP’s published statistics. The 68,000 figure was incorrectly reported in the media as referring to all people wrongly sanctioned. This is actually a much larger number, at least 140,000 per year, and would be larger still if more people asked for reconsideration or appeal. Dissemination of the inaccurate figure resulted from misreporting by the Policy Exchange itself, on its website and in its press release.

iv An accurate estimate of the number of people receiving a lower level sanction for the first time in a given year cannot be obtained from the published DWP statistics. These show that 295,897 people received at least one adverse low level sanction decision in the 49 weeks from 22 October 2012 to 30 September 2013, but this is after removal of those whose adverse decision was reversed on reconsideration or appeal. Inclusion of these people would raise the number. On the other hand, definition of the group as those with a ‘first time ever’ sanction – apparently the Policy Exchange’s intention – would lower the number.

v See the author’s briefing at http://paulspicker.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/sanctions-stats-briefing-d-webster-19-feb-2014-1.pdf

vi The algebraic formulae are as used in the Policy Exchange report.

vii These are the report’s calculations, not the present author’s.

viii DWP, Mandatory Work Activity Provider Guidance – Incorporating Universal Credit (UC) Guidance

(January 2014), para.1.7, at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mandatory-work-activity-dwp-provider-guidance

ix The British literature on the difficulties of sanctioned claimants includes the two dozen or so submissions to the Oakley review of sanctions listed on the Child Poverty Action Group webpage http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/oakley-sanctions-review-responses-other-organisations. Also Homeless Watch (2013), Manchester CAB Service (2013), and Scottish Government (2013).

x The biography of the report’s author reveals that he served as an intern in the office of a US Republican Congressman for Alaska, Don Young, while the Policy Exchange website has a page inviting donations from ‘American friends of the Policy Exchange’ at http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/component/zoo/item/about-american-friends-of-policy-exchange.

xi https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/258358/vouchers.pdf. It is remarkable that the Policy Exchange (pp.32-33) cites US and Australian examples of payment cards while apparently being entirely unaware of the existence of such a card in the UK or of the voluminous literature about it.

xii http://www.migrantsrights.org.uk/news/2013/red-cross-calls-evidence-azure-card-and-its-impact-asylum-seeker-lives

xiii Almost all the organizations submitting written evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into The Role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system who commented on the services provided by Jobcentre Plus were highly critical, accusing Jobcentre Plus of failing to assess claimants’ needs properly and of making inappropriate referrals. See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmworpen/479/479vw.pdf

xiv http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/mar/16/dwp-jobs-website-universal-jobsmatch

xv http://blog.church-poverty.org.uk/2013/12/04/benefit-sanctions-ineffective-and-immoral/. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported in its Labour Market Outlook, Spring 2013, p.2, that employers are receiving 45 applications for each low-skilled job, but only half of the applicants are suitable.

xvi Non-participation in Community Action had a higher proportion of repeat sanctions than the Work Programme but there were so few repeatedly sanctioned individuals (190) that this has been ignored. The next highest proportions were for refusal of employment (16.95%), not actively seeking employment (15.80%), and missing an adviser interview (13.36%). For all other reasons, repeats were under 5%.

xvii See the comments of Cardinal Nichols on 14 February 2014 at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26200157, and the letter by 43 Anglican bishops and other clergy on 19 February 2014 at http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/27-bishops-slam-david-camerons-3164033

xviii Esther McVey MP, letter to Debbie Abrahams MP, 1 February 2014, available at http://refuted.org.uk/2014/02/21/newsanctionsreview/

 

 Posted by at 15:16
May 132014
 

I went to the Work and Pensions Select Committee meeting in Newcastle today at the Newcastle FC in the Bobby  Moncur  Suite. Access to the building was fine although parking was a fair distance from stadium, but the best they could get. Signers and induction loop were available. I enquired with Sheila Gilmore MP the terms of reference for the meeting.

Dame Anne Begg opened the meeting which was to gather information from people on personal ESA/WCA experiences only. The meeting was well attended by individuals and also charities with case studies which were presented to the committee in report form. The horrors I listened to made me cry openly which is pretty hard I can tell you, as I’m not one for showing my emotions in public or private easily, and those who know me personally know this to be the case. The committee were also struggling to remain composed.  The committee had come to Newcastle because it had the highest complaints across the entire system, so decided a one off trip to hear from people was appropriate.

Many cases of failure were given and it was brought up time and again of fabricated reports, people being humiliated by HCP’s which we have known about for years. Many cases of suicide were mentioned , many cases of where the claimant was terminally ill yet denied what they were rightfully entitled to in their time of need and that documentation from GP’s /consultants were being ignored as ‘they know better’.

I mentioned the fear of ‘brown envelope syndrome’ and that disabled peoples’ voices were not felt to be heard and our human rights were being abused on a daily basis. I called the WCA a ‘wicked regime’ which has targets even if they deny so, and is cost cutting exercise and nothing more. I also brought up as did others the fact most people would work if they could but many cannot, as getting through a day by day basis was as much as many could cope with. I also asked where the jobs were for those  who wish to work and why those meant to help like Shaw Trust/Action for the Blind were also vilified by claimants for failures when they are supposed to help? Whether they could help as the claimants’ impairments mean that employers wont take  them on  so they are abandoned to their own devices.

It was mentioned frequently during the meeting about JCP disability advisors being no use and they also, didn’t understand conditions either; often bullying the claimant into jobs they can’t perform, and that education for those who needed to gain skills was being denied .

Decision Makers are trained by ATOS I found out today  so that is a conflict of interest  which I found disgusting  given the level of control they have over peoples’ lives and the  cumulative impact on a disabled person’s well being. I mentioned that this model used is flawed and didn’t take into account those with fluctuating conditions and the cost of tribunals and re-assessments of those with long term progressive illnesses , was a waste of taxpayers’ money unless changes had occurred .

I explained how we are demonised and treated as liars and criminals when, in actual fact all we are, is disabled or have a long term health condition. I asked why shouldn’t we be afforded the same rights as non-disabled people such as holidays which we have to save for, or have a pet , or go to the supermarket without the fear of being seen as a potential fraudster, when actual fraud was 0.8% including deptartmental error. I brought it up that many claimants have had support needs, financial and other, refused saying it wasn’t available.

On a lighter note the committee  were understanding, listening and attentive and genuinely DO CARE  and were encouraged by the turnout and assured us that those who sent in personal  stories were not being ignored by them and that they were ploughing through each and every one of them, but they would encourage any further submissions of case studies by groups or individuals.

I have to say I found today harrowing as much as I do daily on facebook the horror stories that people are suffering. It has to stop!

 

 Posted by at 21:17
Apr 022014
 

We are pleased that the DPAC research team’s submission to the Work and Pensions Committee has been accepted and published. We especially want to thank Anita Bellows and Bob Ellard for all their hard work on this.

Great to see submissions from our sister organisation Black Triangle, our allies, Inclusion London, WoW, Nick and Carer Watch.

We are disappointed that no formal national organisation of disabled people claiming to be run and organised by disabled people based in England appears to have submitted any text on this important issue.

The link to see all submissions is http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/esa-wca-inq-2014/?type=Written#pnlPublicationFilter

You need to scroll down the page.

We reproduce DPAC’s submission below for ease of reading

Written evidence submitted by Disabled People against Cuts (WCA0152)

 

Who we are:

DPAC 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 12,000 members and supporters and works with many anti-cuts groups, Universities, Disabled Peoples’ Organizations, and Unions

Introduction

1.    This document contains the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) submission to the Work and Pensions Committee call for evidence on ESA and WCA dated 21/3/14

2.    This submission contains a number of areas of ESA and WCA that we believe demonstrate why the ESA system is fundamentally flawed both in concept and implementation and should be scrapped with immediate effect.

3.    All of the statistical claims made in this document have links provided to verifiable sources

 

WCA Descriptors

 

4.   The WCA descriptors are the criteria used to assess whether a claimant has limited capability for work, in other words whether a claimant falls within the eligibility criteria for claiming ESA, or not.

5.   The descriptors define a set of functions related to work tasks, which, if the claimant can perform to an adequate standard, the claimant is considered able to perform some paid work and therefore not eligible to receive the ESA Benefit.

6.   However we believe that the criteria for ESA eligibility are disingenuous. They take into account only functional ability, NOT the ability to hold down a job in practical terms.

7.   They do not consider such issues as:

·  Is the claimant able to work for suitable number of hours a week

·  Is the claimant able to travel a reasonable distance to and from  a job, consistently, every day.

·  Is the claimant robust enough to hold down a job, without taking an unreasonable amount of sick leave

·  The cumulative effects of physical stress on claimants with physical health conditions which induce fatigue symptons

·  The cumulative effects of mental/emotional stress on claimants with mental health conditions

·  The physical/emotional/mental stress of seeking a job

8.   Nor does it consider what physical discomfort or pain, or emotional or mental pain the claimant may encounter while employed.

9.    The WCA does not represent a finding on whether or not the claimant is employable or whether the claimant will be able to find work.

 

The ‘Gap’ between ESA and JSA Criteria

 

10.               While the WCA is commonly called a “fit for work” test, it does not actually test whether a claimant is fit for (ie capable of doing) work.

11.               The WCA tests whether claimants have the ability to perform certain limited work related functions as defined by the WCA Descriptors

12.              Whereas the criteria  for eligibility for the alternative benefit Jobseekers Allowance include the clauses that a claimant must be:

·                        be able and available for work

·                        be actively seeking work

13.              Thus is stands to reason that there are many who will be found ineligible for ESA but not able to meet the practical requirements being able to find and hold down a job and are thus ineligible for both benefits.

14.We do not know how many claimants have found themselves in this position, as the government do not monitor this, and provide no statistics from which we can exptrapolate or estimate a number, but we believe that there will be a significant number of Disabled claimants who fall into this trap and are denied income from either ESA or JSA .

 

Health Care Professionals performing the WCA

 

15.              The majority of Healthcare Professionals that perform Work Capability Assessments on claimants are Nurses, Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists, with a lesser number of Doctors and “Mental Function Champions”

16.              While we do not dispute that these Health Care Professionals are qualified and have experience as Nurses, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, etc, we do dispute that this is sufficent to judge a persons’ capability to work, given the panopoly of condition types that any Healthcare professional will be required to assess.

17.              The range of condition types that an HCP will be presented with include:

·                        Stable Physical Conditions

·                        Fluctuating Physical Conditions

·                        Mental Health Conditions (ranging from mild to extremely severe)

·                        Behavioral Conditions

·                        Cognitive Conditions

·                        Learning Conditions

·                        Autism Spectrum Disorders

·                        Degenerative Conditions

·                        Physical Conditions where the claimant is expected to return to full health

·                        Terminal Conditions

18.              In addition it is not uncommon for claimants to simultaneously have multiple condition types such as a mental and physical health condition.

 

WCA and mental health

 

19.              From the start, the descriptors were recognised as inadequate at capturing the level and the complexity of mental illnesses, and the problems faced by claimants in making a claim or an appeal were already recognised by Judge Martin in his 2008-2009 Report:

20.              ‘Mental health issues are a continuing source of problems in terms of making claims and assessing the impact of mental health issues on disability. In some cases mental health issues were not fully addressed or given due weight’.

21.              Following Professor Harrington’s recommendations, DWP accepted to amend the descriptors to better capture mental health issues and to introduce Atos Mental Function Champions in each assessment Centre to ‘spread best practice amongst Atos healthcare professionals in mental, intellectual and cognitive.  Although it has led to an increase of claimants with mental health issues being awarded ESA, and especially being placed in the Support Group, the statistics tell a different story. 

22.              Official DWP figures confirm that in the 2008 quarter from June to August, two months before Employment & Support Allowance was introduced, 153,050 claimants took up a claim for incapacity benefits, around a third of them (56,730) on the grounds of mental and behavioural problems. 

23.              By the end of the November 2012 quarter, the number of claimants taking up or being transferred on to Employment & Support Allowance had spiralled to 316,950 claims with nearly 140,000 of them (135,990) making a claim on the grounds of mental and behavioural problems – nearly 3 times as many as four years previously, but also representing a higher proportion in the total number of claims (44% against 37%). 

24.In the November 2012 quarter, 25,950 of the claimants who took up a claim ESA on mental health grounds had been on the allowance on one or more previous occasions. These figures show a perpetual cycle of claimants and reclaiming, those with mental health problems being by far the most susceptible to making a re-claim.

ESA claimants with mental illness are disproportionally sanctioned

25.              The latest DWP statistics on Employment and Support Allowance published in January 2014 show in Table 7 the Outcomes at initial functional assessment split into International Classification of Diseases.

26.              The total number of ESA claimants is 834,500 (WRAG 467,400 + SG 367,100), of which 339,200 (WRAG 193,100 + SG 146,100) of them fall under the Category ‘Mental and behavioural disorders’. It means that this group of claimants accounts for 40% of all illnesses, but because 193,100 (57%) have been placed in the WRAG, proportionally, this group is already more exposed to sanctions than any other groups. 

27.              A recent response to a FOI request confirms that claimants with mental health issues are not only sanctioned disproportionally, but also exposed twice to more sanctions and hit harder than any other groups.

28.Even before the introduction of the stricter sanction regime, there were already a higher number of claimants with mental health issues being sanctioned. But the latest figures disclosed show that 5,940 claimants with mental health issues were sanctioned out of 10,210 ESA sanctioned claimants (58%) in 2013. 

29.              The figure in 2012 was 54% when these claimants only account for 40% of all illnesses.  Since October 2011, on average the rate of sanctions for claimants with mental and behavioural conditions has been exactly one third (33%) higher than for other claimants, as the graph shows[1].

index

 

30.              This is a trend, for which the Citizens Advice Bureau had already provided anecdoctal evidence,

31.              ‘Bureau experience is that vulnerable clients (e.g. those with mental health problems or minor learning difficulties) are disproportionately sanctioned.’ (http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/citizens_advice_bureaux_foodbank_survey) but which is now confirmed by DWP statistics.

32.              This has to be seen in the context of the number of people with mental health issues placed onto the Work Programme. The latest Work Programme statistics (20th March 2014) show that this group constitutes the majority of ESA claimants on the Work Programme (65%), although as noted previously they account for only 40% of illnesses.

33.              Not only are a disproportionate number being placed in the WRAG, but an additional disproportionate number are being put onto the Work Programme, compared with ESA claimants with other illnesses or disabilities. The job outcomes for this group, as shown by the latest statistics, are very poor: only 4,2% of the 131,480 claimants referred to the programme in this group have a job outcome.

34.              Not only is the WCA failing people with mental health issues by putting a disproportionate number of them in the WRAG on a shorter prognosis, and a disproportionate number of them onto the Work Programme, resulting in very poor job outcomes, but it also seems that because of the nature of their illnesses, they are the claimants having most difficulty adhering to the conditionality regime, or that they are seen by Job Centre staff as easy targets for sanctions as documented by the CAB, leading to a disproportionate number of them being sanctioned when compared to other ESA claimants.

35.              Ultimately, they would be the very people whose health is likely to worsen as a result of the failings of the WCA and of the consequences of having been put into the WRAG. 

 

WCA Appeals

36.              The latest figures published by Her Majesties’ Courts & Tribunals Service in March 2014 show a dramatic reduction in the number of Social Security & Child Support appeals lodged directly with Tribunals. This is the result of the introduction of ‘Mandatory Reconsiderations’ which is a DWP internal dispute resolution process, aimed at reducing the number of appeals directly lodged with Tribunals.

37.              These Mandatory Reconsiderations have had a substantial effect on the number of appeals lodged against an ESA decision. Only 32,969 ESA appeals were received between October and December 2013 compared with 111,817 in the first quarter of 2013/2014 and 76,456 in the second quarter.

38.              The number of ESA appeals ‘cleared at hearings’ in the third quarter of 2013/14 has significantly increased with 83,202 being heard, of which 45% were in the claimant’s favour. This is the highest success rate for claimants ever recorded. This compares with 58,276 in the same quarter of 2012/2013 when the success rate was 42%.  The overall number of cleared ESA Tribunal hearings in 2012/2013 was 224,375 with an average success rate of 43%.  

39.              The drastic reduction in the number of appeals lodged directly with Tribunals makes it even more urgent for the government to publish statistics on the number of ESA decisions which have been overturned in claimants’favour through mandatory reconsiderations.

40.Benefit claimants are the only group to be denied direct access to a Tribunal and therefore to Justice, although the fees introduced for Employment Tribunals also had the effect of substantially reducing the number of claims
 

WCA and Legal Aid

 

41.              On 1 April 2013, the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act(‘LASPO’) came into effect.

42.              Clause 15 of Part 2 of Schedule 1 of this Act excludes all welfare benefit issues.

43.              Welfare benefit cases no longer qualify for advice or assistance under the Legal Help scheme, not even for initial advice to identify justiciable issues under social security law, or to provide a triage role to steer cases away from tribunal and ensure that benefit claims are processed correctly.

44.              The Government’s view is that as these are matters of ‘administrative justice’ issues in which decision making, adjudication and dispute resolution systems are accessible to claimants acting on their own, and that given the underlying issues are financial, they should be of minimal priority for public funding.

45.              The government also says that legal aid is:

46.              “still available for civil legal services provided in relation to an appeal on a point of law to the Upper Tribunal, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court relating to a benefit, allowance, payment, credit or pension” (Point 157)

47.              But as Judge Robert Martin points out in his response to the Ministry of Justice Consultation Paper on Legal Aid (page 8, paragraph 40):

48.              ‘An appeal against the tribunal’s decision in a welfare benefits case lies to the Upper Tribunal but only for error of law ….. These limitations of further “appeal” are often not appreciated by parties without Legal Help, who may fruitlessly seek to appeal further simply because dissatisfied with the outcome’

49.              Although the government says that claimants can represent themselves, at a time when the UK’s social security system faces arguably the biggest upheaval since the introduction of the Welfare State, the Government should have recognised that the need for advice on welfare benefits has never been greater.

50.              It should also have recognised the complexity of the benefit changes affecting disabled people.

51.              Disabled people make up a disproportionate proportion of 58 per cent of those who receive legal aid for welfare benefits cases.

52.              The Government’s own Equalities Impact Assessment (page 64, paragraph 7.36) notes that:

53.              the proposals have the potential to disproportionately affect female clients, BAME clients, and ill or disabled people, when compared with the population. This is as a result of those groups being overrepresented as users of civil legal aid services’. 

54.              The removal of Legal Aid for benefit claimants needs to be seen in the context of cuts to legal aid funding with £320m cut from the annual £2bn legal aid budget and the closures of 100 of Citizen Advice Bureau offices which used to support the most people with access to legal advice and representation. 

55.According to the government’s own assessment, around 600,000 people will lose access to advice and legal representation, when CAB advisers estimate the success rate at ESA appeal where someone receives specialist CAB advice and is represented is around 80 per cent.

WCA Mandatory Reconsideration

 

56.              In October 2013, DWP has introduced changes to the appeals system; a claimant wishing to appeal a fit for work decision will no longer be able to submit their appeal to DWP, which would lodge the appeal with HMCTS (tribunals) on behalf of the claimant. 

57.              There will now be a first step known as Mandatory Reconsiderationwhich is an internal DWP process.

58.              This has serious implications for claimants:

59.              As admitted in the government response, there are no timescale for completion of the Mandatory Reconsideration process, as shown in the response to this Freedom of Information Request

60.              If someone’s claim has been disallowed completely, they will not receive payment pending Mandatory Reconsideration as was the case previously when somebody was allowed to appeal the same decision. DWP is suggesting that claimants should claim other benefits, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, but there is evidence that some people are being refused JSA on the basis that they cannot, because of health issues fulfill all the conditions attached to this benefit.  

61.              If DWP refuses to Reconsider the case, the claimant will not be allowed to proceed to appeal

62.              There is absolutely no indication or evidence that the UK government has taken any steps whatsover to reduce the stress or anxiety inherent in the Work Capability Assessment for benefit claimants.

63.              The WCA is inherently stressful for claimants, because of the uncertainty of such a notoriously unreliable system where there are frequent media reports of incorrect decisions. Claimants are forced to wait long durations trapped in a bureaucracy that shows no compassion, not knowing if they will be judged “fit for work” and required to seek work, whether or not their medical condition makes that possible.

64.              Claimants are understandably fearful that their benefits will be stopped, at the end of a process that they have no control over.

65.              This is particularly harmful to claimants with Mental Health Conditions, especially those in the class of anxiety disorders as described in DSM-IV   .

66.The following media articles give anecdotal evidence of the stress and anxiey caused by undergoing the Work Capability Assessment, in addition, video testimony is given in this evidence session to the Scottish Parliament on the WCA

 

21 March 2014

 

 


[1]                            This graph was compiled by Dr David Webster, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Urban Studies, University of Glasgow, based on the figures released by DWP.

Also please note that DPAC has over 20,000 members and supporters and an outreach of over 45,000 disabled people

 

Mar 312014
 

Bedroom Tax demo in Swindon in conjunction with the  Swindon Tenants Campaign Group, on 5th April as part of a national campaign.

At the fountain, Canal Walk, Swindon Town Centre

10.30 am on April 5th

We will have leaflets to distribute and banners.

We also have a project collecting peoples stories about ATOS injustice in Swindon. We will be arranging a meeting with our MPs to present our concerns. People can join the face book group or email SPA  peoplesassemblyswindon@gmx.co.uk or phone 01793 522824 if they would like to be a part of this. All information will be treated with strict confidentiality.

https://www.facebook.com/SwindonAtosProject?ref=ts&fref=ts

 Posted by at 17:44
Mar 122014
 

In 2012 not long after the government passed the welfare reform Act John McDonnell MP warned the House of Commons: ““We now have a disability movement in this country of which we have not seen the equal before: Black Triangle occupied Atos offices in Scotland, DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts – chained themselves in Trafalgar Square. These people are not going to go away. They will be in our face – and rightly so.” And we have been ever since. With Atos on the run, the bedroom tax on the ropes and the ongoing fight for the Independent Living Fund we are seeing the results of disabled people’s co-ordinated grassroots campaigning.

 
A model of campaigning that responds to the direct lived experience of disabled people is not popular with everyone. Too often it rocks the boat in questioning entrenched positions within the disability sector such as the need to close the Remploy factories at the earliest opportunity whatever the cost and the wisdom of local authority administered social care support. Disabled people have looked beyond disabled people’s organisations and disability ‘professionals’ to gain support for grassroots led disabled people’s campaigns, making alliances with the broader anti cuts movement and the various, often conflicted groups within that, from trade unions to UKUncut.

 
The model has proved successful and disabled people’s protest has succeeded in punching holes in austerity, as the Government and private companies like Atos are strongly aware.  DPAC co-founder Linda Burnip remembers: “Our first protest against ATOS was January 2011 in Triton Square and few people had heard of the WCA or ATOS. Our continued national days of action against ATOS from then on helped very much to change that and bring the atrocities being inflicted on disabled people to the forefront of public awareness. After the DPAC actions against ATOS sponsorship of the paralympic games and the spontaneous booing of Osborne by 80,000 disabled spectators our campaign against ATOS gained international attention. Our early intervention in targeting protests at ATOS recruitment fares has eventually paid off and particularly after Joyce Drummond and Dr. Woods spoke out about their experiences of working for ATOS the WCAs and ATOS are now so toxic that they are unable to recruit enough staff to carry out assessments and the whole system is in melt-down. Any firm considering taking over the ATOS contract should be aware that disabled people will do the same to them as they have done to ATOS.”

 

While the bedroom tax is being held aloft as an example of the effectiveness of framing theory we should not forget that co-ordinated community action put the real pressure on. It may not have changed the government’s mind but the audacity of two wheelchair accessible bus-loads of disabled people turning up at Iain Duncan Smith’s mansion to serve an eviction notice and picnic in the lavish grounds last April set the tone for a determined campaign that has placed disabled people at the centre of community action on estates across the country. Disabled campaigner Robert Punton says, “Disabled people have been at the forefront of both this despicable tax and the resulting campaign. A by-product of the campaign has been that we as a disabled people’s pressure group have come into a working relationship with unions and other community campaigns strengthening everyone’s position and resolve.”

 

The campaign to save the independent living fund (ILF) led by ILF recipients and supported by DPAC and Inclusion London among other disabled people led groups has gained real traction despite the consensus among national charities and disability organisations that transfer to local authorities was the way forwards. Without a grassroots material basis from which to develop, theoretical rights will remain forever in the abstract. Disabled people are experiencing ever diminishing packages of support increasingly delivered on a ‘clean and feed’ model, with a rise in administration by in-house local authority services and prepayment cards. Yet, while, through continuation of the ILF, we have a layer of disabled people who regardless of their level of support need are enabled to enjoy a quality of life and level of choice and control that affords an ordinary life, we prevent a full scale roll back and the loss of aspiration for independent living for disabled people. Kevin Caulfield, disabled activist and Chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition Against Cuts says “The campaign has been really important to draw attention to the government’s suffocation of disabled people’s right to independent living and equality. Every disabled person who needs support should have the right resources to live a full life which is why the ILF should be protected and re-opened so that everyone who needs it can apply. The campaign exposed the light touch of the government in relation to enforcing equality legislation and we can see why they are desperate to restrict disabled people’s access to justice by excluding us from legal aid and the right to take judicial review”.

 

It is interesting that the impact of disabled people’s campaigning at this pivotal point in history is so much better recognised outside the disability sector than within. This is for a number of reasons. Mainstream media bias means that most activity is only communicated through social and independent media and to those already linked in. Then there also seems to be a misperception in some quarters that because disabled people are allying ourselves with mainstream movements that it is not disabled people setting the agenda. This misses some really exciting developments where disabled people are influencing a wider understanding and application in practice of disability equality and inclusion. DPAC activists were for example central to last summer’s anti-fracking protest in Balcombe having worked with Reclaim the Power to build an accessible protest camp and a direct action of which disabled activists were at the forefront.

 

The point is not though to gain recognition, the point is to continue to effect concrete social change. Atos may be looking for an exit strategy but disabled people need abolition of the Work Capability Assessment itself, the bedroom tax may have lost all credibility but disabled people and their families are continuing to build arrears and to suffer under its implementation, the Independent Living Fund may have been at least temporarily saved for those existing recipients but the crisis in social care grows ever more desperate. What we have shown over the last few years is that we do have agency when we co-ordinate and campaign. Now there is more to do.

 

For more information about Disabled People Against Cuts national conference on 12th April 2014 contact dpacfightback@yahoo.co.uk. Please note due to limited capacity places are prioritised for signed up members.

Feb 232014
 

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DPAC, Black Triangle & WOW Petition

Joint Statement on the Bizarre ATOS Exit Strategy

Several years of campaigning have paid off in making more and more people realise that ATOS, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) policies imposed by the ConDems are completely toxic, inhuman and abhorrent.

DPAC have been leading campaigns against ATOS, the WCA and DWP since 2010 including: visits to Trinton Square (shiny headquarters of ATOS), with our local DPAC groups repeatedly protesting outside their local assessment centres and feeding in to the day of protest on the 19th of February. DPAC also fed into the channel 4 program Dispatches: ‘Britain on the Sick’ which revealed the horrendous system of getting as many people removed from support as possible, has exposed the devastation and misery and led the highly successful ATOS games in 2012 which saw ATOS shares drop in value and an increase in media attention against them. DPAC have occupied Caxton House (home of the DWP) and gathered outside the entrance of the DWP on many occasions, most recently in the 7 days of action ‘Reclaiming our Futures’.

Our sister group Black Triangle have fought tirelessly with us. Black Triangle has worked with us for over 3 years fighting and exposing continuous wrong doing and working on publicising regulations that can be used by GPs to prevent further harm to thousands of disabled people under the WCA regime. Our allies at WOW have successfully raised the issue of a cumulative impact assessment, abolishing the WCA with the Wow petition, and secured a debate in Parliament on February 27th. This month also saw a UK wide protest outside local ATOS centres organised by local groups. We’ve all been clear that it is the WCA itself that needs to be scrapped immediately.

The bizarre exit strategy ATOS have developed in identifying apparent physical threats on Facebook despite the growing lists of real deaths caused by the WCA regime is an outrageous insult to all those that have died and all those that have lost family members through this regime. It is an insult to those left without their homes, without money and needing to go to foodbanks. It is an insult to every person who has suffered worsening physical and mental health through this inhuman regime.

ATOS attempting to pull out of its contact represents only a partial victory. The alphabet corporations (G4S, A4E, SECRO, CAPITA) are already lining up to take over the multi-million profits and the mantle of the new Grim Reapers. The misery imposed by this Government and the DWP will continue as long as its heinous policies continue.

Goodbye to ATOS -but the WCA must also end. The reign of terror by this unelected Coalition Government which has awarded itself pay rises, cut taxes for those earning over £150,000 while piling punishment, poverty, misery and premature death on everyone else in its policies of rich against poor must end.

Make no mistake- We will continue to demonstrate against ATOS, now delivering the complete failure of PIP in which claims are being delayed by up to a year. We will demonstrate against any other company that takes over the WCA contract. We will continue to demand the immediate removal of the WCA, and the removal of this Government.

DPAC, Black Triangle and WOW demand:

  1. That the WCA be ended with immediate effect to be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to disabled people, those with chronic health issues, terminal illnesses or long term health issues. It is the WCA – the assessment itself – that is fundamentally flawed and must end now as called for by the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Nursing and the 104,725 people who signed the WOW Petition.
  1. That the UK Government at Westminster and the opposition follow the Scottish Government’s pledge that private for-profit companies are removed entirely from having anything to do with the assessment of disabled people. This area of public policy belongs firmly within the NHS and the public sector.
  1. That all support and commend the initiative being led by Black Triangle in union with DPAC and WOW to work together with the BMA to ensure that GPs are able to flag up a substantial risk of harm to disabled people, those with chronic health issues, terminal illnesses or long term health issues at the very outset of the WCA process. The complete lack of any such mechanism to assess and flag up complex risk under the current regime has given rise to countless tragedies which could thereby have been avoided.
  1. That the PIP contract be removed from ATOS with immediate effect-they have shown errors beyond incompetence affecting thousands of disabled people, leading to waits of up to a year and leaving people without income or food

We’ll celebrate Atos’ realisation that the WCA contract has always been poisonous, but we won’t rest or stay quiet. Atos’ absence from the WCA regime will not allow us forget the evil we have endured:

Suicides

(Atos, the Coalition and DWP all share responsibility)

The Decisions

The appeal rate – c40% without support, up to 70% when claimant supported by trained advocate (CAB).

Quoting the targets from the trainer in the dispatches show – just 13% expected to keep ESA

Atos have £3bn pounds in public contracts, yet pay no tax here. 
 

Whistleblowers

Greg Wood

Joyce Drummond


T
he complete failure around people presenting with MH Diagnosis.

Claimant in wheelchair left upstairs in fire drill

Claimants left out in the cold

Police called on Welfare Advisors

Atos claimed to be working with groups they weren’t.

and

Atos boss accused of 'living in a parallel universe' after claiming hated benefits assessor is popular with public - Mirror Online


Goodbye ATOS-We’ll be back….


This statement is also supported in Solidarity by:

  • Inclusion London
  • Pat's Petition
  • Carer Watch
Feb 202014
 

Bedroom tax appeal judgment

Vigil outside Royal Courts of Justice: 9.15am Friday 21 February

Disabled people and supporters will gather outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Friday morning as the Court of Appeal delivers its judgment in the ‘bedroom tax’ legal challenge.

Under new Housing Benefit rules introduced in 1 April 2013, persons deemed to have 1 spare bedroom have had their housing benefit reduced by 14% and persons deemed to have 2, or more, spare bedrooms have had their housing benefit reduced by 25%. This bedroom tax or ‘removal of spare room subsidy’ as the government prefers to call it, has had a devastating impact with two thirds of those households affected containing a disabled person.

Last year 10 claimants represented by 3 law firms, argued the new rules discriminate against disabled people. In July 2013 the High Court accepted that they are discriminatory, however decided that the discrimination was justified and therefore lawful in cases concerning disabled adults, although not in cases of disabled children unable to share a bedroom because of their impairments.

Lawyers for disabled adults went to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the discriminatory impact of the measure on disabled people cannot be justified and is unlawful. Lawyers for disabled children and their families also appealed the earlier ruling because the Government has failed to provide a date by which it will implement the high court judgment meanwhile despite the judgement families with disabled children who cannot share rooms because of their impairments are still subject to the bedroom tax.

Evidence of the injustice of the bedroom tax is widespread with families falling into arrears and at threat of eviction. A report by the Papworth trust found that 1 in 3 disabled people hit by the bedroom tax have been refused the Discretionary Housing Payment so far and of those, 9 in 10 disabled people are cutting back on food or bills. There has been at least one suicide as a direct consequence of the distress caused by the new Housing Benefit regulations.

Grassroots campaigns have presented consistent opposition to the hated tax. In April last year a group of disabled activists and supporters from DPAC and UKUncut travelled to Iain Duncan Smith’s mansion in Buckinghamshire to present an under-occupation eviction notice and enjoy an uninvited picnic in his extensive grounds. There have been a series of legal rulings highlighting the unfairness of this poorly thought out and unworkable measure.

We say that no one should have to move and the answer is to build more social housing. A legal victory against this rotten policy would highlight how unworkable and unfair the government’s so-called welfare reforms really are.

The vigil has been called by the Anti Bedroom Tax Federation and Disabled People Against Cuts.

The judgment is due to be given in court room 72 at 9.55am.

 

 

Notes for editors

1) Two thirds of the people affected by the bedroom tax nationally (around 420,000 out of 660,000) are disabled people

2) The challenge against the government was brought by 10 families through a three day hearing from 15 to 18 May: http://www.leighday.co.uk/News/2013/May-2013/Bedroom-Tax-Challenge-at-the-High-Court-(1)

3) Aragon Housing published a report on the first 100 days of the bedroom tax that evidences the disproportionate impact on disabled people as many other issues that make it unworkable

4)  In December it emerged that a loophole had been identified whereby anyone receiving Housing Benefit continuously since before 1996 should be exempt and in January the government had to publish official guidance acknowledging this. A recent Upper Tribunal ruling that defined the term ‘bedroom’ using the plain dictionary meaning also implications for implementation of the bedroom tax.

http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/regulation/full-details-of-first-bedroom-tax-tribunal-rulings/6528701.article?PageNo=1&PageSize=50

http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/housing_benefit_and_local_housing_allowance/changes_to_housing_benefit/bedroom_tax_loophole

http://www.innertemplelibrary.com/2014/01/upper-tribunal-on-bedrooms-nearlylegal/

5) Disabled People Against Cuts is a national campaign led by disabled people, set up to oppose the government’s attacks being carried out in the name of welfare reform. For more information see http://www.dpac.uk.net

6) The Anti-Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice Federation is a federation of anti bedroom tax and benefit justice campaigns across England and Wales. We were formed in May 2013 shortly after the launch of the Scotland Anti Bedroom Tax Federation. For more information see: http://www.antibedroomtax.org.uk

 

 

 Posted by at 12:34
Feb 162014
 

The WOW petition debate which has been supported by John McDonnell MP will take place on Thursday 27th February 2014 around 11.30 am at the House of Commons chamber.

Please contact your MP to ask them to attend this important debate. You can find your MP’s email details at www.parliament.uk

You may want to remind your MP that as we are approaching an election in the not too distant future you will be monitoring to see whether they attend or not on your behalf.

Template letter mainly taken from WOW

http://wowpetition.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/draft-letter-to-mps-option-2.html

Dear …..

I am writing as your constituent to ask you to represent my views in Parliament.

I support a government e-petition, the WOW petition, which passed the 100,000 signature mark, and on the 10th December 2013 and was granted a full chamber debate by the Back Bench Business Committee in the New Year. This in itself is a historic event as it is the first time in the history of this country that disabled people have secured a Main Chamber debate.

The petition calls for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform as it affects disabled people and those with a long term health condition as well as family carers, and an end to the Work Capability Assessment, as demanded by the British Medical Association.

==================

Please add a personal message here to illustrate how this Government’s Policies are either directly affecting you, your family, people you know or society and why you believe the Government should properly debate their policies, the effect they are having and the hardship they are causing to specifically targeted groups with UK society. 

==================

I know you are very busy, but please allow me to present some evidence to support the need for these measures.

The Welfare Reform Act  was promoted as the biggest shake up in welfare for 60 years, so it was extraordinary that no assessment was carried out on how it would affect disabled people. I believe the government now needs to take stock, and face the fact that disabled people have been caused great distress and hardship by measure such as the Work Capability Assessment, bedroom tax, the twenty per cent cut in the budget for Disability Living Allowance, the closure of the Independent Living Fund to new applicants, and many more measures. The think tank Demos has calculated that disabled people, already more likely to be living in poverty, will lose around £28 billion over five years. This hardly seems to be sharing the burden of austerity fairly.

As for the Work Capability Assessments, these have been a disaster. The British Medical Association last year called for them to be scrapped with immediate effect. Parkinson’s UK’s research found that almost half of people with a progressive illness, when assessed, are told they will get better and placed in the Work Related Activity Group. This means they are required to prepare for work, and if they are unable to do what is required of them can be sanctioned leaving them with no income. Please remember these are people with Parkinsons Disease and other progressive illnesses.

As my representative in Parliament I am requesting that you attend and speak at this debate so that your constituents and I can understand your views on government policy towards disabled people.

I would also like to add that we are quickly approaching national elections and I and your other disabled constituents will be watching how you are willing to support us very closely.

Yours sincerely,

 Posted by at 21:23
Feb 112014
 

https://www.facebook.com/notes/tismes-page/atos-assessments-update/480168792087405

 ATOS assessments in East Anglia are at Critical levels.

Last week, a meeting held at ATOS the CEO told staff there that face-to-face home assessments were now at such level that 80,000 people across the UK are waiting for them alone.  This is JUST home visits – it does not include those people who are waiting for assessments at Assessment Centres.

The DWP are warning people it could be 6 month to a year before you will be seen for ATOS assessments and even longer to get a decision on your benefit application.  The DWP informed me in late October that they were “just starting to process May applications” and when I rang last week they were now “only just starting to process end of May/June” applications – nothing has moved in 4 months!

Yesterday management at ATOS had a CRISIS meeting in the morning which lasted over 3 hours.  ATOS is drafting people to Norwich and Ipswich from all over the country as a matter or urgency.  Yesterday they announced that every one is going to get a home visit.

Figures have emerged that the backlog has reached 40,000 in Norfolk/Suffolk area alone!

ATOS assessors are REQUIRED to now carry out 44 assessments a day in centres and 4 home visits a day per person.  However, it takes 2 hours to do paperwork per person to write report but ATOS staff are only being given 35 minutes to write reports!

Monday morning an email was circulated from “on high” – a new DWP directive was put out.   ‘We are looking at achieving’ a Fail rate 65%!

There are fewer Drs on PIP assessments than for ESA but these Drs and nurses are rebelling and putting their foot down and demanding duty of care protocols are followed!  The UK floods are only adding to the pressure and staff are deeply concerned that disabled people in flood areas are not only being left to cope with the aftermath of flooding with no support but because their benefits are being held up due to this non-assessment situation, there is going to be a MASS Starvation situation unless these benefits are sorted out ASAP.

ATOS is aware of problems but only looking at it from a Business needs perspective and not putting the right training protocols into place.  Staff are only getting 2 days PBR training (should be a week) – and only thinking of getting the queue down but all that is happening is that the queue is being shifted from one area to another.

There is good news though:  ATOS are being inundated with customer service calls.

The more people who ring the more pressure that gets put on ATOS to do assessments.

This then puts pressure on ATOS to pressurise DWP in turn to give more resources to get assessments done.

What you can do:

CALL ATOS today and COMPLAIN if you have been waiting MORE than 3 months for an assessment.  If you contact your GP and get your GP to chase you will get a Home Assessment.  If you have applied for PIP more than 4 months ago, if you ask your GP for a home visit you will be given one within 14 days!

Contact your MP and get them to ring ATOS with your NI and DOB.  This will bring extra impetus on ATOS to get your assessment moving.  Call your MP today tell them how long delay is – this is only way you will be seen before June.  People who are chased up by MPs say they are going to top of list.

PLEASE PLEASE SHARE THIS NOTE!  Get the word out – get people complaining.  This is the only way that people are going to get their assessments.

To apply for PIP 0800 917 2222

PIP Processing Centre no. (To check on PIP Claim progress):  0845 850 3322

ATOS:  0300 3300121

DLA is still 08457 123456

 Posted by at 20:15
Feb 112014
 
bromley DPAC will be presenting the bedroom tax to bromley council on Monday 24th February 2014 at bromley council full budget meeting at 7 pm. This meeting will also announce the next round of cuts that will affect Bromley residents.
Meeting takes place. Bromley Civic Centre
Stockwell close
Bromley, Kent BR1 3UH.
Main council chamber.
nearest train station is Bromley South…(disabled access is availlable for wheelchair users or people with mobililty issues)
Buses 61,208.161, 358, 126 all go to the stop opposite the civic centre..

 

 Posted by at 20:11
Feb 032014
 

BREAKING: 2/3 women, 87% long-term sick or disabled and 1 in 6 carers will be affected by change to Bedroom Tax pre-1996 exemption

An article by Joe Halewood, who has been the most vocal and articulate opponent of the bedroom tax, throws light on what the changes intended by the government following the discovery of  the Bedroom Tax pre 1996 exemption will mean for the people affected. This exemption means that tenants who have been continuously entitled to Housing Benefit since at least 1 January 1996 and who have occupied the same dwelling since that date are exempt from the bedroom tax.

Joe Halewood, a Housing Consultant, has been working with Reclaim, a local grassroot organisation which in December asked pre-1996 tenants to email them with their initials and their post code.

The results for the first 250 or so households which were unlawfully hit with this pre-1996 bedroom tax are as follows:

  • Two-thirds were women
  • 87% were long-term sick or disabled
  • One in six were carers for a family member 

These are the kind of figures IDS would not want you to know and they explain why he is in such a rush to change the law.  These figures are unlikely to change as more data is gathered. Disabled people who had their homes adapted to fit their needs are not likely to move, which explains why 87% of them will be hit by a change to the pre-1996 housing rule.

It is possible to bring pressure to bear on this government and on MPs by alerting public opinion on the impact this change will have for people who are least likely to find a job to offset the cost of the bedroom tax.

Joe Halewood’s article is here:  http://speye.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/cover-your-cock-up-ids-and-no-we-wont-be-on-our-knees/

 

 

 Posted by at 13:42
Jan 272014
 

Richard Butchins who we have worked with before is looking for people who have been faced with a very long delay waiting for a PIP assessment or decision or both. This is for a Channel 4 documentary but will not in any way be like the recent Benefits Street.

Richard produced and investigated ATOS medical assessments for an excellent channel 4 documentary. We are entirely certain that Richard’s programme will represent the true facts and not be sensationalised in any way.

Please contact Richard directly if you can help with this

richard.butchins@hardcashproductions.com

 Posted by at 16:12
Jan 212014
 

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is the new benefit which replaces Disability Living Allowance (DLA). 

DLA was introduced in the UK in 1992, and its main purpose was to compensate for the extra costs associated with disability and it was therefore not means tested, non contributory and not taxable. Although the majority of people claiming DLA had mobility issues, some disabled people would also choose to claim it to cover their personal care costs. Many were awarded DLA for life in recognition that their impairment/health issue would be with them for life. DLA was for those both in and out of work for the extra costs associated with disability. The Government presented PIP as a ‘like for like’ payment to replace DLA.

PIP was introduced in 2012 to replace DLA, the government arguing that the increasing number of claimants made DLA unsustainable.  PIP is therefore more restrictive and will lead not only to a reduced number of claimants but also to a reduced number of claimants entitled to the enhanced rate of the mobility component. http://disabilitynewsservice.com/2014/01/shocking-pip-figure-raises-new-motability-concerns/

PIP has also been riddled in controversy because of Atos, the firm contracted by the government to undertake the PIP and the Work Capability Assessments, which has led to 1 million disabled people appealing in court, with 43% of them succeeding in having their fit for work decision overturned. http://www.internaldpac.org.uk/DPACClone/2012/11/esa-appeals-increase-by-40-what-the-newspapers-wont-print/

Therefore it really came as a surprise to discover that in 2012 PIP had become a sanctionable benefit.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/192913/response/472770/attach/3/8.194%20Clarification%20letter%20Jones%20WDTK..pdf

http://legislation.data.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/5/schedule/9/crossheading/social-security-fraud-act-2001-c-11/data.htm?wrap=true

However aborrhent sanctions are, there is a kind of twisted logic behind them.  JSA and ESA claimants have to sign a contract (under duress, meaning threat of sanctions) and have to comply with the terms of this ‘contract’ (again under threat of sanctions). If they don’t, they will lose some of their benefits and many JSA and ESA claimants have been sanctioned, some 120 disabled people up to three years http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/3-year-benefit-ban-hits-120-disabled-people-under-new-sanctions-regime

 But with PIP, there is no contract, no Jobseeker’s agreement, no Claimant Commitment and it still remains a recognition that life for disabled people is more expensive, if they have to buy appliances or care that non disabled people don’t need in order to live a decent and dignified life or to work.

So what does it take to have your PIP sanctioned?  Is there somebody in the twittersphere or reading this article who can answer this question?  Because making PIP sanctionable does not make any sense, unless the DWP or IDS have a cunning plan. And they might.

Jan 162014
 

Bedroom Tax Appeal

Vigil – Monday 20th January, 9.30am, outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Disabled people and our supporters will hold a vigil outside the high courts to mark the start of a three day appeal hearing looking to overturn the judgment handed down in July 2013 that found the government can lawfully discriminate against disabled people through implementation of the bedroom tax.

Monday’s legal challenge focuses on discrimination against disabled people, who make up two thirds of those affected – exemption for disabled children was recently won. Other challenges brought against the discriminatory nature of the policy, by separated parents with shared care of children, and mothers fleeing domestic violence in housing with security measures, are on hold behind this case and could be affected by the result, so it’s even more important for everyone to show their support.

The bedroom tax is vicious and punitive. All social housing tenants should have a right to a family home for life. The longer people have to suffer the bedroom tax, the longer people are having to go without essentials like food and heating in order to try to make up the shortfall they are left with, the higher the arrears that are mounting up, and the closer we come to evictions. In November the Disability Benefits Consortium reported that 9 out of 10 disabled people and three quarters of carers affected are now having to cut back on food and heating.

Campaigners from the Anti Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice Federation, Camden Association of Street Properties (Camden tenants), Disabled People Against Cuts, Single Mothers’ Self-Defence, Taxpayers Against Poverty and WinVisible are calling the vigil in solidarity with the disabled people taking the appeal and everyone affected. It is also an important opportunity to keep the spotlight on how unfair and unworkable this policy is and to maintain pressure to axe the tax.

We invite everyone who can get to the high courts on Monday to come and show support. The media are keen to hear from disabled people who are directly affected by the bedroom tax and if you are willing to share your story please let us know.

The following Monday 27 January, the appeal against the total Benefit Cap is being heard.  Women Against Rape and Single Mothers’ Self-Defence are calling a protest against the Cap outside the Royal Courts of Justice at 9.30am.  We hope you’ll be able to support that too.

 

 

 Posted by at 18:26
Jan 162014
 

A blog article published yesterday http://blog.cix.co.uk/gmorgan/2014/01/14/sneaky-sneaky-sneaky/shows that DWP has been quietly sneaking amendments to the benefit cap with the introduction of Universal Credit, cutting it effectively from £26,000 to £18,000 for couples without children, without almost anybody noticing.

When the benefit cap was introduced for Housing Benefit, it was as followed:

  • £500 a week if you’re a couple – with or without dependent children
  • £500 a week if you’re a lone parent with dependent children
  • £350 a week if you’re a single person without children.

http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/benefits_e/benefits_the_benefit_cap_e/the_benefit_cap_what_you_need_to_know.htm

But the new benefit cap under Universal credit which has been announced by DWP in December 2013 moves quietly and softly the couples without children from the £500 cap to the £350 cap, effectively cutting their benefit award from £26,000 to £18,000, as shown here by Steve Webb statement in the Commons

Webb: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/131209-wms0001.htm and DWP website: https://www.gov.uk/benefit-cap

Although the exact number of couples affected by this change is currently unknown, many of them will include disabled people and disabled people with partners as carers, who will be hit by the cap on top of other benefit cuts.

Jan 142014
 

Thanks go to Liz Kendall who argued for independent living and choice to be included in the Care Bill when Independent living and Choice was debated in the Care Bill Committee on Thurs 9 January  – Norman Lamb argued against.   Liz Kendall used the wording suggested by Inclusion London and supported by DPAC re the definition for independent living,  see below.  Norman Lamb said the definition of independent living was unclear.

Please tweet your thanks to Liz Kendall MP in recognition of her efforts

Unfortunately the vote narrowly went against the amendments 10 to 12, so the amendments will not be recommended by the Committee, but the fight goes on as other MPs can recommend amendments when the Bill returns to the House of Commons….    It also now goes back to the Lords so you may wish to contact some lords about this as well.

Please write to your MPs to urge them to propose the independent living amendment and others that are vital for disabled people. See the template letter prepared by Inclusion London attached. 

Here’s a piece from Liz Kendall’s speech:  The debate available at:http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmpublic/care/140109/pm/140109s01.htm

Liz Kendall: The Bill is an important opportunity to ensure that our legislation fully addresses the needs, aspirations and rights of disabled people. Disability organisations have rightly welcomed the new duties that the Bill will put on local authorities to promote well-being and prevention. However, many organisations, such as Inclusion London, Scope and Mencap, have argued that a duty to promote independent living is also essential. That is not a minor or technical point, but a point of principle. Independent living is crucial to ensuring that disabled people have the same rights, choices and chances as any other citizen in this country. Independent living is essential to getting a good education, finding a job, building a career and taking part in community and public life. It is about ensuring that people can live in their own home with whoever they choose to live with and have the opportunity to have a family life. It is about ensuring that they are able to get out and about, meet up with friends and participate in the cultural life of the community and the country. In other words, independent living for me, and more importantly for disabled people and the organisations that work with and represent them, is about being able to participate in, contribute to and be included in society, as the rest of us usually take for granted. 

Disability organisations say that disabled people’s rights to independent living are being undermined by the Government’s policies in social care and the welfare system. The Government’s decision to reduce local council budgets by a third, the biggest reduction in any part of government, is having a real effect on services that are essential to helping with the basics of daily life, such as getting up, washed, dressed and fed. We do that every day, which is essential to getting on with the rest of our lives, but for disabled people— 

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab ….. I recall that, in our discussions with Swedish parliamentarians, who have a sort of Standing Committee on Health, we were told that if any responsibilities were placed on local government, it is a legal requirement for the necessary resources to be made available for the councils to carry out those services and delegate the functions.

Liz Kendall:  My hon. Friend makes an important point about the needs of adults with disabilities and about the importance of having a right to the basics of daily life, which are essential. The recent joint inquiry by the all-party groups on local government and on disability showed the real problems with the services in the current system: four in 10 disabled adults are now failing to have their basic social care needs met; and nearly half of all disabled adults say that services are not supporting them to get out and about in their local community. The same erosion of independence and opportunities is happening in the social security system through the closure of the independent living fund; problems with the Work programme; how the personal independent payment is being implemented; and the bad bedroom tax. 

 

 

 Template letter to MPs

Dear   Add the name of your MP,

I am writing to you regarding the Care Bill which is in currently being discussed by MPs.

The Care Bill has been described as a once in a life time opportunity to tackle the social care crisis which is impacting on my life. I am asking for your support to propose the amendments to the Care Bill below, to ensure that I am given the support I need for my independent living. 

Independent living for disabled people

As a disabled person I have the right to the same opportunities, choices and rights as other citizens. I want to get a job, build a career and have an education and to take part in community and public life.  I wish to decide when I go bed, what I eat and to live in my home with people I choose to live with, I also want to be able to leave my home to go out and about – go shopping, go to see a band. I would like the opportunity to be a parent and friend, have a family and social life. All these elements are included in independent living for disabled people.  Independent living is being able to contribute, participate and be included.

Funding

Social care is in crisis resulting in more and more disabled people going without the essential support they need. This situation is likely to continue because the Care Bill does not tackle the fundamental issue of funding for social care. I have not got large savings and do not own my house, so I will not benefit from the Government’s funding reforms.  I would like care and support to be funded so it supports me to lead an independent life of participation, inclusion, dignity and equality. To achieve this I believe it should be funded out of National Insurance contributions/general taxation and free at the point of need like the NHS, this would ensure I get the care I need for independent living in the future.

Amendments to Care Bill

I would be grateful if you could put forward the amendments below to the Scrutiny Committee or to the House of Commons when the Bill reaches Report stage, to try and ensure that independent living for disabled people becomes a reality. All the amendments are highlighted in bold: 

 

1. Amendment to: Clause 1 ‘Promoting individual well-being’ 

Can you please propose the following amendments to the definition of ‘well-being’ and to the General responsibilities of local authorities:

1 Promoting individual well-being and independent living

(1) The general duty of a local authority, in exercising a function under this Part in the case of an individual, is to promote that individual’s well-being, independence and inclusion as equal and valued citizens and members of the community.

(a) That duties under independent living promote the wider definition of independent living as expressed in the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

2. Advocacy

It is very important that disabled people are provided with independent advocacy right through the process of obtaining and maintaining care and support.

It is important because independent advocacy enables disabled people to participate in the assessment and review process but also enable disabled people to give direct feedback about the quality of services, which will help prevent on-going abuse of disabled people in the future. Therefore we ask you to put forward the following amendments to three clauses, (see wording in bold)

Clause 5.Promoting diversity and quality in provision of service:

A local authority must have regard to —

(c)      the need to offer and provide an independent advocate to enable service user feedback to improve the quality of services  

Clause 9.  Assessment of adults need for care and support:

A local authority, in carrying out a needs assessment, has

(d)     A duty to offer and provide an independent advocate to the adult to enable full participation in all needs assessments and reviews

Clause 42.   Enquiry by local authority:

(2)The local authority must-

(a)     Offer and provide an independent advocate to an adult who is experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect to enable them to give evidence and participate fully in the enquiry. 

3. Amendment to Clause 9 ‘Assessment of an adult’s needs for care and support’

The assessment is the key gateway to care and support so it is important that disabled people, who are expert in their own needs, should be at the core of the assessment process. Can you please propose the following that:

  • All care assessments reflect the rights to independent living and choice encompassed in the UNCRDP.  Also that all care and support assessments should be a person centred process. 

 

4. Amendment to Clause 13 ‘The eligibility criteria’

The government has announced that the national eligibility threshold is to be set at ‘Substantial’. This means support will only be provided at a very late stage when disabled people’s health, wellbeing and independence has deteriorated badly. Can you please propose an amendment so that:

  • The eligibility threshold for care is set at ‘moderate’ to ensure that disabled people are able to receive the support needed to maintain and sustain health, wellbeing and independence

 

5. Independent Living Fund (no existing clause)

The impact on the independent living of disabled people with high support needs if the Independent Living Fund (ILF) closes in 2015 will be devastating. I would be grateful if you can propose a new clause to ensure there is:

  • A duty on local authorities to provide equivalent support as provided by the ILF that ensures independent living in the community on an on-going basis.  
  • Set up an Independent living task force, co-produced with ILF users, to review independent living and specifically the Independent Living Fund in order to identify how best to improve, develop and extend independent living support building on the successful model of ILF provision. 

5. Amendment to ‘Continuity of care and support when an adult moves’ – Clause 37 ‘Notification, assessment etc

I believe I should have the same freedom to move home as non-disabled people i.e. without the fear that my care package will be removed or reduced. I urge you to propose and amendment so there is a duty to:

  • Ensure the new care package provided by the receiving authority must be equivalent to the existing care package, provided by the first authority.  

Together these amendments will help make the Care Bill better for disabled people and help make independent living a reality for me and other disabled people.

Can you please let me know what action you will take and what amendments you will be proposing and supporting.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

 

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