Category: Consultation

Very important consultation on the migration of people onto universal credit from legacy benefits

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The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has launched an important public consultation on the government’s proposals for moving all existing claimants of a working age income-related benefit to Universal Credit.

From next year the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will begin the process of moving claimants in receipt of one or more of the following benefits to Universal Credit:

  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Housing Benefit

The wide-ranging draft legislation, which was presented to the Committee for scrutiny at its meeting on 20 June 2018, sets out the government’s proposals on:

  1. requirements for claimants on existing benefits to make a claim for Universal Credit (including the deadlines for doing so) and arrangements for ending their existing benefit
  2. the calculation, award and ongoing treatment of transitional protection

The task of safely moving around 3 million claimants (in around 2 million households) from legacy benefits to Universal Credit raises important questions about the delivery challenge facing the department and the potential impact on claimants.

SSAC has therefore decided to examine this draft legislation, and the impacts that flow from it, in more detail. To help inform this work, the committee would welcome evidence from a broad range of organisations and individuals who have good insight into and/or experience of the following aspects of these proposals:

  • the overall migration timetable
  • arrangements for contacting claimants and inviting claims from them
  • issues associated with making a claim, and ending legacy benefit claims
  • the calculation of transitional protection (including the treatment of earnings and capital)
  • the impact of proposed transitional protection (including how easily it will be delivered and the degree to which it will be understood by claimants)
  • the impact on workers, including the self-employed
  • equality impact (whether there will be particular effects for different groups and how these can best be addressed), for example are there any groups that will not be covered by transitional protection?
  • monitoring and evaluation

The Committee would welcome responses to ensure that its advice to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is informed by a range of perspectives. The committee would welcome real or hypothetical case studies or specific examples as part of that evidence.

Paul Gray, the Committee’s Chair, said:

“The planned rollout of Universal Credit is now reaching its most critical and challenging stage. The government’s draft proposals involve major issues on both detailed entitlement rules and delivery logistics, and are due to be debated in Parliament later this year. SSAC is keen to ensure that the scrutiny report it submits to ministers and Parliament is as well-informed as possible, and we therefore strongly encourage all organisations and individuals with relevant evidence to take part in this consultation process.”

The government has said that migration onto Universal Credit will take place between 2019 and 2023. Under the recent government proposals, people currently receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will receive a letter informing them that their benefits will be stopped and asking them to make a new claim to Universal Credit. The proposals suggest people will be given between one and three months to do this, with some circumstances in which that would be extended.

Some thoughts on the government’s proposals

The ‘managed migration’ entails claimants making a new claim for Universal Credit, which could mean that people with health problems may see their benefits stopped entirely while they struggle with the difficult and lengthy process of applying for Universal Credit. These are people who have already been through a rigorous and stressful assessment process and declared eligible for benefits because they are disabled or unwell. A gap in support for ill or disabled or people would leave them very vulnerable, and may have distressing and potentially harmful consequences.

It’s not as if the government have a particularly good track record on managing migrations. It’s difficult to find any good faith regarding the ‘managed’ transition to Universal Credit for so many people from a complex variety of legacy benefits, when the Conservatives’ welfare ‘reforms’ have had such a profoundly damaging effect on so many people already. This is because the word ‘reforms’ has been used to euphemise cruel austerity cuts that have fallen disproportionately on the poorest citizens.

Nor have the government demontrated that they are particularly observant of human rights frameworks and equality legislation. In fact their track record indicates they hold such safeguards and mechanisms of accountability in contempt.

This is a good reason why the 50 page poorly worded government document requires very careful scrutiny via a consultation. It’s not appropriate or adequate for the government to adopt a ‘test and learn’ approach that lacks safeguarding measures for those at risk of vulnerability through a cut or delay in their lifeline income, while the government attempts to get this right through trial and error at their expense. 

The ‘safeguards’ that government has proposed simply do not address the concern that people will be left without a source of income during the migration. It’s completely unfair to place all the responsibility on severely unwell people to have to reapply for a new benefit and risk losing their income in the process.

The government should take full responsibility for migrating ill and disabled people onto Universal Credit smoothly and safely while protecting their income, health and wellbeing. 

If people have to make a claim for Universal Credit due to a change in circumstances, such as moving house, or living with a new partner, rather than simply being migrated from the legacy benefit, that may also potentially place at risk any transitional protections they would have been entitled to, such as the severe disability premiums that some people are entitled to on ESA, since those are not included in Universal Credit. It’s also not clear if such a group would have to go through reassessment. That would also cause hardship and distress, because of the long waiting period between assessments, mandatory review and appeal.

Originally, the government had implied that migration from ESA to Universal Credit would not entail having to make a claim, and that provided the claimant’s circumstances have not changed, they would receive a transitional protection to compensate for the loss of the severe disability allowance and other amounts under legacy benefits which are not covered by Universal Credit. 

A regulation [2(6)] has been ‘inserted’ which will introduce a ‘Gateway Condition’ into previous social security regulations from 2014, so that claimants who are receiving:

  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA(IR);
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA(IB));
  •  Income Support (IS); or 
  •  HB; 

and have the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) included in their award will not be
able to claim UC. Instead, rather than naturally migrate to UC, they will remain on
their existing benefit if they have a change of circumstance that would require a new claim for a benefit that UC is replacing to be made.

This is because of a recent landmark High Court ruling, earlier this month, in which the Court ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men, who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they claimed Universal Credit, as they lost their SDP under Universal Credit rules. 

However, there is no clear mention in the document of what will happen to those who receive Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP) on ESA, which is also not payable under Universal Credit. Also, there needs to be more discussion and debate around clarifying the details of how the tapering of transitional protections is going to happen, and indeed, if this should happen at all. 

It’s difficult to forget that disabled people who were ‘migrated’ from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independent Payment (PIP) were also ‘invited’ to apply for PIP following notification of their claim for DLA being closed, which meant facing reassessment. Many people lost their eligibility for this lifeline support, and others were assessed as eligible for only part of an award, leaving them with rather less money than they had before they claimed PIP. Many have lost their motability vehicles as a consequence of losing the mobility component at reassessment for PIP.

These are just some of the worrying issues that the government’s latest proposals raise, which need to be addressed. We need to respond collectively to this consultation as a matter of urgency. 

The overall effect and impacts of the proposed amendments placed before the Committee, outlined in the 50 page government document, are to be subject to a government ‘test and learn’ approach to implementation. It is unacceptable that those migrated first onto Universal Credit are regarded by the government as a sort of group of experimental test cases, when a rigorous impact assessment would have been much more appropriate to safeguard these citizens from hardships and distress created by government policy and administration.

People who need social security, paid for by the public, among whom are people needing social security support, and those who may in the future, are not lab rats for the government to experiment on without their consent. Most unemployed, underemployed, disabled or ill people have contributed to the Treasury and deserve better management of their money, adequate provision and rather more competent policy administration by the government.

Having read through the government proposal document, it does say that there are certain protections for claimants who have a disability or a health problem when they ‘transition’ to UC from ESA or incapacity benefits. Such protections include:

  • ensuring that a capability for work determination for ESA can automatically be applied to the UC award; and 
  •  paying the Limited Capability for Work addition in UC if they have been continuously entitled to ESA and entitled to the Work-Related Activity Component in ESA prior to 3rd April 2017. 

Glancing through this document, it not very clearly outlined what will happen to those people with a more recent award of the Work-Related Activity Component, or to those where there has been a break in their previous entitlement since April 2017. 

Regulation 19 states that in cases where ESA claimants had the Support Component (SC) or Work-Related Activity Component (WRAC) applied to their award immediately before they make a claim for UC, if ESA claimants have the SC applied to their ESA award, the Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity (LCWRA) element in UC would be applied to their UC award, without the need for a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), from the start of their first (UC) assessment period.

An assessment period is one month. Entitlement to Universal Credit depends on your circumstances and your income in each complete assessment period. This potentially introduces a degree of uncertainty for people on long-term disability support, who rely on a degree of financial security to manage day-to-day living with additional needs. 

UC is ordinarily paid monthly in arrears, and there is very little discussion in the government proposal document about how the gap will be bridged when legacy benefit claims are closed. There is mention that in some circumstances, where a claim for full housing benefit is in place, people migrated onto Universal Credit may claim a kind of ‘run on’, for a two-week period. However, housing benefit is always paid in arrears, and the two week run-on would simply cover the period of arrears from legacy benefits.

Regulation 20 states that with cases where the ESA assessment phase has not ended at the point the claimant claims UC, any unspent portion of the 13-week ESA assessment phase is carried forward and, if awarded, the appropriate UC element will apply. 

The proposed regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and, as such, will need to be debated in both Houses of Parliament. Affirmative procedure is a type of parliamentary procedure relating to statutory instruments (SIs), which are traditionally reserved for non-controversial policies. 

An SI laid under the affirmative procedure must be actively approved by both Houses of Parliament. Certain SIs on financial matters are only considered by the Commons. However affirmative resolution SIs require the approval of Parliament.

SSAC is an independent advisory body of the Department for Work and Pensions. The Committee’s role is to give advice on social security issues; scrutinise and report on social security regulations (including tax credits) and to consider and advise on any matters referred to it by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions or the Northern Ireland Department for Communities.

The Committee’s Chair is Paul Gray. Its membership comprises: Bruce Calderwood, David Chrimes, Carl Emmerson, Chris Goulden, Philip Jones, Jim McCormick, Grainne McKeever, Dominic Morris, Seyi Obakin, Judith Paterson, Charlotte Pickles, Liz Sayce and Victoria Todd.

Most social security regulations go before SSAC for scrutiny, the only significant exceptions being regulations which go to other advisory bodies or set benefit rates. When SSAC has considered regulations which it has asked to be formally referred, its response is made in the form of a report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. That report must be presented to Parliament when the regulations are laid with a statement from the Secretary of State showing what has been done (or is intended to be done) about the SSAC’s recommendations (section 174(1) and (2) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992).

Please read the regulations and explanatory memorandum in full if you intend to send a response regarding the consultation.

Responses should be submitted to the Committee Secretary by no later than 10am on Monday 20 August:

The Committee Secretary 
Social Security Advisory Committee 
5th Floor 
Caxton House 
Tothill Street 
London 
SW1H 9NA 

Alternatively responses can be emailed to – ssac.consultation@ssac.gsi.gov.uk

I will need to read through all of the government proposals carefully in order to make my own full response, which I’ll publish in due course.

And of course, Universal Credit, its impact, adequacy and performance as a form of social security, needs some more careful scrutiny, too. 

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National consultation on the rights of disabled people – the Labour party’s disability equality roadshow

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Jeremy Corbyn, Paul Rutherford and Debbie Abrahams at the Roadshow in Manchester

The Labour party would like to invite you to attend the Disability Equality Roadshow, an event asking disabled people, their carers and service providers, which policies Labour should develop to best defend and extend their rights.

The events are free and the next one is to be held in the North East in Newcastle on 3 December. You can register to attend here.

Regardless of your personal party affiliations, I think as many of us as possible need to attend these events and have a positive input into policy because we need political parties to recognise disabled people’s needs, especially given the past six years of harrowing and disproportionately targeted austerity cuts and systematic violation of disabled people’s human rights.

I don’t support the Liberal Democrats, but nonetheless have permitted the party to use some of my work on disabled people’s rights and the impact of austerity on their site, because our needs and views ought to matter to every political party. Something as fundamental as the recognition and observation of human rights should be a collaborative and collective cross-party endeavour – a cooperative effort in a democratic, inclusive society.

Human rights should not be a party political issue, but it’s a fact that they are. The Conservatives want to repeal our Human Rights Act, and that must not happen. The government have already demonstrated clearly that they will not observe the rights of disabled people. Without a robust legal framework in place, we would have absolutely no access to justice and redress, and no protection from the brutality and disregard of an increasingly authoritarian government .

Debbie Abrahams has organised and launched the Roadshow, which is an important opportunity for us to have a democratic say in political decision-making and shape future policies. 

The Labour party are using the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People as a framework to help develop policies not just on social security but on education, health and social care, justice and more. It was the last Labour government that signed the UK up to the Convention.

The Roadshow will be going across the country to every region and to every nation state. 

Debbie is the Member of Parliament for Oldham East and Saddleworth and Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. She has represented the constituency since her by-election victory in January 2011.

Debbie was a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee from June 2011-March 2015, where she led the call for an independent inquiry into the Government’s punitive New Sanctions Regime. She was re-elected as a member of the Work and Pensions Committee in July 2015 until her appointment as Shadow Minister for Disabled People in September 2015.  In June 2016 she was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Debbie is passionate about tackling inequalities and has campaigned extensively for a fairer society, setting up the Oldham Fairness Commission to deliver this in her own constituency. 

The Labour party assure us that the next Labour government will ensure that the UK upholds its obligations under the UN convention on persons with disabilities. They say their “commitment to people-powered politics means that they believe that future social security policy should be co-produced with deaf and disabled people, carers and service providers”. That is our democratic right. The party want to transform our social security system, based on the principles of dignity, independence and support. 

 The Labour party say they will listen to our views on improving social security, removing the punitive elements such as sanctions, the work capability assessment and the bedroom tax, to ensure it is fit for purpose; ensuring fair and equal access to employment for people who can and want to work; suitable housing and education; improving the provision of care and best supporting carers. 

If you have any additional access needs please email Huma on huma_haq@labour.org.uk by Thursday 1st December. 

Hope to see you there.

 

DATE AND TIME: Sat 3 December 2016, 10:45 – 13:45 GMT

LOCATION: Unite the union

John Dobson Street

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE1 8TW

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Call for evidence – Future of Jobcentre Plus inquiry launched

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The Work and Pensions Committee has launched an inquiry into the future of Jobcentre Plus (JCP), the public employment service arm of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Changes affecting Jobcentre Plus services

A number of important changes will affect the services offered by JCP over the next few years, including:

  • The full implementation of Universal Credit (UC), which, particularly once a fully-functioning digital service is developed, will be a largely online process and have implications for digital inclusion
  • More frequent interviews at the Jobcentre for unemployed claimants in the early stages of benefit claims
  • Delayed referral of long-term unemployed claimants to externally-contracted employment services (welfare-to-work) providers, meaning that JCP will support people who remain out of work for two years
  • The development of a support offer for UC claimants who are in work but on very low incomes
  • Plans for greater co-location of JCP offices with other local services such as council benefit teams and physical and mental health services, including IAPT services
  • Plans for JCP to offer advice, particularly on traineeships and apprenticeships, to 12 to 18 year old school pupils
  • The process of devolution of employment services to combined local authorities and the devolved governments

Call for written submissions

The Committee invites written submissions addressing one or more of the following areas:

  • The likely effects of the planned changes on claimants, including on the quality of services offered to them and the implications in relation to digital inclusion
  • The potential implications for JCP, including in relation to:
    • Resourcing of JCP
    • Jobcentre “footfall” and the configuration of JCP offices
    • The development of suitable performance measures
  • JCP’s capability to provide new, tailored services for particular groups of people, including people with mental health problems
  • Opportunities afforded by coordination with other local services, including the NHS and schools
  • The extent to which reforms will require cultural change within JCP, and the DWP’s capability successfully to foster this change
  • The opportunities and challenges for JCP presented by greater devolution of employment services to regional and national governments

Send a written submission through the Future of Jobcentre Plus inquiry page.

The deadline for written submissions is Friday 22 April 2016.

Committee comments

Heidi Allen MP, Committee Member, said:

“In the brave new world of Universal Credit, the Jobcentre will become so much more than the place where people simply ‘sign on.’ I am in absolutely no doubt that UC marks the beginning of a new age in which the individual and the state are partners in the future potential of the individual, but the Jobcentre and its staff will need to undergo significant transformation. We must ensure Jobcentre Plus has the capacity and capability to change with the times, and deliver quality services which are sensitive to the increasingly varied needs of the individuals it serves.”

 Craig Williams MP, Committee Member, said:

“As much as different people have different needs, so do different places. The DWP has run a pretty centralised network of Jobcentre Plus offices, for perhaps too long. We will want to consider carefully the potential opportunities for greater decentralisation of employment-related services to combined authorities and the devolved governments.”

Further information

Some initial thoughts and concerns regarding the JCP’s capability to provide new, tailored services for particular groups of people, including people with mental health problems

The government’s Work and Health programme involves a plan to integrate health and employment services, aligning the outcome frameworks of health services, Improving Access To Psychological Therapies (IAPT), Jobcentre Plus and the Work Programme. 

There are concerns that the government have already come close to redefining unemployment as a psychological disorder, and now they aim to redefine work as a clinical outcome.

The Work and Health programme in particular is aimed at finding ways of: “preventing people from falling out of the jobs market and going onto Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).”

“These include GPs prescribing a work coach, and a health and work passport to collate employment and health information. These emerged from research with people on ESA, and are now being tested with local teams of Jobcentres, GPs and employers.”  Source: Matthew Hancock’s conference speech: The Future of Public Services.

Whilst for some clients, improving employment prospects may be realistic and what they want, for many others this is not the case and such an intrusive state intervention may be profoundly anxiety-provoking and potentially psychologically damaging. People sometimes become too ill to work. GP surgeries are not the place to subject people to what may be perceived, essentially, as a blunt state behaviour modification programme, designed to coerce people to work regardless of their current capacity of doing so.

People placed in both Employment Support Allowance groups (work related activity group and support group) have been deemed unable to work by both their own qualified doctors and by the state via the work capability assessment. It may well be the case that some people feel able to and want to work in the future, and ask for support to find suitable employment, but it extremely unethical to coerce people to work that are too ill to do so.

That is why an absolute assurance of the voluntary element of client engagement is of paramount importance, it has to be a central underpinning principle of the work and health programme. Furthermore, it has to be assured that any proposed treatment may proceed only on the basis of (and provision for) informed consent from the client.

The principle of consent is an important part of medical ethics and international human rights law. Consent is required by law from a patient regardless of the intervention.

Generally, for consent to be valid it must be informed consent. For this to be the case it must be:

  • Given voluntarily (with no coercion or deceit)
  • Given by an individual who has capacity
  • Given by an individual who has been fully informed about the issue.

GPs have raised their own concerns about sharing patient data with the Department for Work and Pensions – and quite properly so. Pulse reports that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) plans to extract information from GP records, including the number of Med3s or so-called “fit notes” issued by each practice and the number of patients recorded as “unfit” or “maybe fit” for work, in an intrusive move described by GP leaders as amounting to “state snooping.”

There are also very serious concerns regarding the plans to permit medically unqualified job coaches to access and “update” patients medical records. That must not happen. Citizen’s complex health conditions and healthcare should never be subject to state editing and nor should these be conflated with political aims. That is potentially very dangerous and has nothing to do with the health and wellbeing of patients. A person’s employment status has no bearing on objective professional and specialist accounts of a person’s illness, diagnosis, medical tests and treatments. Work does not cure illness.

Patients have the right to explicitly refuse their consent to data sharing. The Data Protection Act 1998 covers personal information including health records. Further provision under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 establishes a right to respect for private and family life. This underscores the duty to protect the privacy of individuals and preserve the confidentiality of their health records. This right must remain intact. There is also additional guidance from the British Medical Association (BMA) here – GPs as Data controllers guidance. (PDF)

The government’s expressed aim is to prompt public services to “speak with one voice.” This proposed multi-agency approach is potentially very reductive, rather than being about formulating expansive, coherent, comprehensive and importantly, responsive provision. There is a danger that such a cross-agency approach will simply involve the co-opting of service providers and professionals as state enforcers, conflating complex citizen needs with simply getting people to work.

Public services “speaking with one voice” will make accessing support conditional, and potentially further isolate already marginalised social groups. It may damage trust between people needing support and professionals who are meant to deliver essential public services, not government slogans and potenially damaging messages. Places that have traditionally provided safe havens for people on low incomes, such as community centres, will no longer be places where people may feel they can escape the pressures and distresses of their circumstances and be relatively and unconditionally secure.

Human beings are subjects, not objects of policy, and the worrying trend towards the government instructing citizens how to be, under the guise of libertarian paternalism, is profoundly antidemocratic, non-dialogic and intrusive – it curtails citizen’s autonomy and basic freedoms and is incongruent with the democratic role of government in formulating policies that meet citizen’s needs. Instead, citizens are being coerced into meeting government aims and policy outcomes.

The move to “join up all public services to ‘get local people back to work'”, including housing and foodbanks may also be used as additional opportunity to extend welfare conditionality, including sanctions, to people who were previously exempted because of their circumstances.

Not only would this raise some serious ethical problems regarding the enforcing of a limited but mandatory state “treatment” on people who cannot work because they are ill, based on a political prejudice that work is somehow “good” for them, it would also limit access to other services that ordinarily provide a broader scope of support with a wider range of aims and outcomes that are more in line with a holistic approach to complex client needs, health and wellbeing.

It would potentially undermine people’s right to health care and support by making provision conditional to finding a job.

In linking receipt of welfare with health services, other public provision providers and access to “therapy,” with the single intended outcome explicitly expressed as employment, the government runs the risk of conflating citizen’s widely varied needs with diktats, and isolating people from traditionally non-partisan networks of relatively unconditional support, such as the health service, social services, community services and mental health services.

All policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizen’s accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter.

The government have not got a reassuring track record regarding the assessment of people’s illnesses, disability and capability for work, it has to be said. When serious concerns have been raised with ministers regarding the negative and often distressing experiences of sick and disabled people because of government policies, such concerns have been met with denial and a refusal to investigate or indeed, to engage any further.

I should like to know when those citizens who will be directly affected by the proposed policies, especially the work and health programme, were consulted? Have service users had any say at all in the design and aims of these proposed interventions?

It’s worth remembering that governments in first-world liberal democracies are for creating policies that actually meet public needs, rather than imposing totalitarian levels of control, manipulating and micromanaging citizens to meet government needs and political outcomes.