Category: Social Policy

BPS sign consensus statement asking for end of welfare sanctions

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The British Psychological Society (BPS) has joined eight other leading mental health organisations in calling for the removal of social security sanctions for people with mental health conditions. The statement launched yesterday at the 12th New Savoy Annual Conference in London.

It calls for everyone living with a mental health condition to be supported in gaining financial security, whether through the social security system or appropriate help in returning to or gaining paid work. However, the statement makes clear that no one with a mental ill health should ever be forced to look for work, or face the threat of having their lifeline support reduced because of welfare conditionality and sanctions.

In the statement signed by mental health experts and charities, such as the Centre for Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation and Rethink Mental Illness among others, the BPS say: “We believe that everyone living with a mental health condition should be supported to attain financial security. Whether they need the support of the social security system or help when they would like to return to or gain paid employment, no one should have to struggle to make ends meet as a result of their mental health problem.

“Yet too many people lose their jobs or are denied opportunities in the labour market because of a mental health condition. And too often our social security system treats people with insufficient dignity and humanity.

“Combined, these issues can exacerbate or contribute to mental health problems.

“We believe that anyone living with a mental health condition has a right to be supported to work if they want to, and to live out of poverty.”

“No one with a mental health condition, however, should ever be mandated to look for work, or to face the threat of having their benefit payments reduced. Neither conditions nor sanctions have been shown to work or to be safe for people with mental health difficulties, and as a result we believe they should be stopped. 

“No one should be left in poverty because they have a mental health condition. We pledge to work together to achieve an end to the harm we have seen that sanctions can cause, and a start towards a meaningful entitlement to effective support, based  genuinely around the needs of each person.” 

Sanctions, under which people lose benefit payments for between four weeks and three years for “non-compliance”, have come under fire for being unfairpunitive, failing to increase job prospects, and causing hunger, debt and ill-health among jobseekers. And sometimes, sanctions have been correlated with deaths.

It’s not the first time the BPS and allied organisations have called on the government to make changes to controversial social security policies. In 2015, Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, then President of the BPS, said:

“The Society has repeatedly asked for a meeting with ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions so that we can express our concerns over the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) – so far without success. We are particularly concerned that the government’s benefits policy may misuse psychological tools and techniques. We want to ensure policies are informed by appropriate psychological, theoretical and practical evidence.”

The Society published a briefing paper 2016, and an official Call to Action asking the government to commission an end-to-end redesign of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process – including its outcomes and periods for reassessment.

Last year, a collective of the UK’s leading professional associations for psychological therapies reaffirmed their opposition to welfare sanctionsThe British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, British Psychoanalytic Council, British Psychological Society and UK Council for Psychotherapy between them represent more than 110,000 psychologists, counsellors, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists who practise psychotherapy and counselling.

In a joint response to last year’s report of the Welfare Conditionality project, the organisations say:

“Our key concerns remain that not only is there no clear evidence that welfare sanctions are effective, but that they can have negative effects on a range of outcomes including mental health.

“We continue to call on the Government to address these concerns, investigate how the jobcentre systems and requirements may themselves be exacerbating mental health problems and consider suspending the use of sanctions subject to the outcomes of an independent review.”

The organisations reaffirmed the clear position against welfare sanctions that they previously took in a 2016 joint response

Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard the British Psychological Society’s then acting director of policy said:

“We are delighted to sign this joint statement. The Society has seen increasing evidence that benefit sanctions undermine people’s health and wellbeing, and that people with multiple and complex needs are disproportionately subject to them.”

Last year, the UK’s most extensive study of welfare conditionality concluded that  sanctions are ineffective at ‘helping’ people into work and are more likely to reduce those affected to absolute poverty, ill-health and even survival crime.

The five-year longitudinal research tracked hundreds of claimants, finding that the controversial policy of withdrawing social security support as punishment for alleged failures to comply with jobcentre rules has been little short of disastrous. The report says: “Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes.”

It was found that sanctions impacted negatively on people’s mental health, frequently triggering high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. 

The report authors called for a review of the use of sanctions, including an immediate moratorium on benefit sanctions for disabled people who are disproportionately affected, together with an urgent “rebalancing” of the social security system to focus less on compliance and more on helping claimants into work.

Labour’s shadow secretary for work and pensions Margaret Greenwood said: “The current sanctions system is immoral and ineffective. It is not helping people into employment and at the same time is leaving vulnerable people on the brink of destitution, without any source of income for long periods.”

Sanctions are justified and imposed by the government, who claim they promote ‘behavioural change’. Ministers tend to present narratives where individuals are held responsible for social and economic problems.

However, many of us believe we need a  fundamental change in the UKs’ socioeconomic organisation, because neoliberalism systematically excludes the poorest citizens, while generously rewarding the wealthiest. Power relationships within our society also need to  change, because the government is inflicting structural violence – socioeconomic oppression – on marginalised social groups, based entirely upon the government’s own traditional class prejudices.

If any ‘behavioural change’ (a euphemism for state coercion) is needed, it is most certainly on the part of Conservative policy-makers, not from those who are being systematically oppressed. Sanctions reflect the actions of a more broadly abusive and authoritarian regime. Sanctions mean that the poorest citizens’ only means of meeting their most fundamental survival needs – food, fuel and shelter – is removed from them as a punishment for simply being poor.

Yet we know the government’s misuse of psychology, embedded in their crib sheet justification of sanctions, is dangerous, cruel and boardroom psychobabbling utter nonsense. 

It’s time the public stopped being bystanders in the face of targeted state abuse.

Priti Patel uses techniques of neutralisation to discredit the concerns raised and the evidence presented that sanctions harm people’s mental health. She even disgracefully called this cruel and punitive state action “support” ,”help” and “fair”.

It is never acceptable to endorse an oppressive, abusive regime that deliberately removes people’s means of basic survival, to meet “labour market requirements”.

 

Related

New research shows welfare sanctions are punitive, create perverse incentives and are potentially life-threatening

Pointlessly cruel’ sanctions regime must be reassessed, says Commons Select Committee

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment provided empirical evidence that demonstrates clearly why welfare sanctions can’t possibly work as an “incentive” to “make work pay”

Short Version: 


 

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Labour party plans to end privatisation of public services

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Carillion was a British multinational facilities management and construction services company which liquidated in January 2018 | Daniel Sorabji/AFP via Getty Images

The current government has consistently failed to fix the serious problems created by its’ privatisation of public services, which has directly impacted on the lives of many citizens. Those needing the support of services have found them less accessible, conditional and often, rather than alleviating hardship and socioeconomic exclusion, the private sector, contracted in tandem with government policies, has contributed to actually increasing the vulnerability of marginalised social groups, exploiting them for profit.

Poorly conceived contracts have created cost increases that surpass the costs of in-house services, and the oversight of the contracts is poor, the government is vulnerable to corruption and profiteering. The scandal of G4S and Serco charging the Ministry of Justice for tagging offenders who were dead shows just the visible surface of how bad things can get.

G4S, for example, has left a wake of human rights abuses on a global scale, and we have to question how on earth such highly controversial companies manage to secure successive government contracts involving working with vulnerable populations. The Ministry of Justice is still spending millions on tagging offenders with G4S and Capita despite the tagging scandal because, despite all of the chatter about ‘market competition’, it has not actively welcomed in or competently procured new entrants in the market.

In the wake of the collapse of Carillion, a succession of scandals involving large British companies like G4S, Serco and others, and the zig-zagging share price of outsourcing giant Capita, now is the right time to rethink the UK government’s approach to the private provision of public services. 

Any government that claims it wants to ‘take on vested interests’ wherever they may be must look first at how it itself has created – and become dependent -on a select number of vested, incumbent private suppliers. In practice, when the government claim ‘efficiency’, that generally means lower wages and substantially reduced services. When they mention ‘economies of scale’, that generally translates as constructing the contracts in such a way as to leave only the largest companies eligible to bid for them.

When the government use the word ‘incentives’, for the profiteering companies, those are perverse incentives. And when they say ‘competition’,  the government is refering to a handful of companies barely compete with one another at all but instead operate as an unelected oligarchy – a shadow state.

A Labour government would end the outsourcing of public service contracts that involve close contact with vulnerable groups, because of ongoing, grave concerns that people are being put at risk by private contractors such as Atos and Capita. The party has drawn up the plan in response to what is described as a series of outsourcing disasters. 

This would mean addressing the controversial assessments for disability and illness related social security, NHS care, the treatment of people in detention centres and prisons, and failures over recruitment and substandard housing for Armed Forces personnel, bringing those services back ‘in house’. 

Under the Labour’s party’s plans, when an outsourced contract expires or is terminated, central or local government will be required to assess whether a service involves significant contact with ‘at risk’ groups, poses a threat to people’s human rights, or entails the use of ‘coercive powers’. People ‘at risk’ are defined as those who rely on state protection, be they prisoners, hospital patients or social security recipients. 

If the answer to these criteria is “yes”, then new statutory guidance would be used,  which will lessen the grip of the private sector over our public services. After years of privatisation, it’s become clear that perverse incentives – the profit motive and ‘efficiency’in particular – have led to very poor service delivery and caused distress and harm to many citizens who have needed to access support, such as social security or healthcare. Private firms have performed notoriously badly, most often prioritising private profit over meeting human needs, while costing the British public billions of pounds.

However, there may be exemptions to the Labour party’s new rule, where:

  • The contract does not fall under a statutory definition of ‘relevant contract’.
  • The value of the contract is below a certain threshold.
  • The contract is between local authorities (or between a local authority and another public authority).
  • The public authority can demonstrate that it has ‘good reason’ to override statutory guidance.

The Labour party has repeatedly criticised the outsourcing of assessments for Personal Independent Payments and for Employment and Support Allowance, saying that this has led to a complete breakdown in trust between disabled people, the assessors and DWP decision-makers. The Ministry of Justice was forced to take control of Birmingham prison from the contractor G4S, after inspections found that prisoners were regularly using drink, drugs and violence, and corridors were littered with cockroaches, blood and vomit last year. The plan comes after a series of high-profile outsourcing controversies.

Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, said: “For too long the British public have paid the price for outsourcing.

“The Tories’ dogmatic commitment to markets at all costs has delivered sub-standard services at inflated prices. And when they fail, as they often do, it’s the taxpayer that picks up the bill.

“Labour is proposing a radical new settlement that gives people the power to end outsourcing and decide for themselves how best to deliver the services they need.

“For too long this county has been run by and in the interests of a small few who are all in it together.

“It’s time to shift the scales and bring democracy and accountability back to government, and put power in the hands of the many”.

The plan is most likely to be backed by unions, but may cause concern for some councils  under severe financial pressure after years of cuts to their funding.

The pledge is also part of a wider Labour strategy to return public services to public ownership. It reflects that Labour is serious about implementing major democratic changes to the economy, to make it more inclusive.

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The threats to public health care in the UK.

Outsourcing in the NHS is officially said to be about cutting costs and improving efficiency, but such reforms, have really helped create healthcare markets that simply promote inequality among patients and healthcare workers and erode the public nature of healthcare provision.

There is also a very obvious limiting factor to a ‘market’ in healthcare: those in most need of healthcare are least able to pay the ‘market price’ for it – the elderly, very young, people with mental illness and those who are chronicically il , many of whom are poor. So, for private healthcare to be profitable for more than just the wealthiest minority, it still requires public funding.  The government, however, have systematically refused to accept this, despite the empirical evidence that verifies the damage being done to the poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. If you want to, you can help me by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability assessment, mandatory review and appeal.

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Misleading DWP letter to GPs is depriving disabled people of lifeline support

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Credit: PA Images

Last month I reported about the issues raised by the Department for Work and Pensions’ ESA65B GP’s letter template, which was only recently placed on the government site, following a series of Parliamentary Written Questions.

Campaigners and MPs have called for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) standard letter to GPs to be scrapped after it emerged that ill and disabled appealing against unfair work capability assessment (WCA) decisions were left in near destitution after their GPs refused to provide further ‘fit notes’, because they were advised they did not need to by DWP officials.

It emerged that ministers ordered changes to the standard-issue letter to remove references that made it clear to GPs they may have to issue a medical statement if their patient wished to appeal against a WCA decision. The DWP claims this was not intended to dissuade GPs from issuing fit notes. 

Those people who challenge WCA decisions are entitled to continue to receive employment and support allowance (ESA) at basic rate, worth £73.10 a week while they await their appeal hearing, but to do so they must obtain fit notes from their GPs to prove they are too ill to work.

They must also await the outcome of a mandatory review.  Before a claimant may lodge an appeal, the must first ask the DWP to ‘reconsider’ their original decision. However, the DWP has a stated target of upholding 80% of their original decisions, so the majority of people then have to appeal following the review outcome. The law says that the claimant may claim basic rate ESA following mandatory review if they wish to proceed with an appeal.

So the misleading change to the template letter routinely sent from the DWP to GPs has led to people who have lodged an appeal against an unfair decision being blocked from claiming ESA while awaiting the appeal hearing. This prevents many low-income disabled people from accessing financial support while they wait for months on end to go to tribunal. Furthermore, we know that catastrophically inaccurate assessments within the DWP are pretty much the norm. Nationally, 72% of people who appeal against their work capability assessment decision are successful.

Entitlement to ESA pending appeal is enshrined in the ESA Regulations to cover the whole of the period leading up the hearing. It is also possible to have the payment backdated to cover the Mandatory Review waiting period too – it can take over six weeks for the DWP to review their original decision, over which time people are left without welfare support.

ESA pending appeal is not paid automatically – people usually have to ask for it, and must provide fit notes from their GP, presenting these along with their appeal acknowledgment letter from the Tribunal Courts to their local Job Centre. The Job Centre should report back to the DWP who will arrange for ESA pending appeal to be paid.

From last year, then minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, responded to one of several Written Questions from Emma Dent Coad, saying: “The ESA65B letter is issued to GPs in every case where an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimant has been found ‘fit for work’. This process was built into the IT system as part of the introduction of ESA in October 2008. 

“Following a Ministerial requirement by the Cabinet Secretary, which was endorsed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the content of the ESA65B letter has been improved in order to explain to GPs the type of support customers can expect to receive from their local Jobcentre, and to ask GPs to encourage customers in their efforts to return to work.” [My emphasis]. 

The decision to change the letter template was made without any scrutiny from or consultation with parliament or the public.

The standard letter, titled “Help us support your patient to return to or start work.” says: “We assessed [Title] [First name] [Surname] on and decided that [select] is capable of doing some work, but this might not be the same type of work [select] may have done before.

“We know most people are better off in work, so we are encouraging [Title] [First name] [Surname] to find out what type of work [select] may be able to do with [select] health condition or disability through focused support at [select] local Jobcentre Plus.

“In the course of any further consultations with [Title] [First name] [Surname] we hope you will also encourage [select] in [select] efforts to return to, or start, work

“Please do not give [Title] [First name] [Surname] any more fit notes relating to [select] disability/health condition for ESA purposes.

Minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, responded to one of several Written Questions from Emma Dent Coad, saying: “The ESA65B letter is issued to GPs in every case where an ESA claimant has been found ‘fit for work’. This process was built into the IT system as part of the introduction of ESA in October 2008. 

“Following a Ministerial requirement by the Cabinet Secretary, which was endorsed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the content of the ESA65B letter has been improved in order to explain to GPs the type of support customers can expect to receive from their local Jobcentre, and to ask GPs to encourage customers in their efforts to return to work.” [My emphasis]. 

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said the lack of clarity over when GPs should issue fit notes could put patients’ finances and health at risk. “No GP wants that, and it only serves to threaten the long-standing trust that patients have in their family doctor.”

Until 2017 the standard letter advised GPs that if their patient appealed against the WCA decision they must continue to provide fit notes.

However, on (undisclosed) ministerial orders, the letter now states that GPs “do not need to provide any more fit notes for ESA purposes”. It does not mention the possibility that the patient may appeal, or that a fit note is needed for the patient to obtain ESA payments until the appeal is heard.

Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions select committee, has also raised the issue with the then disability minister Sarah Newton back in January. Newton replied that the wording was amended “to make the letter simpler and clearer”, adding that DWP communications were intended to be “clear, understandable and fit for purpose”.

Field replied that the wording was “not having the desired effect”, and urged her to revise it to make clear ESA claimants on appeal were entitled to fit notes. “This simple step could greatly ease the stress and worry that people who are awaiting an appeal experience.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “These letters simply inform GPs when a claimant has been found fit for work and are not intended to dissuade them from issuing fit notes for ESA appeal purposes, to claim otherwise is inaccurate.”

However, there is a hint the letter may be changed. Newton told Field: “We are committed to ensuring our communication is clear, which is why the wording of this letter was cleared by both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). However, we will of course consider feedback when revising the letter.”  Newton tends to stick to a script in her responses, though. She told Emma Coad Dent exactly the same thing, almost word for word last year, in her response to a Written Question.

It remains very unclear on what basis the RCGP agreed to the new wording as the change was agreed at a DWP stakeholder meeting for which, according to Newton, there are no formal minutes. Newton confirmed this in the correspondence between herself and Field, as well as in her responses to Emma Coad Dent’s long series of Written Questions on this issue.

Firstly, on 16 May, last year, Newton says: “The Cabinet Secretary first issued the requirement to revise the ESA65B letter in November 2014.

“The wording of the ESA65B was changed to emphasise the benefits of work and to ask GPs to encourage their patients in their efforts to return to some form of work.”

Then, according to Newton: “The British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners agreed to the revised wording of the ESA65B on 4 August 2016.” 

However, in June last year, she also said, in response to a Written Question from Emma Dent Coad: “DWP’s Legal Service cleared the revised wording on 29 July 2016 and the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions subsequently authorised the changes.”

Yet when asked in November last year what written evidence her Department holds on the British Medical Association and Royal College of General Practitioners agreement to the revised wording of the ESA65B letters sent to claimants’ GPs when they fail the work capability assessment, she replied: “There is no written evidence relating to the agreement obtained from the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners on the revised wording of the ESA65B letter.

“In accordance with the Answer of 30 May 2018 to Question 146987, agreement on the final wording of the ESA65B was obtained via the regular meetings DWP holds with both organisations.” 

Newton had previously also said: “In accordance with the Answer of 3 July 2018 to Question 155402, the information is not available as there is no written minute of the meeting between officials from this Department and representatives from the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners on the revised wording of the ESA65B letter.” 

In June last year, Dent Coad asked Newton who attended the meetings between officials in her Department and the (a) British Medical Association and (b) Royal College of General Practitioners on the revised wording of the ESA65B; and if she would place in the Library a copy of the minutes of those meetings. Newton responded on 03 July 2018:  

“The names of the participants representing the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners who attended the meetings referred to constitute their personal data and in accordance with data protection principles, they will not be disclosed without informed consent. DWP officials did not take minutes of these meetings.”

And: “No other external stakeholders were consulted on the development of the revised ESA65B letter.”

Newton has also said in response to Written Questions: “The Department is committed to ensuring all of its communications are clear, accurate and understandable and we continuously improve our letters. We engage regularly with the welfare benefits advice sector and disability charities and take into account all of the feedback we receive.”

“We have received comments from a number of sources including MPs, stakeholder organisations and GPs on the current version of the ESA65B letter and will take all of their feedback into account when revising it.”

I should hope so. The idea of the state persuading doctors and other professionals to “sing from the same [political] hymn sheet”, by promoting work outcomes in social and health care settings is more than a little Orwellian. Co-opting professionals to police the welfare system is very dangerous. 

In linking receipt of welfare with health services and “state therapy,” with the single intended outcome explicitly expressed as employment, the government is purposefully conflating citizen’s widely varied needs with economic outcomes and diktats, isolating people from traditionally non-partisan networks of relatively unconditional support, such as the health service, social services, community services and mental health services.

Public services “speaking with one voice” as the government are urging, will invariably make accessing support conditional, and further isolate already marginalised social groups. Citizens’ safe spaces for genuine and objective support is shrinking as the state encroaches with strategies to micromanage those using public services. This encroachment will damage trust between people needing support and professionals who are meant to deliver essential public services, rather than simply extending government dogma, prejudices and discrimination.

 

Related

Jobcentre tells GP to stop issuing sick notes to patient assessed as ‘fit for work’ and he died.

GPs told to consider making fit notes conditional on patients having appointment with work coach

Let’s keep the job centre out of GP surgeries and the DWP out of our confidential medical records

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through Universal Credit, PIP and ESA assessment, mandatory review and appeal. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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UN calls on UK government to scrap ‘pernicious’ two-child benefit cap and rape clause

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The UK Government has been urged to abandon its “pernicious” two child policy and rape clause, following the publication of a United Nations Human Rights report.

The new report published today by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), made a number of recommendations including that the two child tax credit limit be repealed. The report authors also warn that Universal Credit risks trapping domestic abuse victims in situations of poverty and violence. 

Last year, leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, wrote to the Prime Minister, calling on the Government to bring forward policies to reverse the “shocking trends of rising poverty, rising homelessness and rising destitution”, promising to “expedite” a range of measures through Parliament with Labour support, including: ending the two child limit and scrapping the ‘rape clause.’ 

The two child limit, and the ‘non-consensual sex exemption’ – commonly known as the ‘rape clause’ – has been the subject of significant opposition since it was challenged in the 2015 Budget, including by the SNP’s Alison Thewliss, among others. 


SNP MP Alison Thewliss has stepped call for an end to the two child limit
Alison Thewliss. Courtesy of The Scotsman


The report says: “The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations and remains concerned that the payment of Universal Credit, which consolidates six separate income-related benefits, into a single bank account under the Universal Credit system risks depriving women in abusive relationships access to necessary funds and trapping them in situations of poverty and violence.

“It also expresses deep concern at the introduction of a two-child tax credit limit except in certain circumstances such as rape, which has a perverse and disproportionate impact on women.

“The Committee also expresses its concern that the increase in the state pension age for women from 60 to 66, following several legislative changes, has affected the pension entitlements of women born in the 1950s, and is contributing to poverty, homelessness and financial hardships among the affected women.”

The Committee calls on the UK Government to:

(a) Ensure that women in abusive situations are able to independently access payments under the Universal Credit system;

(b) Repeal the two-child tax credit limit;

(c) Take effective measures to ensure that the increase in the State pension age from 60 to 66 does not have a discriminatory impact on women born in the 1950s.

The policy limits child tax credit to the first two children. A number of exceptions were set out, including for a child born as a result of “non-consensual conception”. Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd announced a rollback in January, but faced claims that she was creating “two classes of family” by scrapping it for some claimants but not others. 

Human rights and the implications of the Conservatives’ two-child policy 

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatorystates:

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2.  Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

An assessment report last year, by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider imposing the deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans at the time to repeal the Human Rights Act.

More than 70,000 low-income families lost up to £2,800 each last year after having their entitlement to benefits taken away as a result of the government’s “two-child policy”, official figures showed. The statistics revealed that during the first year of operation, 59% of the 73,500 families who lost financial support for a third child were in work. Nine per cent of UK claimant households with three or more children were affected.

Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “These figures are truly shocking. The two-child limit is an attack on low-income families, is morally wrong and risks pushing children into poverty.

“It cannot be right that the government is making children a target for austerity, treating one child as if they matter less than another. Labour will make tackling child poverty the priority it should be.”

Margaret-Greenwood-

 

Margaret Greenwood, shadow Work and Pensions Secretary

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy.”

Jamie Grier, the development director at the welfare advice charity Turn2us, said: “We are still contacted by parents, the majority of whom are in work, fretting over whether this policy means they might consider terminating their pregnancy.”

The policy was introduced by the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who described it as a “brilliant idea”, despite it being criticised as a “Chinese-style clampdown on the poor”. Duncan Smith said it would force claimants to make the same life choices as families not on benefits, and incentivise them to seek work or increase their hours.

Commenting on the report, Alison Thewliss MP said: “This most recent condemnation is a damning confirmation of what is a truly cruel and pernicious policy by this heartless UK Tory Government.

“Having ceased rollout of the policy to third and subsequent children born before April 2017, the DWP Secretary of State Amber Rudd must now recognise that the two child policy is unfair for everyone who is affected by it.

“No one can plan for the whole course of their family life, and social security should be a safety net for all of us when we need it.

“Only today, I met with a host of organisations, representing a number of sections of society – including women’s and religious groups – and all were unequivocal in their opposition to the two child policy.

“It is tantamount to social engineering, and it is pushing increasing numbers of families into poverty.

“I will be writing to the UK Government to ask for immediate action on CEDAW’s findings. Amber Rudd must do the right thing and end the two child limit for good.”

Related

The government’s eugenic policy is forcing some women to abort wanted pregnancies


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through Universal Credit, PIP and ESA assessment, mandatory review and appeal. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Former DWP boss tells how Tory policies pushed her to quit her job

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Mhairi Doyle with her grandson Isaac supporting junior doctors at Southport Hospital. Picture courtesy of the Liverpool Echo.

A Merseyside councillor has spoken out about why she retired from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after 25 years. She says it’s because she “refused to be complicit in how the Tories treat vulnerable people.”

Mhairi Doyle, Labour councillor for Norwood ward in Southport, was also the social inclusion manager for Merseyside in the Department of Work and Pensions until 2012. She moved to Southport in 1988, having been born and raised in Edinburgh.

Doyle received an MBE for her work with disadvantaged people, especially her work with Street Sex Workers in Liverpool, and has worked at local, regional and national levels developing policy to help change lives.

She said: “I was working with heroin users, sufferers of domestic violence, people who were in and out of prison, homeless people… with some funding we managed to create networks to support people and help them out of horrendous situations.

“We were getting about 80% of people back into work.

“It took time and energy but we had a really good thing going. And then the coalition government came in and everything was cut, gone in an instant.

“Everyone was shocked when I said I was retiring; they used to joke that I’d have to be carried out, I loved my job so much. But I could not be complicit in the way the Tories think it’s acceptable to treat vulnerable people.”

Doyle said that there have been abrupt changes in the ethos of job centres since 2012. She said: “We used to be there to help and advise, but it’s gone from being a service about people to a service about numbers.

“The benefit regime is so harsh. They say people don’t have targets on benefit sanctions but it’s all semantics – there is an expectation on staff to cut benefits.

“I’m not having a go at anybody who works at job centres. It’s a difficult job and it’s not well-paid, it’s the system. Workers are expected to get people out the door quickly and get them to do it online, but not everyone is computer literate or has internet access.”

She added: “The bulk of my caseload is people struggling to get the benefits they need to live on, and a lot of these people work.”

She continued: “When I moved here I was told, as many of us were, that a vote for Labour was a wasted vote. So, to keep the Tories out I voted Lib Dem until 2010, when I voted Lib Dem and still got the Tories.

“Even worse, they took part in and enabled all the devastating cuts still affecting us today.

“I don’t think it is fair that our NHS is being sold off piece by piece or that my grandson when he gets out of university, will leave with over £50,000 of debt.

“And I don’t think it is fair that the Tories and Lib Dems have starved our local council of money, forcing them into such difficult decisions over services and amenities and then stand back and blithely criticise when they are the very reason it is happening.”

In a completely meaningless response, a DWP spokesman reading from the DWP crib sheet, said: “Finding work is the best route towards prosperity and Universal Credit is a force for good, providing tailored support for over 1.6 million people as they find jobs faster and stay working longer.

“Extra digital help and budgeting support are also available.”

The comment doesn’t address the issues raised by Doyle at all, nor do the political platitudes mitigate the hostile environment that has been engineered by successive Conservative-led governments, which is having dire consequences for many people, both in and out of work.

Doyle 2

Mhairi Doyle, pictured here alongside Bootle MP Peter Dowd and Southport Labour members, won her seat in 2018.  Picture courtesy of the Liverpool Echo.

 


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The government’s identity verification portal – Verify – is another Tory flagship failure

gov.uk verify icon

The National Audit Office has strongly criticised the government’s flagship identity verification scheme. The damning report says Gov.UK Verify has fallen well short of its target of 25 million users by 2020, managing only 3.6 million so far.

The government has had to lower its estimates for Verify’s financial benefits by 75%.

Nineteen government services currently use Verify, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, in the process of delivering universal credit, those claiming a tax refund from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and HM Land Registry’s Sign your mortgage deed may all be accessed through Verify, too.

The National Audit Office (NAO) scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The NAO have published its investigation on Verify, the government’s flagship identity verification portal. It has found Verify’s performance has consistently been below the standards initially set, and take-up among the public and departments has been much lower than expected.

Verify asks people wanting to sign up to government services via the GOV.UK website to pick a commercial identity provider to check and verify their identity. Current providers include Barclays, Digidentity, Experian, Post Office and secureidentity/Morpho. (Royal Mail and CitizenSafe/GBG were also providers but recently decided not to continue as identity providers on the commercial terms applying from October 2018.)

For those that do use Verify, problems are widespread.

Currently only 48% of people who try to sign up for the service are successful on their first try.

This rate is even lower (38%) for universal credit claimants using the service to authenticate their identity online. This has led to increased operational costs, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) expecting its spend on manual verification to be about £40m over the next decade.

The NAO’s report follows on from their previous work on Verify in the Digital transformation in government report. This found that Verify’s take-up had been undermined by its performance and that Government Digital Service had lost focus on the longer-term strategic case for the project.

The Government Digital Service (GDS), part of the Cabinet Office, developed Verify to be the default way for people to prove their identities so they can access online government services securely. It originally intended for Verify to be largely self-funding by the end of March 2018.

However, the NAO’s investigation highlights that the number of people and departments using Verify is well below expectations. GDS has significantly revised down its estimated financial benefits by over £650 million, for the period 2016-17 to 2019-20, from £873 million to £217 million. Government also continues to fund it centrally, although it announced in October 2018 that this would stop in March 2020.

In 2016 GDS forecast that 25 million people would use Verify by 2020. By February 2019, 3.6 million people had signed up for the service. If current trends continue, approximately just 5.4 million users will have signed up by 2020.

Nineteen government services currently use Verify, less than the 46 expected to by March 2018, and of those, at least 11 can still be accessed through other online systems. Some government service users, such as Universal Credit claimants, have experienced problems. As a result, departments have needed to undertake more manual processing than they anticipated, increasing their costs.

Verify uses commercial providers to check people’s identities. GDS has reported a verification success rate of 48% at February 2019, against a projection of 90%. The success rate measures the proportion of people who succeed in signing up for Verify, having had their identities confirmed by a commercial provider. It does not count the number of people dropping out before they finish their applications nor indicate whether people can actually access and use the government services they want after signing up with Verify.

The vast majority of funding comes from central government (and ultimately, the tax payer). Verify has cost at least £154 million by December 2018 but this is likely to be an underestimate of all costs, as GDS’s reported spend does not include costs of departments reconfiguring their systems to use Verify.

The largest component of known costs, some £58 million, was payments to commercial providers. In addition, out of seven departments invoiced for their use of Verify from 2016-17 only one department (HMRC) has paid. The total amount invoiced was £3.6 million, of which £2 million is currently still outstanding.

Universal Credit remains Verify’s biggest government customer base in verifying claimants identities and remains the major constraint in closing Verify.

However, most claimants cannot even use Verify to apply for Universal Credit: only 38% of Universal Credit claimants can successfully verify their identity online (of the 70% of claimants that attempt to sign up through Verify). The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is working with GDS on an improvement plan to increase the number of claimants successfully verified.

Verify has been subject to over 20 internal and external reviews, including a July 2018 review by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority that recommended Verify be closed as quickly as practicable, bearing in mind Universal Credit’s critical dependency on it. This followed a Cabinet Office and Treasury decision in May 2018 to approve GDS’s proposal to ‘reset’ Verify in an attempt to improve its performance and take up.

Meg Hillier MP, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, called Verify “a textbook case of government’s over-optimism and programme-management failure.”

“Despite spending at least £154m on Verify, only half the people that try to sign up are able to use it and take-up is much lower than expected.”

The report notes that the total cost of Verify is in fact likely to exceed £154m, as this figure does not include the amount it has cost departments to reconfigure their systems to use Verify.

Of the known costs, more than one-third has gone on payments to the commercial identity providers behind the system, including Barclays and the Post Office.

The Cabinet Office announced in October 2018 that government would stop funding Verify in March 2020. It has capped the amount it will spend on Verify during this time to £21.5 million. GDS has confirmed 18-month contracts with five commercial identity providers who will continue to verify people’s identities. After March 2020, GDS’s intention is for the private sector to take over responsibility for Verify.

GDS will withdraw from its operational role running Verify from April 2020. GDS claims that under a market-based model, departments will procure Verify’s services directly from commercial providers. This means departments that currently do not pay their full usage costs for Verify would have to in future.

The NAO report concludes: “Unfortunately, Verify is also an example of many of the failings in major [government] programmes that we often see, including optimism bias and failure to set clear objectives. Even in the context of GDS’s redefined objectives for the programme, it is difficult to conclude that successive decisions to continue with Verify have been sufficiently justified.” 

The full privatisation of this service is highly likely to present further problems, however, since the prospect of private profit introduces perverse incentives, which empirical evidence demonstrates are clearly linked with poor service standards and delivery.

It is a purely ideological strategy that has resulted in the poor management of public funds increasingly over the last few decades, and particularly, over this past eight years.

 

 


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to support others going through PIP and ESA assessment, mandatory review and appeal.

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Tory racism is embedded in policy and clearly evident in Tory social media groups

racism

A Conservative councillor has been suspended by the Conservative Party after a Facebook group he moderates was found to contain several Islamophobic and racist comments.

Martyn York, a Conservative councillor in Wellingborough, was a moderator for “Boris Johnson: Supporters’ Group”, which included  members whose comments called for the bombing of mosques around the UK. Dorinda Bailey, a former Conservative council candidate, has also been accused of supporting Islamophobia with her comments following a post in the group calling for mosques to be bombed.

Furthermore, the group, which has 4,800 members, can only be joined after receiving approval from moderators, and its guidelines explicitly call on members not to post hate speech. 

Comments in the group, however, seriously violate these rules, with several referring to Muslims as “ragheads” and calling immigrants “cockroaches”.

In one comment, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is called a “conniving little muzrat”, and Muslim Labour MP Naz Shah is also targeted with abuse and told to “p*** off to [her] own country”.

Someone posted in the group that any mosques “found to preach hate” should be shut down, another group member responded: “Bomb the f****** lot.” 

Bailey responded, without a trace of irony: “I agree, but any chance you could edit your comment please. No swearing policy.”

There were also comments in the group telling an African solider to “p*** off back to Africa” and for Labour MP Fiona Onasanya to be “put on a banana boat back home”.

After the offensive posts were brought to his attention, Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis confirmed York’s suspension and said Bailey was no longer a member of the party.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, said this was further evidence of a “significant problem”.

“A Facebook group led by Conservative politicians containing unashamed bigotry has made it completely apparent that there is a significant problem with racism and Islamophobia within the party of government,” a spokesperson for the MCB said.

“Polls revealing that half of all Conservative voters in 2017 believe Islam to be a threat to the British way of life have shown how widespread this sentiment is. We reiterate our call for the government to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia and lead by example by committing to tackle bigotry everywhere, not just where it’s politically convenient.”

There government were happy enough to ensure an inquiry into the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party, and ‘inappropriate’ posts on social media took place. However, the conclusions of the Home Office Committee contradicted the claims being made on the right and among the neoliberal centrists, about the Labour party.

Nonetheless, the claims have continued, indicating a degree of underpinning political expedience and media misdirection.commons-select-committee-antisemitism

That is not to say there is no antisemitism at all among Labour party members, and where allegations arise, those MUST be addressed. However, it does indicate that political and media claims that the party is ‘institutionally antisemitic’ are completely unfounded. 

It is also absolutely reasonable to point this out. 

Unlawful and discriminatory Conservative policy

Meanwhile the Conservatives have continued to embed their prejudices and racism in  discriminatory policies. For example, in 2014 Theresa May was the Home Secretary who introduced the disgraceful Hostile Environment legislation that ultimately led to the Windrush scandal.  On March 1st 2019 a central mechanism of that legislation was ruled unlawful by the High Court because of the way it has unleashed a wave of racism, and because it was found to violate the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Judge Martin Spencer found the policy caused landlords to discriminate against both black and ethnic minority British people and foreign UK residents.

He also ruled that rolling out the scheme in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland without further evaluation would be “irrational” and breach equality laws.

“The evidence, when taken together, strongly showed not only that landlords are discriminating against potential tenants on grounds of nationality and ethnicity but also that they are doing so because of the scheme,” Mr Justice Spencer told the court on Friday.

He added “It is my view that the scheme introduced by the government does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate, but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not.”

The changes that came into force in 2016 required private landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants, or face unlimited fines or even prison for renting to undocumented migrants, coercing landlords into becoming agents of the state, effectively.

Judge Martin Spencer said: “The government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the discrimination which is taking place by asserting that such discrimination is carried out by landlords acting contrary to the intention of the scheme.”

He also said he had found that Right to Rent had “little or no effect” on controlling immigration and that the Home Office had “not come close” to justifying it.

The legal challenge was launched by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which called Right to Rent a “key plank of Theresa May’s hostile environment” policy.

Chai Patel, JCWI legal policy director, said: “Now that the High Court has confirmed that Ms May’s policy actively causes discrimination, parliament must act immediately to scrap it.

“But we all know that this sort of discrimination, caused by making private individuals into border guards, affects almost every aspect of public life – it has crept into our banks, hospitals, and schools. Today’s judgment only reveals the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates why the Hostile Environment must be dismantled.” 

John Stewart, policy manager for the RLA, called the ruling a “damning critique of a flagship government policy”. 

He added : “We have warned all along that turning landlords into untrained and unwilling border police would lead to the exact form of discrimination the court has found.” 

Rather than accept the High Court’s findings, a Home Office spokesperson has said that an independent mystery shopping exercise found “no evidence of systemic discrimination”.

“We are disappointed with the judgement and we have been granted permission to appeal, which reflects the important points of law that were considered in the case. In the meantime, we are giving careful consideration to the judge’s comments,” he added.

I have written at length about the prejudiced, discriminatory and unlawful policies that the Conservatives have directed at ill and disabled people over the last few years. I also submitted evidence to the United Nations on this matter. However, the UN’s findings of “grave and systematic violations” of disabled peoples’ human rights, and the examples of structural violence inflicted on our politically marginalised community currently fails to get the media attention that mere allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party attracts.

People are suffering harm and psychological distress, and increasingly, some are dying, as a direct consequence of oppressive, cruel, illegal and dangerously authoritarian Conservative policies, while shamefully, much of the media prefers to look the other way.

That is, where the state directs them to ‘look’. 

If you’ve ever wondered how some societies have permitted conscious cruelty to flourish, to the point where entire groups are targeted with oppressive and discriminatory policies resulting in distress, harm and death, I have to tell you that it’s pretty much like this.

Allport's ladder

 


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to support others going through PIP and ESA assessment, mandatory review and appeal.

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