Category: Social Policy

Freedom of Information tribunal on benefit deaths – April 23

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That we live in times when a government can withhold information about the impact of its policies on sick and disabled people, the poorest and the vulnerable is extraordinary, and certainly reflects the fact that we are no longer a democracy.

We knew in 2012 that an average of 73 sick and disabled people were dying after they had their lifeline benefits withdrawn. But now the government refuses to provide us with information about deaths since then. It’s my own belief that this refusal is because the truth will be horrifying and that even those that supported benefit cuts originally will raise their objections when they learn the truth. We cannot claim to be a civilised society when our government policy is killing some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Well done Mike Sivier, for standing up against an increasingly authoritarian government, and good luck from your fellow campaigners.

From Vox Political: Freedom of Information tribunal on benefit deaths – April 23.

“The only way the public can judge whether this has worked, or whether more must be done to prevent unnecessary deaths, is by examining the mortality statistics, but these have been withheld”. 

Yes, just like the toxic clause 99 – mandatory review – silences those wishing to appeal, also hiding evidence from the public eye. The Tories are showing form here.

 In a so-called democracy, ALL campaigning is both essential and part of an inbuilt safeguard against authoritarianism.

Vox Political: Case proven? Government stays away from benefit deaths tribunal

Related:

The ESA ‘Revolving Door’ Process, and its Correlation with a Significant Increase in Deaths amongst the Disabled.
Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy

The just world fallacy

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The Tories now deem anything that criticises them as “abusive”. Ordinary campaigners are labelled “extremists” and pointing out flaws, errors and consequences of Tory policy is called “scaremongering”.

Language and psychology are a powerful tool, because this kind of use “pre-programs” and sets the terms of any discussion or debate. It also informs you what you may think, or at least what you need to circumnavigate first in order to state your own account or present your case. This isn’t simply name-calling or propaganda: it’s a deplorable and tyrannical silencing technique.

The government have gathered together a Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) – it is a part of the Cabinet Office – which is comprised of both behavioural psychologists and economists, who apply positivist (pseudo) psychological techniques to social policy. The approach is not much different to the techniques of persuasion used in the shady end of the advertising industry.  They produce positive psychology courses which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are using to ensure participants find satisfaction with their lot; the DWP are also using psychological referral with claims being reconsidered on a mandatory basis by civil servant “decision makers”, as punishment for non-compliance with the new regimes of welfare conditionality for which people claiming out of work benefits are subject.

Positive psychology courses, and the use of psychological referral as punishment for non-compliance with the new regimes of welfare conditionality applied to people claiming out of work benefits are example of the (mis)application of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

CBT is all about making a person responsible for their own thoughts and how they perceive events and experiences and can sometimes be used to empower people. But used in this context, it’s a political means to push an ideological agenda, entailing the “responsibilisation” of poverty, with claimants being blamed for not having a job or for being ill and/or disabled.

However, responding with anger, sadness and despair is normal to many events and circumstances, and to deny that in any way is actually grotesque, cruel and horrendously abusive – it’s a technique called gaslighting – a method of psychological abuse that is usually associated with psychopathic perpetrators.

Gaslighting techniques may range from a simple denial by abusers that abusive incidents have occurred, to events and accounts staged by the abusers with the intention of disorienting the targets (or “victims”.)

The government is preempting any reflection on widening social inequality and injustice by using these types of behavioural modification techniques on the poor, holding them entirely responsible for the government’s economic failures and the consequences of  class contingent policies.

Sanctions are applied to “remedy” various “defects” of individual behaviour, character and attitude. Poor people are being coerced into workfare and complicity using bogus psychology and bluntly applied behavioural modification techniques.

Poor people are punished for being poor, whilst wealthy people are rewarded for being wealthy. Not only on a material level, but on a level of socially and politically attributed esteem, worth and value.

We know from research undertaken by sociologists, psychologists and economists over the past century that being poor is bad for mental wellbeing and health. The government is choosing to ignore this and adding to that problem substantially by stripping people of their basic dignity and autonomy.

The application of behavioural science is even more damaging than the hateful propaganda and media portrayals, although both despicable methods of control work together to inflict psychological damage on more than one level. “Positive psychology” and propaganda serve to invalidate individual experiences, distress and pain and to appropriate blame for circumstances that lie entirely outside of an individual’s control and responsibility.

Social psychologists such as Melvin Lerner followed on from Milgam’s work in exploring social conformity and obedience, seeking to answer the questions of how regimes that cause cruelty and suffering maintain popular support, and how people come to accept social norms and laws that produce misery and suffering.

The just-world” fallacy is the cognitive bias (assumption) that a person’s actions always bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, so that all honourable actions are eventually rewarded and all evil actions are eventually punished.

The fallacy is that this implies (often unintentionally) the existence of cosmic justice, stability, or order, and also serves to rationalise people’s misfortune on the grounds that they deserve it. It is an unfounded, persistent and comforting belief that the world is somehow fundamentally fair, without the need for our own moral agency and responsibility.

The fallacy appears in the English language in various figures of speech that imply guaranteed negative reprisal, such as: “You got what was coming to you,” “What goes around comes around,” and “You reap what you sow.” This tacit assumption is rarely scrutinised, and goes some way to explain why innocent victims are blamed for their misfortune.

The Government divides people into deserving and undeserving categories – the “strivers” and “scroungers” rhetoric is an example of how the government are drawing on such fallacious tacit assumptions – that utilises an inbuilt bias of some observers to blame victims for their suffering – to justify social oppression and inequality that they have engineered via policy.

The poorest are expected to be endlessly resilient and resourceful, people claiming social security are having their lifeline benefits stripped away and are being forced into a struggle to meet their basic survival needs. This punitive approach can never work to “incentivise” or motivate in such circumstances, because we know that when people struggle to meet basic survival needs they are too pre-occupied to be motivated to meet other less pressing needs.

Maslow identifies this in his account of the human hierarchy of needs, and many motivational studies bear this out. This makes the phrase trotted out by the Tories: “helping people into work” to justify sanctions and workfare not only utterly terrifying, but also inane.

Unemployment is NOT caused by “psychological barriers” or “character flaws”. It is caused by feckless and reckless governments failing to invest in growth projects. It’s not about personal “employability”, it’s about neoliberal economics, labour market conditions, political policies and subsequent socio-structural problems.

Public policy is not a playground for the amateur and potentially dangerous application of brainwashing techniques via the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or “nudge unit”. This is NOT being nasty in a nice way: it is being nasty in a nasty way; it’s utterly callous.

The rise of psychological coercion, “positive affect as coercive strategy”, and the recruitment of economic psychologists for designing the purpose of  monitoring, modifying and punishing people who claim social security benefits raises important ethical questions about psychological authority. Psychology is being used as a prop for neoliberal ideology.

We ought to be very concerned about the professional silence so far regarding this adoption of a such a psychocratic, neo-behavourist approach to social control and an imposed conformity by this government.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone 

Related reading:

AFTER FORCED-PSYCHOMETRIC-TEST DEBACLE, NOW JOBCENTRES OFFER ONLINE CBT – Skywalker

The Right Wing Moral Hobby Horse:Thrift and Self Help, But Only For The Poor

From Psycho-Linguistics to the Politics of Psychopathy. Part 1: Propaganda.

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

Whistle While You Work (For Nothing): Positive Affect as Coercive Strategy – The Case of Workfare by Lynne Friedli and Robert Stearn (A must read)

 


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Quantitative Data on Poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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The minimum cost of living has soared by a quarter – 25% – since the start of the economic downturn, according to a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which details the true inflationary pressures facing low income households. The research finds families are facing an “unprecedented erosion of household living standards” thanks to rapid inflation and flat-lining wages.

Cuts to benefits and tax credits have exacerbated the problem over the past 12 months, according to the report. Now we are seeing the hard evidence that the Coalition’s “reforms” are pushing employed people in low paid work and unemployed people into absolute poverty, as our welfare system is no longer meeting basic living needs, and Government policy has distorted the original purpose of our social security, using rhetoric about costs to “the tax payer”, whilst carefully excluding the fact from their monologue that most benefit recipients are also tax payers.

A frightening consideration is that this report doesn’t include the latest round of benefit cuts – the very worst of them to date – that were implemented in April of this year. The report was produced prior to then, covering the period up to April, but doesn’t include it.

A quarter of households in the UK already fell short of the income required to reach an adequate standard of living – for them a 25% increase in costs intensifies the everyday struggle to make ends meet. The price of food and goods we need for an acceptable living standard has risen far faster than average inflation. This has combined with low pay increases to create a widening gap between income and needs.

The freeze in child benefit, the decision to uprate tax credits by just 1% and the increase in the cost of essentials faster than inflation mean that a working couples with children an  working lone parents will lose out, making a mockery of the Coalition’s claim of “making work pay”.

Over the past five years:

• Childcare costs have risen over twice as fast as inflation at 37%.
• Rent in social housing has gone up by 26%.
• Food costs have increased by 24%.
• Energy costs are 39% more.
• Public transport is up by 30%.

Some further shocking Key findings from the Poverty and Social Exclusion Project – The Impoverishment of the UK report reveals that:

• Over 30 million people (almost half the population) are suffering some degree of financial insecurity.
• Almost 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions.
• Roughly 14 million cannot afford one or more essential household goods.
• Almost 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities considered necessary by the majority of the population.
• About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing.
• Around 4 million children and adults are not properly fed by today’s standards.
• Almost 4 million children go without at least two of the things they need;
• Around 2.5 million children live in homes that are damp.
• Around 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat their home.

Since 2010, wages have been rising more slowly than prices, and over the past 12 months, incomes have been further eroded by cuts to benefits and tax credits. Ministers argue that the raising of the personal tax allowance to £10, 000 for low income households will help, however, the report says its effect is cancelled out by cuts and rising living costs.

I would add that for many who are low paid, and the increasing numbers of part-time workers, this political gesturing is meaningless. The policy only benefits those who earn enough to pay tax. Most of this group are affected by the benefit cuts – many have to claim housing benefit and council tax benefit, and they are therefore likely to be affected by the bedroom tax and the poll tax-styled reductions to benefits under the Localism Bill, to compound matters.

It has to be said that the greatest percentage change in net income from the personal tax free allowance of £10,000 is seen by those on the upper end of the income scale – not, as is often claimed, low earners. This does explain the policy. Increasing the personal allowance serves to increase the gap between the those on the lowest incomes and those on  middle range incomes, resulting in low income households falling further into poverty.

At the low paid end of salaried work there are a cohort of workers trapped in a cycle of very poorly paid, low – skilled work, zero hour contracts, with few, if any, employee rights. They tend to work for a few months here and there, in work that is often seasonal. There is no opportunity for saving money or hope of better employment prospects.

This group of workers tend to live hand to mouth from one pay day to the next, so have no opportunity to build a reserve when the contract ends, there is nothing in reserve.

The net result is that it is increasingly very difficult for low-to-middle income families to balance the weekly budget. There is now a widening gulf between public expectations of a minimum decent living standard and their ability to earn enough to meet it. I would add that the gap between low and middle income families is widening, and will continue to do so because of the impact of policies that have recently been implemented.

Welfare support is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. All developed countries have such support for the vulnerable, and the less developed ones are striving to establish their own. Welfare states depend on a fair collection and redistribution of resources, which in turn rests upon the maintenance of trust between different sections of society and across generations. Most of us have paid for our own welfare.

It’s a common rhetorical trick for politicians is to talk about “looking after the tax payer.” However the reality is that they are often only really concerned with particular tax payers – the electoral groups that determine the outcomes of elections – often people on middle-incomes. They talk as if tax payers are some hard-pressed group who are burdened by the poor and that the rest of us don’t pay taxes.

But the reality is that there are many different taxes (the Institute of Fiscal Studies counted at least 25). Also the poorest people don’t just pay tax, they often pay the most tax. Not just indirect taxes, like VAT, but also income tax and council tax. Many other taxes are hidden from view in duties or other background taxes like Employer’s National Insurance.

Most assume that the rich pay a much higher rate of tax than the poor. After all the income tax system is meant to place progressively higher burdens on people with higher incomes. However, when you look at the rates of tax paid by each household it is very surprising.

The highest rate of tax, that is the share of income lost in tax, is paid by the poorest 10% of households (or families). The poorest 10% of families pay 45% of their income in tax. The other 90% of families pay quite a similar rates of tax, varying between 31% and 35%.

The three things to remember when politicians talk about tax:

1. Tax payers are not a special class of people – we are all tax payers.
2. Tax payers are not burdened by the poor – the poor are actually super tax payers.
3. Tax cuts come in many different shapes and sizes – not everybody benefits equally. The wealthiest profit the most.

(Information taken from here)

Office for National Statistics logo 

Statisticians hold two basic definitions of poverty – relative poverty is a measure which looks at those well below the median average of income (60% of income) – who are excluded from participating in what society generally regards as normal activities. This kind of poverty is relative to the rest of society, and is the type that we have seen and measured since the welfare state came into being.

Absolute poverty refers to a level of poverty beyond the ability to afford the essentials which we need simply to live and survive. People in absolute poverty cannot afford some of the basic requirements that are essential for survival. It is horrifying that this is now the fastest growing type of poverty in Britain, according to research bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  When the IFS produced its report on growing child poverty, David Cameron’s callous, calculated  and unflinching reaction was to question the figures, rather than accept the consequences of his Government policies on citizens.

And it IS calculated and deliberate legislative spite. The Government’s own impact assessment has demonstrated that the 1% uprating in the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Act will have a disproportionate effect on the poorest. Families with children will be particularly hard hit, pushing a further 200,000 children into poverty. In addition, those with low to middle earnings and single-earner households will be caught by the 1% limit on tax credit rates. These new cuts come on top of the cumulative impact of previous tax, benefit and public expenditure cuts which have already meant the equivalent to a loss of around 38% of net income for the poorest tenth of households and only 5% for the richest tenth.

According to a TUC report, average wages have dropped by 7.5 per cent since the Coalition came into office. This has a direct impact on child poverty statistics, which the government has conveniently ignored in its latest, Iain Duncan Smith-endorsed, child poverty figures.

Child poverty is calculated in relation to median incomes – the average income earned by people in the UK.

If incomes drop, so does the number of children deemed to be in poverty, even though – in fact – more families are struggling to make ends meet with less money to do so.

This is why the Department for Work and Pensions has been able to sound an announcement that child poverty in “workless” families (which translates from Tory propaganda-speak to “victims of the Government- induced recession”) has dropped, even though we can all see that this is nonsense.

As average incomes drop, the amount received by  families not in work – taken as an average of what’s left – appears to rise, even though, as we know, the increase is not even keeping up with inflation any more.

Liam Byrne said: “The Institute of Fiscal Studies report shows that the price of ministers’ failure on child poverty isn’t just a million more children growing up poor – it’s a gigantic £35 billion bill for the tax payer. It’s not just a moral failure, but an economic disaster.”

“Ministers should be doing everything they can for struggling families but instead they are slashing working families’ tax credits whilst handing a massive tax cut to the richest people in the country. That tells you all you need to know about this Government’s priorities.”

And – “Not only is there a cost attached to rising levels of child poverty but the trend is illegal. Left unabated child poverty will reach 24% in 2020, compared with the goal of 10% written in law.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the welfare and pensions secretary, has publicly questioned whether poverty targets are useful – arguing that “feckless” parents only spend money on themselves. The spirits of Samuel Smiles, Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo, they of the workhouse mentality, speak clearly in booming voices through Iain Duncan Smith from across the centuries.

And of course the Department for Work and Pensions ludicrously continue to blame the previous Administration. We know, however, that the research here shows starkly that poverty has risen under this Government, and we are now seeing cases of childhood malnutrition, such as scurvy.

The breakfast clubs established under the previous Labour Government, as a part of the Extending Schools program and Every Child Matters Bill often provided crucial meals, particularly  for children who relied on school provision  – in fact, for one in four of all UK children, school dinners are their only source of hot food. Malnutrition is rising and schools see children coming in hungry.

The previous Government recognised the importance of adequate nutrition and saw  the link between low educational attainment, behavioural difficulties and hunger in school. The breakfast club provision also helped parents on low incomes in other ways, for example, the free childcare that these wrap-around services provided is essential to support them to keep on working.

There are further issues worth a mention from Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review, that are not in the report. They are worth a mention not least because they tell you all you need to know about the Coalition. They speak volumes about Tory-led intention, malice and despicable aims. They expose the lie once again that the Tories “support” the most vulnerable citizens.

I’m very concerned about Osborne’s plans to set a cap on benefits spending. This cap will include disability benefits, but exclude spending on the state pension. Disabled people have already faced over £9 billion of cuts to benefits they rely on, with at least 600,000 fewer expected to qualify for the new Personal Independence Payment, which is replacing disability living allowance, and over 400,000 facing cuts to their housing benefit through the bedroom tax. Disabled people of working age have borne the brunt of cuts, and the Government is once again targeting those who can least afford to lose out.

By including “Disability Benefits” in the cap, the Government have signalled clearly that they fully intend severing any remaining link between social security and need. We are hurtling toward a system that is about eradicating the cost of any social need. But taxation hasn’t stopped, however, public services and provisions are shrinking.

Barely a month now passes without one of David Cameron’s ministers being rebuked for some act of statistical chicanery (or, indeed, the Prime Minister himself). And it’s not just the number crunchers at the UK Statistics Authority who are concerned. An alliance of 11 churches, including the Methodist Church, the Quakers and the Church of Scotland, has written to Cameron demanding “an apology on behalf of the Government for misrepresenting the poor.”

Many people have ended their lives. Many people have died because of the sustained attack from our Government on them both psychologically and materially, via what ought to be unacceptable, untenable and   socially unconscionable policies. People are going without food. People are becoming homeless. There are people now living in caves around Stockport The UK is the world’s six largest economy, yet 1 in 5 of the UK population live below the official poverty line, this means that they experience life as a daily struggle for survival.

And this is because of the changes this Government is making. And we are allowing them to do so. Unless we can form a coalition with other social groups in our society, we are unlikely to influence or produce enduring, positive political change. But that will only happen once others realise that they are not exempt from the devastating changes, or the long term consequences of them. It’s down to us to ensure that the public are informed, since the maintream media have abdicated that responsibility.

The author of the Joseph Rountree Foundation report, Donald Hirsch, says the cumulative effect is historically significant:

From this April, for the first time since the 1930s, benefits are being cut in real terms by not being linked to inflation. This combined with falling real wages means that the next election is likely to be the first since 1931 when living standards are lower than at the last one.”

Further reading:

Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted

Who Really Benefits from Welfare?

  • The system make little difference to the incomes of the poorest
  • People in poverty pay the highest rates of tax
  • It is hardest for the poorest to earn, save and be a family
  • Most money actually goes to the better-off.

    (This article was taken from a longer piece of work: Poverty and Patrimony – the Evil Legacy of the Tories.)

1017174_500690710000462_512008904_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant artwork

No value in empty gestures: a retrospective analysis of Labour’s response to the the retrospective Sanctions Bill

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A few months ago, two young workers at Poundland appealed to the courts against being forced to work for no wages, or else forfeit all their benefits. A court ruling deemed the regulations governing Job Seekers Allowance related sanctions imposed on claimants Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson unlawful, and therefore opened up opportunities to claimants having repayment of lost benefits. There were around 230,000 people – other previously sanctioned jobseekers, which means a total of  around £130 million may have reclaimed.

The Tories quickly wrote an Emergency Bill to retrospectively make those same regulations lawful. This was a shocking and tyrannical move that certainly contravenes human rights, and needs to be challenged under EU Human Rights legislation, and hopefully this will come to pass when Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson take their case further, to the Supreme Court.

However many people have criticised the Labour Party for its decision of abstaining from the vote on the Emergency Bill. It’s worth noting here that such a move is not the same thing as “supporting” the Tories regarding the Emergency Bill – as the Guardian misreported. Had the Labour Party supported the move by Ian Duncan Smith, they would have voted for the Bill. However, they did not.

Crucially, this two-clause Bill outlined that the same rules would apply as before, as if the case made by the two Poundland workers had never been brought forward.

This is of course objectionable on several grounds. It was retrospective in application, which as always been a cardinal principle of English law should be avoided. It set an appalling precedent that when the courts had struck down a law or regulation as having failed in due process, it could simply be overturned by Government without any proper regard being given to the court’s reasoning or argument for reform.

However, “A leaked email shows staff being warned by managers that they will be disciplined unless they increase the number of claimants referred to a tougher benefit regime.” The Guardian 

That’s something which has been persistently denied by Tory Ministers – but it is something which the Labour Party’s initiated review of sanctions will now strive to get to the bottom of. Well done Labour.

“This is why we took difficult decisions on the Jobseekers’ Bill to secure an independent review of sanctions. We knew there were sanctions targets and now we’ve secured an independent report to Parliament to put right a regime in Job Centres that’s running out of control.” Liam Byrne. 

Many Labour MPs – including front benchers – were aware of the whistle-blowing case before the vote, which was one of the main factors in the decision to abstain from voting.

Labour’s decision to abstain from voting on the Emergency Bill resulted in an unprecedented rage and knee-jerk responses from so many on the Left, and the situation was not helped by the fact that the media did not publish Labour’s press releases on the matter, the crass misrepresentation of Labour’s position on the Bill was considerable and widespread, with claims made that Labour “supported” the Government’s move.

The Government must have been laughing heartily at that one. Yet the situation was a difficult and complex one for the Labour Party, and I maintain that they made the best possible decision they could from where they were situated: between a rock and a very hard place. Well done Labour.

The Emergency bill reinstated the Department of Work and Pension’s power of sanction. Labour supports fair and proportionate sanctions in the context of a guaranteed six-month minimum-waged job. Labour’s position on sanctions is fundamentally different from the one currently held by the Coalition, and crucially, does not incorporate targets to remove benefits from vulnerable people for no good reason.

It was a no-win choice for Labour, with the Liberal Democrats and Tories combined in their vote, there was no way of making an impact or  stopping the Bill by voting anyway. The abstention came with negotiated and hard won concessions, and that was the best possible outcome that labour could secure. It’s important that we understand the complexities of the situation that arose in order to see this.

Ian Duncan Smith had let it be known that if the £130 million were to be repaid, Job Seekers Allowance would be reduced. The losses of the 230,000 already sanctioned were therefore pitched against potential losses for millions of other jobseekers.

That is an appalling prospect, and it was not a threat from Iain Duncan Smith that was widely publicised. It ought to be. It shows clearly that the Opposition are facing the same oppressive authoritarianism as we are.

The important concessions maintain and uphold the right of appeal for jobseekers, and will ensure an essential review of sanctioning practice happens. The review will serve as a guarantor to the Government having its abuses of the sanction system exposed. It wouldn’t have been highlighted otherwise, since review is the best opportunity for a party in opposition to challenge effectively, and demonstrate gross unfairness, and misapplication and administration regarding policies. Especially when the Government doing the maladministration is an authoritarian one. Well done Labour.

Whether or not this will reduce the angry and hysterical knee-jerk responses that many in the party feel and have articulated towards both Byrne and the Labour leadership remains to be seen, but the importance attached to the review of sanctions, and the other secured concessions certainly makes sense to me.

A vote would have been an empty and meaningless gesture, which, perhaps, may have appeased the Narxists, but with no presented opportunity to improve the lot of jobseekers. For me, looking after the interests of the most vulnerable citizens is paramount. Labour did the right thing here.

At least the review and the maintaining of the right to challenge sanctions have been a significant gain from a very difficult situation. Well done Labour, for prioritising content over style, for ensuring that your response was based on an in-depth analysis, and not on the quick and easy option of a populist, superficial ideal – an empty, meaningless gesture of voting, whilst knowing you would gain nothing. Well done Labour. For prioritising and supporting the rights of vulnerable jobseekers. Quite properly so.

Statement from Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensioners.

“Most people are against the very idea of a retrospective Bill, especially a Bill pushed through Parliament so fast. I agree. It’s a terrible idea to rush ahead on this. Retrospective legislation does happen from time to time. But the government is moving too fast. It’s taken four weeks to bring forward a Bill that the government wants to push through Parliament in days.

So that’s why we are voting for a motion in the Lords deploring the speed with which the government acted – and its why we’ve argued so hard to maximise the time we have to improve the Bill. But we should be clear about something. If the DWP loses its Supreme Court case in a few weeks time, it might find itself liable for £130 million. Where would that money come from? The Employment Minister Mark Hoban told the House yesterday that it could only come from further benefit cuts.

And here’s the choice I faced in the Commons. Do I do everything to foul up the timetable of the bill, safe in the knowledge that because we lack a majority, the Tories and Lib Dems would ultimately win any vote they liked, whenever they liked? At best this might have delayed the Bill a week or two. Or, do I let the Bill go through before Easter in return for two critical concessions which Labour MP’s actually can actually use in practice to help people over the next two years?

I think we made the right call.

To be honest, I was surprised that Iain Duncan Smith accepted the concessions I demanded. Had I wanted to grandstand I could have forced votes that delayed the timetable a bit. This would have been the small “p” politics of parliamentary legislation. It would certainly have been easier for whips to convince colleagues who were concerned. But even now, after all the fury, I think the most honest way was to gain a guaranteed concession and bank it. Labour are in opposition. We don’t normally get any concessions at all. But now we’ve got two vital changes.

First, we had to make sure that people hit by sanctions have an iron-clad right of appeal against a sanction decision. That’s the right we’ve now ensured is written onto the face of the Bill; it’s the right to appeal on ‘good cause’ (for example, refusing to take a pointless course which is inappropriate) within a 13 month timetable.

There’s something else at stake here. I actually think it’s impossible for anyone to stand in Parliament and say that not one single sanction issued by DWP since 2011 is unfair. We’re not psychic. How could we know? The key thing the DWP got wrong was their notification letters which were too short. Instead of saying:

“If you fail to take part in the [name of employment programme] without a good reason under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, your Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop for up to 26 weeks. You could also lose your National Insurance credits.”

They should have said:

“Under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, your Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop for up to 26 weeks if you fail, without good reason, to take part in [name of employment programme]. This would include failing to complete any activity that your Provider has required you to do.

  • Two weeks, for a first failure
  • Four weeks, if you have previously received a two-week sanction, whether in relation to your participation in the Work Programme or any other scheme set up under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, within the last 12 months; or
  • 26 weeks if you have previously received a four-week or 26-week sanction, whether in relation to your participation in the Work Programme or any other scheme set up under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, within the last 12 months.

This was the lack of detail that provoked the Court of Appeal striking down the government’s sanctioning power. I don’t think we know whether every single sanction decision issued since 2011 is wrong. That’s why we need to ensure people hit by sanctions have the right of appeal – to protect the innocent – and that’s what we got guaranteed on the face of the bill.

Second, there’s something else. I’ve heard too many stories – not least from my own constituents – about people being wrongly sanctioned. And that’s why I insisted – and won – an independent review of the sanctions regime with an urgent report to Parliament. We need to use this to ruthlessly expose bad behaviour. It is actually one of the practical things we can do to make a difference over the next year.

The final argument about Labour’s stance on the Bill, is for many, the most emotive; it’s the wide anger about the very existence of ‘mandatory work activity.’ Labour’s view is that work experience can help get young people into work – but – and this is the crucial ‘but’, we strongly feel that young people should be given a real choice of a real job with a real wage. That means a tax on bankers’ bonuses to create a fund which we would spend offering over 100,000 young people a six month job, with training and job search paid at the national minimum wage. And that’s what we will vote for in the House of Lords over the next few days.

Not one Tory spoke on this Bill in the Commons. We’re different. Labour MP after Labour MP spoke in the Commons. We care about this – and we’re right to debate it with passion and vigour   When we stop being angry about this kind of issue will be the day that we lose our soul. But, let’s be under no illusion. Only by standing shoulder to shoulder will we ultimately push this terrible government into Opposition. We are Labour because we care and debate questions like this so passionately. We reject the politics of divide and rule. And we’ve learned the hard way that unity is strength.”

Liam Byrne.

“The Labour Party used the emergency legislation to ensure that all bad sanctioning decisions can be appealed and even more importantly, that the whole sanctioning regime is reviewed. We forced the Government to implement an independent inquiry into the sanctions regime as part of the Jobseekers Bill and voting against the Bill would have prevented this.

Labour is now gathering evidence to submit to that inquiry. If you have evidence of sanctions being handed out inappropriately I would be grateful to have them, so I can include them in Labour’s submission to the independent review.”

Jon Trickett, MP

Well done Labour.

Further reading:

Leaked jobcentre newsletter urges staff to improve on sanctions targets

Hodge demands explanation for DWP denial of jobcentre sanctions targets

Liam Byrne writes to IDS over sanctions whistleblower

 

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 Many thanks to Robert Livingstone, once again, for his brilliant art work

Clause 99, Catch 22 – The ESA Mandatory Second Revision and Appeals

552733_435687149834152_88095195_nSection 102 and Schedule 11 of the Welfare Reform Act, (Clause 99) – Power to require revision before appeal.

If anyone left in doubt that this Government’s policies are grossly unfair, and are intentionally punishing sick and disabled people – some of whom are amongst the most vulnerable of our citizens – you need look no further than Clause 99 for verification. Currently, claimants who are found fit for work can continue to receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) at the basic rate by immediately lodging an appeal if they think the decision is wrong. ESA will then remain in payment until the appeal is decided.

That is all set to change, however, under Clause 99 of the Welfare Reform Bill, intended to be effective from April 2013 – and according to the Department for Work and Pensions, from October 2013 that includes ESA and DLA decisions. Under the new rules, claimants who wish to challenge a benefit decision will no longer be allowed to lodge an appeal immediately. Instead, there will be a mandatory revision or review stage, during which a different Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision maker will reconsider the evidence and, if necessary, send for more information, before deciding whether to change the original decision.

There will be no time limit on how long this process may take. The requirement for a mandatory review/revision before proceeding with appeal applies to all DWP linked benefits. During the review, no ESA will be payable, not even the basic rate. However, once the review is completed, those wishing to appeal may claim basic rate ESA again, up until the tribunal. It’s important that people know to request this continued payment from the DWP, once they have lodged their appeal. 

The ludicrous claim from Government is that this “simplifies” the appeal process, and  “the changes will improve customer service by encouraging people to submit additional evidence earlier in the process to help improve decision making. Resolving any disputes without the need for an appeal will also help ensure that people receive the right decision earlier in the process.”

Call me a cynic, but I don’t believe this is the genuine reasoning behind clause 99 at all. The successful appeals to date provide a growing and substantial body of evidence that the Work Capability Assessment isn’t fit for purpose. People are being wrongfully denied their claims for ESA. Mandatory review will make it very difficult for people to continue with an appeal, since their lifeline income will end for an indefinite period until the review is completed and they can proceed with appeal.

You will also have to appeal directly to HM Courts and Tribunal Services – this is known as “direct lodgement” – as DWP will no longer lodge the appeal on your behalf. DWP has agreed with the Tribunal Procedure Committee to introduce time limits to stipulate how long DWP has to respond to an individual appeal. The DWP is currently discussing what these time limits might be with the Tribunal Procedure Committee. That is assuming, of course, that people manage to circumnavigate the other consequences of this legislation.

From 1 April 2013 you will not be able to get Legal Aid for First-tier Tribunal hearings. Legal Aid will still be available for appeals to the Upper Tribunal and Higher Courts. See appealing to the Upper Tribunal against a first tier tribunal decision here: legal aid act 2012 for more information. So much for the right to a fair hearing.

There are some serious implications and concerns about these changes. Firstly, there is no set time limit for DWP to undertake and complete the second revision. Secondly, claimants are left with no income at all whilst they await the review, and until appeal is lodged. The DWP have stated that there is “no legal reason” to pay a benefit that has been disallowed during the review period. The only choice available seems to be an application for Job Seekers Allowance. (JSA) or Universal Credit. However, we know that people in situations where they have been refused ESA have also been refused JSA, incredibly, on the grounds that they are unavailable for work, (and so do not meet the conditions that signing on entails) or they are unfit for work, because they are simply too ill to meet the conditions.

We know of people who have had their application for JSA refused because they attend hospital for treatment once a week and so they are “not available for work” at this time. Furthermore, the minimum waiting period for a new claim to be processed is 6 weeks. That’s 6 weeks with no income at all.

Moreover, there is some anecdotal evidence of people being told by the DWP that in order to claim JSA, they must first close their original claim for ESA, since it isn’t possible to have two claims for two different benefits open at the same time. DWP are also telling people that this means withdrawing their ESA appeal. However, you have the right to appeal.

Another grave concern is that although most people on income related ESA are automatically passported  to maximum Housing and Council Tax Benefit, from the time that the claim ends, (and for whatever reason), eligibility to housing benefit and council tax also ends. 

However, I would urge people in this situation to contact the Housing Benefit office promptly to explain the situation – the DWP automatically contact the Council to tell them when someone’s eligibility for ESA has ended. It is always assumed that the person claiming has found work when their DWP related benefit eligibility ends.

You can still claim for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit because you have a low income, or nil income, but you will need contact the Benefits Section, and will need bank statements to demonstrate that this is true, and also, any other evidence you may have, such as your notification letter from DWP, evidence of your tenancy and ID. If you have no income as a result of your ESA being stopped, ask for a nil income declaration form. (Like this one, for example)

You may also apply for discretionary housing payments if you are likely to become homeless, and if there is a shortfall between your Housing Benefit, and rent costs. It’s also payable sometimes when you have legal costs. It’s certainly worth asking your Local Authority if you qualify for payment. There are limited funds available.

I am informed that when an appeal is pending, providing the Housing Benefit Office is informed of this, there should be some support towards rent and Council Tax. However, this is going to place further strain and difficulty on people who are ill and disabled. Housing Benefit is calculated by taking the work activity or support component of ESA into account, and currently, when basic rate ESA is payable up to appeal, some claimants are not necessarily eligible for the maximum Housing Benefit awards.

It’s therefore possible that Housing Benefit entitlement will be lower, with no basic rate ESA being payable after April 1st. I would urge people to contact their Local Authority as soon as you know your ESA award has ended, because otherwise they will simply close your Housing Benefit and Council Tax claim.

The FOI.

I can confirm that there was no risk analysis or risk register in respect of clause 99 of the Welfare Reform Bill. I sent an FOI to DWP that asked about these issues, together with questioning that Clause 99 contains no reference to a time limit on ESA reconsiderations, although it makes them mandatory. I asked :-

1) When is the intended implementation date?

2) As yet no decisions have been made regarding ESA payment levels
during the reconsideration period which could be indefinite. Can you
give an assurance that this will be announced BEFORE
implementation?

3) What data will you collect so that the effects of this
legislation can be accurately analysed subsequently?

4) Where are the risk assessment, impact analysis and risk register
that show the effect this will have on claimants whose benefit
payments could be affected indefinitely?

The response informed that the planned implementation date is April 2013, and “the DWP will conduct a  formal public consultation in line with the Government’s code of practice on consultation. This does not include publishing a risk register or conducting a risk analysis. This is because all aspects of the proposed changes are considered during the consultation process and in the impact assessment and equality impact assessments related to the changes”. There are no plans to introduce a time limit, or to retain payments of basic rate ESA throughout the second revision and leading up to appeal.

The DWP published consultation document “Mandatory consideration of revision before appeal” that could be accessed via the DWP web site under the heading “Consultations”. The consultation concerned issues relevant to the implementation and operation of the appeals reform provisions in the Welfare Reform Bill and invited comments on the draft regulations. I worked on raising awareness regarding the issues that the Government’s draft raised, as well as prompting and garnering responses to the consultation.

I can also confirm that the Government response to the consultation did NOT take into account any of the concerns we raised collectively, in particular, regarding the lack of a time limit on the DWP to produce the mandatory review, and the withdrawal of basic rate ESA to those awaiting the review outcome .

So, the consultation was evidently a sham, nothing more than paying lip service to an increasingly perfunctory democratic process. Given that basic rate ESA is exactly the same amount per week as JSA, we need to ask ourselves why the  Government have withdrawn the ESA safety net for those wanting to appeal DWP decisions that they are fit to work. Why introduce another layer of DWP bureaucracy to the appeal process, and why is it the case that there is need for a second revision, if the first response is based on robust procedure and decision making, and yields accurate and fair outcomes?

Of course we know that the outcomes are neither fair, accurate, or based on robust decision making. We know that some 40% of appeals for ESA were successful in 2011 and that this percentage rose to around 80% when claimants had representation at appeal. That is pretty damning evidence against this Governments’ claims that the system is working, and that many disabled people “can work”.

It’s likely that Clause 99 has been introduced to make appealing wrongful decisions that we are fit for work almost impossible. Sick and disabled people are effectively being silenced by this Government, and the evidence of a brutal, dehumanising, undignified and grossly unfair system of “assessment” is being hidden.

More than 10,600 people have died following being told they were “fit for work”, and this presents a significant statistical increase (from 310 deaths over the same period amongst incapacity benefit claimants) that correlates with the current system, and it is astounding that our Government have failed to address this. Instead, they have made the system even more brutally punitive, dehumanising and grossly unfair.

Clause 99 is simply an introduction of an additional obstructive layer of Kafkaesque bureaucracy to obscure the evidence of this. This Government is oppressive and certainly bears all of the hallmark characteristics of authoritarianism.

We need to be pressuring the government for the introduction of a time limit (on both legal and humanitarian grounds) as currently there is none. I did enquire to see if DWP had any internal rules or guidelines yet regarding a time limit but so far they have not. We also need to be pressuring for basic rate ESA to continue. That was a major part of the consultation response, too.  

Meanwhile, legal challenges to this unfair and totally unacceptable addition to the Welfare Reform Bill will be going ahead.

Government’s response to the public consultation.

The DWP published a short mandatory consideration of revision before appeal – Government interim response to public consultation which stated that the Department did not propose to make any significant changes to the draft regulations included in the consultation document as a result of the comments received.

The Government’s final response to the consultation included the following:

  • There is to be no time limit for the completion of mandatory reconsideration of decisions.
  • No decision has yet been made with regard to paying ESA pending reconsideration but other benefits may be available to claimants where ESA has been disallowed.
  • It was confirmed that housing benefit and council tax benefit will not be included in the mandatory reconsideration process.
  • Where a person makes a late application for revision, the Department will be removing the requirement that an application for revision cannot be granted unless it has merit, and removing the regulation which requires that, in deciding whether an extension of time is reasonable, the decision maker cannot take into account the fact that the individual misunderstood the law or was ignorant that they could request reconsideration.

In considering a late application for revision, the decision maker will look at whether it is reasonable to grant the application for an extension of time, and what the circumstances were that meant that the application could not be made within the one month time limit.

The decision maker will still consider whether an any time revision can be made, or whether the decision should be superseded when considering a late application for revision as they do now.

Where a request for reconsideration is made out of time, and the decision maker refuses the application to revise the original decision, the effect of the draft regulations is that there can be no appeal as the Secretary of State must consider whether to revise the decision before an appeal can be made.

Update: No basic rate ESA will be payable whilst people await the mandatory review, to challenge wrongful decisions. No appeal can proceed until that has been done by DWP, there is no time limit on DWP to undertake the review.

Lord Freud speaking in the Lords about  basic rate ESA and the mandatory review :-

I turn now to ESA. At the moment, if someone appeals a refusal of ESA, it can continue to be paid pending the appeal being heard; this is not changing. What is changing is that there can be no appeal until there has been a mandatory reconsideration. So there will be a gap in payment. In that period—and I repeat that applications will be dealt with quickly so that this is kept to a minimum—the claimant could claim jobseeker’s allowance or universal credit. Alternative sources of funds are available. Of course, he or she may choose to wait for the outcome of the application and then, if necessary, appeal and be paid ESA at that point.”

Later he said:

Under the current position, there is a voluntary process whereby people can go for reconsideration and the ESA is not payable until the decision is taken to go formally to an appeal.”  Lord Freud (Source: Hansard)

GL24  and Appeal information.

From April, you will need to send your GL24  appeal form (DWP leaflet “if you think our decision is wrong”) or a letter directly to HM Courts and Tribunal Services.

How to appeal by letter.

 The appeal must contain:

  • the appellant’s name, address and National Insurance number
  • enough information to identify the decision under appeal (benefit claimed and date of decision);
  • the grounds for the appeal;
  • if late, the special reasons for lateness and/or why the appeal has a good chance of success;
  • the appellant’s signature (or the signature of a person with written authority to act on their behalf).

Update: Guidance on revision and handling appeals for benefits
Note 3: The guidance comes into effect
from 8.4.13 for PIP and from 29.4.13 for
UC, JSA and ESA.

Decision Makers should note that mandatory reconsideration is being
introduced from:
8.4.13 for PIP
29.4.13 for Universal Credit
28.10.13 for JSA and ESA.

However, we are still hearing about cases where the mandatory review is being used already, and this ought to be challenged on the grounds that DWP have provided dates when clause 99 is to be implemented, and so ought to be working to that legal timetable.

The revision process applies to:
1. UC, PIP, JSA and ESA
2. decisions on credits
http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/adma3.pdf

Further reading:

Further information from Rethink

ESA – Appeal statistics – before the MOJ spin!

Who is accountable and legally liable for the well-being of those deemed “fit for work”?

Step by step guide to appealing a ESA decision: Good Advice Matters

Sign the WOW petition – a call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

It’s a call for an  immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.

Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.

Help –  potential sources of funding from Charities and Trusts that help people out of poverty and debt:
United Utilities
3000 benevolent funds
Directory of National food banks
Representing yourself in Court

The LawWorks Clinics Network is a nationwide network of free legal advice sessions which LawWorks supports. Clinics provide free initial advice to individuals on various areas of law including social welfare issues, employment law, housing matters and consumer disputes – List of LawWorks clinics

“Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” –  Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, and Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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The ESA ‘Revolving Door’ Process, and its Correlation with a Significant Increase in Deaths amongst Sick and Disabled People

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A Department for Work and Pensions Freedom Of Information request (FOI) yielded a response showing that people having their claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) stopped, between October 2010 and November 2011, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ceasing, who were until recently claiming Incapacity Benefit (IB), totalled 310. Between January and November 2011, those having their ESA claim ended, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ending totalled 10,600. 

Bearing in mind that those who were successfully migrated to ESA from IB were assessed and deemed unfit for work, (under a different assessment process, originally) one would expect that the death rates would be similar to those who have only ever claimed ESA. This is very clearly not the case.

Furthermore, there are NO alarming increases in mortality rates amongst those who are still in receipt of Incapacity Benefit – there were approximately a million and a half claimants, compared to less than a million ESA claimants for this period. Many of those migrated so far have not yet had a Work Capability Assessment, as the Government decided to re-assess those people when their review from the Incapacity Benefit  Personal Capability Assessment is due, for practical reasons. The migration process won’t be completed, it is anticipated, until 2014.

David Green from the DWP has urged that “care should therefore be taken when interpreting these figures”. Well I have taken care interpreting this data, Mr Green. My careful interpretation is that there is a probable correlation demonstrated here, linking the reformed Work Capability Assessment process and the withdrawal of lifeline benefits with an increase in mortality amongst sick and disabled people.

Incapacity Benefit was fair, it was a genuine social security provision. The “reforms”, including the new Tory-shaped ESA benefit, by stark contrast, are all about taking support and provision away from the sick and disabled, leaving them potentially very vulnerable. It’s very evident that there are measures in place to reduce successful claims for ESA, and many lose their lifeline support for the most arbitrary or manufactured reasons.

Indeed, the Tories have been very keen to articulate the welfare “savings” that they anticipated with regard to the disability benefits, including PIP, which is replacing DLA. But of course, these anticipated “savings” reflect a dark truth: the Government are setting targets to remove benefits from people, regardless of the impact of that imposed deprivation (and frank State theft of our tax funded welfare) on their wellbeing, health and safety. How else is it possible to predict probable “savings?”

Those claiming IB were not required to have continuous assessments, whereas those on ESA are constantly required to have the Work Capability Assessment. Many claimants have described a “revolving door” process of endless assessment, ceased ESA claim, (based on an outcome of almost invariably being wrongly “assessed” as fit for work), appeal, successful appeal outcome, benefit reinstated, only to find just 3 months later another assessment is required. The uncertainty and loss of even the most basic security that this process creates, leading to constant fear and anxiety, is having a damaging, negative impact on the health and wellbeing of so many.

A significant proportion of those required to have endless assessments have very obviously serious illnesses such as cancer, kidney failure, lung disease, heart disease, severe and life threatening chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, myalgic encephalomyelitis, rheumatoid arthritis, brain tumours, severe heart conditions, and severe mental health illnesses, for example. To qualify for ESA, the claimant must provide a note from a doctor stating that the person is unfit for work. There can be no justification for subjecting people who are so ill to further endless assessments, and to treating us as if we have done something wrong.

Marginalising and stigmatising vulnerable social groups via political propaganda in the media, using despiteful and malicious terms such as “workshy” and “feckless” is a major part of the Government’s malevolent “justification” to the public for removing the lifeline support from sick and disabled people, amongst whom are some of our most vulnerable citizens.

We are climbing Allport’s Ladder.

I have often suspected that Iain Duncan Smith is channelling the spirit of Goebbels.

In addition to very justified anxieties regarding the marked increase in disability hate crime that the Tory-led propaganda campaign has resulted in, many sick and disabled people have also stated that they feel harassed and bullied by the Department of Work and Pensions and Atos. Many talk of the dread they feel when they see the brown Atos envelope containing the ESA50 form arrive through the letter box.

The strain of constantly fighting for ESA eligibility/entitlement and perpetually having to prove that we are a “deserving” and “genuine” sick and disabled person is clearly taking a toll on so many people’s health and wellbeing. Many families of those who have died have said that the constant strain, anxiety and stress of this revolving door process has contributed significantly to their loved ones’ decline in health and subsequent death. The figures from the DWP, and the marked contrast between the ESA and IB death statistics certainly substantiates these claims.

The horrific, unforgivable and massive increase in deaths over this period coincides with the Government’s totalitarian styled rapid fire legislation – the “Reforms” – in the face of protest, horror, disbelief, fear and mass opposition. The Tories cited “financial privilege” to trample over opposition and stifle dissent, to drown out the voices of protest. Those protesting this Bill notably included many from the House of Lords. I lobbied the Peers, and emailed every single one of them, stating very clearly that the welfare reforms must not happen. I got a high number of encouraging responses. But  David Cameron got his own way.

Cameron made a Freudian-style slip when he announced to Ed Miliband recently, during Parliamentary debate, that We are raising more money for the rich.” Not that we didn’t already know this was so. Many of us – around 73 sick and disabled people every week –  are paying for that wealth increase for the already wealthy with our very lives.

There are many who have so tragically lost their lives because of this malicious Government’s brutal and grossly unjust economic war on the poorest, on sick and disabled people and on the most vulnerable citizens, because of the Tory-led ransacking and plundering of our welfare provision and social support programs.

But just one life would be one too many.

Further reading:

The Black Triangle Campaign

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his outstanding artwork.

This is an excerpt taken from a much longer piece of work – Remembering the Victims of the Welfare “Reforms.”

PIP and the Tory monologue

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Here is a very important leaked correspondence between Dame Anne Begg and Esther McVey regarding PIP. (Personal Independence Payment, which is to replace Disability Living Allowance.) The correspondence flags up some serious concerns regarding a lack of transparency and accountability, responsiveness and a basic lack of following established democratic norms and protocol on the part of  the current Government. Mounting successful challenges to reform requires having detailed information regarding that reform. Here is clear evidence that the Conservatives are intentionally stifling democratic dialogue.

There are some serious issues raised in Esther McVey’s response that signal some very worrying changes to advisory groups and their role in how they influence policies. Esther McVey is indicating that the Secretary of State has already moved away from dialogue with, and paying heed to independent groups, as well as secretly deciding that any input and advice at all does not need to be published and open to public scrutiny. It signals that the Government will no longer be obliged to do anything more than pay lip service to consulting independent groups. Of course such consultations are crucial mechanisms of democratic process, scrutiny, the safeguarding of human rights, as well as Government transparency and accountability. Here we see evidence that these mechanisms are being very quietly dismantled. This clearly signals an authoritarian turn on the part of the government.

McVey has managed to avoid going before the Work and Pensions Select Committee, and she is telling the Committee that she intends to publish the Government’s response the SAME DAY as the secondary regulations are presented to Parliament. This gives us no time whatsoever for scrutiny, analysis, preparation or effective challenge.

Letter from Anne Begg to Esther McVey:

Dear Minister

Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

You will be aware from the debate in Westminster Hall on 25 October that the Committee has a number of outstanding concerns about the eligibility criteria and plans for implementation for PIP. As you know, we had hoped to explore these issues in an evidence session with you in November. Committee staff had been in the process of trying to identify a suitable date through your officials.

We first invited you to appear during the week of 5 November but you did not have a diary slot available that week. You then offered 9.00 am on 12 or 13 November, but neither of these was possible for Committee members (particularly as one was a Monday morning when we are travelling from our constituencies). Our next suggestion was 21 November.

The issue now seems to have moved on from being simply a diary problem. Your officials have indicated that you would prefer not to give evidence before the PIP Regulations are published because you feel you would be unable to answer the Committee’s questions. I would like to make clear that our intention was that our evidence session should inform the drafting of the Regulations, and the eligibility criteria, before they are finalised and laid before Parliament. The change in your position suggests to us that final decisions have already been made.

We would be grateful for your response to the following questions to help clarify the situation:

1. When do you plan to respond to the consultations on the draft assessment criteria and thresholds and on finalising the detailed rules for PIP?

2. Will the relevant Regulations, including the draft assessment criteria, be published in draft and subject to some form of further consultation, before they are laid before Parliament? If so, what is the timescale for this and what scope will there be to amend them further?

3. When do you expect the final Regulations to be laid (officials have been able to tell us only that they will be laid “before the end of the year”). If it is your position that it is already too late for the Committee to influence the finalising of the relevant Regulations, I would ask you to give a commitment to appear before us as soon as possible after they are laid, to explain the rationale for the final decisions you have made.

Draft Public Bodies (Abolition of the Disability Living Allowance Advisory Board) Order 2013

Departmental select committees (DSCs) have a formal role in scrutinising draft Orders laid under the Public Bodies Act. Departments are required to bring these draft Orders to the attention of the relevant DSC. The Committee has the power, as set out in Cabinet Office guidance, to recommend an extension of the laying period to 60 days if it decides this is necessary to ensure proper scrutiny.

DWP staff failed to bring the Draft Order on the DLA Advisory Board, which was laid on 15 October, to the Committee’s attention. The Committee staff only became aware of it because the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee contacted them to discuss the respective action each committee planned to take.

We are concerned about this lack of recognition by the Department of my Committee’s formal scrutiny role in relation to draft Orders under the Public Bodies Act. Officials have tried to allay the Committee’s concerns about the draft Order by saying that it does not do anything significant. I would make two points about this. Firstly, it is for the Committee to decide whether any matter within its remit is significant or not, including draft Orders. Secondly, the agreed formal procedures should be adhered to whether or not officials regard an issue as significant.

I would be grateful for your assurance that the Department will adhere to the agreed procedure on future occasions.

We understand that the Lords Scrutiny Committee has expressed concerns about the Department’s failure to carry out any consultation on the proposed abolition and has recommended an extension of the scrutiny period to 60 days [12th Report, HL 55, 1 November 2012]. We agree with this recommendation.

Turning to the substantive issues raised by the draft Order, the Committee staff made clear to your officials that we were willing to deal with these as part of the broader oral evidence session with you on PIP—if you had been able to attend a meeting before the 40-day laying period expires on 28 November.

As you no longer intend to appear before us in November, we would be grateful for your response to the following questions on the implications of the abolition of the DLA Advisory Board:

1. What measures will be put in place to protect the interests of non working-age claimants who will continue to claim DLA?

2. What measures will be put in place to protect the interests of working-age DLA claimants prior to their migration to PIP?

3. What will be the composition of the PIP advisory group referred to in paragraph 7.5 (b) of the PBO explanatory memorandum?

4. Will the advice of the PIP advisory group be published?
I would be grateful for your response by Friday 9 November.

Yours sincerely
Dame Anne Begg MP

Chair
Dame Anne Begg.

I suppose the terms of authoritarianism extend to have an impact on opposition parties and affect their capacity to gather information and organise actions much the same as they do campaigners and the general population. Again, without being provided with information and crucial detail, it becomes very difficult to mount a successful challenge against controversial legislation. This is a Government that does exactly what it chooses, and barely bothers justifying itself. Consider, for example, that no impact assessment was carried out regarding the welfare reforms. Or that the risk register concerning the Health and Social Care Bill has yet to be published and made accessible to the public.

It’s also noteworthy that Cameron is currently proposing that consultations, equality impact assessments, audits, judiciary review are all simply “inconveniences” that are (and I quote) “… not how you get things done…” 

Ask yourself what kind of things Cameron “wants to get done” bearing in mind that every single policy that this Government has designed and implemented has been about taking money away from the poorest people, and reducing the lives and experiences of the most vulnerable citizens, rather than enhancing those lives in any way.

Consider that these legislative mechanisms are important to democratic process, accountability, procedure and law, as well as being basic human rights safeguards. This is a Government that clearly is not about reflecting and meeting the needs of the public.

The Government have been made aware that sick and disabled people are dying after Atos have assessed them as fit for work. Ask yourself what kind of Government flatly and loudly denies that this is the case, without investigating the truth of the many serious concerns raised, and looking at the many cases that have been presented to them during debates in Parliament. What kind of Government tells lies about marginalised social groups, and propagates hateful stereotypes of marginalised citizens in the media to justify removing their welfare – calculated to cover basic living costs. Welfare provision is paid for via taxes, which many sick and disabled people have also paid. Our welfare support is NOT a “handout”: it is our money, our national insurance, paid by us for when we have a need of support. Social security.

Below are a couple of key paragraphs from McVey’s response to Dame Begg. These reflect the quiet dismantling of the Disability Living Advisory Committee, and the fact there is no advisory report or a formal advisory group regarding the development of PIP. Note again that the Government is not big on following procedure, or being transparent, accountable and consultative.

E. McVey: “Public Bodies (Abolition of the Disability Living Advisory Board) Order 2013

Please accept my apologies that the draft Order was not formally brought to the attention of the Committee as it should have been done. I understand that Cabinet Office made the Secretariat of the Committee aware that a draft Order was in the offing earlier in the year but unfortunately procedures were not followed through on a formal basis as they should have been. I will ensure that the Department will adhere to the agreed procedure on future occasions.

I hope my answers to your questions explain why we have taken the view that this Body which has not been asked to give any advice since 2008 had an extremely limited remit and why officials thought it proportionate to deal with the questions you raise on a correspondence basis. We certainly had no intention of disparaging the important role the Committee undertakes. I have set out my replies to your questions below.”….

“There will not be a PIP Advisory Group in the way that the Disability Living Allowance advisory group operates. In the Explanatory Document to the Public Body Order we explain that we have decided to use time-limited advisory groups and that the people asked to help us develop the assessment criteria for Personal Independence Payment (the Assessment Development Group) encompassed a wide range of expertise across health, social care and disability, including from occupational therapy, psychiatry, physiotherapy, social work, general practice, as well as representatives from Equality 2025 and Disability Rights UK. We included the Assessment Development Group in the Explanatory Memorandum as an example of how the Secretary of State is using a time-limited advisory group in policy development.”….

[Note the fact that the time limited invisible Advisory group approach doesn’t apply to just the PIP legislative development, it is to apply to ALL policy development. Also note she later goes on to say that “There was no FORMAL Advisory group, there is therefore no formal report from the Group, nor is there a requirement to publish their advice.”]

Section 89 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an independent report on the operation of assessment within two years of regulations under section 80 coming into force and a second report within four years of that date.

Will the advice of the advisory Group be published?

As mentioned above there is no formal Advisory Group. The assessment criteria for Personal Independence Payment were developed in close collaboration with the Assessment Development Group. Although members sometimes submitted written comments on proposals, advice was generally given verbally and captured in meeting minutes.

There is therefore no formal report from the Group, nor is there a requirement to publish their advice, although we have published details of the development process in the explanatory notes which have accompanied the first and second drafts of the assessment criteria. The explanatory notes can be found at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/policy/disability/personal-independence-payment/the-assessment-criteria/

I hope this reply is helpful to the Committee.

Esther McVey MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Disabled People

Anne Begg : “Disability groups have not been consulted about the framing of the PIP assessment contracts or the guidance to assessors, so, although there has been limited consultation, the wider implications of how the measure will work in practice have not been subject to any kind of co-production. In one meeting, the Disability Benefits Consortium told us that the documents had been counted in and counted up, and that it had been given 15 minutes to look at them. That, again, is hardly co-production.

On the PIP assessment, the Government have said that there will be a requirement for face-to-face assessments for most claimants. That also raises a number of questions. On what basis did the Government come to that conclusion? Will the Government not be able to take account of existing evidence in most cases? That leads me to a question on a slightly different point: will there be any transfer of information already held by the Department for Work and Pensions, so that people do not have continually to remind it of such things as, “This is a glass eye, and of course I am not going to see out of it.” That is not as daft as it sounds. Sometimes, when people have gone for a WCA they have been asked what vision they have in their left eye when they have not had a left eye for decades.” – Dame Anne Begg, Daily Hansard – Westminster Hall 25 Oct 2012 : Column 319WH Westminster Hall.

Here is the full response from Esther McVey :

Dame Anne Begg MP
Chair
Work and Pensions Select Committee
7 Millbank
LONDON
SW1A 0AA
8 November 2012

Dear Anne

Thank you for your letter of 1 November. I am sorry we have been unable to identify an opportunity in November for me to appear before the Select Committee to discuss the PIP assessment criteria and regulations.

The Department has taken considerable time to develop the assessment criteria, throughout which we have sought to be transparent and to engage with and seek the views of disabled people, their organisations and parliamentarians. Our initial proposals for Disability Living Allowance reform, including the high-level principles of the assessment, were published in December 2010.

We published a first draft of the detailed proposals for the assessment criteria and regulations in May 2011, a second draft in November 2011 and ran significant consultations on both. The consultation on the second draft ran from January to the end of April this year, during which we received around 1,100 written responses and met with around 60 disability organisations.

Since the consultation closed on April 30 the Department has been carefully considering the responses received to identify any areas that we need to change to ensure that the assessment is both fair and operates effectively. As part of this we have also considered the comments made in the Select Committee’s report of 19 February and during the evidence session attended by my predecessor in December 2011.

We have also been working to test proposals for change, so we can understand the likely impact of the revised assessment. This work has now concluded and we have reached conclusions on the content of the finalised assessment criteria and regulations. We are now in the process of finalising the drafting of the government response and regulations and discussing the detail with colleagues across government.

We intend to publish a joint response to the consultations on the assessment criteria and benefit rules as soon as it is ready. While we do not yet have a firm date for publication, I am confident that it will be before the December recess. I do appreciate that many people would have liked an earlier response but it has been essential to take our time on this important issue and make sure we get the decisions right.

We have also not yet reached any final decisions on the publication of the PIP regulations but I think it likely that the key regulations will be published and laid on the same day as the government response.

Given the significant engagement that has already been undertaken, we are not intending to carry out any further consultation on draft regulations. However, we agreed during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act that the key regulations on PIP relating to benefit entitlement would be affirmative, which will allow Parliament further opportunity to scrutinise them.

I realise that this response is likely to be disappointing. However, I do consider that the development of our proposals for PIP has been carried out in a transparent and consultative fashion and that there has been full opportunity for the Committee to comment and offer suggestions for changes over the two year development process. We will be offering briefing sessions to MPs and Peers to explain the government response and regulations before the regulations are debated and I would be very happy to appear before the Select Committee to do the same to explain the rationale, as you suggest.

Draft Public Bodies (Abolition of the Disability Living Advisory Board) Order 2013

Please accept my apologies that the draft Order was not formally brought to the attention of the Committee as it should have been done. I understand that Cabinet Office made the Secretariat of the Committee aware that a draft Order was in the offing earlier in the year but unfortunately procedures were not followed through on a formal basis as they should have been. I will ensure that the Department will adhere to the agreed procedure on future occasions.

I hope my answers to your questions explain why we have taken the view that this Body which has not been asked to give any advice since 2008 had an extremely limited remit and why officials thought it proportionate to deal with the questions you raise on a correspondence basis. We certainly had no intention of disparaging the important role the Committee undertakes. I have set out my replies to your questions below.

1. What measures will be put in place to protect the interests of non working-age claimants who will continue to claim DLA?

DLAAB ‘s function is to issue the Secretary of State with independent advice. It does not exist to protect DLA claimants’ interests although of course the Board members had an interest in the integrity of the benefit system. It is not part of the decision making process for benefits and has no power to intervene in individual claims for Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance. DLAAB has not provided any advice since 2008.

Work undertaken by the Board over the years concentrated mainly on medical reports on specific conditions or illnesses. This was usually because the department had detected a potential issue. For instance the department noted that DLA spending on “behavioural disorder” cases (which included ADHD cases) had increased much more rapidly than spending on other child recipients. In light of this the Board was asked to advise:

  •  whether there has been an increase in the number of children diagnosed with ADHD generally and, if so, suggest reasons for the increase; and 
  •  could the increased numbers of children in receipt of DLA be directly related to the increase in diagnosis or were there other reasons?

The Secretary of State will still commission work if he thinks this is necessary using task and finish groups as and when required and ensuring that the appropriate specialisms are covered. Even with the wide breath of professions covered by DLAAB it was still necessary on occasion to co-opt professionals with particular expertise as in the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder study where a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist was asked to provide advice.

Claimants have always had the right to ask for a reconsideration if they are unhappy with a decision and then appeal to an independent tribunal if still dissatisfied. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 includes powers to require all claimants to seek a reconsideration before they can appeal to an independent tribunal. There is a complaints system which claimants can utilise which is advertised on the DWP website. Claimants may also apply to the Independent Case Examiner, if they consider the department has not treated them fairly or have not dealt with complaints in a satisfactory manner.

2. What measures will be put in place to protect the interests of working-age DLA claimants prior to their migration to PIP.

As explained above this was never the role of DLAAB. The same rights apply to working- age and non working-age people.

3. What will be the composition of the PIP advisory group referred to in paragraph 7.5 (b) of the PBO explanatory memorandum?

There will not be a PIP Advisory Group in the way that the Disability Living Allowance advisory group operates. In the Explanatory Document to the Public Body Order we explain that we have decided to use time-limited advisory groups and that the people asked to help us develop the assessment criteria for Personal Independence Payment (the Assessment Development Group) encompassed a wide range of expertise across health, social care and disability, including from occupational therapy, psychiatry, physiotherapy, social work, general practice, as well as representatives from Equality 2025 and Disability Rights UK. We included the Assessment Development Group in the Explanatory Memorandum as an example of how the Secretary of State is using a time-limited advisory group in policy development.

We will also continue to liaise and listen to other stakeholders of and from disability organisations including Equality 2025 which is a non-departmental public body of publicly-appointed disabled people. The group offers strategic, confidential advice to government on issues that affect disabled people. This advice can include participation in the very early stages of policy development or in-depth examination
of existing policy. The group works with ministers and senior officials across government.

Section 89 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an independent report on the operation of assessment within two years of regulations under section 80 coming into force and a second report within four years of that date.

4. Will the advice of the advisory Group be published?

As mentioned above there is no formal Advisory Group. The assessment criteria for Personal Independence Payment were developed in close collaboration with the Assessment Development Group. Although members sometimes submitted written comments on proposals, advice was generally given verbally and captured in meeting minutes. There is therefore no formal report from the Group, nor is there a requirement to publish their advice, although we have published details of the development process in the explanatory notes which have accompanied the first and second drafts of the assessment criteria. The explanatory notes can be found at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/policy/disability/personal-independence-payment/the-assessment-criteria/

I hope this reply is helpful to the Committee.

Esther McVey MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Disabled People

 

Picture by Robert Livingstone

Pictures courtesy of Rob Livingstone 

I ought to update this in light of recent events. Campaigners won an important victory regarding an essential regulation being excluded from the PIP legislation, namely, the “reliably, repeatedly and safely” adjustment, that is an essential mechanism in ensuring that “fluctuating” conditions are fairly considered and assessed.

However, many disabled activists were shocked and angry when Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, suddenly announced the unexpected changes in December. The alterations to the regulations that will decide who is eligible for the new personal independence payment (PIP) – which will gradually replace working-age disability living allowance from this April – saw the key walking distance criteria reduced from 50 to 20 metres.

There has been absolutely NO Consultation on this whatsoever. That in itself warrants a legal challenge. The alteration of the distance criteria has been challenged by the Labour  Party, too. Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said disabled people had “been alarmed at the hurdle they will now face before being awarded the enhanced mobility rate”.

She said: “Most of those who have looked at these descriptors would say that a 20-metre qualifying distance simply does not provide a practical level of mobility.”

She said about 200 disabled people in every parliamentary constituency were likely to lose their Motability vehicle with a 20-metre qualifying distance.

And she pointed out that one of the Department for Transport’s own publications, Inclusive Mobility, recommends that “seating should be provided on pedestrian routes at intervals of no more than 50 metres, and that parking spaces for blue badge holders should preferably be provided within 50 metres of the facilities they serve”.

Another issue that concerns me is that McVey as good as admitted there are built in targets to reduce/remove eligibility for PIP. How could she know in advance of assessments, otherwise, that “330,000 of claimants are expected to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced”, as she informed the House of Commons?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/apr/08/disabled-claimants-legal-action-mobility-tests