Category: Social Policy

Housing Secretary admits government policies may have contributed to rising homelessness

brokenshire

The government spend a lot of time denying that their welfare policies have any harmful consequences on citizens’ lives. However, an outspoken Conservative minister has remarkably all but admitted that policy choices by the Conservatives  are at least partly responsible for record levels of homelessness and rough sleeping, particularly those policies related to Housing Benefit. 

The Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire (pictured above), has admitted that policies may have “played a role” in rising levels of homelessness. He made the confession in an interview published on the Politico website on Christmas Eve, in an apparent U-turn on his previous comments, in which he insisted that austerity is not to blame for the current homelessness epidemic.

In an interview with the Guardian, Brokenshire had previously dismissed claims that government policies, including cuts to social security benefits, are fueling the rise in the numbers of households who are subjected to eviction orders and extreme poverty.

But in his latest interview, Brokenshire accepted that the UK government “need to ask ourselves some very hard questions” about policy choices and how those choices have impacted on some of the poorest members of society.

This apparent rethink follows the tragic death of rough sleeper Gyula Remes, who collapsed and died just yards from the Houses of Parliament, prompting a Labour MP to tweet: “There is something rotten in Westminster when MPs walk past dying homeless people on their way to work.”

Brokenshire had previously argued that record levels of homelessness seen in the last five years are a result of a “combination of concerning elements in terms of addiction, family breakdown issues”. 

Generally, government ministers respond to legitimate concerns raised regarding  the harmful consequences of their programme of social security cuts by either blaming those affected; citing some assumed personal failing or character deficit, circumstantial events or attitudinal barriers, or they accuse those voicing concerns and citing case examples of negative policy impacts as “scaremongers”.  

Yet the government’s own data shows that since 2014, the loss of a private tenancy has been the biggest cause of homelessness in England. According to research by Generation Rent, 94% of this rise can be blamed on ‘no-fault evictions’, which have more than doubled since 2010. The precariousness of private sector tenancies, combined with a chronic shortage of social housing, punitive welfare reforms and successive years of cuts to homelessness prevention services, have created a ‘perfect storm.’ 

When asked by Politico, however, if Government policies have attributed to rising levels of homelessness, Brokenshire admitted: “We do have to look and reflect on ourselves as to the increase.

“Yes there are other factors that are relevant here, but we have to look at the policy.”

We have to ask ourselves “some very hard questions … for example in relation to the introduction of changes to welfare”, he added, and also “whether we’ve done enough [to mitigate the damages].”

Although Brokenshire has appeared to shrug off any suggestion that government policies since 2010 might be to blame, on the Today programme over the Christmas holidays, former Chancellor George Osborne went much further and insisted austerity – which included brutal cuts to welfare payments, local authority budgets, public health spending, the police, other public services and the ministry of justice – has played no part whatsoever.

In the exclusive interview with Politico, Brokenshire says: “The death of 43-year-old Gyula Remes came as a shock in Westminster, where workers have got used to walking past up to half a dozen homeless people every day.

“It’s a stark reminder that what we’re talking about is individual lives.”

Brokenshire added: “I share the feelings that everybody has, of shock and distress in knowing this individual had lost his life.”

He is reluctant to comment on the specific case – a Westminster Council review is underway  – but insists that accommodation had previously been offered to all the people sleeping rough.

“There’d been a lot of help and support offered. Offers of accommodation had been made. Some people had taken them up … [But] it’s a fact that in a number of cases, the roof over the head may well be there but for a number of reasons the rough sleeper may not be willing to take up that help.

“It is certainly not from my perspective saying they are somehow to blame, as some have tried to portray this as — that is profoundly not what I am saying. It’s about compassion and support … It’s complicated because of some of the real challenges of mental health and addiction.”

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

The first ever official figures on the number of homeless people who have tragically died were recently published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The figures reveal that nearly 600 homeless people died in 2017, with more than half of those deaths attributed to alcohol, drug abuse, or suicide. 

Ben Humberstone, head of health analysis at the ONS, said: “What’s striking about these figures is how different they are to the general population – 55% of the deaths of homeless people are related to drugs, suicide or alcohol, also known as the diseases of despair, compared to just 3% of deaths from these causes among the general population.”

However, we must not conflate causes with effects. The statistical data does not tell us whether those 55% of deaths – related to substance misuse or suicide –  would have happened had the citizens concerned not been pushed into destitution, or whether poor mental health and substance misuse contributed to people becoming homeless in the first place. Government statistics show that private sector tenancies coming to an end are the leading cause of homelessness, coupled with low wages and cuts to welfare and delays in payments, leading to insurmountable rent arrears, in both public and private sector housing.

Previously, Brokenshire is on record denying that government cuts have created the spike in homelessness statistics, saying: “I don’t see it in those terms.” He said. “I see it as a combination of concerning elements in terms of addiction, family breakdown issues. The thing that struck me over recent months in speaking to some of the LGBT charities in terms of young people, because of their sexuality, being thrown out of home.”

Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn MP said: “These figures are utterly shameful and reflect a complete failure of Conservative policy on housing, which has seen rough sleeping skyrocket since 2010.

“We are one of the richest countries in the world and there is no excuse for people dying on our streets.

“Labour will provide £100m to ensure that everyone has shelter when it becomes dangerously cold.

“We will end rough sleeping within five years to ensure that everyone has a place to call home.”

The Conservatives reiterated their pledge to eradicate rough sleeping by 2027.  Brokenshire said that work was under way with the Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, to “assess where problems were”.

Brokenshire also revealed that although he personally does not give money to homeless people, he said he buys the Big Issue when he can.

I don’t make any money from my work, and often struggle to get by. If you like, 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 affected by the welfare reforms.

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Labour pledges to repeal nineteenth century law criminalising rough sleepers

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Friday 21 December 2018 / 10:18 PM
 Jeremy Corbyn

 

Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn have announced that the next Labour government will repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824 which criminalises begging and rough sleeping.

They will say that the priority should be to support, not criminalise, those who are sleeping rough or begging.

The Georgian-era legislation is unnecessary for dealing with genuine anti-social behaviour as a number of other civil measures exist in modern legislation, including civil injunctions and criminal behaviour orders.

The Vagrancy Act was used to bring a criminal charge nearly 3,000 times in 2016 with offences under the act commanding a fine of up to £1,000 and leaving those convicted under it with a two year criminal record.

Labour has committed to ending rough sleeping within five years of forming the next Labour Government, with a plan to reserve 8,000 homes for those with a history of rough sleeping.

Earlier this week, the Shadow Housing Secretary, announced plans for a £100m fund to make emergency cold weather accommodation available for every rough sleeper during winter. 

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, said:

“It should shame us all that rough sleeping has doubled in the last eight years and nearly 600 people died while homeless last year.

“Homeless people need help, not punishment.

“The next Labour government will make ending homelessness a priority. We want to build a society which doesn’t walk by on the other side when we see someone in need.” 

Melanie Onn MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister, said:

“It beggars belief that we still use Georgian-era laws to criminalise some of the most vulnerable in society.

“Treating rough sleepers as criminals does not solve the underlying causes of homelessness and makes it harder for them to access support to move away from the streets.

“Rather than criminalising rough sleepers Labour would support them, with 8,000 new homes available to those with a history of rough sleeping as part of a plan to eradicate rough sleeping within five years.”

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More than 500 homeless people have died in the last 12 months in the UK

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A landmark, year-long independent investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that 544 homeless peolple have died on Britain’s streets since last winter, although they say the true number is likely to be much higher.

The Bureau’s count of people who have died homeless in the UK since last winter was published just days before the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is due to produce its own first ever count of deaths.

Those that died include an 81 year-old man who was sleeping on the streets, a mother of two that died in a night shelter and a 47 year-old man who died after being tipped into a bin lorry.

The project prompted the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to start compiling its own figures on homeless deaths in England and Wales, which it will release on December 20. Scotland and Northern Ireland’s national records offices are now also considering similar counts.

In October the government pledged to make sure deaths were investigated by local authorities so that lessons could be learned. The Bureau’s figures are “utterly shocking,” said Housing Secretary James Brokenshire, and “it is so important that we understand what has caused those deaths, [by] actually having serious case reviews.”

However, while Brokenshire admitted the figures were “utterly shocking”, he rejected allegations that government policies are behind the growing housing and homelessness crisis. He insisted instead that the “causes of homelessness and rough sleeping are multi-layered and complex”.

“I don’t see it in those terms,” he said – referring to the alleged impact of government policies on low-income and vulnerable people.

“I see it as a combination of concerning elements in terms of addiction, family breakdown issues.”

Brokenshire said he believes that homelessness is driven by factors including the spread of psychoactive drugs such as spice, the growth in non-UK nationals on the streets and family breakdown. These are, however, traditional Conservative stereotypes that are used to explain every social problem and instance of poverty that is linked with the government’s punitive welfare policy and wider austerity programme.  

He continued: “The thing that struck me over recent months in speaking to some of the LGBT charities in terms of young people, because of their sexuality, being thrown out of home.”

He continued waffling: “The causes of homelessness and rough sleeping are multi-layered and complex and therefore we do need to look at this in that way and ensure that councils and other agencies are getting ahead of this and preventing people becoming homeless in the first place.

That is the agenda I want to move to in the new year.”

However the government has admitted that it has not offered any extra funding or support to councils to help them do this. 

The Bureau has found many local authorities are still failing to carry out such reviews, citing lack of resources or saying they do not believe the cases meet the relevant statutory requirements. 

“In one of the world’s richest nations, people with nowhere to turn are dying.” 

In Norfolk, where at least 10 people have died homeless in the last year, the director of Public Health, Dr Louise Smith, said there would be no case reviews because of the review’s “significant cost and our limited resources”. 

Despite the fact that five people died in the same homeless hostel in one year, Brighton and Hove council said that no Safeguarding Adult Reviews would be undertaken, because the deaths had not met the “statutory criteria”. Redbridge council also echoed this reasoning. 

It is crucial that all homeless deaths are investigated so that lessons can be learned, said Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis. “It is disappointing that no progress has been made to support local authorities to implement this.” 

He added: “These statistics are a harrowing reminder of how deadly life on the streets can be.

“As we get closer to Christmas and temperatures are dropping, rough sleepers are facing exposure to dangerous conditions, above and beyond the violence and abuse often experienced when living on the streets.

“It’s a failure of the largest magnitude that in one of the world’s richest nations, people with nowhere to turn are dying.

“This has to stop and the government must put in place a full-scale plan to end homelessness once and for all.

“We also need to see the review system used to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults expanded to include all cases of people who have died whilst street homeless.

“With this in place, crucial lessons can be learned that help prevent further deaths.

“The government recently pledged to make this happen, but it is disappointing that no progress has been made to support local authorities to implement this.

“We cannot wait any longer, we need to see action now.”

“It’s a failure of the largest magnitude that in one of the world’s richest nations, people with nowhere to turn are dying. This has to stop and the government must put in place a full-scale plan to end homelessness once and for all.”

Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive of St Mungo’s, went even further and called for specific funding for reviews: “We think there is a strong case for Government to fund a separate programme outside of the Safeguarding Adult Review process to ensure every death of someone sleeping rough is reviewed. This way we can identify the changes needed, at the local and national level, to stop these tragedies,” he said.

A recent report from the housing charity Shelter warned that rising homelessness is due to a ‘combination of unaffordable rents, frozen housing benefits and a severe shortage of social housing’.

Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, blamed “the perfect storm of spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a total lack of social housing” for causing the increasing numbers of homeless people in the UK.

Other research has found that more than 24,000 homeless people will spend this festive season sleeping rough, exposed not only to the harmful elements but also at risk of verbal and physical abuse – and far too often – death.

 

Related

Meet Liam and Michelle. It’s time to listen to the voices of homeless people about the fatal flaws of Universal Credit

Two very vulnerable homeless men left to die in sub-zero temperatures

Please don’t just walk on by, we are better than this

Government backs new law to prevent people made homeless through government laws from becoming homeless

From the abstract to the concrete: urban design as a mechanism of behaviour change and social exclusion

Conservative MPs accuse citizens of ‘scaremongering stories’ about experiences of Universal Credit.

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and often struggle to get by. If you want to, 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.

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The ‘Intensive Personalised Employment Support’ programme & the problematic political application of Lewin’s theory of change

An ‘Intensive Personalised Employment Support’ programme is to be introduced which will “provide personalised employment support for long-term unemployed disabled people,” the new Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has announced.

“Disabled people will be able to work with a dedicated key worker to get and stay in employment,” she says.

The support comes from a new £40 million fund and is expected to benefit around 10,000 people.

The Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme will provide “highly personalised packages of employment support for people who are at least a year away from moving into work.”

People will be provided with coaching to help build their independence, confidence and motivation, as well as work experience to help boost their career prospects.

Rudd added: “Everyone, no matter what their background is, should have the opportunity to thrive in the workplace, and having the right support in place for disabled people is one of my greatest priorities.

“To truly help people transform their lives, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach.

“That’s why this new programme is designed to offer people, who may think they will never move into work, tailored support to help them overcome any personal barriers they may have in the first instance, and then to focus on boosting their skills.

“There are also huge economic benefits to improving disability employment rates. More than half of disabled people are in work, but in order to realise the full potential of disabled people in Britain we want to go further and see one million more disabled people in work by 2027.”

People on the scheme will be offered a dedicated key worker who will work with them to overcome complex barriers which may be preventing them from entering work, ensuring they have a personal support network in place.

The voluntary scheme will be rolled out across England and Wales in 2019, and applicants will receive support for up to 21 months, including 6 months of in-work support for those who get a job.

Neil Heslop, Chief Executive of Leonard Cheshire, said: “Many disabled people with complex needs face significant barriers in accessing the workplace. It’s crucial that specialised employment support is available and the government responds to the challenges people often encounter.

“A more tailored approach can help reach those who are not currently receiving any employment support or skills development. The experiences of disabled people must be central for this support to meaningfully build confidence in an ongoing way, reflecting their individual circumstances and aspirations.”

The Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme will support people living with a disability who are unlikely to move into work within the next year or longer and may need additional support. Other existing government support to help disabled people get into and stay in work includes the Disability Confident scheme, the Work and Health programme, the Access to Work grant and Jobcentre Plus services.

The pathfinder report that informed the Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme

The government has established a managerial type of policy context in which it is aiming to “provide support which could enable disabled people to undertake employment in the open market rather than in protected or segregated employment.” 

The government have in particular targeted those disabled people who have just started claiming Employment and Support Allowance, before they undergo a work capability assessment for ‘interventions’. This approach is founded on an entrenched belief that “the longer a disabled person or an individual with a health condition is unemployed, the harder it is for them to return to work.”  

However, an alternative explanation is that those who are not employed because of a health condition for longer periods are simply too ill to work. Nonetheless, the government has focused on notions of “work-readiness” as a means to “help” disabled people into work, which tends to sidestep the barriers that people face because they are chronically, often progressively and incurably unwell. It’s something the government simply refuses to accept, preferring instead to focus on perceived negative ‘attitudes and behaviours’, and the assumption that disabled people somehow lack skills and ‘character’. 

Research was carried out by IFF Research Ltd on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, to evaluate the Personalisation Pathfinder trial, which was introduced in April 2015 in three Districts: South West Wales, Surrey and Sussex and Greater Wessex. The report can be found here.  

In part, the research aimed to “establish whether the Pathfinder worked in moving out-of-work individuals with a disability and/or health condition closer to employment and, if so, how and why it achieved this. Specifically, the objectives of the research were to understand:   

  • Take-up of the Pathfinder programme – detailing the profile of individuals who joined the scheme in terms of employment history, claimant group, nature of health condition etc., as well as exploring the reasons and motivations for taking part  
  • The impact on outcomes for claimants. This includes both ‘hard’ impacts such as claim status and employment outcomes as well as ‘soft’ impacts such as attitudes towards work, levels of job-seeking activities, and perceptions of ability to manage health conditions 
  • Value for money 
  • Any impacts on the reputation of DWP and/or Jobcentre Plus among claimants.

The chief purpose of the Personalisation Pathfinder was to help claimants to become “work ready” through offered tailored support to those with a disability or health condition who are unemployed, and it aimed to investigate the impacts of an approach focused on personalisation, flexibility, peer support, and integration with local support.  

The report discusses findings from two waves of a basic quantitative survey with claimants on the Personalisation Pathfinder as well as from qualitative interviews with claimants and Pathfinder stakeholders.  

Job seeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants with a health condition or disability accounted for the greatest proportion of participants on the Pathfinder (50 per cent), followed by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) pre-Work Capability Assessment (WCA) claimants (38 per cent). 

Only around one in eight (12 per cent) of the participants were ESA Work Programme ‘completers’ (WP). The majority of participants had been in employment at some point before joining the Pathfinder (76 per cent). Six in ten had left their previous employment due to health related reasons and more than seven in ten regarded their health as a key barrier to returning to work. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, participants claiming JSA were generally less likely to perceive their disability as impacting on their employment before joining the Pathfinder. They were also, unsurprisingly, less likely to believe their health condition or disability limited their ability to return to work. They tended to report fewer barriers to returning to work and were therefore generally more positive about this prospect. Three in ten claimants were in work twelve months after joining the Personalisation Pathfinder. 

ESA pre-WCA claimants were most likely to have found work while on the trial. Nearly a third of this group had, however, returned to a previous employer or job.

ESA WP Completers were the least likely to have found work, but the ones who did were more likely than the other claimant groups to credit the support they received from the Pathfinder in moving them into work. ESA WP Completers were also more likely to feel they needed health related support that the Pathfinder could not offer and that this prevented them from moving closer to employment.

The authors clearly stated that it is not possible to assess from the research what proportion of claimants would have achieved these outcomes without the assistance of the Pathfinder. Although there are indications of “work-readiness” improving among those who did not find work – and I am not sure how one measures that – improvements in wellbeing and social isolation, it was concluded,  were “more modest”. 

Methodology: some first glance criticism

The research was framed by the political application of the theory of change – this is essentially a description of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It is focused in particular on mapping out or “filling in” what has been described as the “missing middle” between what a programme or change initiative does (its activities or interventions) and how these lead to desired goals being achieved.

It does this by first identifying the desired long-term goals and then works backwards from these to identify all the conditions (outcomes) that must be in place (and how these related to one another ‘causally’) for the goals to occur. Government sectors use the theory of change to promote various managed social and political changes, to define their long-term goals. 

So it is a model based on backcasting, which is a planning method that starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify policies and programmes that will connect that specified future to the present.

The outcomes in a theory of change must be coupled with indicators that guide and facilitate measurement. The measurement is often of changes in behaviours and perceptions. Not on political and socio-economic context and personal circumstances.

However, any serious explanation of anything in the social world should be suspect if it only uses one theory – e.g. a theory of financial incentives, or peer influences. All successful models are assemblies of multiple elements and theories – and they are open to exploration. Anyone familiar with systems thinking will be dubious of linear explanations, especially where complex  phenomena like disability, employment, homelessness, poverty or social isolation are concerned.

One key problem with the theory of change is that it does not model how events happen; rather, it models how strategists believe things will happen. Theory of change is a forecast that shows what conditions they believe must exist for other conditions to come into being. It’s easy to see how the model may very easily accommodate and amplify assumptions, prejudices and channel bias. The model may confuse accountability with ideology, ambitions and hopes.

Often, theory of change is insular and parochial, too. It can fail to take the external context into account. This is an important criticism in the context of current government behavioural change programmes, as the emphasis is entirely on individuals, who are somehow viewed as detached from their social, cultural, economic and policy contexts. 

Participation in the programme was voluntary. However, people decided not to engage with the programme, so the invitation letters were reworded, making the statement about the programme’s voluntary basis of participation less prominent, to nudge people into engaging. That is unethical, because it bypasses the important condition of fully informed consent. Yet later in discussion between job coaches and claimants, the voluntary aspect became important in retaining some participants:

The voluntary issue is quite interesting actually, because I have had people who have come back from the Work Programme, have sat down in front of me and you can tell have arrived expecting me to say, ‘Right, you’re going to do this/you’re going to do that/you’re going to do this’, and they’ve been quite defensive, and they’ve said, ‘You know I can’t work.

“So when I’ve said, you know, ‘That’s fine, you don’t have to. This is a voluntary programme’, they’ve almost said, ‘Oh don’t walk away. I’m interested’, you know. The voluntary thing has definitely produced a different reaction from people.”

Nonetheless, some 11% of the participants still said they were unaware they had a choice in whether they participated. Nearly one-fifth (19 per cent) of claimants thought that the Personalisation Pathfinder was mandatory; this proportion rose to 36 per cent for ‘ESA WP Completers.’  And even those who understood that participation was voluntary nonetheless expressed fears that they may be sanctioned if they refused to engage (page 59):

“I did not feel I could say no to the Pathfinder, because if we don’t do what they say, they’ll stop our money.” (JSA Caseload claimant, Surrey and Sussex).

Another criticism of the pathfinder is that it does not seem to differentiate between perceived health-related barriers to work and actual health-related barriers to work. Part of the aim of the programme was to influence people’s perceptions of barriers, a strategy which had little impact overall. Because despite the government’s magical thinking on this issue, health related barriers are very real, and not something that ill people choose to conjure up in their minds.

Another problem with the theory of change approach is that it doesn’t confirm the plausibility of the theory. Also, to be able to test, refine, and improve a theory of change over time, you need to be able to accurately measure its key elements. Not differentiating between Conservative notions of perceived and actual health-related barriers leads to measurement problems, for example.

Another major criticism of applied behavioural scientist Kurt Lewins theory of change model is that it ignores the influence of organisational power, conflict and politics; it is “top-down” and management-driven. As such, it is non-dialogic – a very authoritarian approach to policy making. 

This is down to a misuse of the original theory and its underpinning intents. This presents an irony given that Lewin’s original wish was to extend democratic values and resolve social conflicts. Even critics of Lewin’s work have drawn on his Field Theory to develop their own models of change. Including the government.

Any change that the Conservatives initiate is generally imposed on others and micromanaged. If prescribed, theory of change quickly becomes a compliance exercise and loses much of its original  value. Theory of change frameworks requires a commitment to an open, reflective and realistic approach. The Conservatives seem completely incapable of any of those prerequisites for any reliable and meaningful social research to benefit anyone but themselves.

Assumptions reflect deeply held beliefs, norms and ideological perspectives. These inform the design and implementation of programmes. The quality of a theory of change process rests on ‘making assumptions explicit’ and making strategic thinking realistic and transparent. Power relations, both in the programme’s context and within organisations, limit the ability to challenge established ways of thinking and working. So a theory of change process often brings to the surface conflicts and tensions which require negotiation. 

It’s certainly true to say that some “politicians, like any other social group that is in a rarefied or tightly knit, small community, will frequently suffer from psychological ‘groupthink’.” Dr Paul Taffinder, Chartered psychologist.

Common pitfalls of using theory of change, and rules of thumb for taking a systemic approach: pitfall 1) neglect context. rule of thumb 1) understand context. pitfall 2) change others only. rule of thumb 2) know yourself. pitfall 3) think in linear terms. rule of thumb 3) think systemically. pitfall 4) seek safety in certainty. rule of thumb 4) learn and adapt. pitfall 5) change is technical. rule of thumb 5) recognise change is personal.


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a limited income. But you can help me if you like 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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Labour party pledge to reinstate legal aid, restoring equal access to justice

Image result for justice

The Labour party will restore legal aid for people appealing against cuts to social security, such as Universal Credit and Personal Independent Payment, the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, is to announce.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, warned last month that cuts to legal aid meant many could no longer afford “to challenge benefit denials or reductions” and were “thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy”. 

Back in 2012, I warned that without equal access to justice, citizens simply cease to be free. I strongly welcome this move from the opposition, in particular because I regard access to justice – a basic human right – as absolutely fundamental to a functioning democracy.

Those seeking to challenge decisions by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on social security payments, many of which are incorrect and unfair, will be able to gain access to legal advice to help them pursue appeals, Labour has pledged.

Burgon argues that restoring such financial support would encourage the DWP to get decisions right the first time, thereby reducing costs for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

More than two-thirds of appeals against DWP decisions on personal independence payments (PIP) and employment support allowance (ESA) are successful, says the Labour party, adding that those decisions have affected thousands of vulnerable people with illnesses, disabilities or in poor health. 

Since the Coalition government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) came into effect in early 2013, the number of people receiving legal aid to challenge benefit decisions has fallen by 99%. The MoJ spends more than £100m a year on tribunals disputing appeals against benefit decisions.

In addition, the DWP has spent more than £100m on PIP and ESA reviews and appeals since October 2015. That means  the state is spending huge amounts of money to get its’ own way in imposing wrongful decisions, while ensuring those affected cannot easily challenge such unjust decision making processes, which become embedded into an increasingly punitive social security system. It’s difficult to regard this as anything other than a politically coordinated attack on the rights of citizens and the welfare state by the Conservatives.

Since the Laspo act came into effect, many expert social security lawyers have left the field because cases were no longer funded. The MoJ has experienced the deepest cuts of any Whitehall department since 2010; its budget is to shrink further over the next two years.

Burgon said: “People should never be expected to navigate a complex appeals process all by themselves. That can force some to give up their claim altogether after a wrong initial decision. Others endure months of stress trying to prepare their own case. It’s bad now but will be even more difficult after universal credit’s rollout.

“Cuts to early legal advice have been a false economy. Ensuring that people are armed with expert legal advice to take on incorrect benefits decisions will not only help people get the benefits they are entitled to, it should make it less likely that flawed decision takes place in the first place, which would be good for the individuals themselves, and help to tackle the tens of millions of pounds spent on administering appeals against flawed decisions.”

Unless, of course, the intention all along was to ensure that the state’s ‘incorrect’ decisions stand. I rather suspect that is so.

The number of people granted legal aid in welfare cases has plummeted from 91,431 in 2012-13 to 478 in 2017-18, according to Legal Aid Agency figures.

A 2010 Citizens Advice report (pdf) concluded that for every £1 of legal aid expenditure on benefits advice, the state potentially saved £8.80.

Labour estimates that to restore early legal advice to pre-Laspo levels for benefits cases would cost £18m a year and help about 90,000 cases.

The party has already pledged to restore legal aid funding for advice in all housing cases, reversing far-reaching cuts imposed by the government five years ago. It has also promised to re-establish early advice entitlements in the family courts and to review the legal aid means tests.

Burgon says “Cuts have left vulnerable people without the legal support they need when faced with a rogue landlord, a difficult family breakup, or Theresa May’s “hostile environment. 

“But of all the cuts to legal aid, the slashing of advice for ill and disabled people unfairly denied their benefits is one of the cruellest. It creates the shameful situation where people are first denied the financial support to which they are legally entitled and then must struggle through a complex appeal without legal advice, causing further stress and anxiety.”

He says that the Labour-initiated Bach commission on access to justice outlined the direction in which the government needs to go. The Conservatives’ review (due before Christmas) should follow its recommendation to boost funding for early legal advice. Instead, however, it’s likely to be ‘another missed opportunity’. 

As Burgon notes, next year marks the 70th anniversary of the Legal Aid and Advice Act of 1949. Too often, legal aid has been treated as the forgotten pillar of the welfare state. Access to health and education are rightly recognised as the right of every citizen. Access to justice should be too.

 

See also: Labour will restore legal aid so all citizens have access to justice – not just the rich


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Government faces second judicial review of universal credit

Judge orders action to be fast tracked over claims removal of certain disability benefits had placed the most vulnerable under dire financial strain

The UK government’s highly controversial universal credit programme is to undergo another legal challenge at the High Court in London, as evidence mounts that the new benefits system will leave thousands of people already on low incomes significantly worse off. 

Four women are taking the government to court because of this reason.

This is the second judicial review of universal credit following the High Court’s finding in June that the system was unlawfully discriminating against severely disabled people. It comes amid mounting concern over universal credit, which academics have described as a “complicated, dysfunctional and punitive” system pushing people into debt and rent arrears. 

Last week it emerged that more than half of people denied universal credit were found to be entitled to it when their cases were investigated, prompting fresh demands for the national rollout of the new system to be halted. It’s something of an irony, given universal credit was introduced in 2013 with the intention of bringing “fairness and simplicity” to Britain’s social security system.

Now, four plaintiffs say the flaw, which relates to the way universal credit monthly payments are calculated, disproportionately affects working parents with children and leaves claimants with a “dramatically fluctuating income” and unable to budget from month to month.

In one case uncovered by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) reported by The Guardian, a family’s monthly payment swung from £1,185 to zero, making budgeting impossible.

One of the women, Danielle Johnson, has claimed that as well as being irrational, the payment system is also discriminatory as it disproportionately affects single parents, who are predominantly female.

Last month, MP Frank Field said the system was driving women in his constituency into sex work in a bid to avoid absolute poverty.

However, responding to claims it was fundamentally flawed, Neil Couling, from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), told the court four days ago that the system relied heavily on automation to process claims.

He added would cost “hundreds of millions of pounds” to redesign and he claimed that less than 1% of claimants lost out as a result of the problem. 

Single mother Claire Woods says she was forced to turn down a promotion and use a food bank after issues with the assessment period for the new benefit system made it “impossible to budget”. 

Woods said: “I invested £40,000 in higher education studies so that I could become an occupational therapist and it’s great that I’ve got my degree but I have had to put my career hopes on hold because of universal credit.  

“I am competent managing my own finances and am someone who wants to work for professional and personal development, but the assessment period problem meant my income fluctuated so much that it was impossible to budget.  

“I had to go to a food bank and I took out an advance that I am still paying back. I took two jobs – as a PA and a waitress – which I could do without the education I invested in but which had paydays which don’t clash with my assessment period. I wanted to become free of welfare through my chosen profession but universal credit is holding me back from that.” 

Although Woods had originally wanted a healthcare job, which was relevant to her degree and would move her nearer earnings that would eventually take her out of the social security system altogether, she found that the NHS and other health organisations mostly paid salaries at the end of the working month so she would face the same trap. 

She left the council and initially took two part time jobs, and she now has one part time job.

Woods’ solicitor, Carla Clarke of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said: “Universal credit is promoted as a benefit that incentivises work but in practice its rigid assessment period system undercuts that claim. 

“Our clients have been left repeatedly without money for family essentials simply because of the date of their paydays.

“One of them, for example, did her utmost to find a workaround but ultimately had to decline a promotion in a job with good prospects when her then contract came to an end just to escape the trap.

“We say that the DWP’s refusal to alter our clients’ assessment period dates to avoid this problem discriminates against working parents – one of the two groups who are entitled to a work allowance – as well as being irrational and undermining one of the stated purposes of universal credit – to make sure that ‘work always pays’.”

CPAG argues that the DWP refusal to alter Woods’ assessment period dates to avoid the problem discriminated against working parents – one of the two groups who are entitled to a work allowance – as well as being “irrational and undermining” one of the stated purposes of universal credit: to make sure that ‘work always pays.’  

“This is a fundamental defect in universal credit and an injustice to hard-working parents and their children that must be put right for our clients and everyone else affected,” Clarke added.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Danielle Johnson from Keighley, West Yorkshire, argue that the “irrational” universal credit payment system “has left some families worse off and coping with dramatically fluctuating income from month to month because of its rigid, inflexible assessment system”.

They will also argue that the new benefits system “is discriminatory because it disproportionately affects single parents, who are mainly female”.

Johnson, who will joined at the High Court by three other women in similar situations, is a single mother who works part-time as a dinner lady and relies on universal credit to top up her low income.

She is paid by her employer on the last working day of each month. However, the universal credit assessment periods run from the last day of each month, meaning that if she is paid before the last day of the month she is assessed as having been paid twice that month.

Lawyers from the legal firm supporting  Johnson at LeighDay, say: “This has resulted in her receiving fluctuating universal credit payments throughout the year, making it very hard to budget from one month to the next.”

They add: “It has also caused her to be around £500 worse off annually due to the fact that she is entitled to ‘work allowance’ as a parent.

“The work allowance is a disregard of £198 per month of a parent’s monthly earnings so in months where she is treated as having no earned income, she loses the whole benefit of the work allowance. In months where she is treated as having double income, she does not receive any extra work allowance.”

Johnson said: “I have never been this financially unstable before, to the point of being unable to afford my rent and having to go into my overdraft when buying food. It is getting me into a vicious cycle of debt.

“Universal credit is supposed to be simpler and fairer, but my experience of it is the opposite. I’m doing my best working part-time to make ends meet so that I can look after my daughter.

“I thought the government was supposed to help and support people like me trying to get back to work but I have found it to be the opposite.”

Tessa Gregory, partner at law firm Leigh Day, added: “It is very clear through the multitude of problems reported that universal credit is a broken and ill-thought out system.

“Universal Credit is supposed to “make work pay”. It was purportedly designed to assist those in work being paid on a regular monthly basis, yet flaws in the system mean that our client, who has a regular monthly salary paid like many on the last working day of the month, is struggling to support her family.

“She has been left wondering why she ever went back to work, it is an absurd situation.

“Our client has repeatedly asked the government to address this problem, but they have refused to take action, so our client has been forced to take her case to court.

“It is important that this issue gets addressed as soon as possible as once Universal Credit rolls out fully the numbers affected will run into the tens of thousands if not more.”

Legal aid for social security appeals is almost entirely gone. People adversely affected by unfair decisions are effectively being denied justice.

The legal challenge comes amid mounting concern over universal credit, which campaigners, academics and MPs have described as a “complicated, dysfunctional and punitive” system pushing people into debt and rent arrears.

 


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Studies find higher premature mortality rates are correlated with Conservative governments

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In 2014, public health experts from Durham University denounced the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s policies on the health and wellbeing of the British public in research which examined social inequality and injustice in the 1980s.

The study, which looked at over 70 existing research papers, concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

The research shows that there was a massive increase in income inequality under  the Thatcher government – the richest 0.01 per cent of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average in 1990, and UK poverty rates went up from 6.7 per cent in 1975 to 12 per cent in 1985.

Thatcher’s governments wilfully engineered an economic catastrophe across large parts of Britain by dismantling traditional industries such as coal and steel in order to undermine the power of working class organisations, say the researchers. They suggest this ultimately fed through into growing regional disparities in health standards and life expectancy, as well as greatly increased inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.

Co-author Professor Clare Bambra from the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Durham University, commented: “Our paper shows the importance of politics and of the decisions of governments and politicians in driving health inequalities and population health. Advancements in public health will be limited if governments continue to pursue neoliberal economic policies – such as the current welfare state cuts being carried out under the guise of austerity.”

Housing and welfare changes are also highlighted in the paper, with policies to sell off council housing such as Right to Buy and to reduce welfare payments resulting in further inequalities and causing “a mushrooming of homelessness due to a chronic shortage of affordable social housing.” Homeless households in England tripled during the 1980s from around 55,000 in 1980 to 165,000 in 1990.

And while the NHS was relatively untouched, the authors point to policy changes in healthcare such as outsourcing hospital cleaners, which removed “a friendly, reassuring presence” from hospital wards and has ultimately led to increases in hospital acquired infections. 

Co-author Professor David Hunter, from Durham University’s Centre for Public Policy and Health, said: “Taking its inspiration from Thatcher’s legacy, the coalition government has managed to achieve what Thatcher felt unable to, which is to open up the NHS to markets and competition.”

The study, carried out by the Universities of Liverpool, Durham, West of Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh, is published in the International Journal of Health Services.

The backwards future

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An increase in UK infant mortality over the past two years, after more than a century of a decline, is the starkest indicator of how, as a society, we are regressing, failing to support the physical and mental wellbeing of children and young people. In October, the frightening implications for individual families and the long-term pressures on the public sector were highlighted by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which had published its projections of likely outcomes for child health up to 2030.

The study compares the UK with the EU15+, comprising 15 long-standing EU members plus Australia, Canada and Norway. It shows that by 2030 the UK infant mortality rate will be 80% higher than the EU15+, even if the country resumes its previous downward path. If we carry on as we are, the rate will be 140% higher. As always, the impact is greatest among the poorest citizens. To put this into persepctive, the United Nations’ estimates of infant mortality indicate that only around six other countries have had increases over the past two or three years. We are now comparable with countries such as Dominica, Grenada and Venezuela.

The brutal cuts to local government have increased the risks facing the most vulnerable. Child protection services are increasingly being driven to wait until a child is in crisis before intervening. This puts children in danger, increases family break-ups and drives up the long-term costs to public services as people struggle to cope in later life with the aftermath of avoidable trauma.

Problems associated with poverty are compounded as children grow. As many as 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres may have closed since 2010, stripping away early years support for children from the poorest homes. Remaining centres struggle to cope. 

Cuts in services addressing domestic violence and addiction put more children in danger. The repeal of child protection policies that the last Labour government brought in – Every Child Matters – has hardly helped, too. Michael Gove repealed the policy the day after he took office in 2010.

A more recent study, published in the medical journal Lancet Public Health, has revealed that people living in the most deprived regions of the country die up to ten years earlier than their wealthier counterparts.

According to the study, the life expectancy between rich and poor citizens has increased from six years in 2001 to eight years in 2016 for women, and from nine to ten years for men. The research was carried out by the Imperial College London.

The researchers say that stagnant wages and cuts to social security are among the main causes for the growing life expectancy gap, they warn that the their findings are a “deeply worrying indicator of the state of our nation’s health”.

The study also reveals that child mortality rates are higher among deprived communities, with the poorest children more than twice as likely to die before they reach adulthood, compared to children born into well-off families.

The researchers said people from the most deprived sections of society are at a far greater risk of developing diseases like heart disease, lung and digestive cancers, and respiratory conditions – despite the fact that most of these conditions are avoidable and treatable.

Professor Majid Ezzati, senior author of the research from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “Falling life expectancy in the poorest communities is a deeply worrying indicator of the state of our nation’s health, and shows that we are leaving the most vulnerable out of the collective gain.

“We currently have a perfect storm of factors that can impact on health, and that are leading to poor people dying younger.

“Working income has stagnated and benefits have been cut, forcing many working families to use foodbanks.

“The price of healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables has increased relative to unhealthy, processed food, putting them out of the reach of the poorest.

“The funding squeeze for health and cuts to local government services since 2010 have also had a significant impact on the most deprived communities, leading to treatable diseases such as cancer being diagnosed too late, or people dying sooner from conditions like dementia.”

Jonathan Ashworth MP, the Labour party’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, said: “This is latest evidence of stark differences in life expectancy, which should act as an urgent wake up call for ministers ahead of the long term NHS plan.

“The shameful truth is women living in poorer areas die sooner and get sick quicker than women in more affluent areas.

“It’s why as well as ending austerity, Labour recently announced we’d target growing health inequalities and implement a specific women’s strategy in government to ensure the health and wellbeing needs of women are met.”

The ideologically prompted and systematic dismantling of public services has stalled our progress as a society, transforming it into a social Darwninist dystopia. The  inequalities in mortality between haves and have nots is proof that the government has abandoned and intentionally economically excluded growing numbers of citizens, causing harm, premature death, and leaving them in profound in distress and deprivation, while inequalities in wealth, inclusion, wellbeing and opportunity are being pushed even higher. 

If a parents neglect children child, intentionally leaving them without food, warmth and shelter, punishing them because of some unevidenced theory about ‘incentives’ and their attitude, behaviour and motivation, we would say that is abuse. When the state neglects children and treats them this way, we call it welfare ‘reform’. 

The public have paid into social security funds and other public services. It is citizen-funded provision FOR citizens when or if they need it. It is not the government’s moeny to take from ordinary people and hand out to millionaires.

Dying prematurely because you are poor is the most unfair outcome of all. As a society, we should all be concerned about the growing divergence in rich-poor life expectancy and the fact that this divergence is damaging citizens. It should also be a cause for substantial public concern that inequalities are being wilfully engineered and fuelled by the UK government.

 


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Government changes to Mental Health Capacity Act places human rights of disabled people in jeopardy

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Under the Conservative government, applications for the Deprivation of Liberty of citizens have soared. (Source: Court of Protection hub.) 

Last month I wrote an article about the government’s under the radar proposed changes to the Mental Capacity Act, raising my concerns about how it threatens human rights – Government changes to Mental Capacity Act threatens human rights of vulnerable citizens.

Deprivation of Liberty, which is defined in part of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, is there to ensure that there are checks and balances for a person placed in care, that decisions are made in their best interest and that an independent advocate can be appointed to speak on their behalf in these decision making processes. The government asked the Law Commission to review the legal framework that is called Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLs) which is put in place when a person who lacks capacity is placed in a care home. The Commission made recommendations to change the law, following public consultation. 

However, the government has not included all of the recommendations in their Bill.

The new legislation has been worded carefully, and its effect will be to risk the removal of key human rights; it also ignores the entire concept of best interests and has put decision making power over people’s liberty and rights in the hands of organisations and their managers with a commercial interest in decisions and outcomes.  

Any statutory scheme which permits the state to deprive someone of their liberty for the purpose of providing care and treatment must be comprehensible, with robust safeguards to ensure that human rights are observed. However, the proposed Bill has been widely criticised because it contains insufficient safeguards and is not fit for purpose in its current form. It requires serious reconsideration and extensive revision.

The Law Society has issued a rather damning briefing on the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill 2018 that moved to a Lords committee stage in early September.

The Society says that the Bill is not fit for purpose: “While agreeing that simplification is needed and acknowledging that there are resource constraints, these constraints are “insufficient justification for not implementing fully the safeguards recommended by the Law Commission.”

Inclusion London have also raised grave concerns about this amendment Bill:

“Right now the government is pushing a new law through Parliament that will make it easier to deprive someone of their liberty if they are judged unable to make decisions for themselves. It could mean people are forced to live in care homes because it’s cheaper and easier for the local council even though it’s not what they want or need.

“It’s hugely important as many people as possible sign our petition. We need to let the government know there is widespread opposition to their proposals. Please sign our petition to help us change the bill:

38 Degrees Petition to protect the human rights of people receiving care and support

“In July 2018 the government introduced The Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill in Parliament.  The Bill will amend the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA).  It will affect the human rights of over 300,000 citizens in England and Wales with conditions including dementia, learning difficulties, autism and brain injuries, as well as their families and supporters”

Inclusion go on to say: “We recognise the existing system needs to change, but not in the way proposed by the Bill. We are very much concerned that the bill weakens the existing safeguards that people have and does nothing to ensure support and care is provided in a way that promotes and maximises Disabled people’s liberty. 

In fact the Bill will make it easier to deprive Disabled people of their liberty.  We are also concerned that there has been very little consultation with Disabled people who will be affected by the Bill.

“We are working together with People First Self Advocacy, other Deaf and Disabled People’s (DDPOs) Organisations, lawyers and academics to ensure the Bill is changed.

“We want as many DDPOs and self-advocacy groups as possible to get involved in this work.  Please let Inclusion London know if you are interested and we’ll keep you in the loop.

Read Inclusion London’s briefing about the Bill, it will tell you exactly what changes the government wants to make and what our main concerns are:

Briefing on Metal Health Capacity Amendment Bill

Easy read version: Briefing on Mental Health Capacity Amendment Bill- Easy Read

And please sign their important petition: 38 Degrees Petition to protect the human rights of people receiving care and support

 


 

Select Committee launch inquiry into ‘effectiveness of welfare system’ as UN rapporteur condemns Conservative policies

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The Work and Pensions Select Committee have launched an inquiry into ‘effectiveness of welfare system.’ The Committee say the inquiry was launched as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty makes an investigative visit to the UK, and it will consider how effectively our welfare system works to protect citizens against hardship and chronic deprivation.

The Committee have noted that the UK’s welfare system is currently undergoing fundamental reform, in the transition to Universal Credit alongside other major and largely untested reforms like benefit sanctions and the benefit cap. 

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The Committee’s latest work on Universal Credit examined how Government will (or won’t) safeguard some of the most vulnerable members of our society as it implements this huge programme of change.

After the recent Budget, Members from across the House expressed concerns on this issue, including some senior MPs telling the Government that continuing the freeze on benefits in place since 2010 was “immoral”.

Previously, the Work and Pensions Committee inquired into the local welfare safety net in response to changes in the Welfare Reform Act 2012—which replaced several centrally administered schemes with locally run provision—and further changes in the Summer 2015 Budget.

The Committee looked at whether these changes represented “localism in action” as claimed, or rather, created a postcode lottery of service provision, with people falling through the gaps or “holes” in the welfare safety net and the costs shunted on to local authorities, services and charities.

The Committee concluded that welfare ‘reforms’ risk leading people into severe hardship and called on the government to:

  • Ensure reforms such as the benefit cap do not inadvertently penalise groups who cannot actually adapt to it or offset its effects, and that appropriate mitigation strategies are in place.

    For example, some people cannot find or move to cheaper housing, because none is available, or cannot move in to work because they are a single parent and there is no appropriate childcare in their area. 
  • Conduct robust, cross-departmental evaluation on the impact of local schemes on the most vulnerable households 
  • Co-ordinate with local government better to ensure more consistent quality of provision

Since then indicators strongly suggest that chronic deprivation is on the rise. These include numbers of households in temporary accommodation, rough sleepers, and people referred to foodbanks, says the Committee.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“We are now seeing the grim, if unintended, consequences of the Government’s massive welfare reforms across several major inquiries. Policy decision after policy decision has piled the risks of major changes onto the shoulders of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and then onto local authorities, services and charities scrambling to catch them if and when they fall.

The welfare safety net ought to be catching people before they are plunged into debt, hardship and hunger. Instead it appears to be unravelling before our very eyes. The Committee now wants to find out whether the Government’s policies are sufficient to save people from destitution—and, if not, what more needs to be done.”

We do have to wonder how much evidence it will take before the government concedes that its draconian welfare policies are discriminatory, ideologically driven,  empirically unverified in terms of their efficacy and profoundly damaging; creating poverty and extreme hardships for historially marginalised groups. 

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has discussed a ‘Government in denial’ in his scathing report. He draws pretty much the same conclusions that many of us have over the last few years. He says that “key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned.”

Much of the contract has been dismantled, including access to justice via legal aid, as well as universal welfare, health care, social housing and many other social gains and safety net provisions that were a fundamental part of the post war democratic settlement.

This is a consequence of the Conservative’s coordinated and sustained attack on democracy, public services and establised ideas about universal rights and citizenship, since 2010. It’s very difficult to see this as anything else but an ongoing and intentional attack. 

The government’s ‘mean spirited’ welfare policies have intended outcomes. They are codified expressions of how a government thinks society ought to be structured.

Alston draws the same conclusions as I have since 2012; that the harms and suffering being inflicted on the most politically disadvantaged citizens is part of “a radical social re-engineering’, and nothing to do with any economic need for austerity.”

In other words, the all too often devastating consequences of Conservative welfare policies are deliberate and intended. 

Alston says that the government’s policies and drastic cuts were “entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting “unnecessary” hardship in one of the richest countries in the world.

“When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits,” he said.

Yet another example of  the government’s strategy of loud and determined denials and sustained use of techniques of neutralisation.

When it was announced that the UN was investigating the impact of government policies and severe poverty in the UK, Conservative Minister for the 17th Century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said: “Surely the UN has better ways of wasting money?”

A government gaslighting  spokesman said: “We completely disagree with this [Philip Alston’s] analysis. With these Government’s changes, household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, the number of children living in workless households is at a record low and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010.

“Universal Credit is supporting people into work faster, but we are listening to feedback and have made numerous improvements to the system including ensuring 2.4 million households will be up to £630 better off a year as a result of raising the work allowance.

“We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it.”

Of course, the empirical evidence does not support this government statement.

Send the Committee your views

The Committee is now inviting evidence, whether you are an individual, group or organisation, on any or all of the following questions. 

Please send your views by 14 December 2018.

  • How should hardship and chronic deprivation be measured?
  • What do we know about chronic deprivation and hardship in the UK?
  • Is it changing? How?
  • Why do some households fall into poverty and deprivation?
  • What factors best explain the reported increases in indicators of deprivation like homelessness, rough sleeping and increased food bank use? 
  • What about the local variations in these markers of deprivation?
  • Do Jobcentre Plus procedures and benefit delays play a role?
  • What role does Universal Credit play in in relation to deprivation, or could it play in tackling it?
  • Is our welfare safety net working to prevent people falling into deprivation?
  • If not, how could it better do so?
  • What progress has been made on addressing the issues identified in the Committee’s 2016
    Report, (described above / link)?
  • What are the remaining weaknesses, how should these now be addressed?

Send a written submission

Related

Universal Credit is a ‘serious threat to public health’ say public health researchers

 


 

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

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62 year old woman faces losing home because of unfair and pointless welfare sanction

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A 62-year-old woman says that she’s been forced to leave her home after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sanctioned her – cut her benefits – for turning up late for a meeting.

Faith Hurford, from Hillesley near Stroud, who suffers with a range of medical conditions that haven’t been disclosed, says the benefit sanction means she is unable to afford the rent and has to move away from her home because of the DWP’s callous and unfair decision.

The Stroud News and Journal reports that despite her health problems, Faith had to travel a staggering 15 miles (one way) to attend a meeting about her Universal Credit claim in Stroud.

Due to heat, the sheer distance she had to cycle, as well as her chronic health issues, Faith was forced to stop and take a break at a Sainbury’s store to recover her energy, before continuing the arduous journey.

This meant that Faith turned up late for the appointment and was subsequently sanctioned for failing to turn up for the meeting on time.

Faith described the sanction as “unlawful” and tried to appeal the harsh ruling, but the loss of benefit meant she could no longer afford the rent and has to move away to Nailsworth.

“I had been a supporter of Universal Credit before – it helps you look for work and it’s simpler to use – but that sanction was unlawful.

“By the time I got to Sainsbury’s after hours of cycling I couldn’t go any further, I was completely dazed.”

Faith says that she tried to explain the reason for her lateness but her reasonable appeals fell on deaf ears.

She says that the sanction has cost her nearly £200 in lost benefit payments.

“You need to take a person’s circumstances into account. The effort I went to was not recognised in any shape or form.

“I can’t recover from a sanction like that, I’m on a shoestring. I grow my own veg, I’ve reduced my food intake. There’s nothing else I can do,” she said, adding “I’ve fallen behind on rent and I can’t afford this place now. I’ve got to move out.”

Faith is currently looking for a new place to live while waiting to hear back about an appeal lodged with the social security tribunal.

Sanctions on welfare payments which have caused thousands of claimants to fall into hardship are being handed out without evidence that they actually work. The Department for Work and Pensions doesn’t even monitor and analyse its own data, making claims that sanctions “work” from an evidence-free zone. 

There is no evidence that sanctions work as the government insists they do

A report published earlier this year by the WelCond project, led by the University of York and involving the Universities of Glasgow, Sheffield, Salford, Sheffield Hallam and Heriot-Watt, analysed the effectiveness, impact and ethics of welfare conditionality from 2013 to 2018.

The findings of this report’s adds more evidence to a substantial and growing body that welfare conditionality within the social security system is largely ineffective and that benefits sanctions have severe and negative impacts on personal, financial and health outcomes, including mental health.

The report suggests that too much emphasis is being placed on negative consequences for not being engaged in job-seeking activities and not enough emphasis on more positive and individualised work-shaping activities to help people access work that they wish to be in.

In 2016 the British Psychological Society (BPS) and a range of allied organisations (British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP), British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC)), stated a very clear position against welfare sanctions, in response to reports of a lack of efficacy and potential harm to mental health, as outlined in their 2016 joint response

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

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

The collective organisations – BPS, BACP, BPC, BABCP and UKCP – are the UK’s leading professional associations for psychological therapies, representing over 110,000 psychologists, counsellors, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists who practise psychotherapy and counselling.

In 2016, even the government’s technocratic team of behavioural economists and policy gurus at the Nudge Unit did a u-turn on benefit sanctions. They said that the state using the threat of benefit sanctions may be counterproductive”. The idea of increasing welfare conditionality and enlarging the scope and increasing the frequency of benefit sanctions originated from neoliberal behavioural economics theories of the Nudge Unit in the first place. 

It’s difficult to imagine how punitive sanctioning – psycho-coercion – which entails the removal of people’s lifeline income which was originally calculated to meet the costs of only basic survival needs, such as for food, fuel and shelter, could ever be seen as “helping people into work.” 

Commons Select Committee inquiry into sanctions 

The Work and Pensions Committee has published a report this month regarding the findings of an ongoing inquiry into welfare conditionality and sanctions. They say: 

“The human cost of continuing to apply the existing regime of benefit sanctions – the ‘only major welfare reform this decade to have never been evaluated’ – appears simply too high. The evidence that it is achieving its aims is at best mixed, and at worst showing a policy that appears ‘arbitrarily punitive’.”  

The Committee say in their report that the Coalition Government “had little or no understanding of the likely impact of a tougher sanctions regime” when it introduced it in 2012 with the stated aim, as the NAO describes it, that “benefits, employment support and conditions and sanctions together lead to employment.”

At that point, the Government promised to review the reform’s impact and whether it was achieving its aims on an ongoing basis. But six years later, Government “is [still] none the wiser.”

In their report, the select committee urge the government to reassess the sanctions regime. However, there is no evidence they ever assessed it in the first place.

Commenting on the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry, Chair Frank Field MP says:

“We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel.

While none of them told us that there should be no benefit sanctions at all, it can only be right for the Government to take a long hard look at what is going on. If their stories were rare it would be unacceptable, but the Government has no idea how many more people out there are suffering in similar circumstances. In fact, it has kept itself in the dark about any of the impacts of the major reforms to sanctions introduced since 2012.

The time is long overdue for the Government to assess the evidence and then have the courage of its reform convictions to say, where it is right to do so, ’this policy is not achieving its aims, it is not working, and the cost is too high: We will change it.”

Yes, we must.

Related

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

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


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