Tag: Amber Rudd

Select committee to investigate link between ‘survival sex’ and Universal Credit

amber rudd

In February, Amber Rudd finally conceded that the increased use of food banks is partly down to problems in rolling out Universal Credit, following a long line of Conservative ministers who have persistently and loudly denied their is any link between welfare cuts and people needing food banks to make ends meet.

The work and pensions secretary said she was “absolutely clear there were challenges with the initial roll-out” of the benefit and that the difficulty in accessing money was “one of the causes” of the rise.

But she also said that the government had “made changes to help tackle food insecurity”.

Although it seemed like a “promising” acknowledgement, little has changed. Many people are still notable to meet their fundamental survival needs. Universal Credit has been plagued with multiple problems since its inception in 2010. Eight years later, and those problems remain, with a wake of often devastating consequences in those communities where this flagship failure has been rolled out. The Labour party has called for ministers to halt the roll-out “as a matter of urgency”.

Austerity has caused a surge in “survival crime” – where absolute poverty has driven people to shoplift food and to prostitution. 

Frank Field raised the issue of “survival sex” in parliament last October, telling the then work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, that some women in his Birkenhead constituency were “were taking to the red light district for the very first time” because of Universal Credit.

Relentlessly hard-faced McVey replied that job centre work coaches would be able to help the women off the streets, adding that “in the meantime” Field could “tell these ladies that now we’ve got record job vacancies – 830,000 and perhaps there are other jobs on offer”.

Now, the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee have launched an inquiry into a possible link between Universal Credit and so-called “survival sex”, after evidence has emerged that problems with the UK Government’s flagship welfare reform have resulted in some women so impoverished by universal credit or sanctions that they have turned to prostitution to pay rent, feed their families, and generally meet the costs of basic survival needs.

The Committee has opened this phase in its ongoing Universal Credit inquiry in response to reports from charities and support organisations that increasing numbers of people—overwhelmingly women—have been pushed into “survival sex” as a direct result of welfare policy ‘changes’ (cuts).

In his recent report on extreme poverty in the UK, the UN Special Rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston, described meeting people who:

Depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter.

Through its work on different elements and consequences of Universal Credit over the last two years, the Work and Pensions Select Committee has identified a number of features of the policy that may contribute to those claiming social security having difficulty meeting survival needs.

  • The wait for a first Universal Credit payment, which is a minimum of five weeks but can be a lot longer;
  • The accumulation of debt: for example, as a result of third-party deductions to benefits or taking out an Advance Payment at the start of a claim;
  • Sanctions, which are applied at a higher rate under Universal Credit than under the system it replaces.

New Universal Credit claimants are made to wait at least five weeks before receiving an initial payment, although recent changes to the payment system mean people can ask for advances to help tide them over while they await their first payment. However, the advances must be repaid over time, which traps people in a cycle of debt.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “We have heard sufficient evidence, and are sufficiently worried, to launch this inquiry to begin to establish what lies behind the shocking reports of people being forced to exchange sex to meet survival needs.

“This is an investigation, and we do not yet know what we will uncover.

“But if the evidence points to a direct link between this kind of survival sex and the administrative failures of Universal Credit, Ministers cannot fail to act.”

Niki Adams, a spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes, a self-help organisation for sex workers, said there had been an increase in prostitution in the UK as a result of rising poverty and cuts to single-parent benefits.

The devastating impact of benefit cuts and sanctions on women’s incomes began before Universal Credit, which for many women, especially lone parents, she said, had the effect of making an already precarious financial situation worse.

“If you are on benefits it is already a very low level of income. If your income is then reduced, that’s when you find women going back into prostitution, or going into it for the first time,” she added.

The Select Committee wants to hear from Universal Credit claimants who have “had to exchange sex for basic living essentials, like food or somewhere to live”.

They say: “We understand that telling your story might be difficult.

“You can ask for your evidence to be anonymous (we’ll publish your story, but not your name or any personal details about you) or confidential (we’ll read your story but we won’t publish it).”

The Committee will also hear oral evidence in Parliament later in this inquiry.

 The deadline for submitting evidence is Monday 29 April 2019.

Terms of reference: Universal Credit and Survival Sex.

Evidence may be submitted through the Committee’s website.

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Government data reveals scandal: 1,000s dying just months after being denied PIP support

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Sarah Newton, minister for disabled people.

Government ministers have said that the controversial Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments ensure that those people “most in need” receive support. Last month I wrote about a disclosure from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) concerning the mortality rates of people awaiting PIP assessments.

Official DWP data reveals that 7,990 people died within six months of having a claim for PIP rejected by cruel DWP ‘decision makers’. This indicates that contrary to Conservative minister’s claims, those most in need of support are being catastrophically failed by the assessment regime. 

Of these, 3,680 died within just three months of having their PIP applications rejected by the DWP.  The figures also show that 17,070 people have died waiting for their PIP claims to be assessed by DWP decision makers.

It has also been revealed that 5,290 of those who had applied under the Special Rules for terminally ill people (SRTI), (those with a terminal disease with less than 6 months to live), died before the DWP made a decision on their claim. 

Further disclosure indicated that 11,790 of these undecided claims were dealt with under ‘normal rules’ and so had not been fast-tracked because they were terminally-ill.

A separate set of DWP figures show that 72% of PIP claimants who take their cases to a social security tribunal go on to win their appeals.

Labour MP Madeleine Moon said: “These shameful figures reveal how potentially gravely ill people who should be eligible for benefits, have tragically fallen through the cracks of a system that should be there to support them as they approach the end of life.”

They haven’t fallen through the cracks. These people were forced through them.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “These shocking figures show that the cruel and callous PIP assessment is unfit for purpose.

“That thousands of people die three months after being denied vital social security payments is disgraceful.

“Ill and disabled people are being failed [with]the most tragic consequences.

“Labour will end the hostile environment in the DWP and replace the PIP assessment framework with a system that treats disabled people with dignity and respect.”

A DWP spokesperson shamefully insisted there was “no evidence” to suggest people died for the same reason they were trying to claim PIP. And those affected were “only a small fraction of the millions of PIP claims since 2013.”

But there is also no evidence that people did not die for the same reasons they were turned down for support, either.

The government are not monitoring the impacts of the policy, and so have persistently failed to collect evidence either way. Furthermore, dismissing thousands of people so atrociously left in hardship – by a system designed specifically to cut support – indicates the hardened and callous attitude of the state and fundamental lack of compassion towards ill and disabled people, most of whom have paid social insurance contributions for social security provision, only to find in their time of need that welfare support and public services are increasingly inaccessible.

In 2017, two tribunals had ruled the DWP should expand the reach of PIP – which helps disabled people fund their additional living costs. Yet the DWP warned that this would cost £3.7bn extra by 2022 – so unveiled emergency legislation to stop the change happening. At the time, then Disabilities Minister Penny Mordaunt said her move would “make sure we are giving support to those who need it most” – and insisted no one who had already been claiming PIP would see payments drop. 

However, there is clear evidence that PIP is not being awarded to many thousands of people “who need it most”. 

Sarah Newton, now the Minister of State for Disabled People, published one lot of  figures on 11 January following a question raised in parliament by Madeleine Moon in December: “How many people have died while waiting for their personal independence payment assessment to be completed; and what were the conditions those people died from?”

Newton responded: “All benefit claims can be made under the special rules for people who are terminally ill which will mean that they are fast tracked. These are currently being cleared within 6 working days for new claimants to PIP. The Department would encourage all claimants with a terminal illness to let the department know and to apply using the special rules.”

Newton is actually implying that payments are being delayed because people aren’t informing the DWP of their terminal condition. That’s highly unlikely.

She said: “The cause of death of PIP claimants is not collated centrally by the Department.”

Over 3.6 million applications to PIP were made between April 2013 and 30th April 2018. Of these:

  • 4,760 claimants died between their case being referred to, and returned from, an assessment provider;
  • 73,800 claimants died within 6 months of their claim being registered; and
  • 17,070 claimants died after registering but prior to the DWP making a decision on their claim. Details of the claimant’s primary medical condition, where recorded, are in the accompanying spreadsheet.”

The total number of PIP claimants who died was 95,000. But Newton’s response does not indicate at what stage of their claim the 73,800 people, who died within six months of it being registered, were at. Nor does it indicate what those people who did not have terminal or degenerative illnesses died of – including those with mental illness. For example, 270 of those mortalities are listed as having had anxiety and/or depressive disorders as their primary disorder.

Of those who did have terminal illnesses, we need to ask why these people were  cruelly left waiting so long for their assessment, if, as Newton claims, they are ‘fast tracked’ through the claim and assessment process. There is clearly a gap between what we are being told and what is actually happening. 

Newton also warns on her data release: “This is unpublished data… It should be used with caution and it may be subject to future revision.”

There is, however, an Excel spreadsheet that indicates some of the primary conditions of those people who have died. But we cannot assume that those mortalities have arisen as a consequence of the recorded condition. That’s because the DWP isn’t carrying out any detailed monitoring. 

The DWP are experts at reluctantly providing data that lacks both context and details, which, they often say, they simply don’t collate. And 9,020 people’s main condition was not recorded at all by the DWP.  There is no means of useful comparison between mortality rates year by year, or a reference point to start from. A similar statistical analysis of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimant mortalities, for example, would help establish an average or baseline. 

Moon followed up on her questions. On January 17, she asked “the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the Answer on 11 January 2019 to Question 203813, how many claimants of personal independence payments who died within six months of their claim being registered had their application rejected.” (See: Personal Independence Payment: Written question – 209778).  

Sarah Newton answered on the 01 February as follows:  

“Over 3.6 million applications to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) were made between April 2013 and 30th April 2018. Of these, 73,800 claimants died within 6 months of their claim being registered.  

“Prior to any Mandatory Reconsideration or Appeal action, 56,770 and 7,990 of these claimants had their claims awarded and disallowed respectively. 

If a claimant dies before a decision is made on an outstanding claim, the Department establishes whether the claimant’s representative or next of kin wishes to proceed with the claim. If not, the claim is withdrawn so around 7,700 of the 73,800 claims were withdrawn rather than awarded or disallowed.

“56,920 of the 73,800 claims have been credited with a payment.

“Claims made under the special rules for people who are terminally ill are fast tracked and are currently being cleared at a median average of 6 working days for new claimants. This has reduced from a median average of 11 working days between April 2013 and March 2014. 

“Notes: 

  • These figures include claims made under both Normal Rules and Special Rules for Terminal Illness (SRTI) and include new claims and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to PIP reassessment claims. 
  • The point of application is taken as the day the claimant registered a claim to PIP as recorded on the PIP computer system. 
  • The outcome is the first DWP decision recorded on the PIP Computer system. This does not take into account any mandatory reconsideration or Appeal action so some of these claimants may have subsequently been awarded PIP. Some cases do not have a decision recorded. 
  • This is unpublished data from the PIP computer system’s (PIP CS) management information. It should be used with caution and it may be subject to future revision. 
  • Figures are rounded to the nearest 10. 
  • Figures cover claims made up to and including 30th April 2018 and clearances up to and including 31st October 2018. 
  • GB only. 

“Under the Social Security (Notification of Deaths) Regulations 2012 and s125 of Social Security Administration Act 1992 date of death is provided to the Department for all registered deaths. Additionally next of kin also provide information on the date of death of an individual and this information is used appropriately in the administration of Departmental benefits.” 

Grouped Questions: 209776. 

In December last year, Amber Rudd admitted she has ‘concerns’ that disability benefit tests could be failing the most vulnerable citizens. 

The Work and Pensions Secretary made the comment days after we told how 72% of tribunal appeals overturn the original test

Previously the DWP has said the number of successful appeals is low overall. But Rudd told MPs: “I do have concerns about the number of appeals that get through, i.e. a lot. 

“Which does indicate that maybe those earlier decisions could be better made.”

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Amber Rudd

20,133 people appealed a decision to change or deny their PIP in the three months before Christmas, of which 14,581 won their case. All those people had already gone through an internal appeal known as a Mandatory Reconsideration – which several  MPs have described as a “rubber stamp”.  

The figures released by Sarah Newton reveal that more than 130 working-age disabled people a month on average have been found ineligible for PIP following an initial assessment by government contractors Atos and Capita but were nonetheless so unwell that they died soon afterwards. 3,680 disabled people – or more than 60 a month – died within three months of their initial PIP applications being rejected by DWP. 

PIP is very clearly unfit for purpose. The government urgently need to change this, instead of continuing with their neoliberal project of disassembling public services, including social security. Imposing conscious cruelty on marginalised social groups in the UK has become a standardised policy practice of the Conservatives.

 


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 provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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DWP is not engaging with expert calls for change to Universal Credit says Select Committee

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The Work and Pensions Committee is today launching a new inquiry into what the Government calls “natural migration”: the process by which people claiming existing benefits move onto Universal Credit if they have a change in their circumstances.

Universal Credit has now been rolled out to every Jobcentre in the country. This means that if people who are already claiming benefits under the old system have a change in their circumstances (for example, if they form part of a new couple, or separate from an existing partner), they can’t make a new claim for the old benefits. Instead, they have to make a whole new claim for Universal Credit.

The Government calls this “natural migration” to Universal Credit. However, people who transfer onto Universal Credit in this way aren’t eligible for any transitional protection payments and so may see a change in their income from benefits. For many people, this may be the first time that they discover that their income will change under Universal Credit. The change usually entails a drop in income. 

The Committee has heard concerns that:

  • the Government hasn’t given clear and comprehensive information about the “triggers” for “natural migration”
  • the absence of transitional protection means people might have to cope suddenly with a drop in income.

This is the latest stage in the Committee’s ongoing work on Universal Credit – which has already resulted in the Government making significant changes to the system.

In its November report on so-called “managed migration” – the process of wholesale moving existing benefit claimants onto Universal Credit even if their circumstances haven’t changed  – the Committee called on the Government to publish an assessment of the impact of a sudden loss of income due to natural migration on different claimant groups, and then to look again at whether the triggers for natural migration are appropriate. In its official response to that report, published today alongside this new inquiry launch, the Government has refused to do that. 

The Chair, Frank Field, has written back to the Secretary of State with a series of questions about the Government’s response – that correspondence is also published today. The Committee say they are “disappointed and concerned by the Government’s failure to engage with its report and reasoning behind key recommendations, and intends to return to several of them including, now, the “triggers” for natural migration.” The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) declined, again, to set tests that it will meet before managed migration begins. “Given that we, the National Audit Office (NAO) and the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) all made this recommendation, this continued resistance is very disappointing.”

Actually, it’s very worrying, as it indicates a blatant disregard for the protocols of Government accountability and democratic dialogue.

The Government’s response also does not address the central issue of who takes the risk in the transition to Universal Credit, with the Committee arguing repeatedly that it should be Government, making the huge reform, who assume the risk, not existing benefit claimants who include the most vulnerable people in our society. The Government claims it’s simply impossible for it to move people over without requiring them to make a new claim, but “did not offer—and has not offered during the Committee’s inquiry—any evidence” why. 

The DWP also appears strangely reluctant to acknowledge the key recommendation it did accept. The Committee had said DWP should not ask MPs to vote on new UC rules until it had listened to expert views on them. And that is what happened: rather than a vote before Christmas as the Government had originally planned, revised rules were published last week. The Chair was therefore very “surprised to read that the Government ‘does not accept this recommendation’, given that by the time the response arrived the Government had not only accepted the recommendation but also implemented it.”

Read the Government response on managed migration

Read the Committee’s report on managed migration

You can send the Committee your views on ‘natural migration by February 18. (Click on the link).

 

Related

Universal Credit is an unmitigated catastrophe for ill and disabled people

‘Disability confident’ DWP acted ‘perversely’ in sacking of disabled woman, court says

 


 

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 provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’DonatenowButton

Demos say the DWP should be axed, I disagree. Here’s why

Image result for DWP

A leading cross-party thinktank has proposed that ministers should consider abolishing the Department for Work and Pensions.

In a provocative paper that marked the start of Demos’ research examining the Department of Work and Pensions, Tom Pollard, formerly of the mental health charity Mind, who has also completed an 18 months secondment to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), illustrates a bureaucracy blighted by “historic dynamics and averse to radical thinking.”

Pollard’s paper identifies three problems with the DWP. First, the department is afflicted by a “benefits lens”, where case handlers perceive employment support as a condition for receiving benefits, rather than a means of enabling claimants to pursue fulfilling work. Where benefits are the carrot, sanctions are the stick. Sanctioning claimants for misdemeanours such as arriving late to meetings creates a “confrontational dynamic of power asymmetries.” In other words, it strips citizens of their autonomy.

Many neoliberals have also claimed that welfare strips citizens of responsibility, though there has been no convincing evidence of this to date. 

Second, Pollard argues the department is impoverished in ambition. DWP staff are often promoted from frontline roles working in job centres. While such expertise is valuable, he argues that staff often seem “incapable of thinking about radical solutions”, and repeat the mistakes of the past, gravitating towards punitive systems of conditionality and sanctions.

These factors contribute to the DWP’s “injured reputation” among frontline users. Productive engagement between case handlers and claimants is dependent on trust. “There’s such a rift between the DWP and hard to help groups that I don’t know how you could get back to engaging on meaningful terms – there’s too much baggage”, Pollard says.

In the thought-provoking paper, entitled Pathways from Poverty: a case for Institutional reform, Pollard explains why he believes that the DWP is institutionally and culturally incapable of making the reforms needed to deliver better outcomes for society’s most vulnerable and sets out a radical new vision for the future of welfare provision.

Most of the work of Amber Rudd’s department could be carried out more effectively by other Whitehall ministries, according to Pollard. He calls for the DWP to be stripped of responsibility for these “hard-to-help groups”, with the health department and NHS helping the ill find work, local government taking over Jobcentre Plus, and benefits and pensions delivered by HMRC. The charitable sector could also be given a bigger role. 

Some criticisms

Pollard critically discusses the culture within the DWP, implying that the key problems and devastating social consequences arising from the government’s welfare reform programme are simply a result of staff attitudes and inept administrative procedure within the department. 

The crisis in our social security system is the result of government’s policies, which have embedded traditional prejudices about people experiencing poverty, and that have led to the institutionalisation of discriminatory practices within the DWP. There is no guarantee that moving the functions of the DWP somewhere else will bring about any change in attitudes and practices, or improved outcomes for people relying on social security as a lifeline. 

The DWP has come under constant fire from many campaigners, academics and charities for serious problems with universal credit, and for the catastrophic work capability assessments of those who are unfit to work. Rudd is attempting to repair The department’s reputation by tinkering with the roll-out of universal credit and fighting with the Treasury to end the freeze on working-age benefits. However, these gestures are nowhere near enough to put the major shortcomings of the system right and to mitigate the cuts to support that univesal credit and other benefits entail. 

The report concludes that while the DWP has been able to “help” people with minor difficulties into employment, the outcomes are “much poorer when it comes to supporting people with more complex needs”, such as the ill, disabled, older people, those with drug and alcohol problems, ex-prisoners and those who are homeless.

Pollard proposes that if the removal of these functions from the DWP proves to be a success, a more comprehensive approach could see the department abolished altogether”.

He says: “If the department as it stands remains at the heart of employment support for ‘harder-to-help’ groups, we will face further years of well-intentioned reforms and programmes yielding disappointing outcomes, because of how they will be formulated and how they will be received.”

The problem is that the reforms are not “well-intentioned”, and the outcomes are not “disappointing”, they are catastrophic. The policies were intentionally punitive, leading to the consequences we see: people experiencing hardship have been punished by as system that was designed originally to support them and mitigate the circumstances of  hardship.

Pollard accuses the DWP of seeing claimants through a “benefits lens”, in which conditions were placed on their payments as a way of forcing them into work. He warns that the department’s reputation among many groups is now so bad that it may prove impossible and expensive to improve. “A bad reputation is far harder to lose than a good one,” he says.

However, the problem is rather much larger than the poor reputation of the DWP. It is the policy framework that determines the set of administrative practices which in turn, shapes the “culture” within the DWP.  It is the distress and harms that are being experienced by people claiming support, most of whom have also paid into the Treasury – that is the most pressing issues here, not reputation ‘damage limitation’ strategies, or an exercise in PR trust building for the government.

Abolishing the DWP, merging it with the Department of Health and involving charities in service delivery, as proposed by Pollard, will send out the clear message that social security is no longer a discrete function or key priority of the state. It also permits the state to withdraw from providing social security.

Responsibility for budgeting for and administering welfare will become diffuse. Placing social security side by side with healthcare is also risky, as it may further stigmatise jobseekers. We have already seen the government consistently stigmatise those who are out of work, implying that unemployment is some kind of psychological disorder. Others, such as Adam Perkins, have even proposed that there is a “genetic welfare trait.” , that runs counter to Conservative notions of “good citizenship”. 

The NHS is also suffering from chronic under-funding. How will it prioritise welfare provision, when it is already struggling to deliver health care, in the face of the increasing rationing of treatments and procedures?

Historically, charities administered welfare. But the provision was patchy and varied from area to area. There were no consistent standards of support for people in hardship. During times of economic recession, charities were often unable to provide people with any support at all, at a time when they needed it most.

Local authorities are now struggling to deliver statutory services because of government cuts. Essential provisions are being rationed as a consequence. There is no guarantee that any additional funding would be ringfenced. We have already seen social services sending vulnerable young people to other areas – sometimes back to their hometown, for example – to shift the burden of cost to another local authority.  The old Poor Law saw parishes moving poor people out of their area, they were pushed from parish to parish, refused ‘relief’ in order, often, to keep local rates bills low.

A recent paper entitled “Dependency, Shame and Belonging” examines the practice of making the poor wear badges from the 16th century through to the compulsory identification of all parish paupers under a 1679 statute, differentiating between those deemed ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’. By the late 17th century, magistrates and legislators decided to deter potential badge applicants by making life on the parish as unattractive as possible. Badging became a means of preventing begging and shaming holders, made compulsory in 1697.

The proposal from Demos simply exchanges one form of expensive, intrusive and ineffective bureaucracy with another. How would the Department of health and charities be allocated funds to carry out this publicly funded state function? How would they be held accountable? 

As I touched on earlier, unless the policy framework is also radically changed to one that is supportive, rather than punitive, and to one that isn’t about administering cuts to people’s lifeline support, then the perverse incentives to apply conditionality and sanctions will remain embedded in administration practices. 

A government that does not support a social security programmme – and the anti-welfarism of the Conservatives has been apparent for a long time – is likely to see the shift in responsibillity for delivering social security as a further step in abolishing welfare provision entirely, which has always been their long term aim. 

Finally, it’s worth noting that Demos produced a paper in 2011 advocating reducing the costs of disability benefit by “engaging with the private insurance industry” and proposing that: “reform to encourage individual responsibility and income protection is genuinely of mutual benefit.” The approach laid out in this report builds on the theory and practice of the profoundly antidemocratic ‘libertarian paternalism’ or ‘nudge’ theory. 

Other papers from the thinktank peddle the views of antiwelfarist James Purnell, who, for example, proposed charging interest on crisis loans to unemployed people and pensioners made by the Department for Work and Pensions, which were interest-free, at a rate of up to 26.8% per annum. This was met with great hostility and was blocked by the intervention of the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. It was Purnell who announced the Work Capability Assessment, triangulating the Conservatives. Purnell advocated Unum’s approach to “claims management”, in a bid to cut costs of disability support. (See Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper for more detailed discussion). 

The Conservative’s ideological position has been used politically as a justification to reduce social security provision so that it is no longer an adequate amount to meet citizens’ basic living needs. The aim is to discredit the welfare system itself, along with those needing its support. The government have long wished to replace the publicly funded social security provision ultimately with mandatory private insurance schemesas have some ‘blue Labour’ neoliberals, including Purnell. 

The th empirically unevidenced idea that welfare creates ‘dependency’ and ‘disincentivises’ work has been used as a justification for the introduction of cuts and an extremely punitive regime entailing ‘conditionality’ and sanctions. The government have selectively used punitive behavioural modification elements of behavioural economics theory and its discredited behaviourist language of ‘incentives’ to steadily withdraw publicly funded social security provision, which is the ultimate ideological goal. That is the root of the problem. 

In light of this, the timing of Pollard’s set of proposals is also rather suspect – see The Centre for Social Justice say Brexit is ‘an opportunity’ to introduce private insurance schemes to replace contribution-based social security.

A DWP spokesperson has responded from the government’s crib sheet of crafted statements: “This report is completely misguided and we have no plans to reduce functionality at a time when unemployment is at its lowest, welfare reforms are rolling out across the country and millions are saving for a private pension for the first time. Jobcentres are a local presence yet benefit from a national framework. DWP supports around 20 million people to get into work and save for their retirement, as well as giving stability to those who cannot work, and will continue to do so as one responsible organisation.”

 


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 provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’DonatenowButton

Amber Rudd seems confused about the difference between ‘compassion’ and ‘conscious cruelty’

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Image courtesy of Getty Images.

Last week, Amber Rudd made the claim that Universal Credit is “delivered with professionalism and care and compassion.”

However, it is clear – in the words of the public accounts committee, last year – that there is a very real “culture of indifference” within the Department for Work and Pensions and wider government.

Quite often, that “indifference” spills over into conscious cruelty – the term coined by  filmmaker Ken Loach for the UK social security system, during the filming of I, Daniel Blake.

In December, Amber Rudd appeared to strike a conciliatory tone, in in her first appearance before the work and pensions select committee, saying she was enthusiastic about Universal Credit but would not rush the rollout of the new system simply to meet ‘arbitrary timetables.’ Although she acknowledged concerns about the often devastating impact of the social security cuts on the most vulnerable citizens, she said her aim was to ‘restore public confidence’ in Universal Credit.

The problem is that ministers such as Amber Rudd are rather more concerned that Universal Credit has proved politically toxic for the government as a result of policy and design flaws, such as a five-week wait for an initial payment that have left thousands of people in debt, suffering from depression, and reliant on food banks, rather than the devastating impacts an chaos it is wreaking on citizens.

The government is in a weakened position, and is looking to secure support from the opposition for Theresa May’s Brexit deal. The PM has even recently phoned  union leaders to try and garner their support, which is an unprecedented move for a Conservative leader. So it’s unlikely that the ‘conciliatory’ tone is sincere or likely to last beyond the threats to power that the government currently faces. 

Rudd was responding to MPs’ concerns that up to 1 million ill and disabled claimants are at risk of destitution and isolation when they are transferred on to universal credit over the next three years, at the time.

Let’s not forget that last November, Rudd has used her first appearance in the House of Commons as work and pensions secretary to condemn an independent UN inquiry into poverty in the UK, over what she claimed was the “extraordinary political nature” of its language. Her response was about damage limitation to the government’s reputation rather than about engaging with the empirical evidence and recommendations presented in Philip Alston’s report.

The UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said the government had inflicted poverty on people through austerity and called levels of child poverty “not just a disgrace but a social calamity and an economic disaster”. He also heavily criticised Universal Credit, which had been beset by ‘problems’ since its inception.

Asked about the tone of the UN report, May’s spokesman said: “We strongly disagree with the analysis.” However, it was a meticulously evidenced ‘analysis.’ The evidence for the report was provided by many people who have been adversely affected – and some people’s lives have been utterly devastated –  by austerity and the Conservative’s welfare ‘reforms’.

However, Rudd has nonetheless publicly promised to deliver “a fair, compassionate and efficient benefits system”, claiming that it has “good intentions” at its heart. 

What ‘good intentions are those?’

Dr Heather Wetherell, a GP, posted the following on Twitter last year:

Dear @DWP,

When a distraught mother has lost her young daughter, please can you tell me why you wont accept “grief reaction” as a sick note diagnosis? Telling a grieving mum this is not an illness is extremely insensitive. You have also wasted NHS time.

She added: “3 days after her daughter died, she got call from the DWP saying did she realise she couldn’t claim Attendance Allowance anymore & had to sign on Job Seekers. Mother panicked & found herself at a job interview the following week – at which she broke down in tears.

“She phoned me in a state on way home from the interview. I was horrified they had put her through this. I’m so upset by it all.”

Wetherell says that when her patient informed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of her bereavement and she was told,  “that’s not an illness… You need to go to your doctor and get a proper/better diagnosis” (she can’t recall exactly which word they used, but remembers feeling totally humiliated and felt they thought she was a fraud.)

Last year, Kirsty Scott told how her 19-year-old son and husband died within 18 months of each other. However, despite suffering physical and mental health conditions with a severely disabled son to look after, she was refused Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

She said: “Getting into the workhouse would have been an easier option.

“When my letter was sent to refuse me ESA it did not reflect what had gone on in the assessment.

“The language used was disgusting – things like ‘it is a lifestyle choice not to get out of bed’ or ‘the death of two close family members did not impact on my life enough’.

“I had lost my son and my husband, I was caring for a disabled son. Half of my family gone and they thought it was ok to say these things to me?

“I can’t tell you what it felt like when I got that letter, the desperation. It was like they thought I lied.

“There was no humanity in it whatsoever. My mental health went downhill.”

Clearly, the UK’s social security system does not facilitate people’s human rights, nor does it protect their dignity. DWP staff don’t practice safeguarding or even recognise a trauma informed approach to protect vulnerable citizens. It seems that callousness and cruelty have become habituated within the administrative structure, entrenched in policy designs within an ideological framework that has normalised the intended ‘hostile environment’.

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

However, in the UK, the way that policies are justified and implemented is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies.

Furthermore, Conservative policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

Over the last 8 years, the Conservatives have coldly conceived society as a hierarchy of human value, from the pinnacle of supremicism, self-appointed authority and from behind their fact proof ideological screen. They have historically cast the poorest and the most vulnerable citizens as the putative “enemies of civilization.” Social Darwinism is written in bold throughout their policies.

There has never been a clearer contrast between the values and approach of the two main political parties: the Conservatives are authoritarian, they plainly imply that some people’s lives don’t matter – the food bank debate and the bedroom tax debate are further examples of cruelty, and of how Conservatives have reduced human subjects to objects of derision.

While Labour MPs spoke out in the debates about the terrible difficulties that vulnerable families in their constituencies are facing, we were faced with the unedifying spectacle of Tory MPs laughing, jeering and shouting their spiteful glee at the plight of those people that this government have intentionally impoverished – after all, policies are plain and legislated statements of intent.

By contrast, the Labour Party have fostered a counter-narrative that is decent, democratic, inclusive and centralises the fundamental equal worth of each human life. Labour’s policies are intentionally founded on a strong commitment to human rights – without which there can be no meaningful social justice and democracy.

The Conservatives have always been stunted in their vision for society by their own elitism and  preoccupation with the superficial characteristics and taxonomic ranking of human beings – the emphasis being on “what” we are  rather than the rather more important “who” we are. Because of this lack of social intelligence, the government has undermined our progress as a society, stifled human potential and failed to value human diversity and failed to recognise the equal worth of every citizen’s life, because of their own assembled fantasy of corrosive, elitist ideological myths.

I would like to thank Tom Pride for his article DWP tells grieving mother to find job 3 days after death of young child: “grief is not an illness”, which has informed some of this one. 


 

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 provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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Amber Rudd’s masterclass in Doublespeak

crudd.jpg

Yesterday, heartless Amber Rudd was accused of shrugging off ‘heartbreaking’ Universal Credit experiences and stories by suggesting they are about only “one or two” people. 

This is a government who tell us with a straight face that inflicting absolute poverty on the poorest citizens is somehow going to make them less poor. This ideological framework is also imposed upon people in low paid work, struggling to meet their basic living costs. So the government slogan “making work pay” is meaningless Orwellian tosh, as is the Conservative’s longstanding ‘culture of dependency’ thesis and ideological justification narrative for inflicting devastating cuts on those who can least manage to get by. 

The Work and Pensions Secretary made the outrageous comments after being confronted by the Mirror about flaws in Universal Credit.

For years many of us have published articles ranging from flaws in the social security system, affecting millions, to struggling readers who’ve been forced to food banks, as well as administrative ineptitude and bullying that has often had catastrophic consequences. The roll out of Universal Credit has caused hunger, destitution, deaths and suicides, let’s be frank and pay some attention to the empirical evidence, rather than expedient ideological soundbites.  

Amber Rudd told the Mirror: “Some of the criticisms that have come from various publications have been based on one or two particular individuals where the advice hasn’t worked for them.”

That statement flies in the face of empirical evidence. On this site alone there are MANY individual accounts of the harms arising as a result of Universal Credit. And to claim the reason for these harms is because “the advice hasn’t worked or them” is a serious and disgusting trivialisation of the psychological distress and trauma, the deaths, suicides, rising numbers of those facing hunger, hardship, and destitution that Universal Credit, combined with such systematic government denial and indifference, is causing.

She added: “But in the vast majority of cases, and I would urge everybody who hasn’t to take the opportunity to speak to work coaches, the sort of support that individuals get is a completely different approach to what they had previously.”

Yes. It’s not actually support. It’s a programme of discipline, coercion and punishment.

However it isn’t work coaches who have to live with the consequences of a system that was designed to be an increasingly standardised Conservative hostile environment. The government seem to believe that publicly funded public services should serve as a deterrent to people needing support from the public services they have paid into. 

What matters most is the accounts of citizens, which tell their experiences of the system, not of those administrating it. But citizens’ voices are being intentionally stifled, edited out and worse, their accounts are being re-written by politically expedient civil servants and government ministers. This presentation of ideological fictions and the use of gaslighting techniques is usually the preserve of totalitarian regimes, it’s not the behaviour one would expect of a democratic government in a so-called liberal society. 

Governments with such limited social intelligence don’t lie very convincingly, but they do tend to be hard faced and tenacious. The real horror is their utter indifference and lack of responsiveness: that they really don’t care. They continue to demand our suspension of belief and dizzying cognitive dissonance. The relationship between citizen and state is one of abuse, founded on gaslighting strategies.

Rudd added: “And it is delivered with professionalism and care and compassion.”

Sure. The kind of “professionalism, care and compassion” that leaves a terminally ill man without sufficient support to meet his most basic needs, or that leaves a pregnant mother in extreme hardship, homeless, and resulting in the loss of her unborn child. Or one that pushes people towards suicide.

There is very little empirical evidence of the “professionalism, care and compassion” that Rudd claims. Furthermore, the trivialisation and persistent denials of the harm, distress and extreme hardship that is being inflicted on people because of government policies are all utterly unacceptable behaviours from a government minister, reflecting a profound spite within policy design, a profound lack of political accountability and a profound indifference for the consequences of these behaviours on the lives of ordinary people.

In fact, former Universal Credit staff reveal call targets and ‘deflection scripts, which means staff having to block or deflect vulnerable claimants, telling them that they would not be paid, or would have to submit a new claim, or have a claim closed for missing a jobcentre appointment, or be sanctioned – a penalty fine for breaching benefit conditions – or go to the food bank.

One whistleblower said that her role often felt adversarial. She said: “It was more about getting the person off the phone, not helping.” That’s a very strange kind of “compassion.”

As researchers have concluded, Universal Credit is a complicated, dysfunctional and punitive’ system that makes people increasingly anxious, distressed, with some of the most vulnerable citizens in the UK being pushed to consider suicide, and it ‘simply doesn’t work.’ (See Universal Credit is a ‘serious threat to public health’ say public health researchersfor example).

devastating National Audit Office report last year about Universal Credit concluded that the DWP was institutionally defensive and prone to dismissing uncomfortable evidence of operational problems. Welfare secretary at the time, Esther McVey, felt the need to make a speech in July in which she promised that where problems arose in future the department would “put our hands up, [and] admit things might not be be going right”.

It’s also clear – in the words of the public accounts committee – that there is a “culture of indifference” within the DWP and wider government.

It’s time that government ministers started to listen to citizens’ voices, to service users – as well as campaigners, researchers, charities and the opposition Parties. And the United Nations – instead of presenting denials that policies are seriously harming people. But there is every indication that they won’t. 

Universal Credit’s malign effects are obvious to anyone who actually looks, and is willing to listen to the voices of those affected by this punitive, mean-spirited and fixated, theory-laden, ideologically driven, miserly provision, that was, at the end of the day, paid for by the very public who are claiming it.

Labour MP Maria Eagle flatly stated that Rudd’s comments are “not true” and are “out of touch”.

She said: “The entire design of the system puts people in debt and the benefit cuts accompanying its introduction have made it far worse.” 

Rudd was questioned by the Mirror after she said yesterday: “Maybe things that were  proposed previously weren’t effective or weren’t compassionate in the way that I want them to be.”

Mirror journalists asked if she could, ‘hand on heart’, say it was “compassionate” to double UC claimants this year, keep the two-child limit and keep the benefit freeze until 2020.

Rudd did not respond to the question, instead replying: “The overall product that is Universal Credit is absolutely compassionate.”

Product? That’s a very odd word to use for lifeline support – the public services that are our social insurance which people have paid into for those times when they need it. 

And using key words from a government strategic comms crib sheet – James Cleverly among others has also opted for the word ‘compassionate’ to describe the welfare ‘reforms’ – does not make those narratives the reality experienced by citizens who need to access support from public services. Saying it does not make it real. This is something the Conservatives seem to have overlooked – that their narratives don’t match people’s realities. That’s the problem with telling lies – the empirical evidence catches up with you sooner or later.

Starving people and leaving them in destitution is not ‘compassionate’. Using a publicly funded public service to deliver punitive and a blunt, coercive, authoritarian behavioural modification programme is not ‘compassionate’. These are the actions and narratives of a government dipping a toe into the realms of totalitarianism.

Rudd claimed that UC needs to be ‘improved’, including to make it fairer to woman, but also said it was a “vital reform delivering a fair and compassionate welfare system”, “by far the most important and crucial reform” and a “force for good”.

Yesterday, the high court concluded that the Universal Credit assessment is illegal. The first judicial review verdict of Universal Credit found that the cutting of severe disability premiums from those who had previously claimed ESA was discriminatory.  How many more legal changes will it take to make the government act with some decency and observe basic laws and human rights?

Ideological mythologies

Rudd went on to claim, somewhat incoherently, that the ‘old system’ was “broken”, “not a utopia that we should return to” and under Labour someone unemployed could receive “£100,000 housing benefit per year.”

The charity Fullfact submitted a freedom of information (FoI) request to the DWP in 2012, following the same claims from David Freud, among other Conservative minsters, that people claiming social security support were receiving £100,000 housing benefit per year. The figures in the response showed that over four out of every five Housing Benefit claims are below £100 per week (the equivalent of £5,200 per year) according to the September 2010 figures, while only 70 out of over 4.5 million recipients claimed over £1000 per week, around 0.001% of the total.

Even this is likely to overstate the number claiming £100,000 per year however, as a family would need to claim over £1,900 per week to hit this total. Previous FoI responses from the Department have suggested around five families were awarded this amount.

Ministers and the media repeatedly failed to highlight what is such a small number of the total, and printed screaming and misleading headlines that were inaccurate, without putting this into a wider context. While the evidence suggests that there are a small number of Housing Benefit claims of more than £100,000 per year –  around five – these cases are very much the exception rather than the rule. Focusing exclusively on these outliers without first putting them into context, where over 80% of claims are below £100 per week, has [intentionally] distorted the debate about welfare, aimed at de-empathising the public and providing a justification narrative for cuts.  

Other information drawn from the FoI request found that larger claims tended to come from larger families, and the average household size for people claiming over £40,000 was six. For more details, do check out the numbers in the request itself, which is available here.

People weren’t suffering profound distress, hunger, destitution, suicide ideation and dying because of the ‘old system’.

Perhaps ‘utopias’ are relative. What we are currently witnessing is not “compassionate” or a “force for the good”: it is the dystopic system of an authoritarian state inflicting punishment, discipline and coercion on our most vulnerable citizens.

It’s a state programme that dispossesses citizens, with catastrophic human costs, to fund the tax cuts demanded by a handful of powerful and wealthy vultures, who live lavishly within a culture of entitlement, while the rest of us are increasingly impoverished.

facade-welfare

Amber Rudd claims that Universal Credit is ‘compassionate’. She must have been taking lessons in Doublespeak again.

 

I originally published this as part of a larger article. 

 


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 provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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The DWP left a terminally ill man penniless until after he died

0_jill-fennell mark

Jill Fennell and her partner Mark Scholfield. She says: “The benefits system is barbaric and inhumane.” (Image: Jill Fennell/Facebook).

A man who was terminally ill with cancer was forced to spend his final days penniless as he waited for a Universal Credit payment that cruelly arrived the day after he died.

Mark Scholfield was made to endure an eight-week delay for the social security payment before he died, aged just 62, of mouth cancer.

Mark’s partner, Jill Fennell, who was with him for 23 years, said: “When you’ve been given a devastating blow, being told you have terminal cancer, money is the last thing anyone should be worrying about.

“The benefits system is barbaric and inhumane.”

Jill, also 62, said self-employed musician, Mark, was unable to work for two months before he had his diagnosis in February 2017. He was told his condition was terminal, she said, and initially, he was  encouraged to apply for fast-track Employment Support Allowance (ESA) to help him meet the costs of living and pay bills.

However, because he lived in Camberwell, South London, where the government’s controversial flagship failure – Universal Credit – was being rolled out, he was told that he did not qualify for ESA.

Instead he had to apply to Universal Credit (UC). The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) often use Credit Reference Agencies to verify the identity citizens making a claim, but Mark had never had credit, and he was told that must visit a Jobcentre with ID.

Jill said that despite his failing health and diagnosis of terminal cancer, Mark was forced by the DWP to go through a health and work assessment over the phone. She  said that she was distraught, and  left “screaming hysterically down the phone”, asking “did they realise he was dying?”

After five weeks Mark received his first payment, which just about covered rent and council tax, but left him with little to live on. But for the next eight weeks he did not receive any more money, and died on July 19, 2017.

It was only after Mark’s death that Jill discovered an ESA payment had been made a day later, as well as a UC payment.

She said: “Mark had needed the money while he was alive to live his final months in some level of comfort and dignity, but he was denied that.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Scholfield’s friends and family.

“While Mr Scholfield was receiving Universal Credit, we are extremely sorry for the delay in his ESA payment which should have been fast-tracked.”

That response is simply unacceptable. Because this kind of glib, standardised apology for an apology is happening far too frequently, it to reflect any shred of sincerity, meaning, reflection or learning on the part of the DWP.  

Linguistic behaviourism: cruelty is compassion, indifference is care

Yesterday, heartless Amber Rudd was accused of shrugging off ‘heartbreaking’ Universal Credit experiences and stories by suggesting they are about only “one or two” people. 

This is a government who tell us with a straight face that inflicting absolute poverty on the poorest citizens is somehow going to make them less poor. This ideological framework is also imposed upon people in low paid work, struggling to meet their basic living costs. So the government slogan “making work pay” is meaningless Orwellian tosh, as is the Conservative’s longstanding ‘culture of dependency’ thesis and ideological justification narrative for inflicting devastating cuts on those who can least manage to get by. 

The Work and Pensions Secretary made the outrageous comments after being confronted by the Mirror about flaws in Universal Credit.

For years many of us have published articles ranging from flaws in the social security system, affecting millions, to struggling readers who’ve been forced to use food banks to survive, as well as administrative ineptitude and bullying that has often had catastrophic consequences. The roll out of Universal Credit has caused hunger, destitution, deaths and suicides, let’s be frank and pay some attention to the empirical evidence, rather than expedient ideological soundbites.  

Amber Rudd told the Mirror: “Some of the criticisms that have come from various publications have been based on one or two particular individuals where the advice hasn’t worked for them.

That statement flies in the face of empirical evidence. On this site alone there are MANY individual accounts of the harms arising as a result of Universal Credit. And to claim the reason for these harms is because “the advice hasn’t worked or them” is a serious and disgusting trivialisation of the psychological distress and trauma, the deaths, suicides, rising numbers of those facing hunger, hardship, and destitution that Universal Credit, combined with such systematic government denial and indifference, is causing.

“But in the vast majority of cases, and I would urge everybody who hasn’t to take the opportunity to speak to work coaches, the sort of support that individuals get is a completely different approach to what they had previously.”

Yes. It’s not actually support. It’s a programme of discipline, coercion and punishment.

It isn’t work coaches who have to live with the consequences of a system that was designed to be an increasingly standardised Conservative hostile environment. The government seem to believe that publicly funded public services should serve as a deterrent to people needing support from the public services they have paid into.

Work coaches don’t have to live with the direct consequences of state policies. What matters most is the accounts of citizens, which tell their raw, first hand experiences of the system, not of those administrating it. But citizens’ voices are being intentionally stifled, edited out and worse, their accounts are being re-written by politically expedient civil servants and government ministers. This presentation of ideological fictions and the use of gaslighting techniques is usually the preserve of totalitarian regimes, it’s not the behaviour one would expect of a democratic government in a so-called liberal society. 

Governments with such limited social intelligence don’t lie very convincingly, but they do tend to be hard faced and tenacious. The real horror is their utter indifference and lack of responsiveness: that they really don’t care. They continue to demand our suspension of belief and dizzying cognitive dissonance. The relationship between citizen and state is one of abuse, founded on gaslighting strategies.

There is very little empirical evidence of the “professionalism, care and compassion” that Rudd claims. Furthermore, the trivialisation and persistent denials of the harm, distress and extreme hardship that is being inflicted on people because of government policies are all utterly unacceptable behaviours from a government minister, reflecting a profound spite within policy design, a profound lack of political accountability and a profound indifference for the consequences of these behaviours on the lives of ordinary people.

Rudd added: “And it is delivered with professionalism and care and compassion.”

Sure. The kind of “professionalism, care and compassion” that leaves a terminally ill man without sufficient support to meet his most basic needs, or that leaves a pregnant mother in extreme hardship, homeless, and resulting in the loss of her unborn child. Or one that pushes people towards suicide.

And former Universal Credit staff reveal call targets and ‘deflection scripts, which means staff having to block or deflect vulnerable claimants, telling them that they would not be paid, or would have to submit a new claim, or have a claim closed for missing a jobcentre appointment, or be sanctioned – a penalty fine for breaching benefit conditions – or go to the food bank.

One whistleblower said that her role often felt adversarial. She said: “It was more about getting the person off the phone, not helping.” That’s a very strange kind of “compassion.”

As researchers have concluded, Universal Credit is a complicated, dysfunctional and punitive’ system that makes people increasingly anxious, distressed, with some of the most vulnerable citizens in the UK being pushed to consider suicide, and it ‘simply doesn’t work.’ (See Universal Credit is a ‘serious threat to public health’ say public health researchersfor example).

A devastating National Audit Office report last year about Universal Credit concluded that the DWP was institutionally defensive and prone to dismissing uncomfortable evidence of operational problems. Welfare secretary at the time, Esther McVey, felt the need to make a speech in July in which she promised that where problems arose in future the department would “put our hands up, [and] admit things might not be be going right”.

It’s also clear – in the words of the public accounts committee – that there is a “culture of indifference” within the DWP and wider government.

It’s time that government ministers started to listen to citizens’ voices, to service users – as well as campaigners, researchers, charities and the opposition Parties. And the United Nations – instead of presenting denials that policies are seriously harming people. But there is every indication that they won’t. 

Universal Credit’s malign effects are obvious to anyone who actually looks, and is willing to listen to the voices of those affected by this punitive, mean-spirited and fixated, theory-laden, ideologically driven, miserly provision, that was, at the end of the day, paid for by the very public who are claiming it.

Labour MP Maria Eagle flatly stated that Rudd’s comments are “not true” and are “out of touch”.

She said: “The entire design of the system puts people in debt and the benefit cuts accompanying its introduction have made it far worse.” 

Rudd was questioned by the Mirror after she said yesterday: “Maybe things that were  proposed previously weren’t effective or weren’t compassionate in the way that I want them to be.”

Mirror journalists asked if she could, ‘hand on heart’, say it was “compassionate” to double UC claimants this year, keep the two-child limit and keep the benefit freeze until 2020.

Rudd did not respond to the question, instead replying: “The overall product that is Universal Credit is absolutely compassionate.”

Product? That’s a very odd word to use for lifeline support – the public services that are our social insurance which people have paid into for those times when they need it. 

And using key words from a government strategic comms crib sheet – James Cleverly among others has also opted for the word ‘compassionate’ to describe the welfare ‘reforms’ – does not make those narratives the reality experienced by citizens who need to access support from public services. Saying it does not make it real. This is something the Conservatives seem to have overlooked – that their narratives don’t match people’s realities. That’s the problem with telling lies – the empirical evidence catches up with you sooner or later.

Starving people and leaving them in destitution is not ‘compassionate’. Using a publicly funded public service to deliver punitive and a blunt, coercive, authoritarian behavioural modification programme is not ‘compassionate’. These are the actions and narratives of a government dipping a toe into the realms of totalitarianism.

Rudd claimed that UC needs to be ‘improved’, including to make it fairer to woman, but also said it was a “vital reform delivering a fair and compassionate welfare system”, “by far the most important and crucial reform” and a “force for good”.

Yesterday, the high court concluded that the Universal Credit assessment is illegal. The first judicial review verdict of Universal Credit found that the cutting of severe disability premiums from those who had previously claimed ESA was discriminatory.  How many more legal changes will it take to make the government act with some decency and observe basic laws and human rights?

Rudd went on to claim, somewhat incoherently, that the ‘old system’ was “broken”, “not a utopia that we should return to” and under Labour someone unemployed could receive “£100,000 housing benefit per year.”

The charity Fullfact submitted a freedom of information (FoI) request to the DWP in 2012, following the same claims from David Freud, among other Conservative minsters, that people claiming social security support were receiving £100,000 housing benefit per year. The figures in the response showed that over four out of every five Housing Benefit claims are below £100 per week (the equivalent of £5,200 per year) according to the September 2010 figures, while only 70 out of over 4.5 million recipients claimed over £1000 per week, around 0.001% of the total.

Even this is likely to overstate the number claiming £100,000 per year however, as a family would need to claim over £1,900 per week to hit this total. Previous FoI responses from the Department have suggested around five families were awarded this amount.

Ministers and the media repeatedly failed to highlight what is such a small number of the total, and printed screaming and misleading headlines that were inaccurate, without putting this into a wider context. While the evidence suggests that there are a small number of Housing Benefit claims of more than £100,000 per year –  around five – these cases are very much the exception rather than the rule. Focusing exclusively on these outliers without first putting them into context, where over 80% of claims are below £100 per week, has [intentionally] distorted the debate about welfare, aimed at de-empathising the public and providing a justification narrative for cuts.  

Other information drawn from the FoI request found that larger claims tended to come from larger families, and the average household size for people claiming over £40,000 was six. For more details, do check out the numbers in the request itself, which is available here.

People weren’t suffering profound distress, hunger, destitution, suicide ideation and dying because of the ‘old system’.

Perhaps ‘utopias’ are relative. What we are currently witnessing is not “compassionate” or a “force for the good”: it is the dystopic system of an authoritarian state inflicting punishment, discipline and coercion on our most vulnerable citizens.

It’s a state programme that dispossesses citizens, with catastrophic human costs, to fund the tax cuts demanded by a handful of powerful and wealthy vultures, who live lavishly within a culture of entitlement, while the rest of us are increasingly impoverished.

facade-welfare

Amber Rudd claims that Universal Credit is ‘compassionate’. She must have been taking lessons in Doublespeak again.


 

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 provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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Amber Rudd admits link between Universal Credit and rise in people needing for food banks

Yesterday I wrote an article about housing minister James Brokenshire’s Christmas Eve revelation that the increase in homelessness ‘may’ be linked with government  policies. 

Now it seems that Amber Rudd has also admitted that the Government’s flagship Universal Credit policy has been responsible for driving record numbers of people to food banks, however, she still insists the new benefit is “a force for good”.

Call me a cynic, but perhaps this apparent softening from the Conservatives, a move away from the usual position of rigid denial of harm caused by their punitive welfare policy regime may be rather more an indication of a possible early General Election, rather than revelation because of a visit by the ghost of Christmas present.

The new Work and Pensions Secretary, who took over the role from Esther McVey, made the comments during a visit to a Jobcentre in Longton, Staffordshire, on a ‘fact-finding tour.

Rudd resigned from her previous role when it became apparent that the Home Office had designed a hostile environment, making deportation threats to the children of Commonwealth citizens. Despite living and working in the UK for decade, and being given indefinite leave to remain in the UK in the 1970s, UK Windrush citizens have been told they are living here ‘illegally’ because of a lack of ‘official paperwork’. Some of the Windrush generation have been denied health care, housing and employment as a consequence.

The Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming UK citizenship – meaning it is difficult for Windrush citizens to prove they are in the UK legally.

And in 2010, landing cards – proof of identity – belonging to Windrush migrants were destroyed by the Home Office.

Rudd has stepped into another role which has seen the creation and maintenance of a hostile environment, which has been designed to ‘disincentivise’ people from claiming social security, ‘nudging’ people into work. The ‘nudge’ comprises of  conditionality: a series of coercive ordeals that are designed to ensure no one feels comfortable or secure claiming lifeline support.

Given that most people have worked, contributing taxes to pay for their social insurance, it’s controversial, to say the least, that citizens are being subjected to such a punitive system, which is about ‘discouraging’ them from claiming the support they have paid into. 

The visit to the jobcentre in Longton was part of what she described as a “nationwide tour” to promote Universal Credit, which has, since its introduction, faced widespread criticism from both MPs and charities alike.

She said: The purpose of me coming here, as part of a nationwide tour, is to see what’s happening on the ground, to reassure myself that Universal Credit is working and also to find out what we can do better.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd

Amber Rudd, the Department for Work and Pensions secretary.

“I recognise that there have been problems as it [Universal Credit] has been taken forward.

“That has made people fearful of it, and so one of the reasons I’m visiting different Jobcentres is to speak to the work coaches, and to clients as well, to find out what has been working well for them, as well as what hasn’t been.

“There have been issues previously, when Universal Credit started, with the time it took to get people the money that they needed, and we have addressed some of those.” 

Rudd then claimed: “First of all, the vast majority of people, around 84 per cent, get the money they are expecting on time. I want to continue the improvement on that. It wasn’t like that when it first started.

“I’ve been told that in this office, there were three people on the Friday before Christmas who were able to get advanced payments on their application that day.

“It was those elements, of getting the money into people’s hands earlier, which were critical to stop the growth in food banks.

“I regret the growth there has been in food banks and I hope that these changes will stop that.”

However, Rudd said she still believes Universal Credit “is a force for good”, that delivers “better outcomes for people” than the benefits it replaces. However, any advance in payment is subsequently deducted from the ongoing award, which means people are still not receiving payments for the first five weeks of their claim – the advance is a loan to cover the period where no support is awarded. Repayment of the advance is deducted from the amount people get monthly, when their award is finally made, often leaving people more short of money to make ends meet.

She said: “It offers what we seek it to offer, which is to be a safety net and also to help people into work, without the terribly huge tax rate that there used to be.”

She clearly needs to consider her use of the phrase “safety net” here, since many people claiming Universal Credit are unable to meet the costs of their most basic  needs. This has led to the rise of absolute poverty in the UK, at levels not seen since the 1930s. People not having enough to eat is an example of absolute poverty.

Rudd also said that she was struck by the ‘huge enthusiasm’ of Jobcentre staff in Longton.

However, surely what matters are the views of service users, rather than those administering it. After all, many a despotic regime has been administered by ‘enthusiastic’ jobsworths.

In November last year, the UK’s largest food bank network – the Trussell Trust -published figures showing a 13% increase in users between April and September 2018.

The charity attributed the rise to the minimum five-week wait for new Universal Credit claims before people they receive an initial payment.

Chief Executive Emma Revie commented: “We created systems like our national health service, fire service and benefits system because we’re a country that believes in protecting each other.

“Our benefits system is supposed to anchor any of us from being swept into poverty, but if Universal Credit is to do that, we need to see urgent changes.

“It’s not right that people are being forced to use food banks after weeks of waiting for Universal Credit payments.”

“We’re seeing soaring levels of need at food banks”, she added. “The time to act is now.”

“If the five-week wait isn’t reduced, the only way to stop even more people being forced to food banks this winter will be to pause all new claims to Universal Credit, until funding is in place to reduce the five week wait.

“Food banks cannot continue to pick up the pieces – we have to make sure our benefits system can protect people from hunger.”

trussell-trust-referral-numbers-2018


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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 assessement 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 unwell. 

Research was carried out by IFF Research Ltd on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, to evaluate the Personalisation Pathfnder 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. Specifcally, 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 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 quantitative survey with claimants on the Personalisation Pathfnder as well as from qualitative interviews with claimants and Pathfnder stakeholders.  

Job seeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants with a health condition or disability accounted for the greatest proportion of participants on the Pathfnder (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 Pathfnder (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 Pathfnder. They were also 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.

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, emloyment, homelessness, poverty or social isolation are concerned.

On 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 assumptions, prejudices and channel bias. The model may confuse accountability with 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 behaviour change programes, 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 fne, 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 defnitely 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-ffth (19 per cent) of claimants thought that the Personalisation Pathfnder 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 Pathfnder, 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.

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 perceived and actual health-related barriers leads to measurement problems.

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 rather an 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 anopen,  reflective and realistic approach. 

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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Gaslighting Conservative MP says Universal Credit protest is a ‘political stunt’

A Conservative MP, Simon Clarke, has condemned a protest against Universal Credit in Guisborough, dismissing it as a “political stunt”.

Clarke said the protest will ‘disrupt local businesses’ on one of the busiest days in the run up to Christmas.

Local Labour MPs and unions are holding a march in the town on Saturday. They join thousands of other people, accusing the government of a “callous approach”.

They said the so-called flagship reform – which replaces six existing benefits, and has been introduced across Teesside in recent months – was “causing real poverty and hardship in our communities”.

Redcar and Cleveland Council has written to the Government three times to delay the roll-out until after Christmas, saying that claimants’ waiting five weeks for their first payment would leave families penniless over the Christmas period.

However Clarke, whose Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland is the only Conservative seat on Teesside, claims he has not had a single constituent flag any problems with the system.

Clarke claims: “At the heart of Universal Credit is the principle that work should always pay and those who need support should receive it.” 

“That is what it delivers – bringing an end to the broken culture we inherited from Labour, where the number of households where nobody had ever worked doubled between 1997 and 2010.”

Clarke continued with his myth making: “I have liaised really closely with the brilliant team at Loftus Job Centre in recent weeks. The team there could not have been clearer: they think Universal Credit will help people, they are well trained to deliver it and they are fed up of being demonised by politicians who only want to frighten their clients unnecessarily.”

However, it is very problematic to accept the narratives of administrators and to completely discount the negative experiences and citizen accounts of those Universal Credit is being imposed on. The system is so riddled with design flaws and process faults that it is practically guaranteed to generate mistakes and delays that would push vulnerable benefit claimants into hardship, according to administrative whistleblowers. 

Service centre workers have told the Guardian that glitches and errors in the “cobbled-together” system have commonly led to peoples’ benefit payments being delayed for weeks or wrongly reduced by hundreds of pounds. Mistakes and delays can add on average an extra three weeks to the formal 35-day wait for an initial benefit payment, pushing claimants into debt, rent arrears, and reliance on food banks.

Campaigners warn that the problems may get worse next year when more than 3 million claimants start to be “migrated” to the new system.

One employee said: “The IT system on which Universal Credit is built is so fundamentally broken and poorly designed that it guarantees severe problems with claims.”

He said the system was “overcomplex and prone to errors that affected payments and often proved slow to correct.”

“In practical terms, it is not working the way it was intended and it is having an actively harmful effect on a huge number of claimants.”

Bayard Tarpley, who left the Grimsby service centre after two years as a telephony agent, told the Guardian that he had been dealing with distressed claimants every day. “My hope is that by speaking out I can help explain why these processes have such a significant, harmful impact on claimants.”

He gave several examples of where poor system design and practice caused delays and payment errors, including:

  • Staff are not notified when claimants leave messages on their online journal; for example, if they wish to challenge payment errors. As a result, messages sent to officials can go unanswered for days or weeks unless claimants pursue the inquiry by phone.
  • Claimants are discouraged by staff from phoning in to resolve problems or to book a home visit and instead are actively persuaded to go online, using a technique called “deflection”, even when callers insist they are unable to access or use the internet.
  • Callers have often been given wrong or contradictory advice about their entitlements by DWP officials. These include telling severely disabled claimants who are moving on to universal credit from existing benefits that they must undergo a new “fit for work” test to receive full payment.
  • Although the system is equipped to receive scanned documents, claimants instead are told to present paper evidence used to verify their claim, such as medical reports, either at the local job centre or through the post, further slowing down the payment process.
  • Small delays or fluctuations in the timing of employers’ reporting of working claimants’ monthly wages via the real time information system can lead to them being left hundreds of pounds out of pocket through no fault of their own.

Food banks are regarded as a formal backstop for when the system fails, he said. Officials are told to advise those claimants who are in hardship and who do not qualify for cash advances to contact charities or their council for help. However, many councils have closed local welfare provision as a result of central government cuts to funding.

These disclosures add to the mounting concerns over Universal Credit, and provides evidence that the system is not supporting people with even their most basic living costs. Universal Credit roll out is six years behind schedule but will eventually handle £63bn of welfare support going to 8 million people.

Campaigners and researchers say their concerns have been met with a “defensive and insular” approach to managing welfare reform by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). 

The department came under withering fire from a cross-party group of MPs who accused it of a “culture of indifference” after it had repeatedly ignored warnings of basic process errors that led to 70,000 disabled benefit claimants being underpaid an estimated £500m over six years.

The then work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, sought to limit the damage in a speech in which she admitted there were problems with Universal Credit, and promised to listen to campaigners, claimants and frontline staff to find ways to change and improve the system.

If Universal Credit is so ‘helpful’ for citizens, wouldn’t you think that the United Nations would have recognised that this was the case during the recent inquiry? As it is, Philip Alston said that Universal Credit is “entrenching people in poverty” and inflicting “unnecessary misery” on citizens, because of the government’s “radical social re-engineering programe”. 

Alston concluded: “In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.” 

He also warned that the motivation behind the controversial benefit reform was to slash spending, despite finding little evidence that there had been any savings, and that the message to claimants is, “You are alone” and that state assistance is the “last resort”.

Yet Clarke says: “Since roll-out began here last month, not a single constituent has come forward with a problem for me to help with. My staff have all received training if anyone does. No amount of staff training, however, can ensure that people have enough money to meet their basic living costs within a punitive framework that is purposely designed to create a hostile environment to deter people from claiming social security support. 

“But I think people in Guisborough will rightly be unimpressed that their town is being disrupted on one of the busiest shopping days before Christmas by what is frankly a political stunt,” said Clarke, using what is frankly a deplorable gaslighting technique.

I can’t imagine that many people experiencing problems with their Universal Credit claim would find Clarke particularly approachable. He seems to be surrounded by an impervious wall of denial.

Redcar MP Anna Turley has also called for the roll out of Universal Credit to be stopped until flaws in the system are put right. She said that low income families and vulnerable people would be left reliant on food banks and forced into personal debt.

A similar protest, organised by Unite the Union, was held in Redcar last weekend.

Cllr Sue Jeffrey, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, said: “I am dismayed at the callous approach being taken by this Government.

“We know that there is likely to be difficulties for many people who are forced to move onto Universal Credit in the month before Christmas.”

The TUC said that the Conservatives “are in denial about the hardship Universal Credit will cause in our area”.

Accusing the accuser: Conservative techniques of neutralisation and perception management

However, it’s an intentional, evidence-vaulting sort of deliberated response – a habitualised, patterned, crib sheet, ‘strategic communication’ (communication tactically aligned with the government’s overall strategy and ideological aims, to enhance its strategic positioning) kind of denial:

Another MP who called for an end to “scaremongering” about Universal Credit last year is Wendy Morton. Speaking in a Commons debate about Universal Credit, she said: “It is this government who are helping people, which is why I am disappointed to have sat through a lot of this debate and heard scaremongering stories from Opposition Members.”

She responded with the sloganised, detached and meaningless comment: Universal Credit “makes work pay and helps people into work” and staff at job centres, who administer the benefit, were “working hard to get it right.” 

In October, during a parliamentary debate, St Austell and Newquay’s MP, Steve Double, claimed that jobcentre staff “love it, and claimants like it” and that “one of the problems is all the scaremongering, primarily from the Labour party.”

The evidence from a wide variety of sources, however, strongly suggests otherwise. 

As Labour MP Liz McInnes said at the time: “If these claims are in fact true, who could possibly object to impact assessments being released? They will no doubt reflect the happiness and joy being spread to Universal Credit claimants in beautiful Cornwall. One would think that the Government would be shouting this marvellous news from the rooftops – if it were true.”

Esther McVey memorably refused to agree to meet with the women so bady affected by Universal Credit that they were forced into sex work to avoid destitution. She coldly asked former Labour minister Frank Field, who raised his concerns, to remind them “there are now record job opportunities” in the UK.

During that particular debate, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood called on the government to stop the  roll-out, adding: “There’s a real danger that hundreds of thousands of people could fall out of the social security system altogether and be pushed into poverty and left at risk of destitution.”

McVey dismissed those concerns as “scaremongering”. And again in March, McVey accused Labour of “scaremongering and misinformation”, saying an extra 50,000 children would benefit under the Universal Credit system, when MPs raised concerns of growing childhood poverty.

In March, at a meeting ,the Conservative Mansfield MP and Hucknall councillor Ben Bradley said, ludicrously, that Labour were “weaponising poor people” and “scaremongering rubbish”.

The government are weaponising social security.

And Labour councillor Michael Payne, who represents Arnold North, quoted parts of a disgraceful blog written by Bradley in which he said people on benefits should have vasectomies

There are many on the Opposition Benches who have expressed legitimate concerns about the catastrophic Universal Credit roll out on behalf of their constituents only to have them passed off as “scaremongering.”

However, the government should not ignore the concerns shared by affected citizens, many outside the House, by the charities and organisations at the forefront of supporting people through such difficult and distressing periods when they don’t have the means to meet even their basic living needs, leaving them extremely vulnerable. 

Last week I wrote about Dan Carden’s letter to Amber Rudd, also asking her to postpone the roll out of Universal Credit in his Liverpool Walton constituency. 

He said: “We have families experiencing poverty on an unprecedented scale and now facing further avoidable hardship in the run up to Christmas. 

“I have now been informed that job centres across Liverpool are advancing payments to my constituents to obtain provisional driving licences for the purposes of identification and then deducting the cost from their benefits.

“Constituents are also having to pay for postal orders, passport photographs and postage, just to obtain provisional licences.”

He explained that the DVLA says there is a five-week wait for provisional licences, and highlighted the delays before the first payments are made when someone is transferred on to Universal Credit.

Carden added: “Continuing with this roll-out will leave many of the most vulnerable families in Liverpool Walton destitute by Christmas and I am therefore asking you to intervene as a matter of urgency.”

The secretary of state for work and pensions, responded despicably and oppressively, as follows:

However, it seems Rudd failed to bother checking her own government’s web site for advice and evidence.

When people apply for Universal Credit, they are asked to verify their identity online via the GOV.Verify service. 

To do so, you need either;

  • A valid UK driving license
  • A valid UK passport.

Of course this creates problems for those without the documents. Their Universal Credit claim cannot go ‘live’ without conforming to the ID verification framework. People generally can’t get an advance because their claim isn’t live. Once they’ve received their new ID document, (takes around 6-8 weeks usually), it’s then a further 5 weeks (at least) until their first Universal Credit payment.

According to the government web site, you can only apply for an advance on your first payment if you have already verified your identity.

You can apply for an advance payment in your online account or through your Jobcentre Plus work coach.

You’ll need to:

  • explain why you need an advance
  • verify your identity (you do this online when you submit your Universal Credit claim or at your first Jobcentre Plus interview)
  • provide bank account details for the advance (talk to your work coach if you cannot open an account.)

It seems that the “terrific” job coaches are not applying rules consistently, leading to a post code lottery concerning the verification requirements for claims. 

The Verify framework:

 

The response from Rudd and other ministers has become a deplorable, standardised and authoritarian tactic of repressing legitimate criticism for the Conservatives, however. Other ministers who have habitually used the term ‘scaremonger’ as a gaslighting technique include Sarah Newton and David Gauke among others. 

Traditional Conservative prejudices about poverty: blame the victims

Gordon Henderson the Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey in Kent, has tried to argue that the move to Universal Credit was not responsible for a significant rise in the use of foodbanks.

He said that he had secured information from a local foodbank about claimants who had faced difficulties with Universal Credit, and he claimed he had ‘discovered’ that many of them were “living in a local hostel that provides temporary accommodation for homeless adults” conflating cause with effects as a matter of prejudice, ideological preference and despicable politcal expediency.

He went on that it “soon became obvious that some of them suffered from underlying problems that affected their ability to manage the transition to Universal Credit, and that forced them into using the food bank”, such as “drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, an inability to manage money, or plain fecklessness”.

It’s not possible to ‘manage’ no money, or amounts that are insufficient to meet basic survival needs. 

He added, disgracefully, that making Universal Credit perfect overnight would not “solve their mental health problems” and issues with drugs and alcohol and “would not make them less feckless” and that “they would still have the same problems, whatever benefits system was put in place”. 

He concluded that he was “glad” that such people were “in the minority” and appeared to suggest that those with mental health problems – and seemingly people with learning difficulties – were to blame for their difficulties with Universal Credit, after adding that there were also “some people who have genuine concerns”.

In 2014, Anglican bishops and the new Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster joined the Left to claim that a national crisis had driven half a million people to use food banks.

Deplorable right wing ideologue Simon Heffer said “Government ministers knew that was nonsense. The level of benefits is, they believe, sufficient to feed those who receive them.”

Yet a huge and growing amount of evidence says otherwise.

He continued: “Though Leftists cynically exploit the existence of food banks as proof that a Tory-led government has inflicted terrible hardship on the poor, there is a widespread belief that some people use them because they have chosen to spend their money, instead, on drink, tobacco, slot machines, tattoos or pornography. This leaves little cash to buy food.” Heffer was advocating the use of prepaid cards welfare cards, to restrict what people can spend their money on, to “incentivise them out of dependency and into work”. 

Exposing Conservative mythologies

them-and-us-640x300 (1)

One of the biggest myths that the Conservatives peddle is that of ‘intergenerational dependency on welfare’. However, only 0.3% of households have two generations that have not worked, according to studies of the Labour Force Survey.  The majority of these households included children who had only come out of education within the last five years and in a third of these households, the member of the younger generation had been out of work for less than a year. The Conservative folk devils created from the “longterm undeserving benefit claimant” sponger stereotype is very much exaggerated.  

Detailed research into what ordinary people think should go into a minimum household budget showed that actual out of work benefits are no way near as generous as some politicians would have you believe – and were actually well below the minimum level before the welfare cuts were implemented.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that while pensioners did receive 100% of what people think they need, a single adult of working age received just 40% of the weekly minimum and a couple with two children received just 62% of the weekly minimum. Those amounts have been further reduced because of the welfare caps, Universal Credit, bedroom tax and reductions in Emloyment and Support Allowance (ESA), council tax support, in a context of ever-rising living costs.   

The biggest part of social security spending – 53% – actually goes to pensioners. Overall, out-of-work benefits account for under a quarter of all welfare spending. Even excluding pensioners’ benefits, nearly half of welfare spending goes on benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, which helps disabled people (both in and out of work) with extra costs; Child Benefit and Tax Credits or Universal Credit to working families; and Statutory Maternity Pay. The majority of children and working age adults in poverty in the UK live in working, not “workless” households. 

Cuts to the social security budget are having a huge impact, and will continue to have an even bigger impact on those in work, especially the poorest families. 

Furthermore, the idea that social security spending has increased and is currently out of control is shown to be incorrect as spending in 2011-12 accounted for 10.4% of GDP, lower than an average of 11% in the mid-1980s and 12% in the mid 1990s. 

The commonly held public perceptions of large numbers of long-term social security claimants are incorrect as less than 10% of Job Seekers Allowance claimants claimed for more than one year. Moreover the majority of people claiming social security support are in work.

An interesting Conservative council’s report on Universal Credit: off the crib sheet 

Sedgemoor in Somerset has a Conservative district council.  Last year the council produced a report about the impact of Universal Credit, which was rolled out in 2016 in Somerset. The intention behind the report was to formally present the findings to the Department for Work and Pensions. 

The authors of the report say that although they support Universal Credit, they are concerned about the way in which the system is being rolled out.  They say that Sedgemoor District Council’s experiences mirror those of both Citizens Advice and Digilink, particularly in terms of the level of support required.

However, they also raised concerns around the administration of the scheme and the additional costs to local service providers. They maintain Universal Credit Telephone Records (and a sample of these are attached as Appendix B in the report).

Here is a list of some of the concerns expressed in the report, which contradict the Conservatives’ official line:

Inadequate support for most vulnerable in Society;
 Lack of understanding of the nature and often severity of some customers’ personal circumstances (see case study 6 on the report);
 Delay in receiving first payment and the need to budget carefully (case study 7);
 Rent element of UC not paid in the first instance and clients using the personal element on housing to stay in their homes until the ‘top-up’ is received;
 Additional work with tenants to prevent them going into arrears (and the additional cost of this to service providers);
 Some concerns that the administration of the virtual call centres around the country are failing, for example through providing inadequate answers and explanation, and these cases are being picked up by Citizens Advice and others;
 The policy of the scheme is set centrally and the delivery of the scheme is controlled  nationally, yet solutions on a local level are needed; 
 Specific issues with some customers unable to make an online application due to no computer/internet access or the skills to do so;
 Inadequate funding to support the scheme, e.g. the £6,000 for Digilink sessions;
 Lack of understanding and explanation of the scheme and the frustration this causes (case studies 8 and 9).

Other concerns raised were that the “DWP’s approach encourages all applicants to take responsibility for their own claim, which means that service providers cannot interact with the DWP without the client being present. Unfortunately, this does not take into account that many of the most vulnerable residents are not in a position to fully manage their own claim, for example, if they do not have the technological skills.”

Despite some Conservatives disgracefully attempting to link food bank use with individuals’ “fecklessness”, in the council’s report it says that the Trussell Trust, which runs foodbanks in Somerset, has reported nationally that benefit delays/changes remain the biggest cause of foodbank use, accounting for 42% of all referrals, up from about a third the previous year. Around 10,000 emergency food parcels were distributed in Somerset in 2015/16. Bridgwater has seen an increase in referrals in the last year.

The government claim that the social security system is designed to target and provide for those who need support. Yet the report above raises concerns that those most in need are not getting the support they need.

However, it is clear that Conservatives generally believe that many people needing support don’t ‘deserve’ it because of traditionally held Conservative prejudices about poor people. These prejudices are plainly evident in their narratives that justify punitive ‘behavioural change’ policies and the creation of a hostile environment to deter members of the public from accessing a public service that most of them have paid for via taxes and national insurance contributions. 


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