Tag: CPAG

Research shows ‘unprecedented’ rise in infant mortality linked to poverty in England

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Slide from my presentation on neoliberalism, the still face paradigm and poverty at Beyond the Therapy Room psychology conference, 2019.

According to new research, an unprecedented rise in infant mortality in England is linked to poverty, according to new research. An additional 570 infant deaths, compared to what would have been expected based on historical trends, were recorded in the country from 2014-2017. Around one-third of those deaths, which related to children under the age of one, were linked to rising poverty.

The results of the new study by researchers from the University of Liverpool, University of Leeds and Newcastle University, which analysed data from 2000-2017, have now been released. In their report, published in BMJ Open, the researchers note that infant mortality rates often act as an indicator of the changing overall health of societies, as well as an early warning system for future adverse trends.

Rising infant mortality is unusual in wealthy, high income countries, and international statistics show that infant mortality has continued to decline in most wealthy countries in recent years. 

But in England, social security cuts in the last decade have taken their toll on the poorest communities.

In the study, the researchers grouped 324 local authorities into five categories (quintiles) based on their level of income deprivation, with Quintile 1 being the most affluent and Quintile 5 the most deprived.

Inferential testing – using a statistical model –  was used to quantify the association between regional changes in child poverty  and infant mortality during the same period. 

The researchers found that “a sustained and unprecedented rise” in infant mortality in England from 2014-2017 was not experienced evenly across the population.

In the most deprived local authorities, the previously declining trend in infant mortality had reversed and mortality increased. This led to an additional 24 infant deaths per 100,000 live births per year, relative to the previous trend.

There was no significant change from the pre-existing trend in the most affluent local authorities. As a result, inequalities in infant mortality increased, with the gap between the most and the least deprived local authority areas widening by 52 deaths per 100,000 births.

Overall from 2014-2017, there were a total of 572 “excess infant deaths” compared to what would have been expected based on historical trends, the report says.

The researchers estimate that each 1% increase in child poverty was significantly associated with an extra 5.8 infant deaths per 100,000 live births.

The findings suggest that about one-third of the increases in infant mortality between 2014 and 2017 may be attributed to rising child poverty, equivalent to an extra 172 infant deaths.

Professor David Taylor-Robinson of the University of Liverpool, the lead author on the research, said the study “provides evidence that the unprecedented rise in infant mortality disproportionately affected the poorest areas of the country, leaving the more affluent areas unaffected”.

“Our analysis also linked the recent increase in infant mortality in England with rising child poverty, suggesting that about a third of the increase in infant mortality from 2014-17 may be attributed to rising child poverty. 

“These findings are really concerning given that child poverty is rising. It is time for the government to reverse this trend establishing a welfare system that protects children from poverty.” 

Taylor-Robinson said child poverty has “a myriad of adverse impacts on other aspects of child health that will have repercussions for decades to come”.

“In the context of increasing health inequalities in England, policies that reduce poverty and social inequalities are likely to reduce the occurrence of infant mortality and that of many other adverse child health outcomes,” he added. 

Cuts to social security 

The report notes the impact of “sustained reductions” in social security benefits in England in the last decade. It states: 

“Since 2010, there have been sustained reductions in the welfare benefits available to families with children, including the abolition of child benefit and child tax credit for the third child or more; reductions in the value of tax credits and below-inflation up-rating of most working-age benefits; housing benefit reforms including the under occupancy charge (most commonly referred to as ‘bedroom tax’) and introduction of universal credit; and household caps on total benefit receipt (regardless of how many children are in the household).

“These welfare changes have disproportionately affected the most deprived local authorities and regions and have led to a rise in child poverty.”

Dr Paul Norman of the University of Leeds, who also worked on the research, noted that the findings show “an unprecedented rise in the deaths of children under one year of age”.

He said the researchers’ next step is “to examine the gestational age and the number of weeks at which infants die, to learn more about when key interventions may be needed or when they are being missed”.

“This will inform the urgent action needed by national and local governments, and help drive the health and social care policies needed to reduce infant mortality rates,” Norman said. 

The facts and figures from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) show the reality of child poverty in the UK, and which groups are affected most:CPAG Infographics July 2019 v1-04

Related

Studies find higher premature mortality rates are correlated with Conservative governments

Austerity is “economic murder” says Cambridge researcher

Suicides reach a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms

Conservative governments are bad for your health

 


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

The Committee calls on the UK Government to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret-Greenwood-

 

Margaret Greenwood, shadow Work and Pensions Secretary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related

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


 

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

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Universal Credit is an unmitigated catastrophe for ill and disabled people

Image result for pictures universal credit

I co-run an online advice and support group for people going through Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claims, assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals. Recently there has been a spike in people being reassessed for their awards of both kinds of support much earlier than expected. Furthermore, many are seeing their longstanding awards being taken from them by the Department for Work and Pensions following the reassessment, when this is clearly unjustifiable.

Failing a work capability assessment usually triggers migration onto Universal Credit.

For example, a significant proportion of this group have chronic or degenerative illnesses that are not going to improve. If someone with such a condition is deemed unfit for work, or in need of extra support to meet their needs and maintain independence, given that it’s highly improbable that their condition will improve,  it’s more than unreasonably cruel that following review, these people have lost their awards, most often based on highly inaccurate reports from assessors and the Department’s decision makers.

One person received a letter notifying her of an early ESA review – it wasn’t due until next year – just days after she had seen her PIP award removed, following a review that was not due until 2021. 

Those people claiming Universal Credit (UC) and needing a work capability assessment because they have not previously received ESA are experiencing long delays (often around six months) before the assessment appointments are finally arranged. This is true even when there is clear evidence of ill health and/or disability, and it means people miss out on additional payments. Some are being subjected to conditionality and sanctions because they are being given inappropriate requirements to look for work while they wait for their assessment. 

A recurring problem with UC is the failure of DWP staff to include a limited capability for work (LCW) or limited capability for work related activity (LCWRA) element in a claim for Universal Credit for people moving from ESA, who had already been assessed as entitled to the equivalent element in ESA. These components are supposed to be automatically included in UC but people are reporting that it this is not happening.

Two people who had been claiming ESA for two or more years, both placed in the support group following their assessments, triggered ‘natural migration’ when they claimed Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) because of hardship. One person’s local council had wrongly made ‘non dependent’ deductions for her adult son, pushing her into hardship and rent arrears. As she was awarded PIP at the daily living rate, non dependent deductions should not have been made, as the standard daily living award exempts people from those deductions in this group of PIP  claimants.   

She later reported that non dependent deductions were wrongly taken from her UC housing element, also. She said that the problem arose because PIP awards are not logged on the system, which means that once the underpayments were eventually rectified, she still had to remind her advisor that she was exempt from non dependent deductions being made to her housing costs. The problem keeps arising, however, with some of the deductions still being made some months. She also told me that her mandatory review request was completely ignored.

The DHP application from both people in the support group triggered a move from existing benefits on to UC. When migrated from ESA on to UC, people in the ESA support group should be automatically awarded the extra element of UC (the ‘limited capability for work-related activity element’) and should not be required to undertake any work related activity. However this did not happen and both were refused this element. Another person was told, wrongly, that she would need to undergo another work capability assessment and another was asked to undertake inappropriate work related activities which he were unable to carry out because of his illness.  

Several others have also reported that they have submitted requests for mandatory review and not had any response. One person was told that they had to ring to request the review, rather than requesting it in writing. She was then told that because more than one month had passed since the decision she was challenging, she could not request a mandatory review. 

Special rules exist for terminally ill people who are expected to live less than six months, to fast-track their claims for support and to allow certain health-related payments to be paid at the highest rate without needing further assessment. One person applied for UC and was incorrectly told that there was no special rules provision under UC. She was asked to provide evidence that she could not carry out work related activities before she could receive the payments due to her and have her work related conditionality lifted, despite the fact she had submitted a DS 1500 report from her consultant.

Another person who is terminally ill told me that his advisor said there was no evidence that he had submitted a DS 1500 report. By this time, he had already waited seven weeks for his UC claim to be processed. He was still waiting for a PIP assessment date. 

Another problem arising for disabled people is that some are experiencing difficulty making new-style ESA claims (which are based on National Insurance contributions, rather than being income related) in ‘full service’ jobcentre areas, and are being wrongly advised to claim UC in circumstances where that is not required. 

One very vulnerable young person told me that he was flatly refused when he asked to claim the disability element of UC. His GP had told him he was unfit for work. His work coach said that he was “not allowed” to claim disability benefit under UC rules. He was sanctioned because he could not carry out  work related activities, which also had an impact on his partner. He needed support with a mandatory review request and his doctor submitted a report from the young man’s consultant. His sanction was overturned after seven weeks. That is seven weeks of hunger, fuel poverty and threats of eviction because of mounting rent arrears. 

Transitional protection for disabled people

The government recently announced transitional protections, include paying the Limited Capability for Work element in Universal Credit if someone has been continuously entitled to ESA and entitled to the Work-Related Activity Component in ESA prior to 3rd April 2017 and are migrated to Universal Credit. This means people with ESA awards after that date, or those making a new claim for UC will not get the disability income guarantee which is only provisionally available to others.

The government have recently postponed the migration of people who have a PIP award onto UC, because there is no transitional protection in place, which means people will lose their disability premium. Transitional protection of disabled peoples’ disability income guarantee is not due to come into effect until later this year (July). 

However, when people have a change in circumstances, they are automatically migrated onto UC. The change may include moving house, or a change in the amount of support you get, or someone joining or leaving your household. It’s been reported that changes to housing benefit awards – such as an increase, or a DHP award – have also triggered ‘natural migration’ onto UC. 

People who already claim Working Tax Credit and become ill are being asked to claim UC. Those who claim income-based jobseeker’s allowance and need to attend court or Jury Service, or are remanded in custody, are also being asked to claim UC.  If someone starts work that would normally entitle them to working tax credits, or if they work, but their hours drop below 16 hours a week, they will be asked to claim UC. If someone already claims Child Tax Credits and income based legacy benefits and starts work with enough hours to satisfy Working Tax Credit conditions, they will also be asked to claim UC.

A high court judgement last year said that the loss of disability premiums (the disability income guarantee) under UC is discriminatory and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The government conceded after some reluctance that they would ensure transitional protection is in place for people who receive the severe disability premium via their legacy benefits. However, there are three types of disability premium, and the government have so far only mentioned protecting one of them, though it is implied that the other premiums will be included. 

Many of us have said previously that the government’s ‘flagship’ failure, UC, is about implementing further cuts to social security support by stealth. However, the loss of income to disabled people through hidden cuts was under-reported. Last year I wrote about how the disability income guarantee that legacy benefits ensured had been removed from UC – Disability Income Guarantee abolished under Universal Credit rules – a sly and cruel cut.

The draft regulations setting out the managed migration process, including details of transitional protection, were consulted on by the Social Security Advisory Committee  (SSAC) in July 2018. The SSAC report and the Government’s response were published in November 2018. Some changes were made to the Regulations as a result of SSAC’s report. The draft regulations were also published on November 2018 and were expected to be debated in Parliament this month (January 2019.)

However, in the draft regulations, only one of the three disability rates is mentioned in the planned transitional provisions – the Severe Disability Premium (SDP). 

On the government site, it says there a three rates under ESA and/or PIP:

“Disability premium

You’ll get:

  • £33.55 a week for a single person
  • £47.80 a week for a couple

Severe disability premium

You’ll get:

  • £64.30 a week for a single person
  • £128.60 a week for a couple if you’re both eligible

Some couples will be eligible for the lower amount of £64.30 a week instead.

Enhanced disability premium

You’ll get:

  • £16.40 a week for a single person
  • £23.55 a week for a couple if at least one of you is eligible

You can get the disability premium on its own. You might get the severe or enhanced disability premium as well if you’re eligible for them. There are (complex) rules of eligibility which are outlined on the same site. For example, if you have a ‘non dependent’ child living with you, that makes you ineligible for the severe disability premium, but you may be entitled to one or both of the others.

If you get income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) you cannot get the disability premium, but you may still qualify for the severe and enhanced premiums.”

The draft regulations did not clarify whether all of the disability income guarantee rates will be included in the transitional protections arrangements. 

In a letter to the Social Security Advisory Committee, the government says of the new draft regulations: “They also introduce transitional protection payments and additional provisions to support existing and former Severe Disability Premium recipients.”

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions also says in the letter: “In designing Universal Credit, one of the key aims was to simplify the existing system. For people with health conditions and disabilities, a conscious choice was made not to replicate every aspect of disability provision in the current system, which contains 7 different disability payments. Instead, the right levels of support can be provided through 2 rates of payments, reflecting the current Employment and Support Allowance components.” [My emphasis]

The choice was originally to cut all disability premiums for those with a ‘change in circumstances’ and new claims. The hardships that this decision has caused were intentional. 

A House of Commons briefing paper entitled Universal Credit and the claimant count outlines why “Universal Credit is increasing the number of people claiming unemployment benefits, by requiring a broader group of claimants to look for work than was the case under Jobseeker’s Allowance.” 

However, UC also requires other groups of people who were previously exempt from conditionality to look for work, or to increase their hours and pay, if they already work.

This means that the increased application of conditionality and sanctions regime will affect families and couples, where one person – not necessarily the person who has made the claim – has been sanctioned. For the first time, UC will mean families who are in work but on low pay will also be subject to sanctioning if they don’t make efforts to increase their hours or pay. It’s not clear what provision is in place to safeguard children and vulnerable family members form the impact of severe hardship when a family member is sanctioned.

Furthermore, last year the government’s own research, together with a mass of other studies, have clearly demonstrated that sanctions do not work as the Conservatives claim they were intended to. Frank Field, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, accused ministers of trying to bury the findings of a secret DWP report, rather than give parliament the chance to debate how to better help low-paid workers. 

Field said if UC were to be built into a “line of defence against poverty, rather than an agent in its creation”, a more careful application of sanctions would require “urgent attention”.

He added: “Likewise, any new service to help the low-paid should be built around the provision by a dedicated caseworker of information, advice and guidance, as part of a clear and agreed contract which is aimed at helping them to earn more money and, crucially, overcoming the barriers that currently prevent them from being able to do so.” 

The government’s report came after a major report from the UK’s biggest food bank network found the rollout of UC would trigger an explosion in food bank use, with data showing that moving onto the new welfare support was the fastest growing cause of food bank referrals. The Trussell Trust said urgent changes to the new welfare system were needed to protect vulnerable claimants from falling into hardship or dropping out of the benefit system altogether. 

Garry Lemon, director of policy at the Trussell Trust, said: “We owe it to ourselves to have a benefits system that gives us support when we need it most, and ensures everyone has enough money to afford the absolute essentials. 

“Yet our research shows that the more people are sanctioned, the more they need foodbanks. On top of this, government’s own research shows that sanctioning under universal credit has no effect in encouraging people to progress in work. 

“With the next stage of universal credit about to rollout to three million people, it is vital that we learn from evidence on the ground and avoid the mistakes of the past.” 

Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said it was “shocking” that the government was sanctioning working people who are “just trying to do the right thing”.

She said: “This report shows that there is no evidence that sanctioning helps people increase their earnings. Meanwhile, wages are still below 2008 levels and millions of people are stuck in insecure work. 

“Universal credit is clearly failing in its current form. Labour is committed to a root-and-branch review of the social security system to ensure it tackles poverty and provides support when people need it.” 

In a damning report in 2016, the National Audit Office castigated the DWP for failing to monitor people whose benefits had been docked and suggested the system cost more money than it saved. 

Yet a DWP spokesperson said: “The ‘in work progression trials’ helped encourage claimants to increase their hours, seek out progression opportunities and take part in job-related training.

“The trials delivered positive results for many of the lowest paid people who claim universal credit and we are now considering the findings.” 

This is political gaslighting, which reveals a government’s intentions to continue implementing a draconian welfare policy, regardless of the significant and mounting empirical evidence – including from their own research – demonstrating this punitive does nothing to ‘support’ people into work, or into better paid jobs. In fact it prevents people from doing anything other than struggling to survive.

The briefing – Universal Credit and the claimant count  – says “In Full Service areas existing legacy benefit claimants may move onto Universal Credit if they experience a change of circumstances such that they would have had to make a new claim for a different legacy benefit. As new claims for legacy benefits are no longer possible, only Universal Credit can be claimed.  The DWP refers to this as “natural migration.”

“Existing legacy benefit claimants whose circumstances do not change will remain on their existing benefits until they are invited to make a claim for Universal Credit at the final “managed migration” stage. This is expected to begin in late 2020 and be completed by December 2023, but will be preceded by a managed migration pilot involving 10,000 households starting in July 2019.”

The briefing provides an outline of why the claimant count has risen in areas where UC has been rolled out:

“Universal Credit requires a broader span of people to look for work than was the case for legacy benefits.

“The introduction of Universal Credit means that more claimants are required to look for work as a condition of receiving the benefit. This is referred to as “conditionality”.

“For example, someone out of work who previously claimed Child Tax Credit or Housing Benefit but not Jobseeker’s Allowance was not required to look for work. Under Universal Credit they are required to look for work, subject to certain exceptions.

“Similarly, under Universal Credit, the partners of claimants are now required to seek work. Previously, if someone was in employment and claiming tax credits or housing benefits but their partner was not in work (and not claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance), there was no requirement for their partner to look for work. This is no longer the case, subject to an earnings threshold and certain exceptions.

“The OBR has estimated that conditionality will be extended to around 300,000 additional claimants.

“Additional conditionality will also be applied to Universal Credit claimants who would otherwise have received Education and Support Allowance (ESA), and the OBR has estimated that around 150,000 claimants will be required to look for work as a result. Furthermore, the OBR has forecast that around 450,000 newly-eligible Universal Credit claimants will face further additional conditionality requirements (though not necessarily an obligation to look for work).”

If people are not obliged to look for work, what is the point in imposing conditionality them?

And: “New claimants who are awaiting or appealing Work Capability Assessments are being required to look for work. Some of the claimants who under the legacy system would previously have claimed ESA are initially subject to all work-related
requirements upon starting a new claim to Universal Credit, pending their Work Capability Assessment.

“New ESA claimants who can provide a ‘fit note’ are treated as having a limited capacity for work pending their Work Capability Assessment. This is not the default position under Universal Credit.

“Although a claimant must meet with a Jobcentre Plus Work Coach within seven days of applying for Universal Credit to agree the conditions attached to their receipt of benefits, the period until a Work Capability Assessment takes place is often much longer. During this period, Work Coaches set conditionality based on their understanding of the claimant’s health condition, but there are concerns that Work Coaches may struggle to identify claimant support needs accurately.

“Those claimants who are required to look for work will be included in the claimant count statistics. We might expect some to drop out of the claimant count again once the Work Capability Assessment has taken place, assuming they are judged to have limited capability for work, but they can remain on full conditionality for an extended period (and thus remain in the claimant count statistics).”

And confirming the accounts of disabled people I have supported:

“In addition, there have been reports that some claimants moving from ESA onto Universal Credit who have limited capability for work are being required to undergo a new Work Capability Assessment, and in the meantime are subject to full conditionality. Under Regulation 19 of the Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/1230 as amended), these people should be treated, from the outset of their Universal Credit application, as having limited capacity for work without the need for a Work Capability Assessment. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has reported this as one of the most common problems highlighted by advisers.” 

It’s crossed my mind more than once that the sudden increase in early ESA and PIP reassessments may be linked to an aim to reduce the costs of the government’s unanticipated legal requirement to pay disabled and ill people transitional protection when they are migrated onto UC, or when they are forced to claim UC because of a change in circumstance – hence work coaches telling people in both ESA groups frequently that they have to undergo another assessment, when the rules state very clearly that they don’t.

The cases  I have highlighted here reflect only my most serious concerns about some of the consequences UC is having for ill and disabled people. It’s worrying that the problems I have outlined were not confined to just a couple of areas; the errors and problems seem to be entrenched on a systemic and national scale.

 

Related 

The rush to throw sick or disabled people off ESA and force them onto Universal Credit goes on while the DWP talks bollocks about support…

 


 

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High Court finds DWP unlawful on universal credit assessments

The High Court found today that the way the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been assessing income from employment through its Universal Credit (UC) work assessment periods is unlawful. This is the second Judicial Review of UC,  I wrote about it in December last year – Government faces second judicial review of universal credit.

Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Lewis ruled today (11 January) that the DWP has been wrongly interpreting the universal credit regulations.  They said in their judgment that treating claimants as having earned twice as much as they do if they happen to receive two pay cheques in one monthly assessment period,  and as having no earnings in the next assessment period is “odd in the extreme” and “…. could be said to lead to nonsensical situations”.
 
They added that the DWP’s incorrect interpretation of the regulations had caused “…severe cash flow problems for the claimants living as they do on low incomes with little or no savings”.

The judicial review case, brought by solicitors Leigh Day and Child Poverty Action Group on behalf of four lone mothers, challenged the rigid, automated assessment system in universal credit which meant the mothers lost several hundreds of pounds each year and were subject to large variations in their universal credit awards because of the dates on which their paydays and universal credit ‘assessment periods’ happened to fall.    

The mothers had monthly paydays that ‘clashed’ with the dates of their monthly universal credit assessment periods, with the result that if they were paid early some months, because their payday fell on a weekend or bank holiday for example, they were treated as receiving two monthly wages in one assessment period – which in turn dramatically reduced their UC award –   and as receiving no wages at all the next month.  This is a problem which has affected many working claimants and has been widely reported. 

In addition to creating wildly fluctuating universal credit awards, when the mothers received two pay cheques in one assessment period, they lost the benefit of one month’s work allowance. The work allowance is the amount of earnings claimants with children or with limited capability for work can keep in full before universal credit is tapered away at a rate of 63p per pound, worth hundreds of pounds each year.  

This flaw in the system has denied working parents the additional financial support that they are entitled to in order to help them in work and ensure that “work always pays.” The severe fluctuations in their universal credit awards and therefore their total monthly income has also caused major cash flow difficulties for parents on very low incomes, leading to them falling into debt and, for some, having to choose between paying their rent or paying their childcare costs.

The DWP refused to adjust the mothers’ assessment periods or to attribute monthly wages paid early to the actual assessment period in which they were earned, so as to enable them to avoid varying awards and cash losses.

During the court proceedings the Secretary of State argued that despite the hardship being caused, the way in which income was being assessed was “lawful”, it made sense given the automated nature of Universal Credit and that this was an issue which employers should remedy rather than the DWP.  

All of these arguments were rejected by the Court who found that correctly interpreted, the regulations mean the DWP can and should adjust its calculation of universal credit awards when “it is clear that the actual amounts received in an assessment period do not, in fact, reflect the earned income payable in respect of that period”.  In other words, wages are to be allocated to the month in which they were earned, rather than to the assessment period in which they were received.

Although the DWP sought to justify its lack of action on the basis that there would be extra costs involved in making adjustments to its systems, the court was clear that it must nevertheless comply with the regulations as correctly interpreted, stating: 

“If the regulations, properly interpreted, mean that the calculation must be done in a particular way, that is what the law requires. We do not belittle the administrative inconvenience or the cost involved but the language of the regulations cannot be distorted to give effect to a design which may have proceeded on a basis which is wrong in law.”  

Tessa Gregorysolicitor from Leigh Day who represented the first Claimant, Ms Danielle Johnson, stated:

“My client is a hard working single mum doing her very best to support her family. She is precisely the kind of person Universal Credit was supposed to help, yet the DWP designed a rigid income assessment system which left her £500 out of pocket over the year and spiralling into debt due to a fluctuating income. Quite rightly the Court has found that the Secretary of State has been acting unlawfully and ruled that a correct interpretation of the regulations would not lead to such absurd results. 

It is extraordinary that when this issue was first raised, the Secretary of State did not act quickly to remedy the problem, instead choosing to fight these four women in court arguing that the system was fit for purpose despite the hardship being caused to working families. This is yet another demonstration of how broken Universal Credit is and why its roll out must be stopped.

In light of the judgment, Amber Rudd must take immediate steps to ensure that no other claimants are adversely affected and she should also ensure all those who have suffered because of this unlawful conduct are swiftly and fairly compensated.”   
 Commenting on the judgment, CPAG’s solicitor Carla Clarke said: 
 
“This is a very welcome and common-sense judgment which clearly establishes that the DWP has been applying its universal credit regulations incorrectly.    Working parents on low incomes should not lose out on the support that Parliament intended them to receive because the DWP has designed a rigid process that is out of step with both actual reality and the law.   

“Our clients have been doing everything they can to support themselves and their young children through work but the rigid assessment system in universal credit has caused them untold hardship, stress and misery with them being forced repeatedly to manage on half of their usual total monthly income despite their fixed outgoings remaining the same.  They have each ultimately questioned why they are even working.  

“That it should have required them to go to court to challenge the DWP’s position is a testament to their commitment to bring up their children in a working household but it is a situation they should never have been put in. Today’s result should mean that in future no one will lose out on their universal credit awards or face the hardship that my clients have faced simply because of when their payday happens to fall.”  

 


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Government faces second judicial review of universal credit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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