Tag: Domestic Violence

Some problems with the design of Universal Credit

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Monthly payments
The government thinks this will help promote good budgeting and more closely replicate monthly salary payments.  Campaigners are worried that the shift from weekly and fortnightly payments to this new regime may push claimants recipients into debt. The Social Market Foundation says:

Most households in our sample opposed the idea of a monthly payment. This was the case for the majority of households, who tended to budget on a daily, weekly or fortnightly cycle.

One of the most controversial aspects of Universal Credit is the introduction of a new seven-day waiting period before an individual qualifies for benefit.

What is more, people on Universal Credit will have to endure a wait of one calendar month whilst their entitlement is calculated, and then a further seven-day wait for payment into their account, which will produce a total wait of at least five weeks before people already in hardship  receive any money.

Benefit payments will go directly to one member of a couple
In cases of domestic abuse and violence, this could give perpetrators command of household income, further enabling them to control and isolate their partners. As Sandra Horley from Refuge points out:

The housing benefit on which refuges depend is the lifeblood of the national network of services that keep women and children safe. But this vital source of income is now at risk. Many of our refuges do not meet the official definition of “supported exempt accommodation”, which means that a lot of the women we support will fall foul of the benefit cap.

This will be particularly damaging for women who pay two rents – one for the refuge they are living in temporarily, and the other for the home they have fled. Women who move on from refuges and resettle in areas of high rent may also be plunged into debt as a result of the cap. Those who accumulate rent arrears may face eviction and be left with an impossible dilemma either to sleep rough or return to their violent partner.

Direct payments
The prospect of stopping housing benefit payments to landlords and directly paying the claimant is causing a lot of unease. The National Housing Federation says the shift from paying landlords to paying claimants direct for the housing benefit element could trigger unprecedented levels of arrears and increased rent collection costs.

Of all the reforms, the introduction of direct payments to tenants is expected to have the biggest impact – more than 80% of housing associations say it will affect their organisations a great deal or a fair amount,” an NHF report warns. “84% of associations believe that rent arrears will increase as a direct result of welfare changes. The average increase expected is 51%, which, if replicated across the sector, would mean an additional £245m of arrears.

The government has said that “vulnerable” tenants may be excluded (pdf) and has devised an “automatic switchback mechanism” – paying rent to the landlord when a tenant’s arrears hit a threshold level – but there are currently very few details of what constitutes a vulnerable tenant.

There are concerns that more people could be evicted as a result. The BBC obtained figures that showed when the direct payments were piloted in six areas of the country there was a big rise in rent arrears as some tenants failed to pass that money on, with arrears rising from about 2% to 11%.

Conditionality and sanctions
The government says:

Entitlement to UC is subject to a strict regime of ‘personalised’ conditionality (ie mandatory activity to prepare for and obtain work), backed by tough benefit sanctions (ie loss of benefit) for non-compliance.

The Child Poverty Action Group warns:

The need for more conditionality comes across as a moral crusade, rather than being evidence based … There are concerns that some vulnerable claimants could face repeated sanctions for failing to comply with the demands of the system and that personal advisers and the Work Programme (within a culture of ‘payment by results’) will have too much power and discretion to impose unreasonable requirements on claimants.

The charity warns in a UC training document:

Sanctions, in the form of loss of benefit, are designed to incentivise claimants to meet their work-related requirements and punish them for unreasonable failures. The regime is harsh, and there is concern that some claimants who repeatedly fail to comply with the system could be sanctioned and forced to survive on below subsistence income for long periods. This could include vulnerable claimants with mental health or social functioning problems, who find it difficult to comply with directions.”

A high level sanction can be imposed if, for example, a claimant fails for no good reason to take up an offer of paid work. The higher level sanction is the loss of the standard allowance of 91 days for a first failure, 182 days for a second higher level sanction within a year, and 1,095 days (three years) for another failure within a further year (disregarding “pre-claim” failures).

Hardship payments will be available of 60% of the sanctioned amount for those who cannot meet their “immediate and most basic and essential needs for accommodation, heating, food and hygiene”.

Lone parents could lose out
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculates that “because of the way the parameters of universal credit have been chosen, couples, and particularly those with children, look set to gain by more, on average, than single-adult families, particularly lone parents, who will lose on average according to our analysis”.

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For a more detailed critical account of Univeral Credit please see: It’s the design of Universal Credit and not the delivery that presents the biggest concern: from striking to altercasting

544840_330826693653532_892366209_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for the illustrations

Child protection must not be used for dealing with the symptoms of increased poverty

imagesSocial work academics discuss why we must pause to evaluate the growing need for child protection services amidst austerity.

Authors: Brigid Featherstone (The Open University), Anna Gupta (Royal Hollway, University of London), Kate Morris (The University of Nottingham), Jo Warner (University of Kent), Sue White (University of Birmingham).

According to a recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 39% of people in households with children now live below the Minimum Income Standard. The figure has risen by over a third since 2008/09.

Families with children are now at greater risk than any other group of having an inadequate income and the number of homeless families living in bed and breakfast accommodation has risen by 300% over the last five years as a direct result of austerity.

Humiliation, shame, fear, distrust, instability, insecurity, isolation,  loneliness and feelings of being trapped and powerless are widespread features of the social and emotional landscapes of individuals and their families in a world of benefit sanctions, zero hours contracts and precarious housing.

Small wonder that relations between family members, including those between parents and their children, can become increasingly fraught in such circumstances.

Child protection need rising

Meanwhile, figures published last week in CYP Now, using official statistics and new figures obtained under an FOI, show the number of children being looked after by the state rose by 8% under the coalition government. The number of children placed on child protection plans rose by 33% while the number of Section 47 inquiries rose by a staggering 42%.

The links between poverty and a child’s chances of becoming subject to child protection processes or being looked after are undeniable according to the international and national research.

A child in the most deprived decile of neighbourhoods nationally has an 11 times greater chance of being on a child protection plan and 12 times greater chance of being a looked after child than a child living in the most affluent decile.

‘Wholly inappropriate’ use of child protection

We hear regularly about the impact of reduced services and benefit cuts on the capacity of families to cope and to care.

We hear of cash strapped local authorities who do not have the services to support families within communities.

We are, therefore, increasingly concerned that the child protection system is being used in a wholly inappropriate way to deal with the consequences of austerity and of policies that are depriving children and their families of food, housing and basic support services.

The effects of austerity are exacerbated by the continued existence of a risk-averse climate despite increasingly heroic efforts by local authorities to develop more strengths based approaches.

‘Long on blame, short on help’

Thus, families are experiencing practices that are long on blame and short on help in too many instances as a recent conference organised by the Transparency Project, involving lawyers, other professionals and family members, discussed.

The policy commitment to adoption, reaffirmed in recent days, is extremely worrying in a context where many birth families are unable to access what is needed in terms of material, emotional and social supports to care safely.

This is leading to increased concern across the sector and, indeed, more widely.

Pause for thought

Individual court rulings have drawn attention to judicial comments where social workers have been asked to think again about the importance of relational bonds and children’s identities and to desist from social engineering, and the UK has been specifically criticized this year by the Council of Europe for its removal of children from women who have been subject to domestic abuse, or who are suffering from depression (Report 1 Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, 2015).

Such women are particularly vulnerable in the current climate where services for domestic abuse are very stretched.

The evidence is mounting that we need to pause and make vital links between wider economic and social policies and the harms that children and their families experience. The child protection system must not be a system for dealing with the symptoms of increased impoverishment.

Article first published on Community Care.

UN report: Britains ‘boy’s club culture’ – women in the UK are left vulnerable to violence, poverty & hardship


I wrote last year that Conservative small-state ideology has led to “depopulated” social policies, resuting in the dehumanisation of people in some social groups, and it indicates that Tory policy-makers see the public as objects of their policies, and not as human subjects. Policies are inceasingly being detached from public needs. We therefore need to ask whose needs Conservative policies are fulfilling.

In 2010 the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned the government about its potential failure to meet its legal duties. This followed concerns raised by the Fawcett Society amongst others, regarding the estimated grossly disproportionate impact of the austerity cuts on women.

The Commission recognised the serious concerns about the impact of the deficit reduction measures on vulnerable groups and, in particular, following the House of Commons library report, the impact of the budget on women. The Commission stated:

We have written to the Treasury to ask for reassurance that they will comply with their equality duties when making decisions about the overall deficit reduction, and in particular in relation to any changes to tax and benefits for which they are directly responsible.”

A more inclusive understanding of the range of impacts on both men and women is essential in the formulation of gender-aware, as opposed to gender-blind, policy responses to recession and recovery. It’s clear that the UK government is not interested in collating information regarding impacts and subsequent implications regarding inequality, yet they do have a legal duty to do so.

A previous United Nations Committee report on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women highlights areas where women’s rights in the UK had come to a standstill and appallingly, shamefully, some rights have been reversed.

On August 13, 2013, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women released its concluding observations on the UK’s seventh periodic report on 26 July 2013.

Concerns raised by the Committee include protection from discrimination under the Public Sector Equality Duty, the impact of austerity measures on women and women’s services, and restrictions on women’s access to legal aid.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its submission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women on 1 July 2013. In its submission the Commission, as a national human rights institution, identifies key issues it believes should be highlighted as actions following the examination and sets out a number of questions the Committee may wish to put to the Government. You can see a full list here – UK Government still in breach of the human rights convention on gender discrimination.

Despite Labour’s protective Human Rights Act and Equality Act, Britain has become increasingly sexist, has an all-pervasive, patriarchal “boy’s club culture” and Conservative austerity measures are leaving women increasingly vulnerable to violence, poverty and hardship, the UN special rapporteur for women, Rashida Manjoo, has recently said.

The special rapporteur said there was “a more visible presence of sexist portrayals of women and girls” and a “marketisation of women’s and girls’ bodies” in the UK, which was “more pervasive than elsewhere.”

She warned that sexual bullying and harassment were now “routine” in UK schools, according to NGOs she had interviewed, and recommended that schools have mandatory education modules on sexism. “The state has a responsibility to protect, to prevent, to punish, to provide effective remedies,” she said. “These are part of the state’s responsibility.”

Rashida added: “Have I seen this level of sexist cultures in other countries? It hasn’t been so in-your-face.”

Amongst the figures quoted in her report are: 30% of women in England and Wales have reported experience of domestic abuse since the age of 16; 77 women were killed by partners or former partners in 2012-13; 18,915 sexual crimes against children were recorded in England and Wales in 2012-13; and almost one in three 16- to 18-year-old girls have experienced “groping” or other unwanted sexual touching at school.

The special rapporteur also drew attention to the disproportionate impact of funding cuts on the provision of services to women and girls at risk of violence, and the adverse consequenes of the Tory welfare “reforms.”

Access to trauma services, financial support and housing are crucial, yet current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues,” Rashida said.

She added that the austerity cuts “not only [affected] the specific provision of ‘violence against women’ services’, but also had a more general impact as poverty and unemployment were known contributory factors.”

“Service providers argue that they are being forced to make cuts to their frontline services as a result of reduced funding, whether by closing refuges, reducing support hours, or increasing waiting lists … current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues.”

Manjoo also heavily criticised the bedroom tax, she recognised that it makes it very difficult for women to escape domestic violence. She also attacked the Conservative government’s austerity programme.

She said: “Austerity measures are having an effect on the provision of services to address violence against women, as well as other cross-cutting issues affecting women such as poverty and unemployment.” 

Rashida Manjoo quite properly condemned the lack of human rights-driven government measures to combat violence against women and girls.

The special rapporteur, who travelled across the UK during a 16-day fact-finding mission into violence against women, said she was barred at the gates of Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre on Monday, on instructions “from the highest levels of the Home Office”.

Manjoo received reports of violations at the privately run Yarl’s Wood centre, near Bedford, before her visit to the UK, and said she wanted to verify the allegations of abuse. Last month a Jamaican woman, Christine Case, 40, died at the centre, which holds about 400 women.

After repeated unsuccessful requests to the Home Office, the investigator attempted an independent visit to Yarl’s Wood. Under the terms of her mandate, Manjoo should have been offered unrestricted access.  A Home Office spokesperson said a tour of Yarl’s Wood “was never agreed as part of this fact-finding mission.” 

So much for democratic, open, transparent and accountable government.

In her preliminary report, (and unsurprisingly,) Manjoo said the number of women detained in prisons and immigration centres in the UK was rising, with a significant over-representation of black and minority ethnic women.

“A large number of women in detention have a history of being subjected to violence prior to being imprisoned … the strong link between violence against women and women’s incarceration, whether prior to, during or after incarceration, needs to be fully acknowledged,” she said.

Manjoo also said the UK court system is “widely perceived to be biased in favor of men.

Rashida Manjoo’s full 24 page report is expected to be published later this year and will be presented at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.

The report’s findings echo the views of  many campaigners, including hundreds of psychotherapists, counsellors and mental health practitioners, who in April used a rallying, open letter to the Guardian to warn against “malign” welfare reforms and severe austerity measures.

The group of signatories, made up of therapists, psychotherapists and mental health experts, said Britain has seen a “radical shift” in the mental state of ordinary people since the coalition came to power.

British society has been “thrown completely off balance by the emotional toxicity of neoliberal thinking” and the distress this is causing and the wide adverse effects of this ideology are particularly visible in therapists’ consulting rooms.

This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organisations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health,” they added.

A democratic government, especially in a very wealthy, so-called liberal first-world country, is expected to reflect and accommodate the needs of a population in its policy-making, and to formulate policies within a human rights framework.

That clearly is not happening in the UK.

 

Related

Welfare reforms and the language of flowers: the Tory gender agenda

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


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