Tag: Inquiry

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.

universal-credit-forcing-women-into-prostitution

 

 


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

Image result for philip alston

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

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

Image result for universal credit roll out cartoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Send the Committee your views

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

Please send your views by 14 December 2018.

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

Send a written submission

Related

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

 


 

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The PIP & ESA inquiry report from the Work and Pensions Select Committee – main recommendations

Image result for pip esa inquiry

Yesterday, the government published the latest Work and Pensions Select Committee report on PIP and ESA Assessments. This is an utterly damning report, highlighting a lack of quality, consistency, transparency, objectivity and fairness from the government’s PIP and ESA incredibly expensive outsourced assessment regimes.

The report highlights failures by the private contractors, Atos and Maximus, to conduct accurate assessments, and substantial failures in the DWP’s decision-making – both the initial decisions about benefit awards and mandatory reviews were all too often found to be lacking in facts and accuracy. 

The report document says: “We heard many reports of errors appearing in assessment reports. Such experiences serve to undermine confidence amongst claimants. So does the proportion of DWP decisions overturned at appeal. At worst, there is an unsubstantiated belief among some claimants and their advisers that assessors are encouraged to misrepresent assessments deliberately in a way that leads to claimants being denied benefits.

“All three contractors carry out assessments using non-specialist assessors” it adds “Without good use of expert evidence to supplement their analysis, the Department will struggle to convince sceptical claimants that the decision on their entitlement is an informed one…It is extraordinary that basic deficiencies in the accessibility of PIP and ESA assessments remain, five and ten years respectively after their introduction.”

The committee concludes: “Claimants of PIP and ESA should be able to rely on assessments for those benefits being efficient, fair and consistent. Failings in the processes – from application, to assessment, to decision-making and to challenge mechanisms – have contributed to a lack of trust in both benefits. This risks undermining their entire operation.”

Meanwhile, the private contractors have made massive profits, despite the governments’ own quality targets having been universally missed.

The report continues: “The Government has also spent hundreds of millions of pounds more checking and defending the Department’s decisions.”

Recommending ultimately that the assessments might be better conducted by ‘in-house’  assessors, in the meantime the Work and Pensions Committee has called for new conditions to be put in place for transparency in the process.

Conclusions and recommendations made:

The importance of trust

1For most claimants, PIP and ESA assessments go smoothly. But in a sizeable minority of cases, things go very wrong indeed. For at least 290,000 claimants of PIP and ESA—6% of all those assessed—the right decision on entitlement was not made first time. Those cases, set alongside other problems throughout the application and assessment process, fuel a lack of trust amongst claimants of both benefits. The consequences—human and financial—can be enormous.

Our recommendations aim to correct the worst of these problems and rebuild claimant trust. Properly implemented, they will bring real improvements for claimants going through the system now and in the near future. The question of whether a more fundamental overhaul of welfare support for disabled people is necessary remains open. We do not intend this to be the end of our work on PIP and ESA. (Paragraph 12)

Before the assessment

2. Applying for PIP or ESA can be daunting. The Department has so far only made limited efforts to provide support and guidance in a variety of clear, accessible formats. It should not rely on already stretched third sector organisations to explain the Department’s own processes. A concerted effort from the Department to help with applications would be both reassuring to claimants, and of great practical benefit. 

We recommend the Department co-design, with expert stakeholders, guidance in a range of accessible formats on filling in forms and preparing for assessment. This should include accessible information on the descriptors for each benefit, to be sent out or signposted alongside application forms. We also recommend the Department makes clear to claimants being reassessed that they should not assume information from their previous assessment will be re-used, and should be prepared to re-submit any supporting evidence already provided. (Paragraph 18)

3. Many PIP and ESA claimants have multiple health conditions that bring with them severe limitations. Focusing on what they are able to do is a common coping strategy—one that is often incompatible with filling in PIP and ESA application forms. It is impossible to draw a causal link from application to claimant health. The Department should demonstrate, however, that it is alert to the risk to mental health posed by parts of the application processes and seek to offset this. (Paragraph 20)

4. We recommend that the Department commission and publish independent research on the impact of application and assessment for PIP and ESA on claimant health. This should focus initially on improvements to the application forms, identifying how they can be made more claimant-friendly and less distressing for claimants to fill in. The Department should set out a timescale for carrying out this work in response to our Report. (Paragraph 21)

5. As a result of their health conditions, many PIP and ESA claimants require communications in a specific format. The Department’s resistance to meeting even some of the most basic of these needs makes applying for PIP and ESA unnecessarily challenging for some claimants. Its failure to provide a widely-used, accessible alternative to telephone calls, and Easy Read communications, is extraordinary. 

We recommend that the Department enables claimants with hearing impairments to apply for PIP and ESA via email, ensuring this service is appropriately resourced to prevent delays to claims. In the longer term, it should look to offer this option to all claimants. It should also ensure key forms and communications—especially the PIP2, appointment and decision letters—are available in Easy Read format, allowing claimants to register this as a communication preference at the start of their claim. (Paragraph 25)

6. Home visits are an important option for claimants whose health conditions make attending an assessment centre difficult. Contractors interpret the Department’s guidance on home visits differently. They take varying approaches to granting them and require different standards of supporting evidence. This leads to inconsistencies between the benefits and between contractors. It can also place additional burdens on claimants and the NHS. (Paragraph 30)

7. We recommend the Department issue new guidance to PIP and ESA assessors on the procedure for determining whether claimants receive a home visit. This should specify that GP letters are not required where other forms of evidence and substantiation are available. This should include evidence from the claimant, as well as from carers, support workers and other health professionals. To ensure guidance is being followed, we recommend contractors be required to gather evidence and the Department audit requests made and granted for home visits, as well as reasons for refusal. (Paragraph 31)

The assessment

8. Atos, Capita and Maximus all use a generalist assessor model. They pay no regard to the specialist expertise of individual assessors in assigning cases. They therefore assess claimants with the full gamut of conditions. The success of this model depends on a consistent supply of high quality, relevant expert evidence. There is ongoing confusion amongst claimants and those supporting them alike about what constitutes “good evidence” for functional purposes.

We recommend that the Department sets out in response to this Report its approach to improving understanding amongst health and social care professionals and claimants of what constitutes good evidence for PIP and ESA claims. This should include setting out how it will measure, monitor and report on the supply of evidence into PIP and ESA assessments. (Paragraph 39)

9. Successive evidence-based reviews conducted on behalf of the Department have identified a pervasive culture of mistrust around PIP and ESA processes. This culminates in fear of the face-to-face assessments. This has implications far beyond the minority of claimants who directly experience poor decision-making. It can add to claimant anxiety even among those for whom the process works fairly. While that culture prevails, assessors risk being viewed as, at best lacking in competence and at worst, actively deceitful. Addressing this is a vital step in restoring confidence in PIP and ESA. 

The case for improving trust through implementing default audio recording of assessments has been strongly made. We recommend the Department implement this measure for both benefits without delay. In the longer term, the Department should look to provide video recording for all assessments. (Paragraph 44)

10. Some claimants may be unable or embarrassed to explain the full implications of their condition to their assessor. Companions can help them to articulate these and support claimants during a potentially stressful process. Their role in assessments is vital. The Department’s recognition of this in its guidance to contractors is welcome. We are concerned, however, that this guidance is not consistently followed.

There is no reference to companions in the Department’s auditing or contractor training programmes. That none of the contractors could even reliably tell us how many claimants are accompanied to assessment suggests this is not a priority. (Paragraph 49)

11. We recommend that the Department develop detailed guidance on the role of companions, including case studies demonstrating when and how to use their evidence. Contractors should also incorporate specific training on companions into their standard assessor training. After implementing default recording of assessments, a sample of assessments where claimants are accompanied should be audited on a regular basis to ensure guidance is being followed. (Paragraph 50)

The report and initial decision

12. DWP decisions on PIP and ESA claims are often opaque, even when decisions are correctly made. Ensuring claimants can see what is being written about them during assessment, and providing a copy of the assessor’s report by default would prove invaluable in helping claimants understand the reasoning behind the Department’s decisions. Both steps would increase transparency and ensure claimants are able to make informed decisions about whether to challenge a decision. In turn, many tribunals could be avoided, the workload of Decision Makers at Mandatory Reconsideration reduced, and overall costs lowered. 

We recommend the Department proceed without delay in sending a copy of the assessor’s report by default to all claimants, alongside their initial decision. We also recommend it issues instructions to contractors on ensuringclaimants are able to see what is being written about them during assessment, and allowing their input if they feel this is incorrect or misleading. This should include, for example, emphasising to contractors that rooms should be configured by default to allow the claimant to sit next to the assessor or be able to see their computer screen. (Paragraph 55)

13. Claimants often go to considerable efforts to collect additional evidence for their claim, providing important information for generalist HCPs. Contractors and the Department should ensure that it is clear to claimants how and when this evidence is used. Without doing so, they will struggle to convince sceptical claimants that the decision on their entitlement to benefits is an informed one. Knowing how their evidence has been used will further empower claimants to understand the Department’s decisions, and to decide whether an MR is necessary. (Paragraph 60)

14. We recommend that the Department introduce a checklist system, requiring HCPs to confirm whether and how they have used each piece of supporting evidence supplied in compiling their report. Decisions not to use particular pieces of evidence should also be noted and justified. This information should be supplied to Decision Makers so they can clearly see whether and how supporting evidence has been used, making it easier to query reports with contractors. It should also be supplied to the claimant along with a copy of their report. (Paragraph 61)

Disputed decisions

15. Mandatory Reconsideration should function as a genuine check, not an administrative hurdle for claimants to clear. Improving the quality of assessments and reports will ensure fewer claimants have to go to MR, but disputes will always happen. The Department deserves credit for a renewed emphasis on MR quality. MR decision-making has not always been characterised by thoroughness, consistency and an emphasis on quality, however. Not all claimants who have, perhaps wrongly, been turned down at MR will have had the strength and resources to appeal. (Paragraph 66)

16. We recommend the Department review a representative sample of MRs conducted between 2013 and December 2017, when it dropped its aspiration to uphold 80% of MRs, to establish if adverse incorrect decisions were made and, if so, whether there were common factors associated with those decisions. It should set out its findings and any proposed next steps in response to this report. (Paragraph 67)

17. The Department argues that the high rate of decisions overturned at appeal is driven by the emergence of new evidence that was not available at initial or MR stage. It has displayed a lack of determination in exploring why it takes until that stage for evidence to come to light. In almost half of cases the “new evidence” presented was oral evidence from claimants. It is difficult to understand why this information was not, or could not have been elicited and reported by the assessor. The Department’s argument does not absolve it of responsibility.

Its feedback to and quality control over contractors is weak. Addressing these fundamental shortcomings would not only ensure a fairer system for claimants. It would also reduce the cost to the public purse of correcting poor decision-making further down the line. (Paragraph 72)

18. The Department must learn from overturned decisions at appeal in a much more systematic and consistent fashion. We recommend it uses recording of assessments to start auditing and quality assuring the whole assessment process.

When a decision is overturned, the Department should also ensure that the HCP who carried out the initial assessment is identified and that an individual review of how the assessment was carried out is conducted. Given what we know about reasons for overturn, this should focus on improving questioning techniques and ensuring claimants’ statements are given due weight.

We also recommend the Department lead regular feedback meetings with contractors and organisations that support claimants. These should keep the Department informed of emerging concerns and ensure that swift action is taken to rectify them. (Paragraph 73)

Incentives and contracting

19. The Department’s quality standards for PIP and ESA set a low bar for what are considered acceptable reports. The definition of “acceptable” leaves ample room for reports to be riddled with obvious errors and omissions. Despite this, all three contractors have failed to meet key performance targets in any given period. It is difficult not to conclude that this regime contributes to a lack of confidence amongst claimants. (Paragraph 87)

20. The Department’s use of contractual levers to improve performance has not led to consistent improvements in assessment quality, especially in relation to PIP. Large sums of money have been paid to contractors despite quality targets having been universally missed. (Paragraph 88)

21. The PIP and ESA contracts are drawing to a close. In both cases, the decision to contract out assessments in the first instance was driven by a perceived need to introduce efficient, consistent and objective tests for benefit eligibility. It is hard to see how these objectives have been met. None of the providers has ever hit the quality performance targets required of them, and many claimants experience a great deal of anxiety over assessments.

The Department will need to consider whether the market is capable of delivering assessments at the required level and of rebuilding claimant trust. If it cannot—as already floundering market interest may suggest—the Department may well conclude assessments are better delivered in-house. (Paragraph 94).

While the above recommendations will help make some improvements, these alone are not sufficient to fix the fundamental lack of trust in the current assessment system. Many of us who have been through more than one assessment for PIP and ESA – that have too often been ordeals – face more of them in the future. It’s a relentless process and some of us have been forced to challenge Kafkaesque decisions more than once or twice.

The assessment is itself a challenge, after that many of us face mandatory review, and sometimes a formal complaint is also appropriate. With no more than 18% of mandatory reviews resulting in a reversal of unreasonable and often profoundly unfair decisions, we are then forced to go through an appeal. Often within 3 months of winning an appeal, we face a reassessment – I did.

Many of us also need to claim PIP. My experiences of the ESA assessments were so distressing and damaging to my health, exacerbating my illness, that I put off claiming PIP in 2011. In fact I only claimed from last year, and that was with a huge amount of support from my local councils’ occupational therapy and welfare support teams. Despite my illness being progressive, I will be reassessed in 2020. 

Urgent reform of PIP and ESA is needed to ensure that disabled people are treated humanely, fairly and may maintain their dignity. It’s needed to ensure assessments are accurate, transparent and fair, and lead to disabled people getting the lifeline support that they need and are entitled to. 

“Independent” assessments were introduced to reduce successful disability benefit claims, to save money. That was a clearly stated objective. However they have cost much more than they were intended to save.

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Read the report summary

Read the conclusions and recommendations

Read the full report: PIP and ESA assessments

 


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Frank Field’s letter regarding the DWP’s non-existent/existent data: a Schrödinger kind of paradox

cat schro

The data is only real when someone looks for it

Following on from the article yesterday, (DWP spent £100m on disability benefit appeals over 2 year period), I have copied Frank Field’s letter to Esther McVey below, which highlights the discrepancy between what McVey informed the Work and Pensions Committee when they asked her to provide evidence regarding the costs of disability benefit appeals and mandatory reconsiderations in an inquiry into disability benefits, and the details provided, following a timely Freedom of Information request. 

Key facts

  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spent £108.1 million on Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) reviews and appeals since October 2015
  • Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spent £103.1 million on social security and child support tribunals in 2016/17
  • Around two-thirds of PIP and ESA tribunals have been won by claimants this year
  • More than 300,000 PIP and ESA decisions have been changed at review or appeal since October 2015

Figures obtained by the Press Association through a Freedom of Information (FoI) request show that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has spent £108.1 million on direct staffing costs for ESA and PIP appeals since October 2015.  The cost covers mandatory reconsiderations, an internal DWP review, and appeals to tribunals run by HM Courts and Tribunals Service. 

This staggering amount of money is being spent on the administrative costs of a Department fighting to uphold the outcomes of its own incompetent and deeply flawed decision-making. This is unacceptably leaving thousands of ill and disabled people having to fight to receive lifeline support to which, as the high proportion of successful appeal outcomes informs us, they are legally entitled. Furthermore, when provided with a second chance to remedy incompetent decision-making at mandatory review, the Department has persistently continued to uphold the original flawed decision in many cases. 

Since October 2015, 87,500 PIP claimants had their decision changed at mandatory review, while a further 91,587 claimants went on to win their appeals at tribunal. In the first six months of 2017/18 some 66% of 42,741 PIP appeals went in the claimant’s favour, highlighting that both the original decision-making process and mandatory review are failing to effectively ensure eligibility for support is fairly and accurately assessed.

The figures for ESA since October 2015 show 47,000 people had decisions revised at mandatory reconsideration and 82,219 appeals went in the favour of those let down by the current system of assessment and DWP decsion-making.

It’s as if the system is weighted to refuse as many people as possible their lifeline support.

So far in 2017/18, 68% of 35,452 ESA appeals have gone in favour of the claimant.

Conservative peer Baroness Altmann, a former minister at the DWP, said the money could be spent on benefits for those who need them, rather than on the costs of fighting their claims.

“Disability benefits need an overhaul and, of course, we must not let people make bogus claims, but the extent of the appeals we are seeing clearly indicates that something is seriously wrong with the system,” she said.

Figures released to the select committee’s inquiry show further costs to taxpayers.

The Ministry of Justice says it spent £103.1 million on social security and child support tribunals in 2016/17, up from £92.6 million the year before and £87.4 million in 2014/15.

Around 190,000 cases were cleared with or without a hearing in 2016/17, the Ministry told the committee.

The select committee is due to publish the results of its inquiry into PIP and ESA on Wednesday.

Chair Frank Field has written to Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, in the wake of the figures to question why MPs were not given such information.

DWP gave the committee the average costs of a mandatory reconsideration and appeal for PIP and ESA.

However, Field, a Labour MP, said the committee was unable to work out the full cost of the appeals process.

This was because it was told information on PIP appeals was not available on whether they were appeals from new claimants or those being reassessed, which have different costs.

The information released to the Press Association was broken down into costs for new claims and those undergoing reassessments.

Here is Field’s letter:

letter head

From the Chair
                                                                                                                            9 February 2018
Rt Hon Esther McVey
Secretary of State
Department for Work and Pensions

PIP appeal data

During our inquiry on PIP and ESA assessments, your Department kindly provided to us estimated unit costs of MRs and Appeals. This indicated that different costs are attached to PIP appeals depending on whether they relate to new or reassessed claims. 

Seeking to understand the financial implications of appeals for the Department, Committee staff inquired on 30 January: 

Of the 170,000 PIP appeals since 2013, how many were for new claims and how many were reassessments?  

We were duly informed:

The information on the number of PIP appeals is from HMCTS published statistics and this information is not available from HMCTS for new claims and reassessments separately.    

We were therefore unable to estimate the full cost of appeals to your Department, although the Ministry of Justice informed us that in 2016/17 its appeals expenditure was £103 million. 1

It was with some surprise, therefore, that we today received data released in response to an FOI request. This provided estimated costs per month spent on PIP appeals—broken down by new and reassessed claims.

You will be aware that we are shortly due to publish our report. That this data was provided in response to an FOI request, but not for our Report, is doubly regrettable since the key theme of our report is the need to introduce much greater trust and transparency into the PIP and ESA systems.

Might you please explain how this occurred?


1 Cost of Social Security and Child Support appeals, of which the majority relate to PIP/ESA.Franks sig

 

 

 

 

 

 


Related

A critique of the government’s claimant satisfaction survey

DWP spent £100m on disability benefit appeals over 2 year period

Thousands of disability assessments deemed ‘unacceptable’ under the government’s own quality control scheme

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Inquiry into Universal Credit rollout re-launched

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Following compelling evidence of the problems in the rollout of Universal Credit in its recent follow ups the Work and Pensions Committee has re-launched its inquiry and is accepting written submissions.

However, the inquiry was relaunched last month, on 21 February, and the deadline for written submissions is Monday 20 March 2017.

You can submit your views through the Universal Credit inquiry page.

Call for written submissions

The Committee invites written submissions addressing one or more of the following points:

  • How long are people waiting for their Universal Credit claim to be processed, and what impact is this having on them?
  • How are claimants managing with being paid Universal Credit monthly in arrears?
  • Has Universal Credit improved the accuracy of payments?
  • Have claimants reported making a new claim for Universal Credit, and then found that the system has not registered their claim correctly?
  • What impact is Universal Credit having on rent arrears, what effect is this having on landlords and claimants, and how could the situation be improved?
  • Would certain groups benefit from greater payment process flexibility and, if so, what might the Government do to facilitate it?
  • Does Universal Credit provide people in emergency temporary accommodation with the support they need, and how could this be improved?
  • What impact is Universal Credit having on the income and costs of local authorities, housing associations, charities and other local organisations?
  • How well is Universal Support working, and how could it been improved?
  • What impact has the introduction of full Universal Credit service had in areas where it has replaced the live service?

Chair’s comment:

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee said:

“Huge delays in people receiving payments from Universal Credit have resulted in claimants falling into debt and rent arrears, caused health problems and led to many having to rely on food banks. It is bad enough that UC has a built-in six-week wait between someone applying and them receiving their first payment, but we have heard that many have to wait much longer than this. The adverse impact on claimants, local authorities, landlords and charities is entirely disproportionate to the small numbers currently claiming UC, yet Lord Freud has told us he thinks it will take decades to optimise the system. We have therefore felt compelled to investigate UC yet again. We will examine what its impact is on claimants and those local bodies which deal with them, and what Government needs to do to ease the pressure on those worst affected.”

Further information

Call for submissions – inquiry launched into employment support for disabled people

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Disability Employment Gap 2015. Source: UK Parliament.

Inquiry background

The Work and Pensions Committee has launched an inquiry into the Government’s commitment to halve the “disability employment gap.” According to the most recent data, 46.7% of disabled people were in work at the end of 2015 compared to 80.3% of non-disabled people. In order to close this gap, the Committee says an extra 1.2 million disabled people would need to be supported into work.

The Committee’s welfare to work report, published in October 2015, raised concerns about the lack of success of existing employment programmes in supporting disabled people into sustained employment.

The Government has since announced:

  • A new Work and Health Programme to replace the current generalist Work Programme and specialist disability Work Choice programmes
  • A real terms increase in spending on the Access to Work Programme, which provides practical support for disabled people, beyond the “reasonable adjustments” required to be made by employers
  • A White Paper to be published this year which will “set out reforms to improve support for people with health conditions and disabilities, including exploring the roles of employers, to further reduce the disability employment gap and promote integration across health and employment.”

Concerns raised over Disability Confident campaign

In addition, the DWP’s Disability Confident campaign, launched in 2013, aims to promote the benefits of employing disabled people to employers.

However, concerns have been raised about the abolition of the Work Related Activity component of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) worth £29.05 per week – and its equivalent in Universal Credit – for new claimants from April 2017, and the potential effects of this measure on disabled people’s ability to overcome their barriers to working.

Call for written submissions

The Committee invites written submissions addressing the following points:

Steps required to halve the disability employment gap:

  • To what extent are the current range of proposed measures likely to achieve the Government’s ambition of closing the disability employment gap?
  • Should the Government set interim targets along the way to meet the commitment to halve the disability employment gap? What should they be?

Support for employers:

  • How effective is the Disability Confident campaign in reducing barriers to employment and educating employers?
  • What more could be done to support employers?

Effective employment support for disabled people:

  • What should support for people with health conditions and disabilities in the proposed Work and Health programme look like?
  • How should providers be incentivised to succeed?

Likely effects of proposed ESA reform:

  • What are the likely impacts on disability employment of the abolition of the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity component?
  • What evidence is there that it will promote ‘positive behavioural change’? What evidence is there that it will have unintended consequences, and how could these be mitigated?

Aim of the inquiry

The Committee intends to consider possible improvements in:

  • the DWP’s employment support programmes for disabled people
  • Support for employers to take on disabled people
  • Disabled people’s access to the labour market more broadly

The Committee will also examine possible adverse consequences of the Government’s current approach, particularly around proposed changes to ESA, and how these might be addressed.

Chair’s comment

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee said:

“The Government has made a welcome commitment to help more people with disabilities into a position where they can find and then keep a job. If it can successfully be seen through, this commitment could signal a major stride towards achieving full employment in our country.

The really important part now is to back-up this commitment with a series of reforms that are tailored to each person’s own skills and ambitions, as well as those conditions that currently limit their ability to work, so that each person can follow a feasible journey into work. We hope the evidence we receive will enable us to help the Government in its search for such a reform package.”

Send a written submission through the disability employment gap inquiry page.

Further information

The deadline for written submissions is Monday 9 May 2016.

 

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Related

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

The biggest barrier that disabled people face is a prejudiced government

Let’s keep the job centre out of GP surgeries and the DWP out of our confidential medical records

Latest DWP information release reveals a huge rise in the numbers of sick and disabled people being sanctioned

G4S are employing Cognitive Behavioural Therapists to deliver “get to work therapy”

Research shows only a fifth of 2 million people find employment after losing jobseeker’s allowance

430835_148211001996623_1337599952_n (1)Further to an article I wrote last November – Government under fire for massaging unemployment figures via benefit sanctions from Commons Select Commitee – it’s emerged that the Coalition’s claims regarding an increase in employment are again under scrutiny after research shows only a fifth of 2 million people find employment after losing jobseeker’s allowance.

Fresh research, presented at the Commons Select Committee inquiry into welfare sanctions on Wednesday, suggests that hundreds of thousands are leaving jobseeker’s allowance because of benefit sanctions without finding employment, though the report’s authors cannot provide an exact figure.

Written by academics at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the report raises questions about why so many of those losing their benefit then disappear from the welfare system – possibly to rely on food banks.

The Guardian reports that Professor David Stuckler, of Oxford University, said that benefit sanctions “do not appear to help people return to work. There is a real concern that sanctioned persons are disappearing from view. What we need next is a full cost-benefit analysis that looks not just narrowly at employment but possibly at hidden social costs of sanctions.

“If, as we’re finding, people are out of work but without support – disappeared from view – there’s a real danger that other services will absorb the costs, like the NHS, possibly jails and food support systems, to name a few. Sanctions could be costing taxpayers more.”

However, the Department for Work and Pensions, which is expected to announce a further rise in UK employment on Wednesday, countered that it was “proud” that 1 million jobless people were now subject to the “claimant commitment”, which sets out tougher requirements on the jobless to find work or risk losing their benefit payments.

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said: “It is only right that in return for government support – and in return for their benefits – jobseekers are expected to do all they can to find work. Although on benefits, they still have a job: the job is to get back into work.

“The claimant commitment, which is deliberately set to mimic a contract of employment, makes this expectation explicit. It has created a real change in attitudes. Already more than a million people have signed up to – and are benefiting from – this new jobseeking regime.”

Seems that Iain Duncan Smith forgets that it’s not government money that supports jobseekers, but rather their own, which was paid in tax contributions, in good faith that should any of us need state support, that support would be there to ensure we don’t become destitute or starve. It is not jobseekers attitudes that create jobs and a decent wage: that is the role of the government.People who are sanctioned can hardly be described as “benefitting” from a social scheme that was originally designed to support, not punish.

The Oxford-based research showed that between June 2011 and March 2014, more than 1.9 million sanctions were imposed on people receiving jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), with 43% of those sanctioned having their benefit claim ceased. Only 20% of those who left the benefit system gave as their stated reason that they had found work.

As I have stated before, the Department for Work and Pensions conducts no systematic research into what happens to those sanctioned, so the new findings start to fill an evidential gap in what has been one of the biggest but least publicised changes to the welfare system since the government came to power.

The 1.9 million benefit removals between June 2011 and March 2014 represent a 40% increase compared with the previous seven years. The figures are based on official monthly and quarterly data from databases covering UK local authorities between 2005 and 2014.

Dispute has arisen about a central aspect of government welfare reform centres on whether jobcentre staff, driven by senior management, are following arbitrary and poorly communicated rules that punish not just the minority of those who don’t look for work, but some of the most vulnerable in society, including mentally ill and disabled people. Many independent witnesses have urged the DWP inquiry at least to suspend the sanctions regime for those claiming employment support allowance, the main disability benefit. Evidence, however, strongly suggests that most people receiving sanctions want to work and that sanctions are imposed because of targets, and so are not related to any claimant claim of non-cooperation or unwillingness to work at all. Rather, it’s the case that sanctions are punishing the vulnerable for being vulnerable.

Study author Dr Rachel Loopstra, from Oxford University, said: “The data did not give us the full picture of why sanctioned people have stopped claiming unemployment benefit. We can say, however, that there was a large rise in the number of people leaving JSA for reasons that were not linked to employment in association with sanctioning. On this basis, it appears that the punitive use of sanctions is driving people away from social support.”

The study also shows widespread variation in how local authorities used sanctions. In Derby, Preston, Chorley and Southampton, researchers found particularly high rates of people being referred for sanctions. In some months, more than 10% of claimants in these areas were sanctioned – the highest rates nationwide.

Co-author Prof Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “There is a need for a cost-benefit analysis of sanctioning, looking at it not just in narrow terms of unemployment benefit, but also the bigger picture, focusing on employment, health, and other social costs.”

He added: “The coalition government has embarked upon an unprecedented experiment to reform social security. I hope policymakers will be informed by these findings and see the value of investigating the consequences.”

Separate evidence in front of the DWP select committee inquiry includes witness statements from former jobcentre staff suggesting senior management threaten staff if they do not take a harsh approach to claimants. There is also cumulative evidence that many of those sanctioned have little or no knowledge of why they are being punished.

The main union representing jobcentre staff, PCS – which was also due to give evidence on Wednesday to the select committee inquiry – suggests: “While there is considerable anecdotal evidence about the inappropriate use of sanctions, there is a lack of empirical evidence. We believe that DWP should publish a more detailed breakdown of sanctions, and specifically more detailed explanations as to why they were imposed. PCS’s survey of our adviser members showed that 61% had experienced pressure to refer claimants to sanctions where they believed it may be inappropriate to do so.”

DWP select committee member Debbie Abrahams said: “This government has developed a culture in which Jobcentre Plus advisers are expected to sanction claimants using unjust, and potentially fraudulent, reasons in order get people “off-flow”. This creates the illusion the government is bringing down unemployment.”

The government counters that its policies are turning the UK into “the jobs factory of Europe”, and dismisses the idea that the unemployment figures are being subverted by sanctions.

A DWP spokesman said: “As the authors admit themselves the data does not give a full picture. What we do know – according to independent figures from the Office for National Statistics – is that we now have a record number of people in employment in this country and there are two million more people in private sector jobs compared to 2010.”

That is a claim which is not very well substantiated by income tax revenue collected by the Treasury at all. (See also A letter of complaint to Andrew Dilnot regarding Coalition lies about employment statistics).


Related
: Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down – a summary of the implications of Nudge theory

Jobless are being punished with hunger for claiming unemployment benefit, say churches

Hain’s horror as figures reveal four in five who have JSA sanctioned “don’t find work”

385294_195107567306966_1850351962_nMany thanks to Robert @LivingstonePics